The Austrian Pinscher is a multipurpose working dog native to Austria, where it has the distinction of being that country’s only non-scent hound breed. This breed has served for centuries as a cattle drover, ratter, watch dog, and personal and property guardian. Not pure bred until the 20th Century, the breed’s population plummeted to the point that it was nearly extinct by the 1970’s. Major efforts are now being made across Austria to revive the breed through the use of mixed breed landrace dogs. The Austrian Pinscher is also known as the Osterreichischer Pinscher, the Osterreichisher Kurzhaarpinscher, the Austrian Short-Haired Pinscher, and the Austrian Farm Dog.
Although not pure bred until the 20th Century, the Austrian Pinscher is a very old breed that can trace its origins back many centuries. Paintings from the 1700’s show dogs that are virtually identical to the modern Austrian Pinscher, and it is widely agreed among fanciers that these are the earliest known definitive records of the breed. Since those dogs were already in the modern form, it is quite likely that the breed is considerably older, and many think that the breed was already present in its homeland several centuries, and possibly over a millennium, earlier.
The Austrian Pinscher is a member of a group of dog breeds known as the Pinscher/Schnauzer family. This family consists of a number of breeds originally found in German-speaking lands. Although a few of these dogs have been bred for companionship, the vast majority were originally multi-purpose farm dogs. Their primary jobs included vermin eradication, cattle droving, alerting their owners of the approach of strangers, and personal and property protection. Along with the Austrian Pinscher, the breeds always placed in this group include the Affenpinscher, Miniature Pinscher, German Pinscher, Doberman Pinscher, and all three breeds of Schnauzer, with the Danish/Swedish Farm Dog almost always appearing as well. The Brussels Griffon, Rottweiler, German Shepherd Dog, Lowchen and all four Swiss Mountain Dogs are sometimes included as well, although their inclusion is considerably more controversial.
Along with the Spitzen, Pinschers are perhaps the oldest of all German dogs. It is unclear how or when these breeds were first developed but they have apparently been found across German-speaking lands since more accurate written and visual records began to be kept from the 13th to 15th Centuries. It is widely thought that such dogs are considerably older, and likely accompanied the Germanic tribes when they first invaded the Roman Empire in the 5th Century A.D. As these dogs are so old, virtually nothing can be stated with certainty about their origins, but it is most commonly theorized that they descended from Scandinavian dogs similar to the Danish/Swedish Farm Dog. The origin of the name Pinscher is similarly unclear. Although all agree it was applied to these dogs to describe their attack style which involves repeatedly biting and shaking their prey, many sources claim the word is descended from the English word pinch while others think it comes from archaic German word for bite or grab.
However and whenever the Pinschers were developed, they spread across the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was a massive political conglomeration made up of thousands of independent states, which varied enormously in terms of size, population, economy, language, and form of government. For many centuries, the largest and most powerful political body in the Holy Roman Empire was Austria, a primarily German-speaking country located in the far southeastern part of the Empire (Osterreich, the German name for Austria, literally translates to East Empire). Like most German-speaking lands, Austria has had a sizable population of Pinschers since time immemorial, and these dogs were an extremely common sight on Austrian farms. Although it is unclear why, the Austrian Pinscher developed into a unique breed from those found elsewhere in Germany. It is possible that Austrian breeders, in the process of developing dogs suited to local conditions over the course of many centuries, created a dog of somewhat uniform type and function. It is also possible that the Austrian Pinscher may have been heavily influenced by non-Pinscher breeds from neighboring countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and Bohemia (now known as the Czech Republic). From the 1500’s on, Austria began a continuous expansion that would eventually lead to the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which at its height stretched from Switzerland to Russia. Both the Austrian people and the Austrian Pinscher moved into neighboring regions as a result, spreading the dog into new territories.
Austrian farmers bred their dogs almost exclusively for their working ability. They cared nothing about pedigrees and keeping lines pure as long as the dog was capable of performing the necessary tasks. Appearance factored in only the most marginal way, although temperament was quite important as it influenced working ability. Austrian farmers deliberately selected those dogs with the strongest protective instincts as well as those that were the gentlest and most dependable with their own children. Until the last few centuries, hunting was the exclusive domain of the Austrian nobility and heavy penalties were placed on poachers or anyone who owned a hunting dog. Additionally, Austrian farmers did not want their dogs to show aggression towards their livestock. As a result, the breed’s hunting instincts and aggression towards large animals were greatly reduced, although the dog was still extraordinarily aggressive towards small vermin species such as rats. Because appearance did not matter to Austrian Pinscher breeders, this dog was considerably more variable in appearance than most modern breeds. Although being bred for the same purpose meant that these dogs were generally similar, the breed exhibited a wide range of body shapes, ears, tails, faces, and coat colors and patterns. Dogs from the same region generally looked more alike than dogs from different regions, and it is quite possible that at one point there were several different varieties of Austrian Pinscher.
During the 1800’s, large numbers of dogs from other countries were imported into Austria, especially from Germany. These importations reached their peak as a result of German standardization efforts designed to create, “the ultimate dog.” It is unclear whether Austria had other distinctive dog varieties besides it’s four scent hound breeds and the Austrian Pinscher, but if it did these were either abandoned in favor of foreign breeds or added into their gene pools to the extent that they lost their uniqueness. The Austrian Pinscher was not replaced, most likely because it was extremely capable of performing its assigned tasks. The breed was also surely benefitted by the fact that poor farmers who owned it could not afford an expensive foreign dog. World War I proved devastating for Austria, which was badly defeated and lost almost all of its territory. Accordingly the Austrian Pinscher saw its numbers diminish dramatically although the breed was able to come through the conflict in much better shape than did many other breeds; quite possibly because it was quite common and primarily found in rural areas.
In the aftermath of World War I, the Austrian Earl Hauck became interested in an ancient dog breed known from historical records and archaeological digs as the Marsh Dog or Canis Palustris, which had been identified in 1843 by H. von Meyer. It was Hauck’s belief that the Canis Palustris was the aboriginal dog of the German people, and he sought to recreate the breed. Hauck became convinced that the Austrian Pinscher, which at that time was not seen as a unique breed, was the closest of all living dogs to the Canis Palustris. In 1921, he began acquiring those specimens that he thought were closest to the Canis Palustris and organized a breeding program. Hauck quickly found others interested in the development of a new pure bred dog from the traditional farm Pinschers of Austria, and more breeders began working with the dog. In 1928, both the Austrian Kennel Club and the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized the Austrian Pinscher as a unique breed. Initially the name Osterreichischer Kurzhaarpinscher (Austrian Short-Haired Pinscher in English), was chosen to distinguish the breed from the Schnauzer, which had not been fully separated from the German Pinscher at the time. Prior to this time, the only Austrian dog breeds with formal recognition were four different types of scent hound bred for hunting. To this day, the Austrian Pinscher remains the only recognized Austrian breed not developed primarily for hunting.
Although the Austrian Pinscher had been standardized and turned into a purebred dog, farmers across Austria and neighboring countries continued to breed their own working dogs. These dogs were never admitted into kennel club stud books, but remained very true to type. Meanwhile, the population of purebred Austrian Pinschers continued to grow throughout the 1920’s. The 1930’s saw major economic difficulties befall Austria, which hampered breeding efforts. In 1938, the Austrian Nazi Party took control of the government, and the entire country was formally annexed to Germany by Adolf Hitler, a native of Austria. Austria suffered greatly as a result of World War II, and the breeding of purebred Austrian Pinschers was greatly hampered. The breed did continue to persist in agricultural regions, albeit not in a pure bred state. Although the nation of Austria would eventually make a recovery in the post-war years, breeding of the Austrian Pinscher did not.
By the 1970’s, the situation for the purebred Austrian Pinscher was extremely dire. Only one fertile registered dog remained, a female by the name of Diocles of Angern. Of perhaps greater concern to the breed was a lack of awareness. Many Austrians did not even know that this breed existed, and fewer still were interested in owning the breed. A few dedicated breeders began collecting working line Pinschers without pedigrees from farms across Austria, focusing on those that most closely matched breed standards. These dogs were then mated with each other and Diocles of Angern. Unfortunately, Austrian Pinscher fanciers were unable to locate many dogs of sufficient quality, and the gene pool remained rare. The Austrian public also remained unaware of the breed, and many dog owners who were approached about adding their animal to the breeding efforts had no idea that their dog was anything other than a mutt. Fanciers discovered that Austrian Pinschers of the traditional type had also managed to survive in neighboring countries and in recent years such dogs have been just as influential, if not more so, in restoring the breed than ones found in Austria itself. In Austria, non-pedigreed Austrian Pinschers of the traditional type are known as Landpinschern or Land Pinschers.
In 2000, the FCI officially changed the breed’s name to the Osterreichischer Pinscher, or Austrian Pinscher. In 2002, a group of Austrian Pinscher fanciers decided to form the Klub fur Osterreichishe Pinscher (KOP). The club’s primary purpose was protecting and promoting the breed, as well as finding as many new examples to enter into the breeding pool as possible. The KOB has dedicated itself to preserving the health of the Austrian Pinscher to the greatest extent possible considering the dog’s limited gene pool. The club tries to breed as many dogs as possible together as well as attempting to avoid repeat breedings between the same two animals. The KOB continues to scour Austria and surrounding countries to find dogs suitable for adding to the club’s registration rolls, and is working to attract greater numbers of breeders.
Despite the best efforts of the KOB and other fanciers throughout the 20th Century, the Austrian Pinscher remains a very rare breed. In recent years, a few admirers have been found in other countries, but the vast majority of Austrian Pinschers remain in their native country. Even in its homeland, the Austrian Pinscher remains quite rare, and the breed remains on the verge of extinction. There are approximately 200 breed members in Austria with 20 to 40 additional registrations every year. About the same number of breed members are found outside of Austria, divided between at least 8 different countries. It is unclear if any Austrian Pinschers have made their way to America, but the breed is currently recognized in the United States by the United Kennel Club (UKC), the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA), and a few other rare breed clubs. Registered Austrian Pinschers are now primarily kept as either companion animals or joint companion and protection animals. However, several of those animals which have been entered into the registry were either working farm dogs themselves or recently descended from working farm dogs. As a result, the breed probably retains a substantial amount of ratting ability. If Austrian Pinscher numbers can be raised enough to save it, it is likely that the breed’s future will primarily be that of a companion dog and possibly a personal protection animal, although it is thought that the animal could be a talented competitor at agility, obedience, and other canine competitions as well.
Because so many mixed breed dogs have been admitted to its lines, the Austrian Pinscher is considerably more variable in appearance than most other modern breeds. Bred almost exclusively for working ability until the last few decades, this dog is without exaggerated features and is among the most generic-looking of all dog breeds. It is generally similar to the better known German Pinscher, but is more heavily built and considerably less refined in appearance. The Austrian Pinscher is a medium sized breed. Most breed members stand between 16½ and 19½ inches tall at the shoulder, although it is not uncommon for an individual dog to stand as low as 13 inches or as tall as 22 inches. The Austrian Pinscher is sturdily but not thickly built, and looks powerful and capable rather than stocky. Most individuals weigh between 20 and 50 pounds with 25 to 40 being the average. The Austrian Pinscher is a working dog and should appear fit and muscular, although perhaps not to the same extent as many other breeds. Most Austrian Pinschers are noticeably longer than they are tall, but this feature is not greatly exaggerated. At one point, the tail of the Austrian Pinscher was docked to an inch or two in length. This procedure has fallen out of favor and is actually illegal in much of Europe. The natural tail of this breed is quite variable with some dogs having a tightly curled tail and others having a nearly straight one.
The head of the Austrian Pinscher is pear-shaped and proportional to the size of the dog’s body. The muzzle, which is normally slightly shorter than the skull, is distinct from the rest of the head but still transitions smoothly into it. The muzzle should be powerful enough to provide the dog with a very strong bite and ends in a black nose. The eyes of the Austrian Pinscher are large and brown. The ears of this breed drop down closely to the sides of the head, and usually are forward facing. The overall expression of most Austrian Pinschers is intelligent and intense.
The Austrian Pinscher is a double-coated breed, which provides the dog with maximum protection from the elements. The undercoat is soft and very dense, while the outer coat is smooth and close-lying. The actual length of the coat varies considerably from animal to animal, with some having very short coats and others possessing fur that is a few inches long. The Austrian Pinscher is primarily found in russet gold, brownish-yellow, stag red, black, and grey. Any of these colors may be found on an individual dog, and are often blended together. A very large percentage of Austrian Pinschers also have tan and/or white markings, especially on the feet, chests, neck, muzzle, and tip of the tail, but such markings are not required or always present.
The Austrian Pinscher has a temperament that is very similar to that of many other Pinscher/Schnauzer type dogs. This breed is known for being very devoted and loyal to its family, and the Austrian Pinscher tends to form very deep bonds with those it knows well. When in the presence of family and friends, breed members tend to be quite affectionate and playful, sometimes even clownish. When properly socialized with them, most Austrian Pinschers are very tolerant of children, especially those that they know well. As is the case with any dog, Austrian Pinschers that are not accustomed to children may be unpredictable with them, and this breed does have a tendency to nip.
For hundreds of years, the Austrian Pinscher was bred to alert its master to the presence of strangers and to defend its family and property if necessary. As a result, the modern breed is both highly protective and very suspicious of new people. With proper socialization, most of these dogs will be polite and discriminating around strangers, although they are very rarely friendly with them. If an Austrian Pinscher has not been properly socialized and trained, its natural tendencies may transform into nervousness and human aggression. Those looking for a watch dog or even a guard dog will probably be very satisfied with an Austrian Pinscher. This breed is not only extremely vigilant and territorial, but also extraordinarily courageous, powerful, and willing to use force if necessary. Although not especially large, the Austrian Pinscher makes a more determined and capable guard dog than many breeds several times its size.
The hunting instincts of the Austrian Pinscher were deliberately bred out to protect livestock and avoid punishments for poaching. As a result, this dog tends to do very well around larger animals when properly socialized with them, and often defends them just as it would its family. However, this dog was also bred to be a ruthless exterminator of rats, willing to spend an entire day dispatching them. This breed still retains a substantial amount of aggression towards small creatures, and is probably not trustworthy around pets such as hamsters or mice, rabbits or even cats. Bred as a protection animal, many Austrian Pinschers exhibit substantial levels of dog aggression and often have fairly severe dominance and territorial issues with other canines. While the Austrian Pinscher is not a dog that necessarily goes looking for a fight, it will certainly not back down once it has found one. Although training and socialization will help reduce issues, this breed is probably best kept as either an only dog or with a single member of the opposite sex.
The Austrian Pinscher is an extremely intelligent dog, and is probably capable of learning almost anything that any breed can with the possibly exceptions of advanced herding behaviors and scent trailing. Farmers have used this dog for dozens of tasks throughout the centuries, with a great deal of success. Experienced and skilled owners often find that this dog is very capable and obedient. However, this breed is not necessarily the easiest to train. Austrian Pinschers tend to be quite dominant and challenging of authority. Not a breed that will willingly and eagerly obey anyone, owners who are unable to maintain a constant position of dominance will likely have a dog that is completely disobedient.
Austrian Pinschers are capable of working all day, every day. These dogs wandered around their farms for hours hunting vermin and watching for intruders. As a result, this breed needs a substantial amount of exercise. A breed member should get at least 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous physical activity every day, although they would probably prefer more. It is absolutely imperative that Austrian Pinscher owners provide their dogs with the exercise that they require; otherwise behavioral problems will surely develop such as extreme destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, nervousness, continuous barking, and aggression. The Austrian Pinscher craves the opportunity to wander around off-leash, and this breed adapts very poorly to urban life. Even after the breed has gotten sufficient exercise, it is rarely calm indoors, instead choosing to wander the home. Due to its high level of territoriality, the Austrian Pinscher’s wanderings are usually limited to its own property and this dog is said to rarely leave its own turf. Many owners actually find the breed’s energy and physical abilities appealing, and this breed can participate in virtually any canine game or activity from hiking to Frisbee.
Potential owners of Austrian Pinschers need to be aware of the dog’s tendency to bark. These dogs tend to be extremely vocal, especially when they are excited. Training and exercise will greatly reduce an Austrian Pinscher’s barking, but this breed will always be considerably louder than most others. When kept in close quarters, this breed may result in noise complaints.
The Austrian Pinscher is a very low maintenance dog. This breed should never require professional grooming; only a regular brushing is necessary. Only those tasks which all breeds need such as toenail clipping and tooth-brushing are required. Austrian Pinschers do shed, and some of them shed quite heavily. Although there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, the Austrian Pinscher is less suited for allergy sufferers or those who hate cleaning up dog hair than many other dogs.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted for this breed. As a result it is difficult to make any statements as to their health. Most seem to think that the Austrian Pinscher is a healthy breed that suffers from low rates of genetically inherited health conditions. As breed numbers are very low there is great concern among breeders and fanciers that the health of this breed will be compromised. To prevent this from occurring, the KOB has initiated stringent breeding procedures as well as continuously searching for new animals in the hope that they will expand the gene pool. Most sources claim that the life expectancy of this breed is from 12 to 14 years, although it is not clear what this estimate is based on.
Although health studies have not been conducted on the Austrian Pinscher, they have been for closely related breeds. Based on this information, some health issues that the Austrian Pinscher may have include: