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10 Smart Facts About Dobermans

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Dobermans have a reputation as menacing security dogs, but that doesn't mean they don't have a soft spot for their two-legged pals. Learn more about the second best guard dog in the world. 

1. THEY’RE A FAIRLY NEW BREED. 

Unlike some dogs that have been hanging around since ancient times, Dobermans are newer to the scene. The breed originated in Germany and began to take form in the early 1880s, making it less than 150 years old.   

2. THEY WERE FIRST BRED BY A TAX COLLECTOR. 

Herr Karl Louis Dobermann was a man with many jobs: He was a tax collector, who would sometimes work as a police officer, night guard, and dog catcher. Because of his career, Dobermann often found himself traveling with bags of money through dangerous parts of town at late hours; it left him feeling uneasy. With his access to the pound, breeding a canine bodyguard to keep him—and his money—safe seemed like a natural decision. He wanted a medium sized dog that was refined but intimidating. The resulting dog is lean and muscular with dark fur and brown markings. 

3. A LOT OF DOGS WENT INTO THE PROCESS. 

Dobermann did not take a lot of notes on his breeding process, so no one is exactly sure what breeds went into making the Doberman pinscher. However, some possible dogs believed to be in the mix include the Rottweiler, German Shorthaired Pointer, Weimaraner, Manchester Terrier, Beauceron, Great Dane, Black and Tan Terrier, and Greyhound. 

4. EAR AND TAIL DOCKING SERVED A PURPOSE. 

Since these dogs were bred to be personal guards, they needed to be ready to engage in fights. Some owners would remove weak spots, the tail and ears which can be pulled or torn, to avoid potential altercations. Today, most Dobermans are no longer used for fighting purposes, but there are some health concerns to consider. Doberman tails are very thin and sensitive, and can break a lot easier than other dogs'. Additionally, floppy ears prevent air from easily flowing into the ear canals and can cause ear infections. Some owners will dock these appendages simply to avoid future injuries. But many see this process as cruel and unnecessary, and certain countries, included Australia and the U.K., have even banned the practice. 

5. NO JOB IS TOO BIG FOR THESE DOGS. 

Dobermans are extremely athletic and intelligent dogs, so no task is out of their league. (And that includes the job of lap dog, even if you’re less enthused about it.) Dobies have been used for a variety of jobs and sports including police work, scent tracking, coursing, diving, search and rescue, therapy, and guiding the blind. 

6. THEY CAN BE MOVIE STARS.

The ‘70s had their share of hokey films, but 1972’s The Doberman Gang takes campy to the next level. The movie, as the trailer’s voiceover explains, is about "six savage Dobies with a thirst for cold cash that leaves banks bone dry.” The dogs are all named after famous bank robbers: Dillinger, Bonnie, Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Ma Barker. Using their persuasive barks and growls, these trained dogs manage to make off with heaps of money. If that concept seems silly to you, consider the fact that there were two sequels and talk of a remake as recently as 2010. 

7. AND WAR HEROES. 

Kurt the Doberman was the first canine casuality in the 1944 Battle of Guam during WWII. He went ahead of the troops and warned them of the approaching Japanese soldiers. Although an enemy grenade killed the brave dog, many soldiers were saved from the same fate because of his bravery. Kurt became the first of 25 war dogs to be buried in what is now known as the United States Marine Corps War Dog Cemetery on Guam. 

A memorial featuring a bronze statue of Kurt has been erected in the cemetery, with the names of the 24 other dogs inscribed on the side. Artist Susan Bahary was asked to create it. 

“To me, this is more subject, more about love, even though it is a war monument,” she said. “I hope that people can take a piece of love back when they see that piece. That they’ll feel the love we had for the dogs and that the dogs had for us.” 

8. THEY’RE SMART. 

Dobermans are the fifth smartest breed and easily trained. That intelligence comes at a price—to their human friends. Dobermans are known for outsmarting their trainers and getting easily bored

9. THERE HAVE BEEN DOBERMAN DRILL TEAMS. 

The first of many Doberman Drill Teams, started by Tess Henseler, performed at the 1959 Westminster KC dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The groups performed at various celebrations and sporting events and showcased the dogs’ intelligence and superior agility. Later, Rosalie Alvarez formed her own team that toured for 30 years

10. BREEDING IS MAKING THEM MORE GENTLE. 

Since Dobermans are transitioning from guard dogs to loving companions, breeders are moving them away from aggressive qualities. Although Dobies have a softer personality today, all dogs are different and a lot of their temperament is dependent on proper training. These dogs can be great with families and children, but only when correctly trained and socialized. 

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Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

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