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With their wide-set round eyes, short muzzles, and wiry fur, it's easy to see how the distinctive affenpinscher earned his name—once you translate it, that is. "Affenpinscher" essentially means "monkey-like dog" (affen = monkey, pinscher = terrier/dog). However, his spirited personality and unique face inspires a different comparison for those familiar with the breed. "Affenpinschers are a big dog in a small package," says Mary Burch, CAAB. "This breed is loyal, curious, and famously amusing; his face is almost human-looking, and he is fearless."
Though small enough to be part of the toy breed group, the affenpinscher carries himself like a boss. While they're likely a rare sight at your local dog park, when you do see one it'll make a lasting impression. "Their complete sense of their own self-importance is very comical in such a small dog," says Paul Doupe, corresponding secretary of the Affenpinscher Club of America.
Standing under 1 foot tall and weighing in at 10 pounds or less, affenpinschers are petite pups. Their wiry, medium-length fur (not to mention that "in-charge" personality) can make them seem a little more robust than what you normally see in the toy breed, adding width to their chest and legs.
The wiry fur also gives him a round head, contributing to the monkey-like face. Longer fur at the muzzle also hints at why the French nicknamed affenpinschers diablotin moustachu ("mustached little devil"). Like other breeds with wiry fur, their coat needs to be combed at least twice a week to prevent matting—though its stronger texture helps keep them from shedding often.
Along with their distinctive faces, they have round black eyes that blend in with their common black coat. However, affenpinscher colors can be red, beige, black, grey, and a black and beige combo.
These adorable dogs have remarkably complex personalities. "Affenpinschers are a small dog with stamina, agility, and great courage, yet upon occasion displays sensitivity and gentleness," says Burch. "They are intelligent, quick learners and possess a unique thinking process."
Doupe also speaks highly of the affenpinschers' unique temperament: "As an affen owner, you will never be bored," he says. "They do very well not just in conformation, but also in obedience, trick dog, agility, and barn work—or they are equally happy to just snuggle up beside you on the couch. I have one who insists on sleeping on my pillow beside me."
Though they are often quick studies and can have playful and affectionate sides to their personalities, affenpinschers tend to approach life on their terms. This is why they may not be a great choice for families with young children, as they don't like to be hugged, squeezed, or chased.
Their pronounced intellect also means affenpinschers get bored really easily. They need opportunities to get out their energy and love social interaction. "They desire to always be with someone or around people and hate being left alone," Burch says.
The affenpinscher is a happy medium between lap dog and athletic pup, so they're a good fit for both apartments and homes with fenced-in yards. They'll find ways to stay active indoors, though they will need daily walks for exercise, entertainment, and social stimulation. If you do have a yard, Doupe advises to be aware of your surroundings and keep a watchful eye out for predators—again, these guys are tiny. "We personally do not leave them unattended outdoors, as we have hawks flying over," he says.
Though their independent nature can put them at odds with small children, well-behaved or older kids who can respect the affenpinscher's boundaries will find a loyal friend. Affenpinschers also get along with other dogs in your household, especially if they're raised together.
Though they can get along with other pups, affenpinschers can forget their petite size and attempt to boss around bigger dogs. This tendency is rooted in their relatively high prey drive that developed from being bred as ratters centuries ago. Because of this, affenpinschers may not coexist happily with cats—and definitely not with any rodent pets such as hamsters and gerbils. As with all dogs, make sure to socialize your affenpinscher puppy early so they can thrive in different environments.
Because they're small dogs, affenpinschers may need assistance getting up stairs and on or off furniture. They love to be around their families and will seek you—and your lap—out, so it might be a good idea to invest doggy steps so they can climb up to you on the couch.
Affenpinscher dogs are little smarties, but they also have a mind of their own, which is important to remember during training.
"The breed has an undeserved reputation as being difficult to train because affenpinschers are independent-minded," Burch says. "The key is that they are very intelligent and generally eager to please the humans they have bonded with. Keep in mind that they are easily bored and tend to lose interest during long training sessions." Burch recommends shorter and more frequent positive reinforcement training sessions—and if you can, work with a trainer who specifically has experience with toy breeds.
While no dog is truly hypoallergenic, affenpinschers don't shed much and could be a good choice for those who have allergies. But their medium-length, wiry coat can become matted if not brushed at least twice a week. Burch suggests grooming first with a brush and then following up with a metal comb. And because the affenpinscher's coat doesn't grow very fast, you can go quite a while between trims (anywhere between six weeks and two months).
Like other toy dogs, affenpinschers generally enjoy a long lifespan; Doupe says it's not unusual for affenpinschers to live past 15 years.
"Like other shorter-faced breeds, affens can experience breathing problems during hot weather if they are permitted to overheat and then have difficulty panting to lower their body temperature, as dogs don't sweat to keep cool," Burch says.
Affenpinschers date back to at least the 16th century, though some experts believe the breed was known as far back as the 1400s, based on depictions of dogs in the works of German artist Albrecht Dürer and Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. Back then, affenpinschers primarily were working dogs bred to hunt mice and rats in homes.
However, their charming personality may be what captured the heart of the European society women who became particularly fond of affenpinscher dogs in the mid-1800s. Clubs dedicated to affenpinschers popped up in France and Germany by the end of the 19th century. In the early 1900s, affenpinschers were companions to German film stars and internationally famed socialites—including Evalyn Walsh McLean, who once owned the Hope Diamond.
The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1936 and captured the U.S. with their unique appearance (newsreels referred to the pups as "monkey dogs"). But World War II lead their popularity to decline, as the dog could not be imported from Europe. Though breeding efforts have boosted their numbers since, affenpinscher dogs are still considered a rare breed. If you'd love to add one to your family, you'll likely have to get on a waiting list of a reputable breeder.
- Artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir may have been a fan of this tiny breed—affenpinschers have been spotted in many of his works, including the famed "Luncheon of the Boating Party."
- Affenpinschers often entertain themselves by playing a solo game of catch, or by walking on their hind legs.