The Choking Doberman

An Urban Legend

Doberman Pincer
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Here's an example story of the so-called "Choking Doberman" urban legend

My cousin and his wife lived in Sydney with this huge Doberman in a little apartment off Maroubra Road. One night they went out for dinner and a spot of clubbing. By the time they got home it was late and my cousin was more than a little drunk. They got in the door and were greeted by the dog choking to death in the loungeroom.

My cousin just fainted, but his wife rang the veterinarian, who was an old family friend of hers and got her to agree to meet her at the surgery. The wife drives over and drops off the dog, but decides that she'd better go home and get her hubby into bed.

She gets home and finally slaps my cousin into consciousness, but he's still drunk. It takes her almost half an hour to get him up the stairs, and then the phone rings. She's tempted to just leave it, but she decides that it must be important or they wouldn't be ringing that late at night. As soon as she picks up the phone, she hears the vet's voice screaming out:

"Thank God I got you in time! Leave the house! Now! No time to explain!" Then the vet hangs up.

Because she's such an old family friend, the wife trusts her, and so she starts getting the hubby down the stairs and out of the house. By the time they've made it all the way out, the police are outside. They rush up the front stairs past the couple and into the house, but my cousin's wife still doesn't have a clue what's going on.

The vet shows up and says, "Have they got him? Have they got him?"

"Have they got who?" says the wife, starting to get really pissed off.

"Well, I found out what the dog was choking on – it was a human finger."

Just then the police drag out a dirty, stubbly man who is bleeding profusely from one hand. "Hey Sarge," one of them yells. "We found him in the bedroom."


"The Choking Doberman" has circulated in more or less this form for at least three decades, on as many continents. In his book of the same title, folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand cites a plethora of known variants, including a British version dating back to 1973. The legend became hugely popular in the United States during the early 1980s. It was published as an allegedly firsthand account in an American tabloid called The Globe in 1981, though subsequent research revealed that the pseudonymous author ("Gayla Crabtree") had actually heard the story secondhand in a beauty parlor.

Folklorists believe "The Choking Doberman" is a descendant of a much older (perhaps as old as the Renaissance) European folktale about a clumsy thief whose hand is either injured or amputated while committing a crime, marking him as the perpetrator. Among other interpretations, it can be read as a "just deserts" tale in which the criminal, as a result of his own actions, undergoes a punishment appropriate to the crime.