Born in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, he was educated in Ireland and later spent 5 years in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. After the war he worked in the British Colonial Service in Tanganyka. Dobbs came to Canada in 1952 and became a teacher, editor for Macmillan of Canada, managing editor of Saturday Night, and book editor of The Toronto Star Weekly.
In 2000, he was awarded the Order of Ontario. Dobbs lived in Toronto with his wife, Linda Kooluris Dobbs, a noted portrait artist, painter and photographer. In 2013, shortly before his death at age 89 following a period of ill health, Dobbs received the Order of Canada by the Right Honourable David Johnston, at his home in Toronto. He was cremated and his remains interred in the family grave in St Mary's (Church of Ireland) churchyard in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, Ireland.