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Tips On Buying A Puppy

by Bob and Nancy Vandiver

Tips on Buying a Puppy

Please read this all the way through.  You will find some useful information throughout the page including breeders to contact and resources to help you learn what to look for in your puppy search.

The first consideration is where to buy your puppy.  There are essentially three kinds of suppliers of puppies to the general market.  They are the Hobby Show Breeders, Back Yard Breeders, and Commercial Breeders .

Although all breeders within these categories don’t precisely fit the descriptions I discuss below, I believe that over 90% of them do.  It’s rare breeder in a category that strays far from the description you are about to read.

Let’s consider each type of breeder.

Hobby Show Breeders This breeder is primarily interested in the betterment of the breed. They are almost always actively involved in showing in conformation, and often participate in obedience, and/or agility.  Most of them are actively involved in dog clubs.  Most serious breeders are members of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America.

They breed no more than one litter a year … two at the most.  They fully understand the health issues within the breed and test both sire and dam for the important ones.  These breeders select based on correct Doberman temperaments.  They spend a great deal of effort researching pedigrees and stud dogs to select the breeding most likely to yield the best possible puppies.  The puppies are usually whelped and raised in their homes and are socialized beginning at a very early age to optimize their temperaments for life in the real world.

Their goal is to breed the best Doberman, because they plan to keep one of the puppies for themselves as a show competitor.  The facts of life, however, is that not all of the litter will be show quality.  In fact, seldom is even half of a litter show quality.  Many breeders consider a litter with one or two potential champions as a successful breeding.   The remainder of the litter are placed in pet or performance homes (obedience and agility usually).  If you are fortunate, you may get one of these puppies.

Back Yard Breeders This breeder falls into two separate categories.   One is a family that typically has a one bitch that they would like to breed “so the kids can learn about birth” or “because the dam is such a great pet and they want another” or because they see an opportunity “to make a few dollars” with little effort.  These breeders know little about the breed.  They spend no time seriously searching for the right stud dog.  They usually select the sire based on knowing someone in town who owns a male.  They do not understand the genetic health issues or the need to health test the sire and dam before breeding.  No consideration is given to the quality of the breeding partners, because they simply don’t know what constitutes a good Doberman.

The second category of Back Yard Breeder has a male and one or two females. They breed solely to make money, and are not motivated by any other factor.  The knowledge of these breeders is typically as lacking as that of the first category of Back Yard Breeder.

Commercial Breeders This breeder houses many males and females of several breeds.  The bitches are usually bred every time they are in season, until they can produce no more.  The animals are all in kennels … some of which are sanitary, and many  others are not.  There is no attempt to breed for anything but volume and dollars.  The puppies are usually sold to brokers at 5 to 6 weeks old.  The brokers then resell them to pet shops and other retail outlets.

Many of the Commercial Breeders do not provide American Kennel Club (AKC) registration papers.  AKC requires that the breeders maintain accurate records of their breeding to ensure the accuracy of AKC’s registration.  AKC also requires that the animals be kept in an environment acceptable to AKC for the health and sanitation of the dogs.  Many of these breeders can’t and/or won’t meet AKC’s requirements.  Since they know that many of the dog-buying public are not really knowledgeable of registrations, they have opened up their own registries that allow any dog to be registered.  The unsuspecting public assumes that it is AKC registration and in some cases the Commercial Breeder will even tell the buyers that the papers can be transferred to AKC registration later.  This is not correct.  Many of these registration organizations  require no proof of parentage and have no inspections for health conditions.

Some of the commercial breeders specialize in only one or two breeds …. including Dobermans and Rottweilers.   Many of these breeders produce a lot of puppies and peddle a good deal of misinformation.    The puppies are ALWAYS whelped and raised in a kennel with no exposure to a home environment.

They would have you believe that their dogs are better by calling them “Super Dobes” and by grading them as “superior” or some other classification that infer that they are of high quality.  In fact there are almost never any champions within the past five generations of the puppy you will buy.  Some of these breeders  pride themselves on “super sized” Dobermans.  Big Dobermans are not correct.  The standard calls for a male to be a maximum of 28″ at the shoulders and a bitch to be a maximum of 26″.  A correct male will weigh in the mid-eighty pound range and a correct bitch will weigh in the upper fifty to lower sixty pound range.  Bigger is NOT better.

Some of the commercial breeders promise dogs that are “to your specifications” on temperament, when in fact, you will be sold just any puppy out of their many litters.  They claim that they are out there proving the quality of their dogs in the obedience ring.  Upon inspection, you’ll find that almost all the obedience dogs are at the lowest title, and seldom have good scores … just enough to scrape by for a title.  Virtually none of them can even approach the level required of an AKC Obedience Champion title.

Importantly, some of these breeders charge outrageous prices for the quality level they sell.  They typically sell puppies for MORE than a good show breeder asks for a really top quality pet that was raised in the home and properly socialized.

We recently placed a show puppy with a person who had bought a puppy from one of the Doberman Commercial Breeders specializing in Dobermans.  The dog was purchased for the price of a good show quality dog from a reputable breeder.  However, puppy from the commercial breeder has hip dysplasia in both hips, and is severely limited on what it can do.   There was not one AKC champion in the entire pedigree, and only one obedience titled dog.  It was titled at the lowest possible level.  The “guarantee” promises to replace the puppy after its death …. but who wants another dyspla
stic dog from this breeder?

Which Breeder Should You Use?

It’s clear where you want to buy your puppy.  The problem is that there are not enough Hobby Show Breeders to supply the market with good puppies.   Most of these breeders are very concerned where their puppies go, and how they will be taken care of.  They will ask a lot of questions before letting you have one of their puppies.  However, we believe that it is well worth your effort to search out a good breeder.  Your puppy will be with you for many years.  Take your time !!

It is important to have a healthy Doberman with a good temperament and a sound body.    Whether we like it or not, many people are afraid of Dobermans, and jump to the incorrect conclusion that they are all aggressive.  You must be reasonably assured that your Doberman has been bred with correct temperament in mind, and that it has been socialized early, so that it can live well in our society.

Health Issues in Dobermans

All purebred dogs have known health issues.  Dogs that are not purebred have health issues too.  You just don’t know which ones they will have.

There are a few health issues that you should be aware of when looking for your Doberman puppy.   The most prevalent health problems in Dobermans are Hip Dysplasia, Cardiomyopathy, hypothyroidism, CVI (wobbler’s syndrome), and von Willebrand’s disease,

Hip Dysplasia is a genetic disease that results in a hip joint that is too shallow for the “ball” to fit correctly.  This can be a debilitating disease, depending on the severity.  It is rare in Dobermans, from  show lines, but it does occur more commonly in the general Doberman population.   We recommend that you INSIST on BOTH parents having certificates from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).   Do not take the breeder’s word.  Ask to see the certificate, or get the exact AKC registered names of the dogs and go to the OFA we site.  You can search the database for the dog’s name to see if OFA has certified the hips to be free of dysplasia.

Dobermans have a tendency to have Cardiomyopathy, a heart disease.  At present there is no conclusive test, but both parents should have at least an EKG screening to determine if they had an indication of Cardio at the time the test was done.  This is the minimum test that most breeders perform to screen for cardio. Conscientious breeders know from pedigree information which animals had Cardio.

Hypothyroidism is found in Dobermans, but it is not a common problem among well-bred dogs.   Both parents can and should be tested for hypothyroidism and both should have normal results.  Do not purchase  a puppy produced by parents that have not been tested.

CVI (wobbler’s syndrome) an inherited disease of the spinal column. It usually occurs as an adult (3 + years old).  There is no test for this disease, but knowledgeable breeders know which dogs have been affected by this disease, and they do not use them in their breeding program.  This is another reason to know your breeder, their knowledge of health issues, and their commitment to improving.

von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) is a blood disease that is inherited.  It is one of the least destructive diseases in Dobermans, but it should no be ignored.  There are very good DNA tests available.  Both parents should be tested.   The genetic tendency of the puppies to have vWD can be predicted reliably based on the tests of the parents.

Now that you are terrified that the Doberman is a lost cause health wise, let me assure you that there are many that live long and full lives with no health problems.  Just be careful where you get your puppy.

What Questions Should You Ask?

The best way to tell if you have contacted a good breeder is to ask the right questions, and to know in advance what the response should be.  You don’t necessarily need to ask these questions, but you should have the information they generate from your conversation with the breeder.

    • What dog clubs do you belong to, and what is your involvement?
      The response you should expect: The breeder should belong to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America (DPCA) and preferably a local all-breed kennel club.  They should be able to tell you their activities so that you know that they are seriously involved in dogs and breeding for the betterment of the breed.
    • Have the parents been tested for the diseases listed above (those that have tests)?
      The response you should expect: Yes
    • Is one or more  parent an AKC champions?
      The response you should expect: Yes
    • What was the basis for selecting the sire and dam for this litter?
      The response you should expect: The dam is of exceptional quality (preferably and AKC Champion) with correct temperament and health.  The sire is a dog of similar type (also preferably an AKC Champion) with a correct temperament and health.  The sire and dam should not have the same faults in their body structure.
    • Describe your procedure during whelping.
      The response you should expect: This question could be answered in detail, but the information we are looking for is “We are with the bitch 24 hours a day the day before the litter is due and for the first few days after birth.
    • How are the puppies raised?
      The response you should expect: Raised in the home with lots of interaction with people.
    • How are puppies socialized?
      The response you should expect: We have visitors frequently who come to play with the puppies.  We also have taken them away from home individually (after about 7 weeks) to give them exposure to the outside world.
    • At what age do you crop the ears?
      The response you should expect: This varies from breeder to breeder but is usually from 7 to 9 weeks.  The veterinarian should be one that they have used before whose cropping produced very good ear shape at adulthood.
    • Do you sell your puppies on contract?  What are the terms?
      The response you should expect: Most breeders sell their puppies on contract.  Members of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America are bound by a code of ethics that requires a contract or letter of understanding for puppy sales.  They normally do not let pet quality puppies go to homes without a contractual obligation to spay or neuter the puppy.  Some breeders allow the owner to keep the puppy in tact, but offer a limited registration.  This allows the dog to compete in any AKC  performance event except conformation.   Any puppies produced by the dog or bitch are not registerable by AKC.  This protects the breeders from unscrupulous people who buy a pet quality, then breed it with the intent of capitalizing on the hard work of the reputable breeder.  The breeders will also have other requirements in their contract regarding the care of the puppy and the return of the puppy under certain circumstances.
    • How do you select your puppy buyers?
      The response you should expect: The buyer should have a screening process that they can describe.  You may have already been exposed to the screening process before you had the
      opportunity to ask these questions.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the things you need to know about your breeder before you buy.  You owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible about the breed before you buy.  You don’t need to be an expert on the breed, but you should have learned enough to know if the breeder is “feeding you a line”.

Visit the DPCA web site at to learn more.   A good area on this site is the Public Educational page as well as the DPCA Breeder Referral page.

If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations …  you are serious about your search.  To help you along, here is the link to the DPCA Breeders Referral Committee.  This is the first step in finding a reputable breeder who likely does everything described above and more.