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Puppy Buyer’s Guide … Before You Buy

One of the most crucial periods in the process of buying a puppy is before you actually buy. You have already decided that the Doberman is the breed for you, and it is now time to look for a pup. Through thorough and proper research, you will have a good understanding of your pup before it ever enters your life. You may also save yourself a great deal of heartache and disappointment over the course of your relationship with your new companion.

If you haven’t already done so, you should give serious thought to what activities you want to undertake with your pup. Are your primary interests in the show ring or in the working arena? Where your training interests lie will impact greatly on the breeding and bloodlines you should look to.

Once this has been determined, then you have the task of finding the breeding that will best suit your interests. Of the many Doberman litters available, probably few will provide pups that will suit your needs and abilities as a handler. The following guide will give you some perimeters within which to make your decision.

Titles

Conformation and/or working titles prove that a dog or bitch has been judged as having qualities worthy of passing on to the breed. Show ring and performance competitions act as a standard by which a dog’s physical attributes, temperament, and athleticism are judged. It is extremely important to look at the titles throughout the generations of the pedigrees that interest you. They will give you an indication of the quality of stock represented throughout a litter’s background and the type of breeding it is. For example, if you were looking for a show prospect, you would probably be best off looking at litters from Ch.-titled parents as opposed to strictly schutzhund titles. On the other hand, if you were looking for a sport prospect, you would be best off looking at litters from schutzhund-titled parents. Regardless of your interests, an absence of titles throughout a pedigree should act as a clear warning sign to walk away from a breeding.

Where titles show up in a pedigree is also of great importance. A “Ch.” or a “CD” somewhere, perhaps several generations back, is not enough to justify a breeding. The pedigree should be littered with meaningful titles. Ideally, both sire and dam should be titled as this proves that not only do they carry qualities necessary to enhance the breed, but that the breeder has taken the time, put in the effort, and shown some concern in testing their stock in the conformation ring or on the working field. Furthermore, to train through to a title in the working arena is an excellent way for the breeder to truly understand the bitch’s or dog’s true temperament.

If titles on the parents are absent, ask why. If you are not satisfied with the answer, walk away and look for another litter.

The following is a list of some of the common titles and their meanings. This is an incomplete list, as sports and titles proliferate and change over time. It is not intended to represent all titles available but will give you a sense of some of the most common titles you will see on pedigrees.

Conformation

  • Ch. (Champion) of a particular kennel club such as UDC Ch., DV (German) Ch., or AKC Ch.
  • Sieger (Male “Victor”). The Europeans hold 5 Sieger shows each year, so the title will generally be preceded by the organization (i.e. Welt [World], DV, IDC)
  • Siegerin (Female “Victor”)

Obedience

(a “D” prefix in front of one of these titles indicates it’s a UDC title; a “U” indicates UKC)

  • CD (Companion Dog) the most basic obedience title
  • CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) the next highest title
  • UD (Utility Dog) the most advanced level of obedience competition
  • UDX (Utility Dog Excellent) shows more proficiency at the Utility level
  • OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion) the most difficult obedience title to earn

Tracking

  • T1 – UDC tracking title (equivalent to schutzhund 1 track)
  • T2 – UDC tracking title (equivalent to schutzhund 2 track)
  • T3 – UDC tracking title (equivalent to schutzhund 3 track)
  • FH – advanced schutzhund tracking title (more difficult than Schutzhund 3)
  • FH2 – extremely difficult schutzhund tracking title
  • TD – (Tracking Dog) AKC basic tracking title (approx. equivalent to Schutzhund 3 track)
  • TDX – (Tracking Dog Excellent) AKC advanced tracking title (approx. equivalent to FH track)
  • VST – (Variable Surface Tracker) AKC extremely difficult tracking title (approx. equivalent to FH2 track)
  • CT – (Champion Tracker) AKC title for dogs who have attained the TD, TDX and CT.

(NOTE–A dog with both a UD in obedience and a TD in tracking will simply be listed as a UDT; if it’s a TDX, then it will be UDTX.)

Temperament

  • BH or B – basic temperament test for schutzhund
  • WAC – basic temperament test given by the DPCA (Working Aptitude Certificate)
  • TT – all-breed temperament test based on the WAC test

(NOTE–UDC’s temperament tests for conformation entries are not titles, only certifications.)

Service Work

  • ThD/TDI – Therapy Dog
  • SAR – Search and Rescue dog

Dogs may also be used as service dogs. There are no official service dog certifications.

Protection Sports

  • SchH 1 – first level schutzhund title
  • SchH 2 – second level schutzhund title
  • SchH 3 – third level schutzhund title (competition level)
  • IPO 1 – similar to SchH 1, minor rule variations
  • IPO 2 – similar to SchH 2, minor rule variations
  • IPO 3 – similar to SchH 3, minor rule variations
  • ADPr or AD – endurance title showing a willingness to work after physical stress
  • ZTP – fit for breeding test involving a conformation evaluation, a temperament test, and the SchH 1 protection routine
  • Angek – the Koerung, similar to the ZTP in structure but much harder (can be annual or for life)

Agility

There are many agility organizations, each having their own titling levels which change on a regular basis. The agility organizations include AKC, USDAA, NADAC, UKC, ASCA, CPE, DOCNA, UKI, and more. It is best to research these titles with the individual organization.

Other Sports

There are many other titling dog sports and organizations. Below is a partial listing

  • Flyball
  • Barn Hunt
  • Dock Diving
  • Lure Coursing
  • Herding

Health Concerns

As with most living creatures, the Doberman has its fair share of health concerns, many of which are genetic and fairly ingrained in the gene pool. These problems include dilated cardiomyopathy, von Willebrand’s disease, CVI, and hypothyroidism (among others). It is of great concern to serious enthusiasts of the breed that these health problems be recognized, studied, and dealt with through responsible breeding practices. With the introduction of DNA testing, there is a real possibility that we may be able to breed out many of the health problems which exist in the Doberman.

The proof of health testing is one way you as a buyer can ensure that your new pup stands a greater chance of not being afflicted by a genetic disorder. Never accept a breeder’s word that his or her line is free from disorders. Demand proof of the following:

  • OFA hips (OFA = Orthopedic Foundation of America)
  • DNA vWD
  • a current Eye clearance (within 12 months)
  • a current thyroid (within 12 months)
  • a current cardiomyopathy screening (within 12 months)

A responsible and reputable breeder will have taken the time and gone to the expense of performing health tests on breeding stock. He or she will also be willing to discuss health results, show proof of testing, and be knowledgeable about the age and cause of death of dogs in the pedigree.

Some Ethical Concerns

Although the topic of ethical breeding practices is certainly open to debate, there are a number of items you should be aware of which will help you determine your own ethical standards.

The age of breeding stock is something you should be very concerned with. How old are the dam and sire? For reasons of mental and physical maturity, bitches in particular should not be bred before 18 months. Sires should not be bred younger than 12 months. In addition to this, some health tests cannot accurately be done before 2 years of age as these health problems may not show up until a dog or bitch is mature.

Another important question to address is how many Dobermans does a breeder own. Owning too many dogs and bitches can equate to too little time to spend with each. If a breeder has large numbers of breeding stock, ask why. Large numbers may represent breeding for profit as opposed to the betterment of the breed. If a breeder has too many dogs and bitches to possibly give all the time, attention, training, and love they deserve, don’t buy from them. Likewise and following the same reasoning, ask how many puppies are born at the kennel each year.

Ask how often bitches are bred. A bitch should ideally be bred no more than every other season. Bitches who are bred repeatedly with no break between litters quickly become spent both physically and mentally and can no longer produce pups which are given the best start in life.

Ask yourself whether or not the breeder seems to care where the puppies are going and what kind of homes they will be given. If you are not asked a number of questions about your own situation, lifestyle, and training goals, the breeder may be more interested in a sale rather than the quality of life for the pup. Do not be offended by a breeder questioning, but rather take it as a good sign that the breeder is acting responsibly and ethically.

A responsible and ethical breeder may sell pups under a contractual arrangement. The presence of a contract neither makes a breeder ethical or unethical, but is something you should be aware of. If a contract is involved, read it over carefully before you agree to anything. If you have any questions about the clauses contained therein, go over it with someone knowledgeable about dog matters. Within a contract, look for clauses thatprotect the pup throughout its life such as limitations on re-sale or the power of the breeder to take back the pup. Such clauses may indicate that the breeder has a strong sense of ethics and cares for the pups and the breed as a whole.

Responsible breeders do not breed for non-standard traits. They do not breed for non-standard sizes (“King” Dobermans); they do not breed for non-standard colors (whites), and they do not breed for non-standard temperaments (viciousness). Watch out for things which are touted as “rare.” There may be a very good reason why they are rare/undesirable.

Questions you should ask breeders

Ask for and check on references from previous puppy owners, veterinarians, and members of the UDC or DPCA. Also get references from the owners of the sire, grandsire, and granddam. If a breeder resents the request for references, look elsewhere for a pup.

Do not take claims in advertising at face value. Insist on copies of health tests and ask to look at score books. If the dam and sire are not titled, ask why. Insist on seeing at least a 5-generation pedigree and look for the number of (and which) titles present. Ask the breeder what deceased dogs died from and the age at death.

Consider whether or not the breeder is someone you will want to have a long-term relationship with. Ask if the breeder will be able to provide you with answers on ear cropping aftercare, training, and/or behavioral problems.

Ask what steps the breeder has taken to ensure socialization of the puppies. For example, have they been exposed to children, cats, or other people? Has the breeder done puppy temperament tests to match the puppy to prospective owner? If so, ask the details of the testing process.

If there are well-known dogs and bitches represented in the pedigree, ask others in the dog world about them. Use resources available to you such as contacts through training clubs, show circles, or internet discussion groups.

Questions breeders should ask you

Be prepared for the breeder to ask questions of you. Do not be offended by this, but rather take it as a sign that the breeder you are dealing with cares about the breed as a whole and the future of the pups in question.

Some of the questions you may be asked are, “Have you owned dogs before? If so, what breeds, and what happened to them?” The breeder may want to know if you have any other dogs now, and if so, how many. You may also be asked if you’re interested in breeding. Or you may be asked what your training goals are, who you’ll be training with, and what titles you’ve put on dogs in the past. You will probably be asked if you have any prior experience with Dobermans (in particular, males, if that is what you want to purchase).

You may be asked about the type of home you have, if you rent or own, and if your yard is fenced. Other questions may cover whether you keep your dogs in the house or kenneled and how you view them within your family structure.

Be prepared to provide references from veterinarians, trainers, or breeders you have dealt with before.

Do not be offended by the questions a breeder asks of you. Rather, take them as an indication that the breeder is responsible and ethical. You should feel as though you are arranging an adoption as opposed to buying a product. The absence of questioning should act as a warning sign to go elsewhere for a pup.

Thanks to UDC member Keltie Lang of Vancouver, BC for her contribution to the construction of our Buyers’ Guide. Keltie’s initiative resulted in the excellent document contained here for the use of prospective Doberman buyers. This document was last updated June 13, 1997, and updated by Robin Nuttall on April 18, 2013.

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