When I went to pick out my first Doberman pup, I did countless hours of research in an attempt to find the perfect method of choosing a Doberman puppy from a litter of similar looking (and acting) brothers and sisters. Since that time, I’ve talked to countless breeders and further refined this process down to what I believe is the absolute best way of picking a Doberman puppy. Let’s get you that perfect family pup!
How do you choose a Doberman puppy? The best method for choosing a Doberman puppy from a litter is to perform basic litter research, a visual inspection of the litter, and a series of temperament tests on each puppy. This will help ensure you’re choosing a healthy puppy whose personality is a good match to yours.
Hopefully, you took your time in finding a reputable Doberman breeder, and now you’re ready to pick which individual puppy from their latest litter you want to bring home to your family. This is a critical step because even puppies in the same litter will have very different personalities. Some will work great with your family and some won’t, but only one puppy will mesh the best in your home. Here’s how you can find that dog.
Step 1: Perform Basic Litter Research
The first step is to perform basic research on the bloodline of the puppies in the litter. This will provide a glimpse at the accomplishments, longevity, and health testing that has been performed on dogs in the same bloodline as your future pup.
- Ask your breeder for bloodline information. A reputable breeder will be willing to send bloodline information about the dogs in the litter. Ask for a family tree which includes the registered names and the AKC registration numbers for four generations back.
- Research the bloodline on Dobequest. Go to dobequest.org and use the information the breeder gave you to research the ancestors of the litter you’re considering. Check four generations back and make note of the cause of death (COD) and age at death of each dog you can find in the database. Look for any trends that may show a red flag such as early deaths, or deaths that are the result of an inherited genetic disease.
Not every Doberman is listed in the DobeQuest database, but many are and it’s a good place to start. Just because some dogs may not be listed isn’t necessarily a red flag.
Step 2: Visually Inspect the Litter and Their Environment
It’s important to visually inspect the litter in person, to get an idea of any potential issues they may have. It’s also important to meet the breeder in person and see the conditions the puppies are living in. If the dogs seem like they are the cream of the crop health wise, but they are living in horrible conditions, you probably want to think twice about getting a puppy from that breeder.
Look for the following signs of health problems in any of the puppies in the litter:
- Coughing or wheezing.
- Overly lethargic or not responsive.
- Sneezing or excessive sinus drainage.
- Signs of physical injuries.
- Any abnormalities in how they walk.
- Rear end of any puppies that are not in line with their front end while walking.
- Any unusual behavior.
The puppies should be clean, happy, and playful. They’re puppies after all, and they should be full of life! A normal reaction is a curiosity in the new visitor (you). Excessive fear of your presence should be a red flag.
The litter should be kept indoors and really only go outside for playtime or to go to the bathroom. Their environment should be clean, sanitary, and safe. A quality breeder will be very knowledgeable about the Doberman breed and be very concerned with ensuring their puppies go to good homes.
Also, no Doberman puppies should be sold under 8 weeks of age. It’s important for a Dobies to get their mother’s milk and experience the social interaction with their siblings until at least this age. In fact, selling a puppy younger than 8 weeks of age is a crime in many states.
In general, the size of the puppy’s paws is an indicator of the adult size of the dog. The bigger the paws, the larger the dog will be.
Step 3: Ask the Breeder Which Puppy Would Be Best
If you don’t see any red flags with the breeder or their facilities, you should then ask the breeder for their opinion on which puppy would be best for you based on your lifestyle. A reputable breeder will interview you every bit as much as you interview them and they should be able to help you select a puppy that fits your lifestyle.
The breeder is with their puppies 24 hours a day and will know their individual personalities extremely well. They probably won’t pair a puppy who likes to sit quietly in the corner with a marathon runner. So make sure you ask!
Of course, you’ll still want to do your own investigation to figure out which dog will be best for you, but it’s important to take note of the breeder’s opinion.
Step 4: Make Sure You Can Distinguish Between the Dogs
In the next step, you’ll be testing each puppy to determine their individual personality traits and checking them for any signs of poor health. It’s important that you have a way to tell all the cute brothers and sisters apart from each other if the breeder doesn’t have them marked in some way already.
A different colored collar on each puppy, or even just a makeshift collar out of colored ribbon works well. Use a different color for each dog that way you can refer to them by the color of their ribbon in your notes.
Step 5: Spend Time with Each Puppy Individually
This is where the rubber meets the road! It’s important to spend time with each puppy separate from the other dogs or from any major distractions. Ask the breeder if you can have access to a separate area such as a different room or even just a separate area of their yard where you can interact with each puppy one on one.
Most breeders will be very understanding of the desire to spend a little one-on-one time with each puppy individually to ensure you get the right dog for you. In fact, they’ll probably really appreciate that you care enough to put the effort required to find the best dog for you.
You’ll probably need to spend around ten minutes with each puppy so you can check them for any obvious signs of health issues and run them through the most important personality tests. The following sections will guide you through this.
Perform a Basic Health Check
I know you’re not a veterinarian, but you can (and should) still do a very basic visual check of each puppy you’re considering. You may not be a pro, but you’ll still be able to spot an obvious issue.
Here are the other areas you’ll want to check for each puppy:
- Gait – Make sure the puppy is walking straight and without difficulty. The rear end should be in-line with the front end as they walk.
- Coat – The coat should be soft, smooth, and even. Look for any bald or uneven areas that may indicate an underlying injury or nervous chewing.
- Skin – The skin should be supple and soft. It should also be free from any bite marks (from fleas or other small insects), excessive dandruff, and red splotches. Check around the stomach area of the dog and on it’s back between the shoulder blades. Part the hair with your fingers so you can see the skin.
- Ears – Ears should be clean inside and free from any signs of redness, inflammation, or irritation. There shouldn’t be any signs of mites or other infestations. If the puppy has cropped ears, they will likely be bandaged since they won’t stand on their own until at least 12 weeks of age. Ears will usually stand and fall naturally during the teething process (between 12 weeks and 6 months of age).
- Eyes – Eyes should be clear and bright. The irises of each of the eyes should be the same color and shape. The pupils of each eye should also be the same size. There should not be any signs of seepage or crustiness around the eye.
- Nose – The nose of a puppy is an amazing indicator of the overall health of the dog. The nose should be smooth and slightly moist. Any runniness or cracks in the nose may be a sign of poor health.
- Teeth and Gums – The teeth should be bright white and each tooth should be uniform in color. A slight amount of yellowing is ok as long as you don’t see any other colors like grey or brown. The gums should be a healthy and even pink color with no discolorations around the teeth. There should be no cracked or damaged teeth.
- Paws – The pads of each paw should be soft and free of cracks. The nails should appear smooth and free of any notable flaws. The paws themselves should not be turned in or out and should face directly forward.
In addition to the items mentioned here, the puppy’s dewclaws should be removed and the tail should be docked (at about the second joint). Tail docking is one procedure that is a very simple one when the puppy is a newborn but is much more difficult when they’re older. So just make sure this is already done on the dog you are considering.
A Doberman puppy can get their ears cropped between about 7 and 12 weeks of age. That means that your puppy may or may not have their ears cropped. Either way is fine but if you’re wanting to get the ears cropped, make sure the dog is young enough to allow you sufficient time to get it done before 12 weeks of age. Any later than that and the ears may not ever stand up.
For more information on the proper appearance of the Doberman Pinscher, take a look at the AKC Official Standard of the Doberman Pinscher. Although this applies mostly to adult dogs, it will still give you a good idea of what to look for in puppies as well.
Perform Temperament Testing (Campbell’s Test)
The Campbell Puppy Aptitude Test was developed in 1973 by William Campbell. It was performed on thousands of dogs and the test was perfected to help predict the adult temperament of a dog based on certain traits shown at a young age.
Besides temperament testing to help determine each puppy’s individual personality, it’s also a really good idea to spend some time with the pup’s parents. The Doberman’s personality does tend to be influenced somewhat by genetic factors. If you really like the temperament of one of the parents, look for a puppy that closely resembles that parent. Dobermans will often inherit temperament traits along with physical traits from one parent more than another.
Since the personality does develop with time, try to do these tests as close as possible to the time when you will be taking the puppy home.
Perform the following five tests, and select the answer that best describes the puppy’s reaction:
1. Social Attraction Test
Place the puppy on the ground approximately 5 to 10 feet away and facing away from you. Kneel down low and clap your hands a couple of times to get the puppy’s attention.
A.) Comes easily with tail up, jumping on you or nibbling your hands.
B.) Comes easily with tail up, pawing at or yelping at your hands.
C.) Comes easily with tail down.
D.) Comes hesitantly with tail down.
2. Following Test
Place the puppy on one end of the room. Walk away from the puppy while calling out to the puppy, patting your side or clapping your hands, and encouraging the puppy to follow you.
A.) Follows you easily with tail up, and trying to play with your feet.
B.) Follows you easily with tail up.
C.) Follows you easily with tail down.
D.) Follows hesitantly.
3. Restraint Test
Gently place the puppy on its back on the ground (make sure the ground is soft) while holding the puppy carefully in place by one hand on his or her chest for about 30 seconds.
A.) Struggles while biting or growling the whole time.
B.) Struggles with no biting or growling.
C.) Struggles at first but then calms down.
D.) Stays in place without struggling, licking at your hands.
4. Social Dominance Test
Lay the puppy on the grown and hold him in place gently with one hand, while petting him from his head, down his neck, and across his back for about 30 seconds.
A.) Struggles the whole time while growling or biting.
B.) Struggles the whole time with no growling or biting.
C.) Struggles at first but then accepts the petting.
D.) Rolls over on his back and accepts the petting.
5. Elevation Dominance Test
Lift the puppy up by wrapping your hands around his torso. Hold the puppy in the air with his feet a few inches off the ground.
A.) Struggles the entire time while biting at your hands or growling.
B.) Struggles the entire time with no biting or growling.
C.) Struggles at first but then calms down and/or licking at your hands.
D.) Stays in place without struggling, licking at your hands.
Add up how many A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and E’s the puppy got during these five tests and use the information below to help you predict the puppy’s natural temperament.
After adding up the results you should see a trend where the puppy tends to fall either closer to the A’s or closer to the E’s. The ideal dog is somewhere in the middle.
- Mostly A’s – This dog displays very dominant and aggressive behaviors. This puppy is not a good choice for a family with children or elderly in the home. Prone to aggressive actions like biting. May have difficulty in a home with other dogs of the same sex. With intensive training and the right environment, however, this dog could be excellent as a guard or personal protection dog. Not a good choice for a first-time dog owner.
- Mostly B’s – This is a dog that may be stubborn and try to be dominant in the household but is still trainable by someone with experience. This is not a good choice for a family with children or elderly in the home due to its dominant nature. Not a good choice for a first-time dog owner.
- Mostly C’s – This dog is well tempered and an excellent first-time dog. This dog will likely work well in a family, including one with young children in the household. Loyal and predictable, a Doberman with mostly C’s will still be a valuable home protector.
- Mostly D’s – Mostly submissive, this dog can still be an acceptable family dog. However, he might react negatively to harsh correction or could bite if frightened. This dog will likely seek out lots of reassurance and attention.
- Mostly E’s – This dog is very submissive and may bite out of fear. This type of dog is not a good choice for a family with children or elderly in the home. This dog may also be prone to phobias and scare easily.
- No Obvious Pattern – If the puppy’s scores don’t show any pattern at all and the results appear to be “all over the map”, repeat the testing to check again for any noticeable pattern. If the results are the same, then you’re dealing with a very unpredictable dog. These dogs are difficult to train, may bite, and they’re certainly not recommended for any owner other than those very experienced with training. Definitely don’t get a Doberman puppy with this result if you have children in the home.
Reading the results of the test is simply looking to see where on the scale the dog falls. At the upper end (near the A’s) is a very dominant and aggressive dog. On the lower end (near the E’s) is an easily frightened and submissive dog. Somewhere tightly in the middle is a very well rounded dog that is ideal for most situations.
“If none of the puppies seem to be a good fit for you, be willing to walk away from the litter. The most important thing should be finding a puppy that’s right for you.”– John Walter (DobermanPlanet.com)
Printable Puppy Scoring Sheet – Just for Dobermans!
I’ve created a printable scoring sheet that you take with you when you go to pick out your puppy. This will help you to test and keep track of the scores of each puppy. Save the completed score sheet for when your dog is an adult, these are lots of fun to look back at later on!
Should You Pick a Male or Female Doberman?
The choice of a male or female Doberman is a tough one but it may also help you to save time while testing the puppies. If you know you only want a female, for example, then you only need to perform the personality testing on that portion of the litter.
- Male Dobermans: Males tend to be a bit more impulsive and require extra care and training. They’re also more inclined towards leadership, excel at guard duties, and are fairly independent. Male Dobermans are also larger than their female counterparts. Generally, they’re about two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier.
- Female Dobermans: Slightly smaller and sleeker than male Dobermans, females are generally a bit easier to train and tend to be less dominating. They’re very loving and thrive on lots of affection.
If you already have a Doberman in your household, I would strongly urge you to consider getting one of the opposite sex for your next Dobie. Unfortunately, there are some issues with same-sex aggression in Dobermans.
For a much more in-depth comparison between male and female Dobermans, including their temperamental differences, see my article Male vs. Female Doberman: Which is Better?
Once you pick out a puppy, you really need to DNA health test them yourself. You never know if the information you were given from your breeder is really true until you do your own test. It’ll also give you an idea of the potential longevity of your dog, genetic health concerns, who their relatives are, and a lot more. See my Doberman DNA Health Testing Guide here to see how to do this easily at home.
Are male or female Dobermans more aggressive? Although male Dobermans are larger and have more muscle mass, females have a reputation for being more protective, territorial and aggressive. Females also mature quicker and are ready for guard work at a younger age than their male counterparts.
Are male or female Dobermans easier to train? Both sexes of Dobermans are considered highly trainable, but females tend to mature earlier and are easier to train than their male counterparts.
What’s the biggest puppy in a litter called? While there’s no official word for the largest puppy in a litter, many refer to them as the giant, colossus, or titan of the litter.