Please note these categories of breeders are in no way meant to be absolute in their respective description, or collectively exhaustive in representation. Depending who you talk to, there can be many more “breeder categories” and definitions, and these are merely meant to be general guidelines and pointers to help new potential homes navigate the sometimes-murky waters of the puppy research process.
Also keep in mind the individual elements of each category can sometimes differ and pertain to another one. In other words, there are always overlaps between categories so it is up to you to assess each breeder based on your research and the information you gather.
While most breeders are well-intentioned, it unfortunately isn’t the case for all of them. This is why, at the end of the day, the responsibility and burden lay solely with the potential homes and the resources at their disposal to do due diligence.
When all is said and done, a responsible and ethical breeder with nothing to hide should never get offended or thrown off-balance by any questions you ask about their breeding operations, bloodlines, health testing and certified support documentation.
The Great: Master Family Breeder (MFB)
The MFBs are usually long-standing and very small scale, not usually having more than one single litter per year at most. They are without a doubt the proudest and most loving owners of the breed and will have the most thorough screening process to select future homes, often involving an application form and an interview.
The MFB’s Doberman lives with the family and is extremely well socialized and clean, which is usually one of the most important reasons the puppies are as well since they have almost non-stop direct interaction & supervision by members of the household until they go to their new homes, usually not before 10-12 weeks. Some MFBs may infrequently have two litters in a year if they own two females. This would be the exception rather than the rule.
Having bred for a long time – in some cases up to 40 years – they are very well aware of the presence or absence of any genetic defect in their lines because of the highly controlled numbers of litters they have had over the years, combined with the ease to stay in touch with the new homes. As such, MFBs have usually adjusted their breeding program accordingly to keep common Doberman health issues away from their gene pool and therefore ensure greater longevity. These are some key factors contributing to a higher-than-average price when purchasing from a MFB.
MFBs will never compromise puppy health or breeding ethics in the name of a sale. This may mean, for example, that they may not let anyone physically visit the puppies before they are several weeks old, as the mother may hurt them if they are exposed to a foreign presence. The betterment of the breed as well as seeing their puppies go to loving new homes are both their most important priorities and rewards.
New Doberman homes will always have a support line with MFBs, and will also be encouraged to send regular updates and pictures as the puppy grows. Any MFB will be a member in good standing of both the CKC and the DPCC, and adhere to their Code of Ethics.
The Good: Master Breeder (MB)
The MBs are also usually long-standing but will be more medium-scale, usually having two or even three litters per year. The main difference is the MBs won’t usually let the Dobermans live inside the household with the family.
Due to their volume of operations, which usually involves owning several Dobermans, they will have a dedicated living space for their Dobermans outside the house, and access to the house will be restricted and interaction with the family limited.
Having bred for a long time, they are also aware of the presence or absence of any genetic defect in their lines, as they keep in contact with a fair proportion of their litters’ new homes. This also means MBs will have a well-established breeding program with good longevity to show for.
As they have several litters a year, you will find MBs’ prices to be around average rate for a certified purebred Doberman. How well-socialized their puppies are will be case by case: each new home will have to do its research to understand how much interaction is provided between the breeder's household and the litters.
New Doberman homes will usually have an open and long-term line of communication with MBs after the puppy is placed. Any MB will be a member in good standing of both the CKC and the DPCC, and adhere to their Code of Ethics.
The Not-So-Good: Ribbons Breeder (RB)
The RBs will usually try to introduce themselves as MFBs or MBs, but their priorities are usually pride and profit, and not necessarily in that order.
When you first meet RBs, they will make a few well-placed and heart-warming comments about their love of the breed, how long they have been breeding, and how healthy their Dobermans are, claiming they have all the legit paperwork to back it up, while pointing to some filing cabinet. The conversation will then usually quickly switch to – and stay on – the award ribbons and the Show certificates on their walls, and all the ones they had to take down because there’s just not enough space to post them all.
The RB can be hard to recognize for many new potential homes. As such, you may need to take extra steps by reading online reviews and comments – which you are encouraged to do in any case. You should also make sure the breeder is listed as ethical and responsible by the appropriate overseeing authorities or associations. Championships are – and should be – a point of pride for breeders, but they are a mean to an end. And the end should not be financial profit but rather bettering the breed and placing puppies in life-long loving homes.
You may be asked a few questions as to what is your family situation and where you live, to make you believe the puppy’s wellbeing is a concern to them, but RBs are unlikely to truly overly care about the household and environment they ultimately end up in. The sale will be a priority over the wellbeing of the puppies, and post-sale communications with the breeder may occur, as long as your Doberman is not having health issues. If that is the case, you may very well find yourself on your own.
The RB will most likely be a member of the CKC because show dogs must be registered, but is unlikely to be a DPCC member, and much less in good standing. Caution is advised.
The Bad: Garage Breeder (GB)
With the GB, you are exploring even deeper and more unpredictable territories as far as what Doberman you will – or won't – have in your household years from now. Having no official registration paperwork, the GB will keep answers general and vague at best, and will definitely have no legit documentation to back up any health claims. The female will be bred to a “male of opportunity”, neither of which has been health tested – just like their parents and grandparents.
Skipping on key and expensive elements like health testing, time spent with the litter, registering the litter with the CKC, providing a multi-year health guarantee, sets of shots and de-worming, ear cropping, microchip ID – and many others – the GB is able to significantly reduce the price for a quick sale. Not having dedicated the time to care for the litter during the first 10+ weeks – time at which puppies will usually be placed – may also result in a time-bomb as far a the Doberman temperament and behavior is concerned.
GBs will claim their Dobermans have the longest longevity lines, living up to 15 and 16 years. Since none of their Dobermans were ever registered, no paperwork will be available to back their claims up – but paperwork, they will assure you, is a waste of time and money. You will just have to take their word for it.
Before making a snap decision based on price and interesting stories, ask yourself the following question: would you rather pay half-price for a Doberman that will be a potential liability to people and other dogs, cost you thousands of veterinary bills and/or pass away after a few years, or pay a normal price for a certified purebred, well-tempered, healthy Doberman that will be a loyal household companion for 10-15 years?
The GB will not likely be a CKC member - as it unnecessarily increases the cost of his puppies - and will definitely not be a DPCC member.
The Worst: Puppy Mill Breeder (PMB)
You may have seen PMBs on the news, as many treat the animals in their “care” so poorly, they end up being charged by the authorities for animal cruelty, abuse, neglect and/or malnourishment. Many PMBs will hide the many parents in their possession as they are usually undernourished and kept elsewhere in unsanitary and dangerous conditions to cut on food, cleaning and heating costs, among others.
Puppies will be sold through online ads and/or pet stores, without CKC registration and health guarantee, maybe even without microchip ID and sets of shots & de-worming – although since not as costly, those may be included to create a false sense of security for the buyer. The seller may even – god forbid – crop the ears, something which should only be performed by registered veterinarians. In case of uncertainty, if you are visiting the puppies before the ears are cropped, ask where ears will be cropped and that you will need the certification. If you are visiting after the ears were cropped, ask where they were cropped and if it will be possible to see the certification if you buy a puppy.
An immediate sale will be the obvious priority for any PMB, as they are well aware that the more breeders you meet, the less likely you are to come back, and much less to buy a puppy from them. They may have tried to "close the deal" over the phone beforehand and asked you to bring money with you, which is an absolute no-no. Coercive language such as “if you buy it now, I’ll take $100-200 off” or something similar will be used to pressure you to confirm the purchase immediately or to get a non-refundable deposit from you. Do not fall for it.
Needless to say, avoiding PMBs is not only critical to avoid an unhealthy and ill-tempered Doberman, but also essential to ensure the betterment of the breed and above all, paramount to oppose the treatment they inflict upon animals. It is quite unlikely the PMB could ever be a CKC or DPCC member even if it wanted to.
Always keep in mind...
* CKC registration papers are the only officially recognized and documented way of demonstrating the dog’s pedigree: in the absence of such documentation, there are no records indicating your Doberman is a purebred. Don't let anyone try to convince you it is normal to sell a "purebred" Doberman without CKC papers: not only is it not normal, it is unethical.
* The purpose of shows is not to give out ribbons and take pictures, but rather to “certify” a dog’s worthiness to be bred: it is great if your future puppy has a partial/full Champion Pedigree (some/all parents & grandparents being Champions) but don't be simply fooled by a wall full of ribbons.
* DPCC-registered breeders perform several compulsory health testings: failure by other breeders to perform these will significantly increase the probability of their Dobermans dying at a much younger age. Also make sure the breeder provides a purchase contract and that the health testings are listed on it.