by Marge Kilburn
From: Top Dobe magazine, March/April 1974
"In my opinion the first step in evaluating Doberman puppies involves the study of both parents and all four grandparents with a cold and honest eye. They comprise 75% of what your puppy will be. So put your personal emotions and love aside, and admit the faults in these 6 dogs. For the novice it would be wise to write down the virtues as well as the points where these dogs could have been better, in separate columns for each individual. Any of these faults appearing in the puppies may be presumed to be there to stay. Do not kid yourself that maybe it will change. On the other hand, any faults not prevalent in these six dogs are usually not to be worried about if they seem to be in a puppy.
My first step in evaluating a litter begins at 5 weeks of age. My puppies have had the run of the kitchen for some time. I present them with a new environment. I put different colored ribbons on each pup for sure identification at a distance and open the door to the living room. The floor immediately inside this door is stone. I seat myself in the kitchen with pad and pencil to take notes as the puppies go into the other room.
Some rush in and immediately snatch up some object and start to play. These are noted. They are the extroverts, the best showmen, the most strong-willed to train, the most fun, and usually should not be sold to someone as his first Doberman.
Next come the pups who inspect the stone floor, proceed to inspect each object as they come to it until the entire room has been explored, and then join the fun. These possess, to my mind, the best Doberman temperament. They are fearless, they think, they are happy to obey if they know what you want, they are easier to live with.
Next, there are some who hesitate a bit, look at the stone floor, then look at the other pups, and finally walk or bolt into the room to join the others. These are a bit 'soft" in temperament, but will be OK if given plenty of experience in a home at an early age.
Then sometimes there will be a pup who stands in the doorway and cries because he wants to join the others but cannot make himself step over the threshold and onto the stones that first time. In my book, this is a shy pup and to be discarded.
Neither of these last two types should ever be used for breeding in later years no matter how well they come along in temperament, due to proper handling and training, nor how beautiful they become.
At 10 to 12 weeks my puppies' ears are healing and being taped. They are set up daily and studied, always with pad and pencil for notes, and still with colored ribbons for identification. It is wise, too, to cut a snip of hair in case ribbons are chewed off. I cut one snip of the scissors across the neck, mid back, croup, right rib, left rib, etc. I pick up each pup and stand him on a high, eye level, non-slip surface to oil and tape his ears. This done, I pick up the pup with one hand under his chin and the other under his tummy or rear. Some pups immediately drop into good position. This is a mark in his favor. He will be a better show prospect than one of apparently equal quality who must be pulled and placed into position. He may even be better than the pup of slightly superior quality who must be set up piecemeal.
"It is all very well to quote the standard, but few people know how to feel for proper angulation. It is my opinion, that at any age a Doberman with perfect layback of shoulder will exhibit no more than the width of my forefinger between the peak of his shoulder blades. This is indeed rare, as you will soon discover when you start feeling shoulder blades. So don't lose heart, the pups with the least distance between the blade point will have the best layback and will have, also the neck which flows smoothest into the shoulders.
The puppy with the highest tailset will be the one with the shortest distance between the point of the hip bones and the point where the tail turns up (or where it is set on). This distance can be too short, though this is rare, causing a tail which is too high and even turns slightly over the back.
If the pup's brisket is to the elbow at this age, it will be there again when he is mature. If it is not, don't kid yourself, it won't drop materially. If he has a forechest now, he will when mature. He may lose it for a time while developing, but he will get it back. If he has none now, he won't later; let's face it. If his neck is a bit short, that may change as late as 8 months of age. This must be judged by your knowledge of his heritage. If he is high in rear, when his hocks are perpendicular, he will remain high there. If he has an arch to his neck, back of his skull, he will keep it. If he is low on his legs or long in body, he usually will finish up that way.
Eyes often darken with age, heads must be judged by heritage again, but resemblance to one side of the other should be noted. Expression and eye wet will not change but length of head and muzzle may. An undershot bite will rarely change but considerable amount of overshot frequently does come perfect with the second teeth. If a pup has a good backline he will probably keep it, but if he is soft in back he will often improve, provided it is not caused by a high rear, loose shoulders, or front and rear angulation out of balance. Angulation and proportion will not change, nor will shape of rib cage.
"Pups with good shoulder placement and forechest will often set up with front feet slightly turned out but will move true. The pup will stand true when mature. However, a pup with no forechest and who has steep shoulders, who does this, will not stand true when mature.
A pup who stands on the outside of one or both front feet will be weak in pastern. A pup who stand or moves with his hind feet slightly turned in will be weak in stifle. Both of these can sometimes be hidden or improved by judicious exercise and expert handling.
Study the pups daily, mark your report daily, and gradually you will come up with 1,2,3,4 placements on your litter. Then tie in the conformation placement with the temperament placement. Sometimes, due to personality, number two for conformation becomes number one for show, with number one for conformation becoming a good gamble if placed in the right hands.
Many puppies look wonderful as pups but unless you are willing to gamble a lot of time, money and effort (and it appears most people are), remember that a pup from a long line of champions who have produced champions has a better chance of resembling his heritage than one with only one producing line behind him.
You can't get "something" from "nothing" anywhere in this world, and genetics is no exception.
Yours for better Dobermans....."
(Originally published in DOG NEWS, August, 1954)