Years ago, it seemed like getting a dog was far less complicated. You went to the pound, and you got a dog. You found a stray. Or you bought one from a breeder. Nowadays, the kind of breeder you buy from is more and more important. Puppy mills abound, "back yard breeders" have smaller operations but not necessarily the healthy and long lived dogs that they say they do, and it's very hard to make sense out of all of it.
In general, the Doberman can be looked at as a healthy and hearty dog, until they aren't, meaning that many of the Doberman's health issues may not happen until well into adulthood. So, what do you look for, when you're looking at a Doberman breeder?
The dogs: Are you able to meet the sire and dam? Are they friendly, well behaved dogs? Do they appear healthy to your eye? Do they display any behavior that makes you uneasy? Do they seem to be kept in a clean and safe environment? Note that it is not necessarily ideal for a breeder to have both the sire and the dam on site; it can take a lot of work and matchmaking to find a bitch and a dog best suited for one another.
Pedigree: are the litter's sire and dam titled, and in what? Have there been genetic health problems in the line? Have there been untimely deaths due to things like Dilated Cardiomyopathy? Are the sire and dam carriers of Von Willebrands disease, or affected by it?
Contract: Does your breeder have a spay/neuter contract? Is the breeder offering you a full registration, no strings? Will the breeder take care of the ear cropping (provided you're in a country that allows it) prior to the puppy going home with you? Can you return the puppy at any time in her life, should your home no longer work for her?
Health tests: as I mentioned in Where do Puppies Come From?, this list looks like alphabet soup.
1. There is currently a genetic marker test for DCM, discussed in this article, "A Prospective Genetic Evaluation of Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy in the Doberman Pinscher", by Kathryn M. Meurs, et al. Dr. Meurs also gave a seminar on the topic on 10/4/10. It is a test that identifies only one of the genes; if the dog is a carrier, it may or may not die of DCM. If the dog is not a carrier, it may or may not die of DCM. This is important work and research, but still only in its nascent stages. It behooves a breeder to do the DCM swab of sires and dams, if only to add to the research pool.
A more immediate benchmark of a Doberman's heart health is getting one of two heart evaluations, either a Holter or an Echocardiogram. These tests still do not represent certainty, but can catch an irregular heartbeat early, thus spurring an earlier diagnosis and earlier implementation of treatments. A dog with DCM can still live for many years.
2. Hips and Elbows! Hip dysplasia is a painful thing for a dog to go through. Once a dog is two, he or she may be evaluated, either through PennDIP or the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hip and elbow dysplasia, and receive a score. A dog that has received an OFA score may be searched on the website: http://www.offa.org/ . The information for PennHIP is here: http://research.vet.upenn.edu/Default.aspx?alias=research.vet.upenn.edu/pennhip, including a discussion of PennHIP vs. OFA.
3. Eyes. CERF is the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, and tests for a list of eye problems that I haven't heard of. Three big ones, though, are cataracts, Retinal Dysplasia, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Many of these disorders are presumed to be hereditary, which is why it's important for that kind of testing to take place.
4. Thyroid. Thyroid disorders can cost health and behavioral problems that are hard to diagnose, if they're diagnosed. I believe that the thyroid test is a simple blood test, and leaving that out can be very damaging to the futures of a lot of dogs.
5. VonWillebrand's disease. This is a clotting disorder. If a dog is vWD affected, that can affect the cost and safety of every operation, from ear cropping to a spay or neuter. If a dog is a vWD carrier, it means she has the gene, but does not suffer from the disorder.
The Cost of Having a Litter of Puppies: from the Doberman Talk web site. It's in Canadian dollars, but you get the picture.
http://dobequest.org/ : the Doberman Pinscher Club of America database, where owners and breeders can voluntarily upload dog information
http://www.dobermann-review.com/ : a web site where you can look up a specific Doberman, see the years he/she was born and died, see a few generations of pedigree, titles, owner, etc.
http://www.dpca.org/ : The Doberman Pinscher Club of America. Site includes articles, breeder referrals, and much more.
The Cost of Breeding a Doberman: Widget on the DPCA site.
Evaluating Dog Breeder Websites: on A Prairie Dobe Companion, with many good points, and a small list of red flags to watch out for at the end.