The Most Important Decision You Will Make as A German Shepherd Owner
Please be careful when you bring a German Shepherd into your home. I can’t emphasize this enough. I do not care if you purchase a puppy or dog from me. My only concern is that wherever you choose to get your German Shepherd from, make sure you are getting a sound dog – sound in temperament and sound in body. Owning a dog is a long relationship and in the case of a herding dog like the German Shepherd it will hopefully be 11-13 years of outstanding and loyal companionship. But that will only happen if you do your homework and find a quality dog.
Adorable aren’t they? They look like chubby little teddy bears when they are 5 weeks old. The little buggers will make you want to take home the whole litter but make sure of what you are buying into. Those darling little teddy bears will grow into powerful, active dogs. First make sure this is the right breed for you. We have a page that gives you the low down on living with a German Shepherd – Should you Own A German Shepherd. They are not your Mama’s lap dog! After you have learned everything you can about the German Shepherd, both the good and the bad, then make your decision if its the breed for you.
Where Do I get My German Shepherd?
If you have looked at the pros and cons with an open mind and you still want a German Shepherd, you now have to make a decision as to whether you will buy one from a “breeder” or rescue one from a shelter or rescue group. There are pros and cons to both types of acquisition. Right now there is a very popular “adopt don’t shop” movement. Their point is that rather than purchase from a breeder, encouraging more breeding, you should adopt one of the millions of unwanted dogs from a shelter. On the surface, that seems like a noble cause and that you would be a saving a dog from a life in a cage or worse, death. But make sure you know the full background story of the dog and that it has been vetted by someone very experienced in dealing with problem dogs. Yes, I said problem dogs. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very nice dogs that through no fault of theirs they end up in a shelter for any of the following reasons – owner becomes severely ill and can no longer take care of their dog; owner passes away leaving dog homeless; owner must move to a new dwelling that does not allow pets; someone in the family has developed an allergy to dogs. None of these are the dogs fault and this could be a very well trained, decent dog. Notice I didn’t say well-bred and that is because most responsible breeders, like myself, will take back their dog to rehome before they would ever allow it to go to a shelter. In fact, I demand the dog be returned to me and put that requirement in my written sales contract. It is a requirement that I am willing to go to court over. I never want my German Shepherds ending up in rescue. I brought them into this world and they are my responsibility if they are homeless. And any responsible, loving owner would return the dog to a breeder that will thoughtfully rehome the dog rather than having it sit in a shelter in a cage waiting for someone to love it and take it home. So the fact that a dog is in a shelter means that most likely it is not from a qualified responsible breeder.
Now I am not against rescuing dogs from shelters and bad circumstances. Meet Gemma (pictured above), our “rescue dog”. Actually if you come to our home you most likely will not ever meet poor Gemma as she can not be trusted off leash around strangers. Gemma is obedient and wonderful around the family that lives with her, and can be trusted with a couple of friends that have knowledge as how to react to her. But if you, a stranger come to our home she will wait quietly till you have your back turned, then will try to sneak up on you and yes, she will bite you. She’s a decent looking German Shepherd, except for the curved tail which is not acceptable in the standard. Her coloring suggests she comes from West German Show Lines but we have no other clue as to who bred her. She had no papers. I bought her from a backyard breeder who was going out of business. I saw her advertised in a newspaper and was looking for a dog that needed home. As a breeder I feel an obligation to rescue an unwanted dog occasionally, particularly ones that might be too much for the average person to handle. Doug wanted to do search and rescue with a dog and this one seemed to have a good nose. Gemma’s story is sad. She was a junk yard dog, literally. Gemma had been kept in a trailer in the middle of a towing service fenced in parking lot to guard the vehicles there. I suspect she even became a dangerous liability for them. The towing service advertised her for sale and the backyard breeders bought her for breeding knowing nothing about her lineage. Their only requirement was that she wasn’t spayed. They allowed her to have three litters of puppies and sold them as purebred German Shepherds with no papers. I paid them $350 for Gemma and took her to my vet to be spayed. About 3 months after getting her, we noticed a limp. One of her rear legs appeared to be giving her trouble. X-rays revealed that she had one of the worst set of hips I have ever seen – severely dysplastic. The backyard breeders had produced 3 litters of puppies by this dog who had the potential for inheriting her hips and other problems. Out there in the German Shepherd world are 20+ puppies with a mother that had hip dysplasia and a very aggressive, impulsive and unstable temperament. Most likely they will end up in rescue somewhere. Its very, very sad. But we love Gemma and in our home with us she is wonderful dog. She is totally devoted to Doug but she is a dog we have to watch carefully around other people. In the wrong, inexperienced hands, she could be a very dangerous liability.
So what origins might a “rescue” German Shepherd come from? It could be from a backyard breeder. A backyard breeder could be someone who wanted their kids to experience the wonder of birth and decided they would breed to the neighbor’s German Shepherd. Or it could be from a more entrepreneurial backyard breeder, like Gemma’s previous owners, that think that putting any two AKC German Shepherds together to produce a litter of $800 puppies will bring in a little extra cash for the family. And maybe if he does it all the time and adds a couple of more females he could make a little more extra money. This type of breeder, the backyard breeder, advertises in the local shopper newspaper and he may offer to meet you in a parking lot to pick up your puppy. He’s got reasons for that. Maybe the pups aren’t kept in the cleanest of situations (makes for a difficult dog to housebreak) or worse, maybe the parents are so aggressive and poorly trained that the breeder doesn’t want you to see them. The fact that they have a breeding pair is suspect too, especially if they use their stud all the time. They are not trying to improve their line if using the same dogs to produce puppies all the time. I rarely repeat a same breeding of two dogs unless the results were exceptional. I am always looking to improve my stock with more good DNA. I often ship my females out of state to be bred with an exceptional male. Backyard breeders don’t want to pay high stud fees, shipping costs or for genetic testing, and health clearances. That diminishes their profit which is their only goal.
If a dog is in a shelter it is a highly likely that it came from one of two types of breeders – a BYB (backyard breeder) or a puppy mill. Puppy mills produce large amounts of purebred puppies for the commercial pet industry. The parent dogs are kept in cages, often in horrible filthy conditions. Any two purebred parents are bred without thought to health or temperament. Only concern is producing pedigree puppies to sell. The Amish, who think of all animals as mere livestock to be used to provide an income, run large puppy mills and many backyard breeders sell their puppies to brokers or pet shops. There are now many online websites that are brokers selling puppies for puppy mills and backyard breeders. The telling sign is when you can purchase many breeds of dogs from the same website. Responsible breeders of quality dogs do not sell to pet shops or brokers and usually specialize in only one or two breeds of dogs.
If you choose to buy from a backyard breeder or adopt from a shelter, you really don’t know what you are getting in regards to health and temperament. You are taking a gamble because there could be some heartbreaking and expensive health problems ahead. The $600 dog seems like a great deal but crippling diseases like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, Von Willdebrands, cardiac and eye problems can run up huge vet bills and leave you with the decision no one wants to make – euthanasia at an early age. The dogs from these sources will have AKC registration papers (they don’t mean much other than dog is purebred but not necessarily quality) and often a printed pedigree. In dogs like everything else you get what you pay for and buyer beware.
Beware of breeders who advertise oversize, large German Shepherds or so-called “rare” colors like liver, blue, white, or panda. These qualities are not impressive or rare. They are considered faults by the breed standard and quality breeders do not breed “fad” colors or oversized dogs but closely adhere to the breed standards.
If you have any doubts in your mind about the breeder, check to see if there are any Better Business Bureau complaints on the breeders record. There are breed forums on the internet, so join one for German Shepherd Dogs and ask if any one there has done business with the breeder. Do a Google search for the kennels name to see if anyone has posted any info about the breeder. Be careful. If you do find out anything negative, confront the breeder and give them a chance to offer an explanation. The Internet is full of trolls or sour grapes competitors would can put up false information about a breeder just to hurt there business so research and investigate.
So what are the signs of a good quality breeder?
Good quality responsible breeders rarely advertise puppies in the local newspaper. You will find them at dog shows, field trials, obedience trials, and other dog sporting events or they sell their dogs through their kennel websites providing lots of information about the breed. They will require you to fill out an application and they will vet you by checking references and checking with your veterinarian. I even check with the local dog officer to see if a person is known for abusing animals or not taking care of the ones they have. A responsible breeder will want to meet you or have a lengthy phone interview with you. A good breeder will pick the pup for you as they have the breed experience to match you with the correct pup that meets your needs that the breeder has garnered from your application and interview. They will welcome your visit to the kennel. The kennel should be clean and not smell doggy. Many breeders like myself keep their dogs in their homes. We have a special room in the house called the puppy room where the pups are whelped. I sleep on a spare bed in that room when the pups are being born and for their first 4 weeks of life.The responsible breeder can show you health clearances for the parent dogs and provide you with a pedigree that will have multi generation champions and titled working dogs. And many of them ask for nonrefundable deposits for being put on their waiting lists. They will offer health and temperament guarantees. Does this mean that this dog will be perfect? No one knows for sure with a puppy but you are off to an excellent start. A good breeder is with you for the long haul. They will always make themselves available to you when you have problems or need advice. I look forward to hearing from my owners and seeing how my kids are doing. Responsible breeders sell their puppies with AKC limited registrations. This means that the dog is registerable with the AKC but that any puppies produced by a limited registration dog are not. The AKC offered this option to breeders so that we could have more control over keeping dogs from being used by puppy mills and backyard breeders. Good breeders will have a puppy application form and process, a written sales contract, and a health warranty.
You should ask to see the generational pedigree (family tree) of the parents. There’s a lot one can discern from a pedigree. All AKC purebred dogs have a pedigree. The ones with bad hips and bad temperaments have one just like the quality dogs have. It only means that both parents are purebred but it gives no indication of health or meeting breed standards, just that they come from registered parents. AKC registration papers are not a sign of quality but merely a sign of registerability. If they can’t provide you with that written pedigree, beware. Ask for the parent dogs full registered names and AKC registration numbers. Using that information you can look up the dog’s pedigree on either of the 2 pedigree databases listed in the links below –
So please be careful in the process of finding your puppy. Bringing a dog into your family is not something done on a whim. They are not an impulse purchase, like a new handbag, that you can dispose of if it doesn’t meet your needs. A German Shepherd is a living breathing being with an intense love for its humans. You will never find a more loyal friend, a friend who will lay down its life for you if need be. The good ones are amazing but the bad ones, and there are some out there, could be your worst nightmare. Do your home work!!!!!!!!