What are the most important factors potential owners must consider when choosing a German Shepherd puppy?
Find a mentor. Ask an experienced dog breeder or German Shepherd Dog enthusiast for help. Otherwise, says Nancy Hubbell, GSD breeder, “If you don’t know yourself, then you get an emotional attachment: ‘Oh, I like this one’s eyes, isn’t he sweet.’ That kind of thing. You’re not looking at the total dog or the bloodlines or the pedigree. A lot of people need help.
I know people that have been in the breed a long time and they still need help seeing what that GSD puppy has to offer.”
Experience and a trained eye are essential to puppy selection, but so is commitment, says Gloria F. Birch (Covy-Tucker Hill Kennels), breeder, handler, and AKC judge. Potential German Shepherd Dog owners must be willing to give the puppy the time and attention it deserves.
“The most important factor is to ask yourself if you have the time and love to develop a puppy’s personality, and teach it to be a manageable good citizen.
“The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and it needs structure, someone to love, companionship and a purpose in life,” Birch continues. “A GSD owner needs assurance to develop their pup’s natural instincts; for instance, to protect, play, herd and guide. The most important is patience with yourself as you train or teach the many things as your adorable new GSD puppy learns to become the well-adjusted loving, protective adult.”
When it comes to choosing German Shepherd puppies, the bottom line for Frederick Migliore, breeder, AKC judge and GSD fancier, is temperament. “It’s probably the most important factor,” he says. “You want a puppy that obviously shows good temperament.”
In fact, character is a hallmark of the breed, say some enthusiasts. According to the AKC breed standard, the German Shepherd Dog should have a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile expression, self-confidence and an aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.
A GSD is approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them. A lack of confidence in any surroundings is not typical of good character.
Why is temperament so important to Migliore? It makes a dog compatible, livable, no matter what you plan to do with it. Migliore gives the example of picking a potential champion. The odds are very slim, he says, of the puppy you choose becoming a star.
Buying a quality puppy from a quality litter from a reputable dog breeder, with at least one champion parent, helps cut the odds. But it’s never a guarantee.
There are only so many champions born in a year, if at all. So, says Migliore, “If this puppy doesn’t work out, and it’s not a show quality puppy, you’ll probably fall in love with it and not want to give it back. You better hope it has a nice temperament so it’s pleasant to live with.”
What are your expectations or purpose for your German Shepherd puppy? How might those expectations affect your GSD puppy choice, if at all? Do you want a companion? Are you picking a puppy to show in conformation? Do you want a German Shepherd Dog to herd or compete in agility?
Following answers to these questions, it’s a gray area. Some enthusiasts believe purpose affects choice, others don’t, some say it falls somewhere in-between. German Shepherd Dog breeder Tedi Ginsburg is one enthusiast who doesn’t give a lot of weight to expectations in puppy choice. “A German Shepherd Dog is supposed to be versatile,” she says. “It shouldn’t really make a great deal of difference. If a dog is sound, it can do all those things.”
For Hubbell, whose current main interest is conformation showing, purpose can have its place. “Well, it would affect my choice of GSD puppy,” she says, noting that if she is evaluating a puppy for conformation show qualities, she’s looking for specific qualities such as structure, character and motion.
“I think it’s best to let the breeder know what your main interest is,” says Hubbell. “And, sometimes they will have a dog suited for that purpose, and sometimes they won’t. And, if not, hopefully, they can refer you to someone who may have something.
I think the breeder needs to be able to evaluate their own dogs, what they have to offer, and I think the dog buyer needs to know what they’re looking for. If they can’t evaluate the puppy, get the advice of someone who is in the field in which they’re interested.”
According to the AKC breed standard, the German Shepherd Dog is both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as companion, watchdog, blind leader, herding dog or guardian, whatever the circumstances demand.
However, some enthusiasts and trainers say that due to their individual personalities, some German Shepherd Dogs are better suited to certain activities.
That’s not to say this dog breed isn’t versatile, but a dog with a lackadaisical attitude, for example, may not have the drive and showmanship necessary to shine in the show ring. Nevertheless, it is still a German Shepherd Dog, but perhaps best suited as a companion.
Birch acknowledges these individual differences. “The German Shepherd Dog has instinct, and that sense will guide them into becoming who they are. This sense attracts them into playing ball, loving water, being a devoted protective guardian, a gatherer or the animated, rare top show dog.
Whatever the talent, it needs development. Trying to make a dog be or do something it has no interest in, or sense for, can be frustrating to the dog and the dog owner.
“It is such a part of the dog breeder’s job to have enough knowledge about their dogs and puppies to manifest the perfect match between owner and dog,” Birch emphasizes. “All dogs are not show dogs, or working dogs, but every dog has a purpose. It is up to the breeder to help make the new buyer’s dream come true, and find the right place for every puppy they produce.”
Expectations aside, where might prospective buyers find the German Shepherd puppy of their dreams? “From a breeder,” says Ginsburg. “That should go without saying almost.”
Not just any GSD breeder. It’s got to be someone with integrity, good reputation and a genuine love for the breed. That’s your best chance of buying a healthy, beautiful, good-natured German Shepherd.
How do you find a responsible breeder? First, be aware that many responsible dog breeders don’t advertise, especially in local newspapers. Their puppies are in demand, and all their sales are repeat buyers or referrals from satisfied customers. Contact national dog clubs and local breed clubs to acquire the names of breeders.
Get referrals and recommendations from vets, groomers, owners and other breeders.
Also, check out parent breed clubs on the Internet, but do your homework carefully and check your sources cautiously. “Don’t ever buy a dog from someone without a recommendation,” says Pottle.
When you visit the GSD breeder’s home or kennel, take a good look. What are your first impressions? The dogs should look healthy and clean. “Your nose will tell you a lot,” says Ginsburg. “I don’t necessarily mean the person’s house is immaculate, but their dogs should look, feel and smell clean. That takes a lot of work and it means these people are conscientious.”
Additionally, “You want to meet the GSD parents,” says Pottle. “They must be dogs that you can pet and touch. If you can’t pet and touch them, why bother?” Take time to talk with the breeder and visit the litter more than once. Is the German Shepherd breeder actively involved with the breed? What are her goals for breeding? Does she seem genuinely interested in the breed? Does she question your ability to care for a puppy appropriately? Does she offer a reasonable guarantee?
These are all signs of a reputable breeder. Don’t settle for less.
A Healthy GSD Puppy
All new owners want a healthy puppy. Ultimately, buyers must rely on the breeder to sell them a healthy puppy. That’s why who you choose to buy from is as important as which GSD puppy you choose. That breeder must be reputable. It’s the best chance you have at buying a healthy German Shepherd Dog.
Birch advises prospective buyers to get a health guarantee and ask questions. For example, the German Shepherd Dog suffers from a variety of heritable diseases that cannot be determined by a quick look-see. Degenerative myelopathy, bloat and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are the most common genetic diseases seen in German Shepherd Dogs.
The best way to avoid purchasing a puppy that is prone to these diseases is to research the incidence of the disease in the GSD puppy’s parents. A good dog breeder should already know a great deal about these illnesses and be able to discuss the likelihood of the diseases developing in your puppy.
Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are very common in large dog breeds, too, and are a persistent problem for German Shepherd Dogs. Tests that help screen for these conditions are available. Deal only with GSD breeders who routinely screen for diseases and conditions that affect the breed. This is the best assurance-though it’s no guarantee-of taking home a healthy puppy.
Orthopedic disorders are screened by evaluating x-rays of a dog’s joints. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a nonprofit foundation evaluates and registers X-rays, is the most common certification.
The Wind-Morgan Program of the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, is another nonprofit program offering registry and screening of orthopedic disorders.
Genetic studies have shown that breeding radiographically normal dogs produces fewer dogs with joint disease than when affected dogs, or dogs of unknown status, are bred.
Ask the breeder if the pup’s parents are “OFA certified.” Ask to see certification of both parents from one of these organizations; reputable breeders will usually offer the information without asking.
Eye diseases, though not as common in the German Shepherd Dog as in some dog breeds, can be present at birth or develop later in life. These conditions can be screened by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, an organization that works in conjunction with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. Ask to see each parents’
CERF number, which is evidence that the dog has been screened and found free of heritable eye disease. Be aware that CERF registration is good only for 12 months from the dog’s examination date; thereafter the dog must be re-examined by an ACVO diplomate and re-registered to maintain an up-to-date CERF number.
In addition to asking the breeder about certifications, ask for a health record of shots, dewormings and exams. And, take a close look at the German Shepherd puppy. It should be a proper weight (not too chubby or too thin); clean, odor-free and kept in clean surroundings; eyes should be clear, not runny or red; clean ears; full hair coat (no balding patches); no excessive scratching; and appear well-socialized, playful and friendly.
Take the puppy to your vet for a compete exam with 48 hours of purchase.
You’ll probably agree: Choosing a German Shepherd Dog requires an investment of time and energy, but it’s an effort you won’t regret one minute.