When selecting a breeder for your next working German Shepherd puppy, there are a number of factors to consider. These include the basics such as DM (denegenerative myelopathy) testing, hip and elbow certification from OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of America) or PennHip, parents who are titled in the sport you want to pursue (IGP, PSA, SAR, etc), and a description of the puppy-raising process from birth to 8 weeks.
When Desmo crossed over, I started researching dogs and breeders the next week. In fact, I even built out a spreadsheet with sire notes, dam notes, my thoughts, and links to the Pedigree Database mating outcome for each pairing.
At a minimum, any good German Shepherd breeder should test each parent for DM, get their hips and elbows X-rayed and certified, and title the parents (an AKC Canine Good Citizen test doesn’t count). The parents should also have a BH or other similar temperament test; this indicates that they are obedient to their handlers, and are calm in the face of new stimuli.
If the breeder chooses to go above and beyond, they can order full Embark panels on the dogs, and regularly rotate studs and bitches in and out of their breeding program. Embark tests for DM and other genetic conditions, and rotating dogs in and out ensures genetic diversity. Offspring titled in the sport(s) of your choice is also a very good indicator that the dogs in question are producing quality puppies.
When evaluating Seabee’s breeders, I reviewed all of these factors. I looked at titles on parents, and concentrated on PSA and KNPV titles, as I was looking for a protection dog. Gene pool rotation was also important to me, as was titled offspring. When researching specific dog combinations, I looked at the dogs those parents had produced. Were they titled in PSA or APA (American KNPV)? It’s one thing to import two titled dogs and put them together, but it’s no guarantee that their offspring will be titled.
I also learned that it’s OK if one parent is a DM carrier, as long as they are bred to a DM negative dog. This widens the gene pool, without furthering the spread of DM. In order for DM to manifest itself, the puppy would need two copies of the gene causing the condition.
Early Puppy Raising / Environment
Another aspect to consider when selecting a breeder is the environment that the puppies and dogs are raised in. Since I wanted a dog that was going to be in the house with me, it was important that these dogs not be kept outside in a kennel. I also evaluated the total number of dogs in the house, and if the breeder rotated dogs in and out of the house. The question here was “how much time can the breeder devote to each of their dogs, and to handling the litter?” It’s a question of numbers — ie if the breeder has more dogs, they have less time to devote to each dog.
I also evaluated the puppy raising program from birth to 8 weeks. Are the puppies kept inside? What does the whelping environment look like? Is it a pool with straight sides, or is it a proper whelping box with bumpers that prevent the dam from rolling over and crushing the puppies? What are they fed when they are weaned? Is it a blend of turkey and goats’ milk?
What are the puppies exposed to when their eyes are open and they’re starting to walk? If I see a plastic kids’ pool filled with empty soda bottles, a wobble board (or other unstable surfaces) and crates (to get them acclimated to crate training), I’m happy. The earlier they’re exposed to loud noises and unstable surfaces, the more confident they’ll become. Bonus points if the breeder has a recording of thunderstorms / sirens / gunfire going in the background 24/7 — they’ll be more used to the noise that way.
Another important part of early puppy raising is that the breeder chooses your puppy – not you. They know the parents, and will test each puppy’s prey, hunt, and food drives at the very least. They may also test possessiveness, and will observe each puppy within the pack. Which ones are more outgoing? More shy? More dominant? More submissive? A good breeder will take all of these factors into consideration, and will match the appropriate puppy with the family’s lifestyle. For example, one factor that I didn’t consider (that my breeder did) was that we didn’t want a puppy that got carsick! Since we live in an RV and travel often, this is definitely important!
Good breeders will also take each litter to their veterinarian so that they can perform health checks on the puppies. The vet will check their heart, ears, eyes, teeth / bite, and will perform a physical exam (including checking for hernias). On males, they’ll check to see if both testicles have descended. If one is retained, the owner will be notified, as this will be a more expensive neuter procedure later in the puppy’s life.
When selling puppies, breeders worth their salt will include a microchip, limited AKC registration, and a health guarantee. It’s the buyer’s responsibility to take the puppy to a veterinarian within 72 hours, and if there are any health problems to be found, to notify the breeder. They then generally have the option to exchange the puppy for another one. Limited AKC registration means that the dog is registered, but no litters produced by the dog are eligible for registration. The breeder can choose to change the registration to full once certain stipulations have been met. In my case, these include OFA hip and elbow X-rays at 24 months of age, and a working dog title. Canine Good Citizen (CGC), service, therapy, or emotional support animal titles do not qualify.
When looking at pedigrees, I like to start with the Wright’s and Hardiman’s inbreeding coefficients. These are similar calculations in that they look at if / how the sire and dam are related, but calculate the factors differently. Wright’s method can include any number of generations, while Hardiman’s only looks at the past five generations in a pedigree. Wright’s also only considers duplicate ancestors if they are in both the sire and dam lines; Hardimans’ calculation is based on all duplicate ancestors. Regardless of the source, inbreeding levels above 5% are considered detrimental to the breed and the offspring.
When researching sire and dam lines of various pairings, I noted Yoschy, Fero (a Troll von der Bösen Nachbarschaft son), Aritar Bastet, Pohrancini Straze (Czech police), Jipo-Me (a kennel founded by Jiri Novotny and associated with Pohrancini straze), and Jirkova Dvora (a kennel founded by Jiri’s father). Each of these kennels and dogs are well-known in the German Shepherd world, and bring incredible talents to the table.
As a puppy buyer, it’s up to me to weigh not only the breed I’m selecting, but also the lines and combinations. Eventually, I settled on a combination of West German working lines (Buck vom Hundepit, IPO3), and Czech lines (Anarchy von Goedehaus, BH). I liked the fire from the Czech dogs, and the even temperament that Buck brought to the table. This has resulted in a PHENOMENAL puppy who is willing to work, has drive for days, and has just enough of a sasshole streak to keep me on my toes!