1. I'm not looking for a show dog, I just want a pet. Why shouldn't I just get a puppy from someone breeding for pets?
This is a very common question and one that has many layers to the answer. The first thing I like to discuss is why a show dog is a show dog. A show dog is actually one of my pets that just happens to be of high enough quality in both structure and temperament that it adheres to the AKC German Shepherd Standard enough to be able to compete in dog shows and win. Not all of the dogs have either the structure or temperament required to be a show dog. Even the dogs that are show quality, not all of them will finish their conformation championship. Earning a championship on a dog is not an easy feat. The dog must win 15 points. These points are won by defeating other dogs of the same gender. The 15 points are accumulated based on how many dogs are defeated. The 15 points must also include two 3-5 point majors where the dog defeats a "major" entry of dogs. The "major" entry number fluctuates based on how many dogs are showing in a particular region.
Showing dogs is a large investment of time and money so first of all anyone that is showing their dogs and earning a championship title is putting a lot of money into their dog/dogs. A championship on a single dog often takes over $2000 to complete and many times double or triple that. So finding a breeder that shows their dogs means they are putting a lot of time and money into the dogs.
No breeder wants to show and invest that amount of time and money into an unhealthy animal, so if the dog has allergies, causing a poor coat, they wouldn't be show quality, a dog with bad hips or elbows that wouldn't be part of the breeding requirements set forth by the breeder would also not be a show worthy animal. Dogs that are limping or lame are unable to compete, so making sure the dog is physically sound is very important.
Finally a show dog must have a good temperament. In the show ring the dog is approached by a judge who examines the dog from head to tail, including looking into the dog's mouth to check the bite and that all teeth are present. If the dog shows shyness or cowers or growls or attempts to bite the judge they are excused. The dog must have proper temperament to have this happen to them at numerous shows by numerous judges men and women of various ages.
I tell people you should hope you would be lucky enough to get a show worthy animal because these dogs are the creme de la creme (the best of the best). A dog that is structurally sound, healthy, with an amazing temperament that allows complete strangers to feel them over from head to tail and open their mouth while standing perfectly still and holding their show stance. This translates into a dog that is good with children, good at the veterinary office and good with strangers.
Breeders of show dogs can't keep all the dogs themselves and not all of the pups go into show homes (usually only 1-2 pups in a litter are placed in show homes from out litters), so the rest of these high quality puppies go to great companion homes and become awesome pets for someone else.
People breeding to create pets don't have the dog's best interest in mind. They are not looking to improve the breed based on structure. They don't have any outside person evaluating their dogs or their breeding program. The only selection process happening is being determined to benefit themselves, not the dogs. The money gained from the breeding is not being put back into the dogs.
2. Why is there such a variation in price between different breeders?
German shepherd puppies typically range from $500 to $3500 in price. This is a very big range. The breeders often set the price based on the perceived value of the puppy. Some breeders sell their dogs for more money but don't do as much health testing as a more moderately priced puppy.
My recommendation is to figure out what your minimum healthy requirements is for getting a puppy. As a veterinarian, I recommend anyone purchasing a German shepherd makes sure both the sire and dam have OFA certified hips and elbows and a DNA test for degenerative myelopathy.
There are many other health testing that is recommended, but considered optional. I prefer to have all of my breeding stock have OFA certified: hips, elbows, heart, thyroid, and DNA tested for degenerative myelopathy. A stronger health guarantee can be issued for the puppies when more health testing has been done on the parents.
I recommend spending more on the purchase price of the puppy upfront to have a better health tested, well bred puppy. This typically means that you spend a lot less time and money at veterinary visits. Most of the dogs I have bred go to the veterinarian just once a year.
3. What do all the health tests mean?
Hips are rated on 3 passing levels by OFA-excellent, good and fair. Any rating below a fair is considered not passing.
Elbows are rated as either passing or having signs of DJD (degenerative joint disease), UAP (ununited anconeal process), or FCP (fragmented coronoid process) which are all forms of elbow dysplasia.
Thyroid is rated as either passing or failing
Heart (cardiac) is either rated as passing or failing
DNA test for Degenerative myelopathy has 3 possible results: *Clear/Clear (2 copies of the normal gene) *Clear/Affected (1 copy of the normal gene and 1 copy of the affected gene) *Affected/Affected (2 copies of the affected gene)
Degenerative myelopathy at this time is considered a recessive trait that requires two copies of the affected gene to put the dog at risk for developing the disease. Not all dogs with two copies of the affected gene will develop the disease. For more information on degenerative myelopathy, please visit:
The letters behind the dog's name are abbreviations for titles that the dog has earned. Most of the titles that my dogs earn are through AKC, but there are many different venues that dogs can earn titles through.
Conformation Titles: CH-Championship-Breed Champion GCH-Grand Champion Sel Ch-Select Champion from the GSDCA (German Shepherd Dog Club of America) Nationals Sel Ex Ch-A Select Champion that has OFA hips and elbows
Obedience Titles: CGC=Canine Good Citizen shows that the dog has good basic manners BN=Beginner Novice Obedience entry level obedience title CD=Companion Dog Obedience novice level obedience title CDX=Companion Dog Excellent open level obedience title UD=Utility Dog Obedience utility level is the highest level of obedience UDX=Utility Dog Excellent Obedience is earned by a dog that qualifies 10 times in both Open and Utility obedience trials on the same day.
Rally Titles: RN=Rally Novice Obedience novice level for rally obedience RA=Rally Advanced Obedience more advance level in rally obedience RE=Rally Excellent Obedience title at most advanced level RAE=Rally Advanced Excellent Obedience title is earned when a dog qualifies 10 times in both Rally Advanced and Excellent obedience trials on the same day.
Herding Titles: HIC=Herding Instinct Certified is testing herding instinct of the dog HT=Herding Tested PT=Pre-trial Tested HSA/B/C=Herding Started A/B/C Course HIA/B/C=Herding Intermediate A/B/C Course HXA/B/C=Herding Excellent A/B/C Course
Agility Titles: NA/NAP=Novice Agility/Novice Agility Preferred novice level of agility OA/OAP=Open Agility/Open Agility Preferred open level of agility AX/AXP=Agility Excellent/Agility Excellent Preferred excellent level of agility MX/MXP=Master Agility Excellent/Master Agility Excellent Preferred
NF/NFP=Novice Fast/Novice Fast Preferred OF/OFP=Open Fast/Open Fast Preferred XF/XFP=Excellent Fast/Excellent Fast Preferred MF/MFP=Masters Excellent Fast/Masters Excellent Fast Preferred MACH/PACH=Master Agility Champion/Preferred Agility Champion
T2B: Time to Beat Agility Title
Tracking Titles: TD: Tracking Dog title TDX: Tracking Dog Excellent title VST: Variable Surface Tracking title
Barn Hunt Titles: RATN: Novice Barn Hunt title RATO: Open Barn Hunt title RATS: Senior Barn Hunt title RATM: Master Barn Hunt title
Therapy Dog Title: TDI=Therapy Dog International Title PPTD=Pets & People Therapy Dog
GSDCA Titles: PAM=Performance Award of Merit-a dog earns this with 3 different performance titles, one performance title must be received from the highest level of competition DAE=Dual Award Excellent-a dog earns this time by completing a Championship in conformation plus a performance title
5. What are some questions that I should be asking the breeder?
Some good questions to ask the breeder are: How long have you been breeding? Why do you breed dogs? How often do you have a litter of puppies? Are the puppies raised in your home? How are the pups socialized? What age do the puppies leave? Are the puppies with their mother until they leave? How many litters has this sire/dam had? Have the previous puppies produced had any health issues? Do the parents have any health issues? Do the parents of the litter have any health clearances done? If so what? Do the parents of the litter have any titles? If so what? What are the temperament of the parents like? How do you decide which male to breed to a female? What do you do with the money you make from a litter of pups? What health issues have you had in your line of breeding dogs? What are your goals as a breeder? What information do send with the new puppy buyers? Do you offer lifetime support for your puppy buyers? If someone couldn't keep a dog you bred, do you take it back? Do you offer any incentives/rebates for training your puppy? What is your biggest concern about raising German shepherds? Where do you see your breeding program in 5 years?