• This article written by Joan Andreasen-Webb was published in Schutzhund USA May/June 1999: the magazine published by The United Schutzhund Clubs of America.

Interesting that in the decades since, some things have changed but many have not. I hope you enjoy reading.


By Joan Andreasen-Webb
Published In Schutzhund USA May/June 1999

Several years ago, a young couple bred their female to our SchH3 FH IP3 male. They were experienced trainers, but this was their first litter of pups. A large litter resulted, and they advertised the litter far and wide. A man called asking if they had any SchH3’s in their litter. They politely responded that the parents had various titles, but the pups were quite young and obviously, not yet titled. This prospective buyer asked, “Couldn’t they tell which pups would be SchH1's, 2's or 3's yet?”. He volunteered to come out and advise them on this matter. When he arrived, he evaluated the litter of pups and said, sadly, they had no SchH3's. Two of the pups might be SchH2's but most of the pups were surely SchH1's. When the breeders asked how he could tell at such a young age, he responded that SchH 3's had quite a lot of long-ish fur around the ears and thick feathering on the legs. SchH 2's had some of the plush fur but not as much and SchH1's had the traditional short coat seen on most German Shepherd Dogs.

As unbelievable as this may seem, this puppy buyer was convinced of his knowledge that SchH3's were long coats while SchH1's were stock coats. Needless to say, our club has had quite a lot of fun with this titling system over the years.

Every so often a prospective buyer will ask if we have breeding stock with a SchH 5. That elusive SchH5! I remember years ago trying to convince someone that ‘V’ did not indicate the number ‘5’ but was an abbreviation for Vorzuglich or Excellent. I asked this fellow if he had ever come across a SchH 4 (IV) as a means to point out the folly of his opinion.

When novice puppy buyers arrive at our kennel proudly grasping a copy of a puppy aptitude test, I can anticipate the next question, “Have you ever seen this?” My answer: “Only a few hundred times!” I explain that the test can be useful and that I routinely test litters for other breeders. I also explain that I will share my evaluations of our pups in far greater detail than the test will reveal to them. Invariably, they just have to try an exercise out. Recently, a man was greeting a pup and decided to sneak a quick ‘elevation dominance’ test in. He cradled the pup and held her up while the pup wagged its tail broadly from side to side. Since I elevate pups from just about everything other than their tails from birth, this was no big deal. Then he tried to roll her over onto her back. The rest of the litter thought this was grand. Here was a fellow who would hold a littermate down so they could assault her! When this little pup saw the other pups rushing towards her from all parts of the room, there was no answer on the test paper to adequately describe her reaction. She was out of his hands and standing upright, ready for the onslaught in a flash. He “oohed and aahed” that she was way too dominant. I simply asked if he would accept being held on his back as the Green Bay Packer front line came rushing down the field at him.

Over years, dog hobbyists collect anecdotes and stories as they encounter many novices.
Here are a few that happen repeatedly:

1) A not-untypical profile of a first-time inquiry and their search for their Total Dog :

• The pup must have “high-drives” so it can qualify for national and international events in Schutzhund competition. This will be the first dog they have trained.

• The pup must also be capable of placing VA (or, at least high V) in the National Sieger Show.

• The pup must not chase their twin three-year-old boys and should instinctively know the difference between dog toys and children toys. Obviously, play-biting will not be tolerated either.

• The pup must be ’good in the house’ meaning calm, out-of-the-way and playful only when permitted to be - outside.

• Kennels and crates are cruel.

• The pup must get along with the neighbor’s Labrador Retriever and Dachshund as well as stay in the yard even though it is unfenced. They may install an underground electric boundary.

• The pup will not bark excessively (which means - only barking for a short time when Dad comes home from work)

• Their daughter has several pet bunnies that she loves dearly. The pup will be O.K. with them, won’t it?

• The wife is a member of the local garden club and has an award-winning garden of rare plants and they just hate the look of fencing off the garden.

• The nearest Schutzhund club is a four-hour drive - one way!

2) Potential puppy buyers arrive for a visit and when you greet them with your friendliest dogs, they are flat up against the wall shivering with fright and it would take a putty knife to scrape them off. (Actually, these are not novices - they are mistakes! While you are greeting them, you are thinking, “How can I bring this visit to an abrupt end?”. Usually, asking them if they would like to see some bite-work especially if you point to the dog they are currently petting or better yet, ask them if they would like to hold the sleeve!)

3) Proud owners visit your training club with their 10-week-old puppy asking for stud fees of males to line up breedings for their pup. They plan to recover the significant puppy price by having a few litters.

4) Prospective puppy buyers want ‘pick of the litter’ to show in conformation and they show you pictures of what they think are perfectly gorgeous dogs. You’ve seen better looking mixed breeds at the local shelter. One of those pictures, they swear, looks just like your V rated male!

5) Owners of a dog of your breeding call and with a disappointed, dejected voice tell you their dog received only an OFA Good on the hips.

Novices! As painful as it is to admit, we’ve all been novices. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “novice” is a beginner. Novitiate is a time of initiation, apprenticeship, or probation. Too many of us under-rate this unique and privileged time of building one’s knowledge and opinions. A time to be relished and not denied or concealed.

I was not a novice when I purchased my first two German Shepherd Dogs, a more apt description would be - stupid. My first pup was an incredibly intelligent and trainable female with a nondescript pedigree totally lacking hip ratings. I purchased her in the 1970's from a farm in Illinois for an exorbitant $175.00! The other pups were all of $200 but I liked her ornery attitude. She became severely dysplastic and had hip replacement surgery by six years of age. Tons of drive, a bit sharp but not physically capable of doing the work.

I decided I would not gamble on a young pup again and for my next dog I purchased a strong, athletic 6-month-old female from a local training reformatory. She had been kenneled her brief life except when taken out to be ‘trained’. She was built like a tank but had little socialization. Learning was very difficult for her.

Finally, after these two failures, I ascended to ‘novice’ level and ready to learn! I spent the next three years going to shows, trials, interviewing breeders, reading book after book before I felt ready to take the plunge again. When I did feel ready to purchase a puppy, I was determined to find that Total Dog and would test the pup’s potential rigorously.

One of the many books I had read suggested dragging a large chunk of fatty meat along the ground to test scenting abilities. I arrived at the breeding kennel with a chunk of fatty meat about the size of a half steer. I handed the paper bag containing this meat to my mother to hold so I could greet the litter when they were released. If you plan to try this technique and you care for your mother, I strongly advise keeping the meat in the car! Any litter would have to be nasally compromised to disregard a ripe chunk of beef camouflaged in a paper bag. When I returned home, I placed this book on the shelf and it has stayed there these last fifteen years. I purchased a pup of excellent quality. She was not perfect, but she was perfect for me - for the level of knowledge and experience I had at that time. Her memory endures as a treasured partner and teacher.

What I did for the next several years was listen and observe on our many visits to Germany. I had come from the working sports and my knowledge of structure was supremely inadequate. We were fortunate to travel to Europe several times a year staying for several weeks each time. Weekends were spent at shows and trials while weekdays we visited breeders, trainers, and clubs. I would focus on one part of structure and study that on all dogs in a show. When I undertook the shoulder, I stared at endless shoulders as dogs gaited around and around the ring. Finally, I began to see the front assemblies that were efficient and others that were less efficient. I examined the components of upper arm, angulation, reach and extension of these dogs.

As my eye became more reliable, I found my focus expanding to adjoining parts. How did the neck move on the various types of front assemblies? What did the withers look like? The German breeders were more than happy to explain and dissect anatomy for me. I came to have a huge respect for the knowledge and eye of these hobbyists. It took me years to recognize minute flaws that these breeders detected with their first glance at a dog. In 1988, I sat next to a very well-versed German at the national Sieger Show. He enlightened me with a detailed history of each dog and its progeny. I asked him the name of his breeding kennel. He lived in an apartment with a Dachshund and did not have a German Shepherd Dog. He was a lover of the breed, visiting shows and trials regularly. He knew more about my breed than I will learn in a life-time.

Misinformation and unrealistic expectations are understood when one considers that the sport of Schutzhund has come to our shores relatively recently and Schutzhund competition represents a small percentage of total American dog sports. The German system of titling in work and conformation has a high proportion of newcomers and, from my observation, we have many dropouts. Do we need to address this on national and local levels? Since we, as Americans, have not had the luxury of growing-up with this system of trialing and breeding, how can we educate and encourage our novices? Do we have a responsibility to them as they attempt to understand the complexities of European systems? Most of us have learned through our many mistakes and misfortunes. Does this cycle need to continue?

We, Americans, are a complex people. Ricardo Carbajal has addressed this subject thoughtfully in the January, 1999 issue of Schutzhund USA (Reflections on a Cultural Phenomenon). Our independence and sense of entrepreneurship has led to success in various dog services as well as competition. These qualities of independence and isolation also hinder our future success as breeders to compete nationally and internationally with homegrown dogs. The European system depends on co-operation and collaboration. Most people begin their hobby by raising and titling a dog from an established kennel as a co-owner or they may whelp a litter for a kennel and as payment, retain a pup to title. They accept and value the guidance of the breeder and their club. The breeder and co-owner will share the successes, but they also share the failures. Most dogs do not grow up to be VA or Bundessieger participants. The majority are reasonable examples of the breed and the sale of this quality of dog will barely cover the costs of feeding, training, and titling. Germans are very realistic in the expectations and risks for puppies and genetics. The beauty of this co-operative system is the continuation of wisdom and knowledge passed on generation after generation. Novices are not left on their own to find their way through the maze of tragedies and misfortunes of rearing and breeding dogs. Novices grow and learn from within a support system and build a reputation with quality and consistency not by breeding something rare or unconventional.

We have many excellent breeding programs in the US, several even competing at upper levels of international competition. Only in this country have I often heard people express their dream of owning an import after they learn how to train and title a dog. I cannot imagine a German thinking, “Well, once I have titled a dog, I will get a really good dog - from America!” Yet, we do this continually.
Europe has greater numbers of kennels for sure, but excellent specimens abound in the US as well. We have experienced breeders who have the knowledge and contacts to choose truly top specimens from Europe and are producing breed-worthy additions to our national program. In Germany, promising youngsters would be shared with friends and club members for rearing and training. Kennels in the US have the choice of selling their most promising produce to a largely novice clientele or retaining them in their kennel. There are obvious limitations for socialization and training with large numbers of pups in a hobby kennel.

We have a curious situation in our country that puppies carry a hefty price tag even with the considerable risks with development. Ironically, young adults whose structure is apparent, work ethic can be tested, and the hips/elbows cleared are sold for proportionately not much more than pups. A hypothesis that I will suggest is that if more novices were willing to apprentice under experienced breeders and if breeders felt assured that their valued puppies would not be lost, puppy prices would decrease. Breeders would offer their most promising youngsters knowing that they would contribute to their breeding program.

What to do with novices? There abounds a pressure in this country to conceal one’s beginner status. I have known first time breeders who assign a letter from the middle of the alphabet for their first litter and others who have begged me not to tell prospective puppy buyers that they are just starting out.
Novices are prey to importers with mediocre dogs and dogs with problems. I know of a woman who wanted a really high-quality breeding kennel although she had no experience with dogs. She invested a hefty sum of money for older titled dogs and believed she had just bought herself an instant international-level kennel. None of the dogs were capable of producing. She had spent a lot of money for retired pets. This story may strike a nerve with many readers.

I remember Walter Martin of Wienerau kennels advising newcomers to go to the best kennels realizing they would not receive the top dogs but reasonable dogs from excellent pedigrees. He suggested following the advice of respected breeders for breeding recommendations. Over generations, one would prove one’s talents as a breeder. Another option for novices, is to choose an established breeding program of dogs you admire and train, title, and breed for them. Take advantage of their years of experience while recognizing that you must heed their procedures. As you gain their confidence, you may whelp litters for them thus viewing pups of high quality while you learn ‘why’ they have high quality. By the time, you assign your kennel name to litters, you will be armed with knowledge and experience that has not been learned through lonely, painful, stressful misfortunes of your own. You will have a resume filled with dogs you have trained and titled, show placements you have earned and a comfort and ease that comes from learning from the best this country has to offer.