As you research your desired breed of dog, you will want to choose a breeder who runs breed-appropriate health screenings, titles dogs in performance and/or working venues, conformation shows and has dogs who conform to the breed standard. That is where to begin.

Choosing a German Shepherd Dog can be very confusing. Not only are there many types of shepherds but breeders can differ considerably in their goals and practices. If I had to chose one essential component for gauging how much the breeder knows about their dogs (and that is the bottom line, isn’t it?), it would be, “What does the breeder require of every puppy buyer?” What health screenings are required? What follow-up is there for the development, health and temperament? This is the essential goal for every puppy, not only the potential breeding puppies.

Answers to your questions will be based on how much a breeder knows about the parents, the bloodline’s history as well as the off-spring. If 10% of the off-spring have been x-rayed, that does not provide much information on how future pups’ joints will develop. If 90% of all offspring have been x-rayed, you have a measure of what the family joint history has been and a better estimate of how a future pup will develop. Understand that health screenings on the parents are important but monitoring every puppy is as essential, too. It is when a breeder tracks all puppies from every litter that one is better able to estimate what will be produced. The proof of the pudding - is in the eating!

So, if the breeder will place a pup with you and requires little feed-back of the pup as it matures, that breeder has little knowledge of what she/he has produced.

Determine what qualities you need and can realistically live with for temperament, energy levels, levels of drive, how biddable the dogs are, and their trainability. How much time does a breeder spend with pups? (Ask and request details!) Do puppies get individual quality time? How often is the litter taken for excursions and new activities? Precisely, how does the breeder evaluate each pup?

What are the primary goals of the breeding program? Conformation, the various derivatives of Schutzhund type sports, performance sports, companion/family dogs, therapy or assistance service, services like police and search/scent work, health improvement? The goals of the breeder will determine what kind of shepherd they produce. Does this type suit your needs? Ask questions and expect detailed answers. Check up on health screenings and titles.

Breeders who care about their dogs will require a lot of information about you and your life-style. And, remember, for most breeders, this is a labor of love and not a business so breeders are perpetually over-worked and stretched for their time. When you don’t get immediate answers to your calls or e-mails, keep trying. It is likely the breeder is not ignoring you but spending time with their dogs. Be patient and be persistent!

A word on how breeders choose dogs for a breeding program. The German system of titling and health screening is a valuable foundation that has served the shepherd well. That said, dogs having the same titles are not necessarily the same in quality. There are strict judges and there are lenient judges – in working and show venues. In the years of attending shows and trials in Germany, I have learned that the spectrum of what earns a high rating can be wide. The written breed survey and judges' critiques in shows and trials hold valuable information and tell us more than the basic show rating of 'V', 'SG', etc.

When breeders add a titled dog from Germany, have they personally followed this dog and its relatives to gauge what the dogs produce? Do they travel to Germany to get to know the dogs and the breeders that they import dogs from? Is a breeder’s program largely based on a continual supply of imports? Do they retain progeny and train them up to add them to their breeding program? How many generations of their own kennel name are in the pedigrees? Most hobby breeders care deeply about their breeding goals and dogs. Each will have their perspective of what the breed should be and their responsibilities to their dogs and their clients. The main question every prospective buyer needs to ask themselves is, 'Do I share these views for my next puppy?"

Spend time researching the breed and breeders before choosing a dog. As easy as it is to be emotional when seeing beautiful working dogs, use your brain first and your heart will less likely be broken.