BUYING A PUPPY- INTERPRETING THE ADS QUALITY GERMAN SHEPHERD PUPPY
by Dori Painter
reeder’s Codes, Breeding Philosophies, guarantees, statements of integrity, hobby breeders, professional breeders, certifications, titles, training degrees..... these are just some of the myriad issues that you will encounter now that you have decided to get a puppy. They all sound like great, upstanding breeders, but in searching various websites and advertisements, I have found numerous inconsistencies among folks who claim that quality and integrity are the prime benefits of dealing with them. For example, one website instructs people to demand to see the original OFA paperwork, yet when you go to the page of litters for sale, you find parents listed with preliminary ratings. Another advertised litters for working (Schutzhund, police work, etc.), yet I had to look into the 4th generation to find ANY dogs that had working titles. Newspaper ads claim champion lines, yet the first champion is, again, way back in the pedigree.
So, how is the average first-time buyer supposed to find the right breeder? Hopefully this article will assist you in sifting through the muddle and help you make a more educated guess on which breeders seem to follow the standards they proclaim simply by reading between the lines. Since the German Shepherd is what I know best, most of this article will focus on this breed, but if another breed tickles your fancy, much of this information can be adapted to your chosen breed with a little homework on your part. There are numerous articles out there that explain the basic things to look for, health clearances pertinent to your breed, etc. I will assume that you have done that part of your homework on your quest to buy the perfect puppy.... if not, please do so before reading onward.
Several breed and local clubs have established breeder’s codes that their members are expected to follow. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA), German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada (GSDCC), and the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) are several of the national organizations with Breeder’s Codes. The members sign the Breeder’s Code of the GSDCA and GSDCC upon joining, and the SV enforces their code through their registration process. The Breeder’s Codes were established to ensure that breeders produce dogs of good health and temperament. The GSDCA code states, "To maintain the best possible standards of health and care in my kennels .... sound health and temperament." GSDCC states, "As a BREEDER I resolve to devote my efforts to the improvement of the Breed by maintaining high standards of temperament and physical soundness in my breeding stock and insisting that the stud dogs I use for breeding are of the same high standard." The SV enforces their code through the registration process. In order to get the (preferred) pink papers on the puppies, both parents must have working titles (SchH, IPO, HGH), hip certification, and Breed Survey (in-depth evaluation of conformation, temperament, and working abilities at the minimum of 24 months of age), and males must be of the minimum age of 24 months at time of breeding and females 20 months at time of breeding.
HIP AND ELBOW CERTIFICATIONS
OFA (the primary certifying body in the US) will certify hips and elbows at the age of 24 months. OVC (the Canadian equivalent) certifies at the age of 18 months. The SV will certify at the age of 12 months. While an evaluation by the SV at 12 months is a certification, the OFA has accumulated data on each breed, including the differences in evaluations at specific ages. In the German Shepherd, they have found that there is a 7.9% chance that a dog who was clear of hip dysplasia on the 12 month films will be found to be dysplastic at 24 months of age. The last time I inquired of OFA, there was about a 4% chance of change from non-dysplastic at 18 months to dysplastic at 24 months. The nearly 8% change from 12 months to 24 months is significant in my opinion. OFA and OVC will give preliminary evaluations at ages less than their respective minimums for certification. These are NOT certifications, nor are they intended to take the place of certifications! The preliminary evaluations are simply a tool available to those involved in high stress activities, competition, showing, and breeding to determine how much farther the young dog can go. If dysplastic, the dog would be pulled from activities that could put too much stress on the faulty joint(s) and engaged in activities that are more therapeutic in nature; the breeding prospect would be placed in a good "pet" home if their condition permitted; etc. If normal, things would continue on toward titles and show evaluations until the dog was of certifying age when the final x-rays would, hopefully, be clear.
To some, titles are not important. However, titles do serve a definite purpose for evaluating potential breeding stock. It offers proof to the buyer that the dogs in question have proven their temperament and working desires and abilities away from the safety of their backyard, and also that they have the minimum structural characteristics to perform the work that the breed was designed to do. It is one thing to say your dog has the ability, but it is another to get out there and prove that the dog can indeed do it under the stress of an unfamiliar place and dealing with the handler’s nerves. It is my strong belief that dogs should have "titles at both ends" -- both conformation and performance titles. These demonstrate that the dog has the proper structure to do the work, and the desire and emotional endurance to serve as they were bred to.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
So, how do you evaluate the ads? First, let’s focus on the "best possible" and "high standards" of physical soundness. The minimum that should be tested for is hip and elbow status. In terms of certifications with different countries accepting different ages, the best avenue to take would be "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." When in the US, you should expect breeders to follow the OFA regulations; if the breeder lives in Canada, they should follow the OVC regulations (and note that a number of Canadian breeders do OFA rather than OVC); and if in Germany, they should follow the SV regulations (also note, the SV does not yet require elbow certifications, but they are researching the need for this). One should expect that breeders and stud owners of German dogs should re-x-ray before using those dogs for breeding in the US, particularly those dogs whose German certifications were obtained near the minimum age.
In reading the ads, look for the OFA claim. The red warning light should be flashing violently when an ad states "OFA prelim" on the breeding dog’s page. This means that the breeder a) bred the dog before it was of certifiable age, and/or b) the dog does not have hip or elbow certification. A preliminary result can be obtained at any time between 6 months of age and 23.999 months of age. To illustrate, one show-line kennel offers the following statement on their homepage: "Here at XXXXX Reg'd German Shepherds, we strive to produce mentally and physically sound animals...". When one goes to the page of dogs offered for sale, one dog is advertised as follows: "Whelped XXXXX, 1994, "ZZZZZ" is a proven brood bitch, will be OFA’d before shipping, and ready to become a "momma" once more." Then turning to the stud dog page, one finds: "Prelim x-rayed clear hips and elbows at 8 months. At limited stud (whelped XXXX, 1997)." As a member of one or several of the national organizations, this breeder has signed the breeding code, claims to strive for physically sound animals, yet has bred at least two dogs (there are more examples on this site and others) who have not yet been proven to be free (a prelim does not mean the dog was still free as an adult!) of two easily tested for, genetically transmitted, crippling diseases. Does this breeder (and others) really follow their "codes" of high standards of physical soundness? Granted, two dogs free of dysplasia (and with relatives free of dysplasia) can and do produce progeny who are afflicted, but as a conscientious breeder, you should be able to offer certifications to prospective buyers that you are indeed doing your best to reduce the incidence of these disorders in the breed. Certainly breeding based on 8 month old films (or 15 month, etc.) is not doing one’s best. You cannot judge freedom from dysplasia in the way a dog moves. It can only be certified through radiographic examination. The chance of developing hip dysplasia with clear prelims is 7.9%, however the incidence rises with earlier age prelims. When no OFA data is available, it should be assumed that none exists... that the dog is dysplastic or the breeder never bothered to check. The OFA has a wonderful on-line access to the database. If you know the breed, sex, and a portion of the dog’s name, you can search the database for info on the dog. Information is available only on those who pass the certification at the minimum age of 24 months. Preliminary results are not available on-line, nor is presence of dysplasia published. You may hear breeders say "they certify hips at 12 months in Germany, so what’s the difference?" Well, the difference is that this is not Germany, and the OFA has determined that 24 months is a much more accurate age for determining absence from dysplasia. If one is a conscientious breeder, one will want to breed only the best and healthiest, and waiting a few more months to determine freedom from dysplasia is one way to do that.
As a breeder, I find it outrageous that other breeders cannot wait until the dog is physically and mentally mature before they subject the animal to the rigors of breeding and whelping. One can only ask why they are so anxious to breed a particular dog, and the only possible answers are fortune and fame (with fame leading back to the $$$ issue). It is not healthy for the breeding animal in particular, nor for the breed as a whole. A young bitch needs all the nutrients, vitamin, and mineral supplies she ingests for her own proper physical development. To expect her to share much of those nutrients for a developing litter of puppies is robbery and selfishness to the utmost degree, and for what? Money. Both the bitch and her developing puppies are affected physically. Though they do not feed unborn puppies, males likewise expend energy and needed nutrients in the breeding process and need sufficient levels of hormones to produce healthy sperm.
In addition, most young bitches do not have the emotional capacity and maturity to properly imprint her puppies. She is still learning how to deal with the stressors of life, with still-developing drives, and cannot share with her puppies those situations that she has not yet dealt with nor resolved. Puppies spend the first weeks of their life with their mother, learning her responses, actions, and getting their first impressions on the stresses of life from her. If she is not yet fully developed, she cannot properly guide her puppies in their first steps in life. A good brood bitch exposes her pups to stress through her play and corrections. If she has not yet *matured* in her dealings with life, including her defense drive which does not develop and mature until close to 2 years, she cannot properly guide her pups through example in these matters. When one considers that most German Shepherd females can safely whelp 6 litters in their lifetime with a first breeding at 24 months, and a male innumerable breedings, it is unfair not to wait those few months for physical and mental maturity, no matter how many young dogs *seemingly* handle it fine.
The Title Thing
Why bother with titles? Most breeds were developed by their founders for a particular purpose. The characteristics that the founder decided were essential to the Shepherd breed are what makes a German Shepherd a German Shepherd vs. a Shih Tzu, or Jack Russell, or Mastiff, etc. Titles are the way to determine if the breeding dogs are truly representative of the breed and thus are capable of passing on these characteristics to their offspring. The show ring and performance fields test the dog’s inherent temperament, as well as its ability to perform and the handler’s ability to train it to perform. A dog may do great in the backyard, but falls apart when it is brought out to do the exact same exercises on the field. The titles are the only concrete proof that the dog can perform and endure stress, just as the hip certification is the only concrete proof that the dog possesses healthy hips. You may not be looking for a show dog or working dog, but you should expect that the breeder can prove that the parents have the minimum qualifications to ensure that you get a pup that will resemble a Shepherd and should have acceptable temperament to be a good pet or a suitable candidate should you later decide that some sort of performance training or conformation showing would be fun to do with your dog.
Another red light should flash when a litter is advertised as Schutzhund prospects, or show prospects when you have to delve beyond the first generation to see any examples of titles. If the parents do possess the acceptable characteristics, why do they not have the titles? Sure, titles are time-consuming, take some measure of ability on the handler’s part, but if they are indeed breeding puppies that are representative of the breed, the breeder should have some working knowledge of the breed and knowledge of their dogs’ innate characteristics. Are the parents hard dogs, or are they soft dogs? Did they double up on structural faults or did they try to correct them? What is the trend in the particular lines genetically? These are important considerations for the buyer to know, and there is no way for the breeder to know without getting out there and training or showing their dogs. These are things you should expect, even if you want a dog to simply lie by your sofa with you. Temperament flaws take generations to correct, but if the parents show that they can perform adequately in the performance ring, your chances of getting a good temperamented puppy are far better even if you never step foot inside the ring yourself. Backyard abilities and training do not mean the dog has the proper temperament to produce a serviceable or companionable dog.
It is your responsibility to know what the different performance titles mean. A CGC (canine good citizen test) is far different than a CD or BH; the HIC is far removed from HGH or other herding titles. It is up to you to know the difference and know which tests actual abilities and which means the dog simply does not eat sheep or children.
Hobby vs. Professional Breeder
Now here is a complicated issue. What is the difference?
Hobby Breeder: One who derives the major part of their income from other than breeding dogs.
breed for the pure love of the breed.
fewer number of dogs, thus more quality time to spend with each dog.
fewer litters per year, thus more time to spend with each litter and pup, imprinting for social development.
usually lose money on each litter, at best break even, but do it for the the love of the breed.
train their own dogs... thus they know exactly what is demanded of a particular performance, know how their dogs react to different situations and training abilities (or lack thereof ).
fewer litters, thus may spend more time researching the best combinations to produce the "perfect" dog.
Lower prices to get their good stock out to be seen.
Puppy mills do not usually fall into this category of breeder.
not as well known, thus may spend more time developing a good client relationship with assistance to the new owners.
fewer litters, thus may lack a kennel "type."
fewer litters, thus may go to the winning dog to get their kennel name known though this dog may not be best for their lines.
fewer number of dogs, thus may have less experience in handling and training dogs and raising pups, and thus in assisting new owners with their pups.
train their own dogs, thus scores may be lower.
Backyard breeders also fall into this category.
Professional Breeder: One who derives all or the major portion of their income from breeding dogs.Advantages:
Larger number of dogs, thus learn to spend more quality time with each dog, rather than just time.
more litters per year, thus know how to imprint pups for the best social development.
Breeding is their main source of income, thus may be more tuned to what constitutes a good client relationship.
May have knowledgeable, professional trainers who will keep them informed on what their line’s response is to training and handling.
have more litters, thus more money and stake in researching the best lines to benefit theirs.
Their livelihood is at stake, thus may be more conscientious in getting their stock out to be seen.
Backyard breeders do not usually fall into this category.
more litters, thus have developed a kennel "type".
Larger number of dogs, thus are unable to spend much quality time with each dog.
more litters per year, thus less time to spend imprinting puppies.
Breeding is their main source of income, money may be more important than a good client relationship.
May indiscriminately go to the winners for breeding to ensure sales.
May send their dogs to professional trainers, thus do not know the training idiosyncrasies of their dogs.
Puppy Mills fall into this category.
So, the main thing would be to find a breeder you are comfortable with. Many hobby breeders give a wealth of support to their buyers, as do professional breeders. There are "bad" breeders in both categories.
Minimums to Expect
As a guideline, I would suggest the following as the *minimum* to expect of the breeder in providing you with a good quality puppy. Since there are differences in titles, I will separate the "American" from the "German".
Hips and Elbows: OFA **certified**
Champion (for show or breeding quality) or points toward CH (for pet or working quality)
CD or better obedience title
Hips: "a" stamp of normal or fast normal if bred in Germany OFA **certified** hips and elbows if bred in the US
Show rating ("G" or better) or Breed Survey if purchasing for show, expect "V" rating of parents
SchH1 or IPO1 or higher performance title or equivalent
If purchasing a pup for herding competition, look for HGH or AKC herding titles, not merely HIC.
Hope this helps you weed through the ads and websites. Once you get the perfect pupster, it is up to you to finish the work. As Captain Max von Stephanitz said, "The man who rears a dog must complete what the breeder began: the breeder can indeed lay the foundations of a good and serviceable dog, but the trainer must see to it that he brings to their highest possible development the physical and mental foundations already laid, and thus his is the more grateful task."