Finding a Breeder
My Comments on
“Twenty-Five Tips for Finding a Great Breeder”
Dogs USA, 2010 edition
1. Birds of a Feather (Start your search with the breed’s parent club) I am a member of the German Shepherd Dog Club of America and a signer of their Breeder’s Code. I go far beyond their recommendations as far as health screening goes. All my potential breeding stock are checked twice for hips (PennHip and OFA). They are also OFA certified for elbows, heart, thyroid (done annually), and spinal myelopathy. They are also CERF (eyes clear; also must be renewed annually), and tested for EPI (pancreatic insufficiency), hemophilia and von Willebrand’s disease. Each dog’s certifications are listed on its page on my website, www.celhaus.com. Copies of the certificates of each pup’s parents are included in the puppy packet.
2. Click here (Don’t be taken in by a flashy website; it tells nothing about the breeder’s expertise) My website isn’t flashy, unless you consider the photographs of my dogs and puppies that are updated as often as possible. I emphasize education about my breed and my goals as a breeder rather than glitz. I had my first litter in 1977, so I do have some expertise in breeding and raising puppies.
3. Judgment day (See the breeder competing at dog shows or working trials) I compete in agility in the NADAC (North American Dog Ability Council) venue. In the past I competed in AKC obedience, agility & tracking. As I’ve gotten older, I have less energy and am able to train and travel less since I’m still working full-time and I have a place to care for, so now I only do agility. I no longer compete in AKC agility because the courses have become difficult for a big heavy dog like a GSD to navigate safely. NADAC emphasizes safety and has courses that allow more distance between obstacles, so that the dog can maneuver, jump, recover and continue without the risk of injury. You can find NADAC courses listed on their website. You’ll find me at the ones in Casper & Gillette, Wyoming and occasionally those in Billings, Montana. I have no one to care for the dogs left behind, so I only compete where I can drive back and forth each day. I’m always willing to talk to people as long as I’m not actually getting ready to enter the ring.
4. Fear not (If peple are breeding for show, they’ll still have pups just as healthy and of good temperament that are not good enough for the conformation ring) This article is mainly written from an American show standpoint. I changed from American to European lines nearly 20 years ago because I did not agree with the changes being made in the American lines. The European working lines have no chance to win in the American breed ring because of the emphasis in the American lines for an exaggerated side gait which is accomplished by breeding dogs with extremely long rear legs. The European lines are much less “angulated,” not extreme at all, and will not be looked at by a judge. In the working lines one looks for working titles earned by dogs that are being bred, not for champion titles. Just as in the conformation lines not all dogs are champion quality, in the working lines not every pup will have the drives and ambition to do serious work such as for Search & Rescue or the police. Many of my pups go for Search & Rescue or for agility or obedience competition, but most of them go to be companions for active families.
5. Active duty (Competition in working events shows the breeder is committed to the total dog) I compete in agility because it is a definite test of the athleticism of my German Shepherds. I am usually the only person at a trial with a German Shepherd, because they are not as light and agile–and definitely not as fast–as the popular agility breeds (border collies, shelties, Australian shepherds, etc.) and thus don’t do as well with the demands of the sport as many other breeds. We often have a perfect run but do not make time, but that doesn’t bother either the dogs or me. We just keep trying to become more efficient, not wasting time or turning wide and thus covering extra ground. We love it!
6. Health matters (Breeding dogs should have health clearances proper for their breed and a breeder should have been breeding long enough to acquire a reputation) As I said in Tip #1, I test for everything that is a problem in our breed and for which there is a test. Because our breed has been so popular for so long, too many people have chosen to make money on puppies instead of removing dogs with health problems from their breeding program. I’ve had quite a few pups I bought as potential breeding stock end up with health and temperament problems, causing me to spay or neuter them, place them for pets, and try to find another pup that will be good enough to breed and produce pups that grow up sound and healthy. It’s hard to “flunk” a potential breeding prospect of which you have become quite fond, but it must be done for the good of the breed generations from now.
7. Plan ahead Try to visit several breeders, before puppies are born, to get a logical opinion rather than “the puppies are so cute” illogical choice) After people have filled out my application and I feel they will do well with one of my pups – and do well by the pup – they are always welcome to come meet all my dogs. I prefer to have people on my waiting list for a while so that I can get to know them and they can get to know me.
8. Timing is everything (Don’t expect to find a puppy as soon as you decide to get one; suspect breeders who always have puppies available) I agree wholeheartedly with this. I am very careful with my breeding and usually have a waiting list for puppies. I have one or two litters a year, that’s all. I get nervous when someone insists on a pup “right now,” because that attitude makes me doubt that they would have the patience to form a pup properly as it grows and work through any problems that might occur. We live in an “instant gratification” society and that is not a good attitude to have with living things. You have to wait for them to be ready to do so many things, you have to train them little by little as they understand and become capable of performing, most of all you have to learn to listen to what the pup (or dog) tells you about its needs and its understanding (or lack of understanding) of what you want.
9. Pretty is as pretty does (How much attention is paid to temperament and character of the breeding dogs) I breed for dogs that are totally sound – sound bodies, sound nerves, sound temperament. Pretty is nice, but “noble” is the impression a German Shepherd should give you, and one that is nervous, fearful or aggressive is not sound and doesn’t deserve the name German Shepherd.
10. At the sound of the tone… (Be patent, most non-commercial breeders have full-time jobs and families) This is so true. I have a demanding, full-time job – Executive Director of the Dog & Cat Shelter, Inc. Many days I’m too tired to do more when I get home than care for the dogs, eat a bite, and head for bed. The last thing I want to do is pick up the phone when I’ve been on it all day for work. I have 4 – 5 dogs in training, which means being gone for classes or training here at home. Add caring for a litter, with the cleaning, laundry and socializing, and I have even less free time. I do best with e-mail because I can answer queries as I have time in-between everything else. If you don’t hear back from me, do call back – in the evenings, not during the day when I’m at work.
11. Paging Pigpen (Look for basic good hygiene for mom & pups but don’t expect total perfection since puppies make a lot of messes) Puppies can mess up their room before you leave it after changing newspapers and bedding. It takes a lot of work to keep them clean. I work hard at it because puppies who grow up in clean surroundings are very easy to housetrain. I change their room at least twice a day – after they eat and before I leave, and then after they eat when I get home. If I’m off from work, I generally check them frequently and change anything that’s soiled. And the washing machine goes constantly… I also feed my mother dogs top-quality food, as much as they want, so that they always look good, even when nursing a large litter. Usually the puppies leave before mom begins the after-litter total shed, but if not, there’s nothing much that can be done at that time to keep her beautiful. Mine will never look skinny or “pulled down,” though.
12. Title search (Many reputable breeders have at least one parent that is a champion) As I said earlier, you won’t find conformation champions in my European working bloodlines. In Europe all dogs must have working titles before they’re allowed to be bred, generally Schutzhund I, II or III (different levels of the triathlon test of obedience, tracking and protection) or FH (special tracking test). You will also find many European dogs in the pedigrees with conformation ratings (V = Excellent, SG = Very Good, G = good) because it’s often done in conjunction with the trials where they compete for working titles.
13. Rhyme and reason (Ask “Why did you do this particular combination of parents?”) I research pedigrees to compare strengths and weaknesses – to build up strengths and correct weaknesses. Every dog has genes for undesirable traits, whether structure, temperament, working drives or health. Most of these are recessive; many are multi-gene recessive, which means that a pup must get a number of recessive genes from each parent to manifest the problem. For instance, it is believed that hip dysplasia may be caused by up to 30 recessive genes, which is why it’s so hard to eradicate. With no gene test available, we’re forced to go by phenotype (x-rays of the hips) in choosing breeding partners. That’s why you can have dogs with beautiful hips but terrible hip production records. I have a good friend who has spent years studying the European lines (“families” of German Shepherds) and has traced their health problems, working drive strengths/weaknesses, and which ones combine better than others. She generously shares this knowledge each time I’m looking either to buy or breed to a male. As with anything else where living things are concerned, genetics is an inexact science and all we really have are tendencies, but I do my homework on a dog’s background as well as what I see in it as an individual.
14. Support system (Try to learn how the breeder has helped or guided previous puppy buyers) Over the years several breeders have been generous in sharing their knowledge with me. I try to do the same for everyone who gets one of my puppies. I have written handouts which I send to each puppy buyer – every three months for the first year, then every six months until they’re two. In each one I discuss what the pup is able to do developmentally at that age, what it’s able to learn, proper corrections for the age when it refuses to obey a command it knows, socializing tips and other things. I want to know how the pup is doing during its entire life and am always available for help or advice or just to share good news and accomplishments, or worries and problems as they age.
15. A family affair (Beware if you are only allowed to meet the puppy they want you to buy. If you aren’t allowed to see the dam, siblings, place where litter was raised, etc, they may be hiding things.) People who come visit get to see all my dogs. They always see the mother, usually see the father, often see older siblings or half-siblings, aunts, grandmother and so on. We enjoy company and each of my dogs is convinced that people come to see only them. Once the pups turn three weeks old, we pretty much hold open house so that the babies are exposed to all kinds of people. Once they’re five weeks old, I take them to visit nursing homes and a senior daycare, and am always looking for people to help me with those visits.
16. Hey, Daddy-O (The sire may not be on the premises but the breeder should be able to tell you about him.) If the sire is not my male, I always have photos and descriptions of him on my website and an explanation of why I bred to him.
17. Paper trail (Look for the pups to be registered with AKC, UKC and/or the registry of the country the parents came from.) All my dogs are AKC registered and so are all my pups. I include copies of the parents’ registration certificates and DNA certificates in the puppy folder along with the puppy’s registration form. I keep track of every pup’s registered name and list it with its photos on my website every time the new owners send me new pictures. I also microchip each pup before it leaves here and make sure it is registered with its official name and owners.
18. Sign here (Reputable breeders have a contract and go over it with buyers) I definitely have a contract which spells out my responsibility and the buyer’s responsibility. The buyer and I each sign two copies so each of us has one to keep. I got through the entire contract to be sure no one has any questions before they sign it. All my pups go on limited registration, which means litters by them are not registerable. If a person wants to breed the pup and does all the health screening I require, I officially change the limited registration to full registration with AKC.
19. Snip! (Reputable breeders contracts require a pet-quality puppy be spayed or neutered) I require most of my puppies to be spayed or neutered. Very few people realize the work involved with choosing a good breeding partner, doing a breeding, whelping and raising a litter, finding good puppy buyers, following the puppy’s progress through its life, and working out any problems which may occur. The reason our breed has so many health and temperament problems is that too many people bred dogs that should have never have reproduced, often because they wanted to make money, seldom from a passion for the breed. If someone truly wants to breed good German Shepherds and proves their passion for the breed and commitment to quality, I will help them.
20. Return engagement (Good breeders require a dog be returned to them if it becomes unwanted) I will take my pups back for any reason at any age, so as to be sure they are okay. Life happens – divorce, death, serious illness, bankruptcy may render people unable to care for their dog. When people take their pup, I urge them to make arrangements for its care if something were to happen to them – to designate someone to take the dog and care for it. Many choose family members, but several single people have listed me as the person to whom the dog will go. 25% of the dogs entering shelters are purebreds. I never want it to happen to one that I brought into the world.
21. The soft sell (The breeder should work to make sure their dogs are a match for the prospective buyer and turn away those she doesn’t feel would be suitable) I have a long, detailed application which often helps people realize that a working-line German Shepherd is not the dog for them. I don’t want people to make an impulse buy but instead to think carefully, so I begin with the application form. That begins our discussion as I determine if one of my dogs is a good fit while they decide if they can work with me. If they don’t have time to list their priorities and what they want the dog to be able to do, they don’t come see my dogs. If they want something which is unsuitable for my breed or bloodline, I tell them straight off. Working-line German Shepherds are ambitious, busy, highly intelligent and tend to take over if the humans aren’t strong and consistent leaders. If I feel a person or family will not provide that, I won’t sell them a pup. I like time to get to know people, to listen carefully to what they say and observe how they interact with my dogs. As a litter grows up, I’m observing the pups with an idea of who might best fit whom from what they’ve told me of their life style, situation, dog experience and interests. The temperament test is the final piece of the puzzle. Puppy buyers are invited to come watch the test and visit with the tester before we adjourn to my house to decide who gets which pup.
22. Age appropriate (Breeders usually have puppies go to their new homes between 8 – 12 weeks of age.) We normally do the temperament test the Saturday after the pups turn 7 weeks old. Temperament tests done close to the 49th day give more insight into a pup’s genetic potential than testing later when the environment might be impacting the pup. Since people are invited to come watch the temperament test so they see why I send them with a certain puppy and not the cut one they like, I let the pups go then. Also, puppies tend to go through a fear stage from 8 – 10 weeks of age, when it first occurs to them that they don’t rule the world. I like them to go to their new homes flushed with enthusiasm and confidence so that their transition is easier for all involved. Five or six weeks of age is definitely too young for a pup to leave its mother; those are the weeks when she teaches it proper dog manners. Pups that miss that important part of their doggie education will often grow up not knowing how to greet or show proper respect to other dogs and can be canine misfits.
23. Trash talk (A reputable breeder will sell pups on their merits, not by disparaging other breeders and their pups) I often get inquiries from people wanting puppies when I will not have any for several months. I recommend breeders whom I know to be responsible. Other than that, I usually give general advice if people ask about other breeders. I tell them to ask what kind of health screening they do on their breeding dogs, why they bred those particular dogs and what they were expecting to produce, what kind of guarantee they offer, and what kind of follow up they offer as a pup grows.
24. The human equation (When you buy a puppy, you are really buying a breeder who will have a relationship with you for the rest of the puppy’s life.) I agree wholeheartedly with this. Find a breeder with whom you are comfortable talking, who will answer your questions in a way you understand. I may not be that breeder for one person, but there should be someone good for them. The big thing is to do your homework, take your time and first inform yourself about issues in your chosen breed so you can ask intelligent, reasonable questions before you call a breeder. Remember that most of us have little free time so be prepared before you call and respect that we may tell you we can’t talk at the moment and to please call at another time.
25. Trust your gut (Being a good breeder is part science/part art, and successfully searching for a puppy is the same) Many breeders “talk dog” better than they “talk people,” so keep that in mind as you search. Do take time to develop a relationship with a breeder you think you like. Meet their dogs, see them compete, and above all answer the questions they ask you as they do their best to determine if one of their pups will work well for you. I have sold pups to people who in turn became great friends. I have refused to place dogs with people who were friends but whom I didn’t feel were a good match. For the pup’s sake, breeder and buyer need to mesh well together.