Ethical GSD Breeding

As a trainer, owner, and one day breeder of the German Shepherd Dog the topics I am about to discuss have been weighing on me for a good long while.

In recent years, the Working Line German Shepherd (specifically the Sable color) has become a fad and owning one has become a status symbol. With the demand for the Working Line GSD (in the Sable color of course because it’s exotic, what police dogs are, etc.), countless breeders have arisen that are now breeding “Working” Line GSDs.

There has been an explosion of “Working” German Shepherd breeders nationwide, eastern Washington is no different. Why? Because the Sable colored “working line” German Shepherd has suddenly become a fad, in the dog world and outside of it. Ten years ago, the average German Shepherd/dog owner didn’t even know that there was a working line of German Shepherds, that working line dogs are generally Sable, or that Sable is closer to the original color of the Shepherd than the black/tan pattern. Ten years ago, I’d see one Sable colored German Shepherd every once in a while, at some large dog event. These dogs generally came from serious kennels, with serious quality, and had serious drives. Not the case anymore. I see Sable Shepherds EVERYWHERE now and they come mostly from mediocre breeders. I say mediocre and not backyard breeders (although I have seen plenty of those as well) because they are a little bit better than backyard bred nerve bags, but they are still incredibly diluted from what the dog is meant to be. I will go into that in depth farther on.

People want a Working Line GSD because they are what Law Enforcement, Military, and top competitors in protection sports have (dog sports have become a status statement too so don’t let me get started on that). Working lines, especially the Sables are incredibly handsome. We are drawn to them because of the status and because of the claims these new breeders make about their dogs. This is critical. Often these claim just aren’t true. For example:

“Puppies from our litters excel at Search and Rescue, Scent Work, Police Work, Military, Service Dogs, Top Sports.”

Read that claim and think on it. So, these puppies will be able to work as Military dogs and another pup from the litter could be a Service Dog? First, military working dogs are generally bred by the military or imported from Europe. They are not bred by breeders up in Eastern Washington. Second, a litter of dogs bred for military work will have the exact opposite temperament for Service Dog work. Perhaps two different parents are producing the service dogs and another are producing police dogs, that would be an acceptable claim. The point is, breeders make these ridiculous claims which draw people in to purchase pups.

Others want to purchase “Working Line” or sable because they want a dog that has drives for work. Maybe, they want to compete in dog sports, or they want a healthier German Shepherd. In general, the Working Line German Shepherd was healthier than American Show Lines and backyard bred dogs. Not so much anymore now that so many mediocre breeders are breeding them. Health, workability, drive for work, and solid nerves are all great reasons to purchase a Working Line GSD, regardless of the color. Thus, when new people seek out breeders they look for key words that breeders advertise: Working Line, Police K9, Schutzhund, High Drives, etc. When mediocre breeders state that the puppies they produce can do Military Work, Police Work, Sport work, etc., generally new owners look no further and purchase a pup without actually following up on these claims. Later on they discover the dog they have purchased does not have the traits described.

Now, it would be easy to blame the buyer for not doing their due diligence. But lets take a moment to consider this. Breeders can make claims, show videos, have clients meet dogs, and give them reference to happy clients. These videos may not show the true dog. I know I could doctor mine to show nice bitework on my poor biting dog. Additionally, individuals new to the Working Line GSD world, but genuinely wanting to get a good dog and learn, may be led astray without realizing it. Let’s give a specific example. Breeder says both parents have excellent ball drive, tug drive, and will produce dogs with good drives for protection sports (let’s assume the put more effort in than my one line). Someone looking for a local breeder reads this, calls, talks, and then buys a pup only for it to have no drive because…the parents had no drive either. Or the parents had drive that the breeders thought was fine, and told/showed the new owner but once the owner took the dog to a club they realized how wrong they were.

Especially the Spokane area, many breeders claim their breeding dogs and puppies can do certain types of work but don’t have any titles, certifications, or other proof to support this. What do I mean by this? If you advertise that your dogs have great protection skills and produce pups that can do the same, then a working title or certification in a protection sport or real working title are needed, at the minimum, to prove these claims. This is something I do not back down on. Just because a dog is great at a training session every other month, or had one where the decoy/trainer praised the dog, does not mean he/she is worthy to breed or can actually do the work. This needs to be proven. If you say the dog can do it then provide me with a title or working certification from a third party that will prove that.
I will bend this rule only on the exception that the dog is in training for titles (regularly not just randomly), and is clearly working towards those titles. Example, breeder that takes her dog to club every Sunday, or meets three times a week to train, is working very hard, but can’t get into a trial just yet for whatever reason. I don’t like it, I’d rather wait to breed until after the title, but I will let it pass.

Common titles are Schutzhund/IPO/IGP titles, Protection Sports Association/PSA, Ring Sports, Search and Rescue certifications, Nosework, Agility, Herding, etc. titles but there are many other titles and certifications. Titles show what the dog is capable of. Schutzhund, though bashed by many police handlers and trainers, generally demonstrates a dogs ability in protection, obedience, and tracking (though not true tracking). Higher scores, better dogs. PSA will give good demonstration of a dogs protection ability, as will ring sports. Yes, yes sport work is different than real world deployments of police dogs. Yes, a good sport dog can still be nervy and a terrible dog to breed.

There are breeders, mediocre usually, that will claim they don’t title because sports are not real, too fake, etc. There are plenty of other options then to title or certify your dog. For example, I title/certify dogs with an agency that certifies working police canines. The standards are in place to show that the dog can meet the basic levels of work. Tracking dogs must be able to locate the suspect, narcotics detection dogs must locate the odor. It is straight forward and if a dog is truly a working dog like a breeder claims then they could easily pass these certifications. If a breeder does not think they are “hard enough” or true tests, there are other tests out there by other organizations. I personally prefer to certify dogs with real working titles that state the dog could actually deploy live to track, to bite, to find explosives, etc., rather than sport titles. However, there are some great sport titles and some really excellent dogs with sport titles. It depends on what you are looking for. I want dogs that will work for real and that pass that onto their offspring. Others want a dog that will be good at a sport. Neither is wrong. The point here is that titles or certifications on the parents is a must.

If the parents of the pups have no titles, there is no way to prove the dogs can actually do what the breeder says. I am tired of breeders claiming their pups will work when they have no evidence that the parents even work. The GSD is first and foremost a working dog. Even if a breeder is producing dogs to just be pets, the parents should have working titles. Otherwise, we keep watering down the breed. I have met COUNTLESS watered down, skittish, no drive GSDs that were only recognizable as a GSD by looks. The working line from 20 years ago no longer exists due to the constant watering down of the line. Instead of breeding for better and better dogs with higher and higher caliber, I keep seeing these breeders breeding non-titled dogs to each other over generations creating a more and more useless Working Line GSD. At that point they cannot even be called a Working Line GSD. Just because they are Sable, or came from Working Lines does not mean they will work. They must still possess the drives and nerves to work.

A lack of titling comes from breeders just breeding to sell and make money. It is pure lazy and beyond irritating when breeders do not work and title their dogs. Its hard work to title and prove dogs are worthy of breeding. It’s so much easier to do a training session here and there and say they dog is working quality, then just breed the parents again and again to produce “working pups.” Or worse yet, claiming genetics make the dog and training has no part. I can tell you I’ve met many dogs with “great genetics” that turned out to be crappy and then I have met dogs with unknown genetics that with good solid training turned into some of the best dogs I’ve ever worked.

Along with never titling their dogs, mediocre breeders breed before the age of 2yrs and frequently breed back to back for multiple years (I will soften my thoughts on this slightly as some research is showing it is healthier for the bitch to breed around 1.5yrs and back to back then done after say four litters- Breeding before two years of age is a huge mark against a breeder for me. Why? First, it’s a sign that the breeder only cares about money and will breed their dog nonstop. One, the dog is not yet mentally mature. They may be physically mature but mentally they are still extremely young. Titles are not accomplished by two generally and more importantly most hip checks are not done until two years of age. There are many hip/elbow checks that can be done before two but OFA, the most common in America, is done no earlier than two years. Mediocre breeders will also breed dogs with hips that are not terrible but are not good or excellent. They may do good health checks or they may do the minimum. Frequently, if a genetic issue arises from a pairing, they will pair the same dogs again instead of stopping the breeding. For example, cryptorchidism is common in GSDs and is generally thought to be genetic. If pairing dog A and B together creates cryptorchidism then that pairing should not occur again. I’ve even seen several breeders breeding dogs that have a known history of seizures in their lines, i.e. the sire of the dog they are now breeding died of seizures or the pups produced from one dog have high rates of seizure issues. This is extremely irresponsible.

There are many working line breeders that are breeding extremely oversize GSDs as well. The working line GSD needs to be smaller, with 55lbs (female low end) to 85lbs (male high end) in order to do the work they were bred to due. Too big and it’s difficult to maneuver tight places to search, to track, and the wear and tear of that much weight gives a working lifespan that is much shorter. Those that claim larger GSDs hit harder in protection are simply ignorant. Some of the hardest hitting dogs I have met have been smaller or within standard. The bite strength and power is not driven by dog size.

Mediocre breeders are also breeding their dogs CONSTANTLY and back to back. They breed the bitch nonstop (4+ litters) and stud out the male to anyone. In my area there are numerous breeders that started breeding before the age of two and then have bred the dog on every heat cycle since. Some rest for one cycle then keeps going. These dogs are now around 5 years and have had around 6 litters. The only reason to breed so frequently is for money. A huge red flag if you are ever getting a pup.

Lastly, mediocre breeders charge ridiculous prices for their puppies. They know that top breeders get X amount for their puppies so they go ahead and charge the same. The demand is there, people will stupidly pay $2500 for a pup from untitled parents with no proof it will work. Top puppies are expensive because of the cost of training, titling, maintaining, importing dogs, etc. Mediocre puppies are expensive because the breeder wants to make a nice profit. If the parents aren’t titled and the pups are crazy expensive do not purchase a puppy from the breeder.

Let me give you the cost range that I believe is appropriate for a Working Line German Shepherd. For puppies that have parents with no titles at all (again this should never be a thing) but have health checks anywhere from $100 to $1300 would be acceptable. The $100 pup you will want to stay away from as it is likey backyard bred, nervy, unhealthy, etc. $1000 and up should be better but buyer beware and do the research. Puppies coming from titled parents can range from $1500 to $5500. I would never pay $5500 for a puppy, ever. I don’t care the lines, there is still a chance that dog may not be what I want and I’m out a huge chunk of change. $5500 is what I pay for a green police dog, not a pup. A good range is $1500 to $2800 from breeders with titled dogs and consistent breedings. I personally will never pay more than $2500 for a puppy, no matter the parents or pedigree. Why? Even if the pup came from the two top producing dogs in the world there is still no guarantee that the pup will turn out to be a working dog.

Breeders that charge $2500 for a puppy without any titling on parents are ripping off buyers. They are only charging that much because they are riding on the coattails of high quality breeders whose pups actually are worth that much. Lets give an example. A local ad for a puppy states $2500 for a pup. The breeder has no titles on any parents, has bred the dog almost continuously since it was 1.5yrs, and claims the pups can do all sorts of work. Nope. You can get a dog from titled, working parents, with proof that the pups will work, for the same cost or lower. The first breeder is just in it for the money. Think on it. Eight pups a litter at the crazy price of $2500 is $20,000 per litter. Don’t purchase from these breeders, they aren’t doing it for the right reasons.

So, what makes a GOOD German Shepherd breeder?

  1. First and foremost, they are breeding to better the breed. To create stronger dogs in specific areas and to keep the German Shepherd a WORKING breed not a pet. This doesn’t mean crazy drivey dogs with energy for days. I have seen plenty working dogs that settle nicely at home but fire up when work is provided.
  2. Second, health checks of all varieties and guarantees on puppy health, that they have stood behind. It does not matter the drive of the dog if his health is poor. Hips and elbows are big here. Check for DM as well.
  3. Third, working titles applicable to what the breeder is trying to improve. For example, one working line breeder may focus on herding, another search and rescue, and another police work. I am even okay with breeders that breed GSDs for service work as long as they are titling in some way (perhaps obedience titles or therapy certs) and creating better and better dogs. Included in this is continued training with the sires and dams. Not just titling them never working them again, or purchasing already titled and never training with the dog.
  4. Fourth, breeding after two years of age and not overbreeding. It is OKAY to breed back to back but not to constantly breed back to back.
  5. Fifth, correctly advertising what kind of dogs they are producing and providing proof that the progeny have gone on to do this type of work. Admit the flaws in your dogs and explain how you are breeding to work that out of your lines.
  6. Sixth, prices that reflect the titles of the parents, the health of the pups, guarantees, and that are within reason.

This is the bare minimum!

I am tired of seeing mediocre breeders producing mediocre dogs, charging crazy prices, making incorrect claims, watering down the working dog, etc. Stop making these claims on your dogs. Be better. Make the breed better. Preserve the GSD for what it was bred to do. WORK.

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