Edited August, 23, 2022
In recent years, the Working Line German Shepherd has become a trend amongst dog enthusiasts and your average pet owner. Due in no small part to Instagram. Owning one from parents that were “imported”, “police dogs,” “world champions,” has become a status symbol. With the demand for the Working Line GSD, people want to own them and people want to breed them (in the rich sable color of course because it’s lovely), countless breeders have arisen that are now breeding “Working” Line GSDs. Their ethics, breeding practices, and standards are frequently maddeningly (yeah, I am going to say it) maddening.
How Did We Get Here:
Fifteen years ago, the average German Shepherd/dog owner didn’t even know that there was a working line of German Shepherds. Years ago, I’d see one sable colored German Shepherd every once in a while, at some large dog event and it would catch my eye. These dogs generally came from serious working kennels, from high quality parents, and had serious drives. A true working dog. This isn’t the case anymore. I see “working line” Shepherds everywhere now and they come mostly from mediocre breeders. New and old breeders took the opportunity of people wanting “working line” not show line, and wanting the sables, blacks, and bi-colors of the “working lines,” not the show line/pet line/backyard bred black and tans (side note: some of my best dogs are black and tans from long working pedigrees) to water down the true working capability of the shepherd simply to make a profit. I say mediocre breeders 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.
Leading New Owners Astray
Puppy buyers are interested in 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). New owners are drawn to the beauty of the working lines and to the, many times outrageous, claims these breeders make about their dogs and puppies. 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. But the marketing of “Military Dogs” is so catching to new owners they don’t stop to think the breeder is fibbing to them.
Or, new puppy buyers are drawn to working lines because they truly want to do some form of work with their dog. Maybe, they want to compete in IGP, PSA, Nosework, or want a working dog for real life scenarios such as tracking, detection, personal protection etc., or they want a healthier German Shepherd. The Working Line German Shepherd was healthier than American Show Lines and backyard bred dogs. Was….. 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. When new owners seek out breeders, they look for key words indicating that a breeder is producing puppies that match what they are looking for work: Working Line, Police K9, Schutzhund, PSA, 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. They should have asked for videos of parents, titles, if they have produced working dogs in the past, etc. But let’s take a moment to consider this. Breeders can still make claims, show videos, have clients meet dogs, and give them references to happy clients. These videos may not show the true dog. I know I could doctor mine to show nice bitework on Narsil when she is not very strong in that area. Or I could show Ronan as a monster with his biting and never show how environmentally nervy he is.
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 breeder put more explanation into that than my one-line example). 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 that truly knew what was needed in a dog, the new owner realized how wrong they were.
Working Titles and Certifications Are a MUST-NO EXCEPTIONS
This happens all over, and the Spokane area or Eastern Washington is no different, as 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. If you advertise that your dogs have great protection skills, with great grips, 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 (let me list a SMALL number of certs or titles that could work just for protection-IGP, PSA, WDA, AWDA, ASCT, K9 Street League, French Ring…..). This is something I will 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 two exceptions. One, a one-time breeding before the dog gets all his/her titles to see if the dog can indeed pass on his/her genetics. If he can’t then there is no point titling to higher levels with the dog or breeding it. Two, that the dog is in training for titles (regularly not just randomly), and is clearly working towards those titles. Example: a 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. For both I would prefer the dog be titled because frequently breeders will do the above options, never title, and then keep breeding. –
Some sport titles are Schutzhund/IPO/IGP titles, Protection Sports Association/PSA, French Ring, Mondio Ring, other Ring Sports, K9 Street League, Working Dogs of America/WDA, Nosework, Agility, Herding, etc. There are also numerous certifications from police canine and working canine organizations like ASCT, NAWDA, APCA, NPCA, USPCA, NTPDA, NNDDA, the list goes on and on and on. Titles show what the dog is capable of. Certifications show the dog meets standards for real world work. 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. The same is true for many certified working dogs.
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 that are producing super working dogs for sport and real-world work. It depends on what you are looking for. I want dogs that will work for real and 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. No argument that the dog shows the skill and I do not need to title to prove it will ever be valid to me ever. 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 came from Working Lines does not mean they will work. And that is a tragedy.
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.
Overbreeding and Poor Breeding
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 as some research is showing it is healthier for the bitch to breed younger, around 1.5yrs. Back to back breeding for litters can also be healthy for the bitch when done within reason and not nonstop I personally, would say one back to back litters, a break, and no more than four litters for the bitch. (https://www.midwoofery.com/post/back-to-back-breeding).
In general, though, breeding before two years of age is a huge mark against a breeder for me. Why? First, titles and health tests usually are not done by 2yrs unless that breeder is training hard. 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. Second, to me it’s a sign that the breeder only cares about money and will breed their dog on the first possible heat. Before 2yrs of age, most dogs are not yet mentally mature.
Many times mediocre breeders 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, and they continue to breed these dogs. In this case the sire to a bitch died from seizures. The bitch has been bred six times. This is six litters of pups that are at a higher risk of seizures. This is extremely irresponsible.
Mediocre breeders are also breeding their dogs CONSTANTLY and back to back to 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. These dogs are now around 4-5 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.
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 90lbs (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. My hardest biting dog is 73lbs. My 85lb dog is a slug.
Lastly, mediocre breeders charge ridiculous prices for their puppies. On top of not titling a dog, making claims to what the dog is without titles, the next most infuriating aspect for me is then charging $2500 for a pup from nothing titled parents. These breeders 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 likely 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. My best working dog was $1800, my second best $1600 and I got a refund on her certifying her so she was $1100. My worst working dog was $4000 (7month pup).
So, what makes a GOOD German Shepherd breeder?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fourth, ideally breeding after two years of age and not overbreeding.
- 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.
- 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.