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German Shepherd Puppy Selection

by Jackie Athon

Selecting the right puppy starts with selecting the right BREED, and the right breeder.  Not every person is suited to have a large breed dog that is bred to have protective qualities. German Shepherds are NOT supposed to be a Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever in a "German Shepherd suit". German Shepherds are wonderful family dogs. The children and puppy must each be taught how to behave properly together with mutual respect and kindness, so adult supervision is important while all are learning what is, and what is not correct social behaviour towards each other.

Breeds that are known for their loyalty and courage are stronger willed than the passive hunting dog breeds. You must be prepared to be the Leader of the Pack, and to Obedience train your German Shepherd at a young age. Otherwise, the DOG will become the leader, and that is bad for everyone, including the dog.

This is not to say German Shepherds are hard to train. The opposite is true. They are very trainable, but it IS necessary to train them. I do not refer to the popular bribery (treat training) that has become so popular and 'politically correct'. That "sit and I'll give you a cookie, stay and I'll give you a cookie" is NOT true training. The dog is responsive only as long as it wants the cookie more than it wants to do something else.

A cookie trained dog is worse than an untrained dog, as the owner has the MISTAKEN belief the dog IS trained. Then, the first time the dog is in a situation where it has a strong distraction or  strong urge to do something you don't want it to do, it won't care about the cookie (assuming you even have one with you at all times) and the dog will not behave as you wanted or expected.

With Cookie training, people have a tendency to have the dog in situations that require them to have good control because they THINK they DO have control. Then the dog does what ever it wants, as there is no respect for consequences for misbhaviour. This is true for all breeds, not just German Shepherds.

A great dog training book can be found (out of print) from by William Koehler on basic dog training. You may also find it at your local library. It will teach you how to have a happy, reliable well trained dog.

People that have weak or very passive personalities should not get a dog from any breed that has protective qualities. People with these traits will not have the internal determination to be the leader. You do not need to be a 'drill sargant' type, but you must have the willingness to be the one in control.

People that are uncomfortable around large dogs, or who have household members that are afraid of large dogs should not get a German Shepherd, or any dog for that matter. The logic of, "I'm afraid of dogs, so other people will also be afraid of my dog, and that will make me feel protected," is NOT good logic, and it is setting the stage for disaster.

When looking for a Breeder, search for one with experience and success in producing dogs with the traits you want your new dog to have.  Every one has a slightly different opinion of what is 'good', so first decide what you really want.  Do you want an active, "busy" type of dog?  Do you want a more "laid back" mellow type of dog?  Do you want a dog with stronger protective abilities?  Do you want a I'm happy-to-be-the-follower type of personality? Do you want the "instigator" leader-of-the-pack personality instead?  Or do you want the middle of the pack dog?   Do you want a very loving strongly bonded personality dog, or do you prefer the independent type?  How important is color to you?  What size do you prefer?   Do you want "German" bloodlines or do you want "American" bloodlines? There is a big difference in looks, and in what the dogs must do/be to be considered "Top Quality".

Once you have a clear idea of what YOU want your dog to be like, and have decided you are suited to be the owner of a German Shepherd, you are in a better position to make a realistic decision, and to ask each breeder questions about their dogs. This will help you make your choice of which breeder you wish to purchase a dog from.  Make yourself a little check list. Write down the name and contact information of the breeder, and their answers to your questions. 

There is a misconception that if a breeder has several litters each year that this somehow makes them a 'bad breeder'.  The number of litters a breeder produces has nothing to do with the quality of their dogs.  The quality of their dogs is dependent on the quality of their breeding stock, and how well the puppies are taken care of.  There are many breeders that produce only a few litters a year that have poor quality dogs, and do not have the knowledge to properly care for the puppies, or to answer your questions as your puppy grows and develops.

In general, puppies should be clean, happy, friendly, well fed, have begun their vaccination series, been wormed, and have a confident attitude.  No responsible breeder will release a puppy into it's new home until it is AT LEAST 7 weeks of age. If possible, go to visit the kennel so you can meet the puppies, and if possible, the parents before you buy.  Hopefully you will also be able to meet a few other adults owned by the breeder so you can get a better over-all impression of how this breeder's puppies develop and mature.  If it is not possible to go to the kennel (if the puppy must be shipped to you over a long distance) be sure to have all your questions answered to your satisfaction before you send money!

What about "PUPPY TESTING"? There are many 'puppy aptitude' tests that have become popular.  In fact, I wrote a puppy test procedure to evaluate what traits are needed for a Police dog, a Guide dog, a Herding dog, a Schutzhund dog, a Search and Rescue dog, Bomb/Drug detection dog and Family Companion dog way back in 1980 that was published in a National Working Dog magazine.  These tests are fine, but your BEST gage is not how a puppy performs on one given day, it is better to select based on observation of the puppy over weeks instead.  The person who can best do this is the breeder, IF he/she is experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of raising and training German Shepherds in all these areas.  If you are looking for a companion dog, then temperament and willingness to please become the most important factors in your decision.

When you decide to get a puppy, please remember this is a living, feeling creature.  They need constant care, love, attention, TRAINING, and supervision.   You are taking on a new member to your family.  You need to be prepared to keep this dog for it's entire life.  This means when you must move to another area, you don't get rid of the find a place to live where you CAN have your dog.   If you decide to have a child, you don't get rid of the dog or banish it to living in the back yard.  This dog is to become a part of your family.  Your future decisions must consider the fact that you have this dog in your family, just as your decisions should consider your spouse and children as well. 

Puppies grow up into big dogs. They go through the 'puppy monster' stage (like a child in the Terrible Two's).   Puppies DO NOT 'outgrow' bad behaviors.  They must be TAUGHT what are acceptable and NON acceptable behaviors, just as children must also be taught how to behave.  Having a wonderful dog as part of your family can enrich your life, but give serious thought BEFORE you buy to be sure you have the time, space and COMMITMENT to take care of this dog until it dies of old age.

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Show Quality vs. Pet Quality

by Jackie Athon

Many people shopping for a home companion mention they want "just a pet".  Often times what they really mean is that they want a cheap dog.  Whether you intend to show or not, why not own a really GOOD dog for the next 12 years!  The dog you buy is an it worth about $50.00 per year to have a "Corvette" quality dog rather than a "Yugo" quality of dog?  If you average out the difference in cost over the dog's lifetime, that is all it works out to be!

Good breeders pay close attention to temperament, health, good hips and over all quality when selecting breeding pairs.  If a breeder aims to produce 'just pet'   dogs, be assured the puppies will be mediocre at best. Even premium quality dogs will produce a few puppies that are not "show" quality, but they will be far above mediocre!

There are a few dog buyers that do become interested, and want to change their whole lifestyle to become active in the Dog Show/Competition arena. There are many wonderful people involved with competition with their dogs; but there are also those that change dogs like others change shoes….get rid of one because they like the looks or performance of another dog better. I feel sorry for the dogs!

Some breeders believe that a show quality dog is "wasted" when they go into loving pet homes. I also believed this years ago when I started breeding German Shepherds (1976), but I was naive. Now I disagree completely!!!!  Why shouldn't you be able to have the pride of ownership of a gorgeous, quality dog? It costs as much (or more!) to keep a mediocre dog as a good one...go for the best you can find!

Perfect Health

 We all want a dog with perfect health. One that brings joy to our lives, and little, if any worry. Buyers of purebred puppies expect the Breeder to produce only dogs which develop no significant health issues, and Breeders WANT to produce only dogs with optimum health. So why do some puppies and dogs still develop health problems?

 Admittedly, not every Breeder of purebred dogs strives to produce healthy puppies.  Breeders are human beings, and not every one has the highest good in mind, but this is true of people in every walk of life. For the most part, Breeders of purebred dogs are doing all they can to produce wonderful, healthy puppies.  

We hear the phrase “they are in it for the money” applied to Breeders, as if making money was an evil thing. What ever you do for a living, would you be willing and able to afford to do it without being paid? Are you evil for expecting to make money for your labors? How many times is a pet put to sleep because the owner cannot afford expensive medical treatments for the dog? Should we condemn the Veterinarian because he makes money from people with sick or injured pets? No, we should not, and the Breeder is not evil either for selling puppies, as long as they are making reasonable efforts to produce healthy puppies; and they are selective about whom they will sell their puppies to.  

In every breed, there are some health problems that Breeders are trying to eliminate. Does this mean you should skip owning a purebred dog, and that mixed-breeds are healthier? No. Mixed-breeds have as many problems, or more, than purebred dogs. The difference is the purebred dog Breeder is aware of the problems, and is trying to reduce them. The mixed-breed dog is in existence because the parent dogs were owned by irresponsible pet owners that let their dog reproduce with no thought, planning or pre-breeding health exams.  

People that get mixed-breed puppies have low, or no expectations as to a health guarantee or responsibility of the breeder. Because of this, we don’t hear complaints from owners of mixed-breed dogs blaming their dog’s “breeder” for the dog’s health problems. Why shouldn’t mixed-breed “breeders” be held just as responsible as the Purebred dog Breeder? The mixed-breed pet owner either pays the Veterinary cost to improve their dog’s health, or they put the dog to sleep, without ever thinking of trying to find the “breeder” to complain or ask for monetary compensation for the dog’s Veterinary bills.  

Is this fair? The Breeder of purebred dogs does charge more for their puppies than does the ‘breeder’ of mixed-breed dogs. However, in the long run, the main cost of having an animal is the cost to upkeep and care for the life of the dog, not the purchase price. The Breeder of purebred dogs puts many hundreds, and often thousands of dollars into their breeding stock. They spend hundreds of dollars on the pre-breeding health exams, and hundreds of dollars giving the puppies the best possible care. They provide help and information for the life of the dog to assist the new owner and puppy. In spite of their efforts to produce excellent puppies, the purebred dog Breeder is blamed and viewed as evil if a puppy does develop a health problem.  

So what about ‘genetic’ problems that occur in a purebred puppy/dog? Actually, everything is ‘genetic’ to some degree, in that when a problem occurs, there is something wrong in the DNA genetic material of that cell. This can be due to a gene defect that is present in one or both of the parents, or it can be due to outside influences that cause the defect in the DNA.  

We all hear warnings about the risks of smoking, the risks to an unborn baby if the mother is drinking or taking drugs, and of health problems due to toxins in our food and environment. Outside influences can cause changes in the genetic DNA, thus cause diseases, yet they are not ‘genetic’ in the sense in that it was not a defect that was present in the genes of the parents. Outside influences can also play a big part in the development of a disease in your puppy.  

Studies in human children have shown that many kids with allergies or asthma may not have developed these problems if they have, or have not been exposed to certain things as a child. The same holds true for our ‘dog-children’ as well. 

Human children that do too much strenuous exercise on a regular basis can permanently damage their joints. The same holds true for our dog-kids. There are a number of health issues that can be caused, or at least made much worse by things that happen to the dog (intentionally or unintentionally) once the puppy leaves the breeder’s care, yet it is common to blame the Breeder for these ailments. Strange how the ‘breeder’ of mixed-breed dogs is never considered to be responsible for the ailments their puppies develop!

 What about problems that are truly carried by the genes of the parents and passed on to the puppies? It is easy to cast blame on the Breeder for these, but what is the real story? Do you really think Breeders intentionally breed defective dogs? No, in fact they go to great lengths to breed from the best stock possible. So why then do genetically transmitted problems still occur?  

Here is the shocker no one wants to tell you about…there is no such thing as a dog totally free of carrying hidden genetic defects (or human, for that matter). Given enough different breeding partners, and enough offspring, every dog has the potential to produce a genetically based defect, whether purebred or mutt. So, do we stop all breeding of dogs because there will be some puppies here and there that will develop a problem?  

Most genetic defects are recessive in nature. That means neither parent exhibits the problem, but their offspring can develop the problem. Recessives can remain hidden for many generations, and then pop up again, seemingly out of nowhere. This same is true for all animals and humans.  

Let’s say, for example, your great-great-great grandfather had a health problem that can be passed on genetically. We humans don’t know what our ancestor’s health was like back in, say about 1876, so when these defects pop up in our human offspring we are naturally astounded, surprised and very dismayed.  

Do you go back to your parents and grand parents and tell them they are terrible people, and they are responsible for your health problem, therefore they should compensate you financially? Should your children sue you when they become adults because you passed on a ’bad gene’ to them? This may sound absurd, but puppy buyers often sue Breeders because the Breeder does not have the ability to totally control and foretell every potential problem that may have laid hidden for generations, but then develops in your puppy. (only God can totally control that!)  

Puppy buyers are quite naturally devastated and angry if their dog-child develops a problem. Breeders DO want to know if a problem occurs. The puppy buyer will announce to the Breeder their dog has a GENETIC problem, and they fully expect you to never breed the parents again.  

Here’s another bit of news that will shock most puppy buyers…It is totally unrealistic to never breed those adults again, since EVERY dog will occasionally have a recessive gene pop up and produce a problem. As the saying goes, “you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. What really matters is HOW OFTEN have those adults produced that problem. If a problem occurs, most times the breeder will not breed those 2 dogs together again, but those dogs may be bred to different dogs that hopefully do not carry the same recessive gene. 

It’s a bit like a game of hide-n-seek as the breeder is trying to control defects that the adults DO NOT EXHIBIT THEMSELVES.  This is why Breeders study pedigrees as far back as great-great-great grand parents. They are trying to reduce the chances your puppy will ever develop a health problem, and most of the time they are successful in doing exactly that.

Grunenfeld does provide a health guarantee for any major congenital or hereditary problem that may occur in a puppy up to 12 months of age, and because of our careful breeding program it is seldom needed. So, is it a case of ‘sour grapes’ on my part that I write this? Perhaps a bit, but mostly I want people to understand the difficulties that most Breeders of purebred dogs encounter, and most are giving their best effort to produce that puppy for you that enjoys “Perfect Health”, but sometimes...... S**T happens.

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