So you’re toying with the idea of getting a German Shepherd puppy! Or you’ve already started your quest to find the perfect pup for you and your family. If you’re reading this, the question on your lips is “how to find a reputable German shepherd Breeder”.
So you’re in good company here. Because getting a puppy is not a matter to be taken lightly.
I mean if you consider the fact that a German shepherd can live to the ripe old age of 13 or 14, getting the best pup is super important.
In this article I’ll share with you how to find a reputable breeder. By the end, you’ll know how to locate them and how to vett them. You’ll know exactly what a legit kennel looks like.
And you’ll know how to spot disreputable breeders, puppy mills and back yard breeders. Which is equally important to know.
How to Find a Reputable German Shepherd Breeder
What’s the Definition of a Reputable Breeder?
A reputable GSD breeder is mainly focused on the improvement and preservation of the of the breed.
Their breeding programs are carefully planned and they are meticulous about paring the best sires and dams. This breeds pups with the desired traits that make the German Shepherd such a fantastic breed.
The Good and the Ugly
When it comes to breeders there are no meaningful shades of grey. They are either reputable or they are bad.
No in between!!
Unfortunately reputable breeders are few and far between.
So to find a reputable breeder it’s important to know the differences…
Reputable breeders are also known as ethical breeders. Like I mentioned before, their focus is on the health, preservation and betterment of the breed.
Reputable breeders spend top dollar on medical care, premium food and the overall maintenance of their pups and breeding pairs.
So usually they make back less that what it costs them to breed a litter of superior puppies. And it’s not uncommon for them to only breed two litters in a year.
The price tag for pups from reputable breeders is often high. But keep in mind that disreputable breeders can also sell pups at high prices. So price is not the only thing to go by.
Although, it’s worth noting that if you come across a breeder who’s selling point is “we sell our pups for cheaper than other breeders”, you should be hearing alarm bells.
A reputable breeder will always screen potential buyers to make sure they can afford to care for one of their pups. So be prepared to answer questions. And even share your vet’s contact details with this type of breeder.
They will also require that you sign a purchase contract. This contract will deal with things like:
- A spay or neuter clause.
- A health guarantee.
- And an agreement that the owner will return the pup if they are no longer able to care for it.
A reputable breeder will NEVER sell their puppies through a pet shop.
Puppy Mill Breeders
The puppy mill breeder has only two things in mind…
The mass production of puppies and profit. For them, puppies are a comodity that are only there to line their pockets.
They make a lot of money by breeding pups with poor health and selling them at high prices. And they are happy to haggle on prices just to make a sale.
It’s for this reason that price is nothing to go buy when screening breeders.
They spend the minimum on medical care and their breeding pairs are kept in terrible conditions. All in the name of profit.
And it’s not uncommon for them to breed bitches that are too young, or way past retirement age. And yes, some of them literally breed their dogs to death.
They don’t screen potential buyers. And rarely require a purchase contract to be signed. If they do, there’s no health guarantee and they don’t require for the puppy to be returned if the owner can no longer care for it.
They’ll even go as far as dropping the price tag of a pup to avoid any spay or neuter clauses.
These breeders are the lowest of the low. They are unscrupulous and in my opinion should not be allowed near any animals.
So watch out for them!
Back Yard Breeders
These breeders breed pups for the sake of money. And their breeding pairs are usually family pets.
I’m sure there are a few that treat their dogs well. But, I have seen first hand how some keep medical care and nutrition costs to a minimum to ensure higher profit margins.
And many of them will breed a litter of pups that will be ready for sale just before a big holiday period like Summer break or the festive season. Of course this is to make sure they have funds available for their holiday and gifts.
Besides all of that…
The problem with a BYB is they have little to no education on breeding healthy pups and maintaining a meticulous breeding program.
Also, they sell their pups cheaply and have no problem dropping prices to make room for a new litter. And there are always multiple litters lined up.
It’s unlikely that a BYB offers health or buyer screening. Sometimes there might be a purchase contract but usually not. And in most cases they don’t require that pups are returned if the owners situation changes.
Different Breeders at a Glance
Here I’ve put together a comparison table of the different types of breeders. I hope this will make things easier when you’re vetting potential breeders.
Different Types of Breeders
|Reputable Breeder||Puppy Mill Breeder||Back Yard Breeder|
|Works with a Vet||Yes||No||Sometimes|
|Breeding Reasons||Breed preservation and development||Money||Money|
|Adhere to Breed Standards||Yes||no||No|
|Return to Breeder Clause||Yes||No||No|
|Waiting List for Pups||Yes||No||No|
|Breed Types||One (or 2 related breeds)||Multiple and designer dogs||One or Multiple|
|Genetic Screening for HD and ED||Yes||No||No|
|Clean Breeding Facilities||Yes||No||No|
|Breed Club Member||Yes||No||Sometimes|
|Involved in Sports or Show Activities||Yes||No||Sometimes|
|Questions Buyer to Determine Suitability||Yes||No||No|
|Insists on Multiple Visits Before Selling Pups||Yes||No||No|
Tips to Find a Reputable GSD Breeder
Ask your Vet
This was my first port of call when I was looking to invite another GSD into my life.
Vets work with reputable breeders all the time. If a breeder is regularly taking their dogs and pups for vet visits and health checks they’ll know.
Of course that means you should already know your vet well. Sadly, not all vets are trustworthy, so I don’t advise asking a vet you don’t know from Adam for a recommendation.
If you don’t already know your vet well, this might not be the place to start.
Reputable breeders breed high quality dogs. And they like to feature their dogs in shows.
So visiting dog shows is a great place to meet breeders, see their dogs in action and get a feel for them by watching how they work with and treat their dogs.
You’ll also get a good idea of their dog’s temperaments. And a good temperament is essential in a German Shepherd puppy.
Official German Shepherd Clubs
This is a great way to locate reputable GSD breeders. If you don’t know a vet to point you in the right direction, this is your best bet. I prefer breed specific clubs to national kennel clubs.
Here’s a handy map on the WUSV website where you can locate official German Shepherd clubs across the globe.
Official Kennel Clubs
Almost every country across the globe has an official kennel club. For example; in the United States it’s the American Kennel Club. In the UK it’s The Kennel Club and in Australia it’s the Australian National Kennel Council.
So you can get in touch with the one relevant in your country. Although, in my personal opinion, I attach little value to their recommendations.
The reason for this is because anyone can register as a ‘breeder’ – even puppy mill breeders. And the checks done on breeding facilities are spot checks and not compulsory.
Meaning it’s virtually impossible for them to determine who’s reputable and who’s not. So proceed with caution here.
References from Friends or Family
Friends and family are great at pointing you in the right direction of a reputable breeder. If they already own a GSD from a specific breeder they’ll know first hand whether the breeder is worth contacting.
Google can be your friend when it comes to finding out just about anything. And there are A LOT of breeders to be found through Google.
But, just because a breeder is on the first page of Google search doesn’t mean they are reputable.
So if you decide to go this route to find a breeder, make sure you do thorough research before you make any decisions.
Spot the Difference
A while back I shared the most obvious differences between a reputable and disreputable breeder in an answer to a reader’s question.
To make things easier, I’ve consolidated the info here and added more points.
How to Spot a Reputable Breeder
- They require that you meet them and their puppies before you make a decision.
- They will question you about what you’re looking for in a puppy and your lifestyle.
- They might ask you for contact details of your vet to get a reference.
- They will have good references from other customers and should be happy to share those with you.
- Usually you can meet both parents. Although sometimes a stud from a different kennel is used. But if both parents are not available for you to meet you should hear alarm bells.
- The parents have a good temperament.
- They refuse to ship their dogs. And won’t sell them without the necessary meetings first.
- They breed only one type of dog. If they breed more than one it’s usually a similar type of dog. For example: German Shepherds and Swiss Shepherds.
- Their puppies are bright, lively and keen to interact with humans.
- They require a purchase contract. This will include a spay and neuter clause. And a ‘return to breeder’ clause if you’re ever in a position where you are not longer able to care for your dog.
- A health guarantee comes with all their puppies.
- They usually only breed one or two litters per year.
- A bitch is only bred once a year and then rested until the following year.
- They don’t breed bitches or dogs under the age of 24 months.
- A bitch is usually only bred 4 times in her lifetime and then retired.
- They have a waiting list of potential buyers.
- They have a meticulous breeding program and can provide the full lineage of the puppies going back to the great grandparents.
- Both parents are officially registered and they have proof of registration on hand.
- The parents and the pups have their number tattooed inside their right ear.
- The parents are health screened for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia. And certified by OFA (Orthopedic foundation for Animals). Or the SV (the German Shepherd Association).
- The kennels are clean and don’t smell.
- The pups and dogs are groomed and clean. Their fur is not matted and they don’t smell of urine or poop.
- They have extensive knowledge of the GSD breed and can answer any breed specific question you have.
- Often they are active in organizations centered around the GSD breed.
- Their strive is to breed according to the accepted breed standard.
How to Spot a Disreputable Breeder
- They will not allow you to visit the puppies before buying.
- They prefer to drop the puppy off in a public place like a shopping mall. Or they sell their pups through a pet shop.
- They will not allow you to meet the parents of the litter.
- If you are able to visit, the parents will not be available for meeting.
- The living conditions of the puppies is dirty and smelly.
- The puppies are dirty with matted coats and muck in their eyes and noses.
- The pups are not keen to interact with humans and come across as shy or frightened.
- They breed several unrelated breeds. For example: German Shepherds and Yorkies.
- They breed designer dogs.
- They have no breeding program and can’t provide you with the lineage of their puppies.
- They breed bitches and dogs under the age of 24 months.
- They breed a bitch more than once a year.
- They don’t retire bitches and breed them more than 4 times in their lifetime.
- The parents have not been health screened for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia.
- Only one or neither of the parents are registered.
- If they claim the puppy/dog is registered, the registration papers are not printed on official documents.
- The dogs/puppies are not tattooed inside their right ear.
- There’s no waiting list for puppies.
- They have puppies available all-year-round.
- They have no real knowledge of the breed, temperament or known breed-specific health issues.
- They don’t require a purchase contract. If they do, they are happy to drop their price to avoid a spay or neuter clause.
- If they do have a contract, it doesn’t have a ‘return to breeder’ clause.
- The don’t provide any health guarantees for their puppies.
- They are happy to let you take a puppy home before the age of 12 weeks.
- They breed for size or specific traits, instead of the accepted breed standard.
So now you have a road map to follow when looking for a reputable breeder. And you have a clear sense of what to look for to weed out bad breeders.
But there’s more you need to do to make sure you’re working with an ethical breeder…
11 Questions to Ask a GSD Breeder
Asking the right questions is part and parcel of the research you need to do before settling on a breeder and a pup.
The more questions you ask, the better. And the more easily you’ll be able to spot a breeder you don’t want to buy a puppy from.
So, don’t be shy!
Here are the top 10 questions to ask a GSD breeder.
What Socializing have the Pups had?
This is an important question because pups go through some vital stages before they are 8 weeks old.
So you want a puppy that’s raised to experience lots of different situations. Things like walking on different surfaces. Being picked up and handled. Playing with different people. And a variety of different smells, sounds and sights.
All of this plays a big role in developing their self-confidence and their future training.
So tread lightly if you come across a breeder who keeps their pups in stark kennels until they are ready to go to a new home.
Can I meet the Parents?
This is an essential part to you making the right decision. It might be possible to only meet the dam (mother) if the breeder used a sire (dad) from another kennel.
But, as I mentioned before, if both parents are unavailable for meeting, you should be hearing alarm bells ring.
Are the Parents Registred?
The lineage of a puppy is crutial. But it’s worth noting that registred parents don’t equal a well bred puppy.
But a breeder worth their salt will be able to discuss the genealogy of their puppies. And they’ll be proud to explain exactly why they paired the dam/sire combination to breed their pups.
What Vaccinations and Deworming have the Pups had?
A puppy should have had a least their first round of vaccinations and deworming treatement before going to their new home.
What Food are the Puppies Fed?
They type of food a breeder feeds will give you a good indication of how well their dogs are cared for. Puppy mill breeders will feed the cheapest food on the market to save on their profit margins.
What Health Testing Have the Parents Had?
All German Shepherds should be health screened for Hip and Elbow Dysplasia. Especially if they are going to be part of a breeding pair.
And the results should be registred either with OFA or the SV.
There are two types of tests. The first one is the OFA Radiograph Evaluation which is done at 24 months. And the PennHIP evaluation which can be done as early as 16 weeks.
Personally, I attach more value to the OFA Evaluation because it’s done at 24 months which is the acceptable age to begin breeding.
A reputable breeder will give you hard proof that the parents have been screened.
It’s worth noting here that even the healthiest parents with all the necessary screening will not guarantee a 100% healthy pup.
But it will minimize the chances of health issues in the future.
What’s in your Purchase Contract?
If there’s no purchase contract then move on to another breeder. Most reputable breeders will have a spay or neuter clause. They will also have a guarantee clause.
A guarantee clause means the breeder will replace a puppy that has disqualifying faults according to the breed standard.
So yes, it means you’ll have to give your pup back to get a replacement. This is why it’s so important to take your time when picking a pup. I mean, who wants to part with a pup they have already bonded with?
Do you Issue Health Certificates and Certificates of Sale?
Some breeders will happily issue you with a health certificate from their vet. Although this is not a make or break in deciding whether a breeder is reputable or not.
As for certificates of sale, there are some states in the US that require that one is issued by the breeder.
What Experience Do you Have with the Breed?
Some smaller breeders who’ve just started out will be working under the umbrella of a club, or under a more experienced breeder.
So if it’s their first litter, that’s okay. If that’s the case, find out which club their work under and who the breeder is that’s mentoring them. Then get in touch with them to find out more about the breeder.
Do they show their dogs? What kind of breed-specific work do they do? You’ll be much better off with someone who’s been actively involved in shows and sport for many years even if this is their first litter.
Are the Parents Working or Show Dogs?
The GSD is a working dog first and foremost. Whether it’s showing or Shutzhund, they thrive when they have a job. Ask the breeder about any sport or showing they do with their dogs.
Whatever it is, a reputable breeder will be proud to share this with you and show off their dog’s abilities.
And proceed cautiously if they only keep their dogs for breeding purposes.
Do You Have References?
Ask for references of other folks who’ve bought dogs from the breeder. And if they are being mentored by a more experienced breeder then ask for their details too.
Getting feedback from other puppy owners is a great way to gauge whether this is the kind of breeder you want to work with.
Of course if they are not willing to give any references, it’s time to find another breeder.
There’s one last thing I think is important for you to know…
Pink Pedigree or White Pedigree Papers
Some breeders like to advertise their puppies as having pink pedigree papers. And charge a higher price tag for these pups.
A pink pedigree means that the dam (mother) and sire (father) have both been breed surveyed. They have passed strict tests which involve temperament and protection work.
The thing here is, a pup with pink papers is not necessarily of a higher quality than a pup with white papers.
Parents with a show grading of G (Good) can be breed surveyed and therefore have pups with a pink pedigree. Even although the parents meet only the minimum breed standard.
On the flip side you could find parents who grade V (Excellent) or SG (Very Good). But because they have not been breed surveyed, their pup has white papers.
So if you come across a breeder advertising pink papers, ask to see the show grading and breed survey results of the parents before forking out the extra cash.
What you can Expect When Meeting a Reputable Breeder
When meeting a reputable breeder there are a few things you should expect.
The first thing is that they may require for you to visit more than once. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, they will want to get a ‘feel’ for you and watch you interact with the pups.
Secondly, if you pick a puppy, they will want the pup to interact with you more than once before joining you in their new home.
And lastly, they will want to make sure that you are a right fit for their pups. So they’ll have their own set of questions for you.
Here’s a list of some of the questions you can expect to be asked…
- Have you owned a German Shepherd before?
- Are you able to afford the best veterinary care for your puppy?
- Are you willing to provide the best nutrition you can afford?
- What experience do you have with the breed?
- What are you looking for in a puppy?
- What is your experience with introducing a new puppy into your home?
- Do you have experience in training a puppy or dog?
- Will you be taking your puppy for obedience classes?
- What kind of daily exercise can you offer this active breed?
- Have you ever surrendered a pet? If so, what was the reason?
- Do you rent your home? If so, could you provide the contact details of your landlord to confirm that pets are allowed?
- Do you have other pets? If so, what kind?
- Do you have young children at home? If so, what are their ages?
- Can you provide the contact details of your vet for a character reference?
- Can you provide other contact details for character references?
- Will your dog be allowed to sleep, live and play inside? Or will they be an outdoor dog?
- Do you have a fenced yard?
- Will your puppy be trained for a specific purpose like herding, service, therapy or SAR?
A breeder that asks questions is a very good sign, so share as much information with them as you can.
Before You Head Out…
A lot of folks get flack from the ‘adopt don’t shop’ group. And even more so from the ‘ban all breeders’ faction.
Both of these cases annoy me so I’d like to touch on them here…
I’m all for adopting and rescuing pooches in need. But in many cases health and temperament issues are part and parcel of it.
Both of my females have temperament issues and health issues. They are awesome dogs and I love them to bits. But they come with baggage from their past. Some things have improved, but other issues take daily management and will likely never change.
If you don’t feel up to these challenges, there’s nothing wrong if you prefer to buy a puppy from a breeder. Don’t let anyone guilt trip you for your decision.
As far as the ‘ban all breeders’ faction goes…
I think it’s the most ridiculous notion. Lumping reputable breeders in there with the BYB’s and puppy mill breeders is unfair.
Reputable breeders strive for the betterment and health of the breed. And that’s what we want. If all breeders were banned, it wouldn’t be long before the entire canine race would be eliminated.
I mean it’s taken just over 100 years to have the established GSD breed. If the race were eradicated, how long it would take to re-establish the breed?! That’s if it would even be possible.
I detest puppy mills and back yard breeders, they should be shut down! But banning reputable breeders, is short sighted to say the least.
What should happen is that organizations, dog owners, the public at large and clubs should be working with and promoting reputable breeders.
This is the only way to ensure healthy breeding and the preservation of the German Shepherd breed. And the canine race at large, for that matter.
I hope these guidelines answered your questions on how to find a reputable German Shepherd breeder.
It’s by no means an exhaustive guide, so feel free to drop any questions you have in the comments section below. I’m happy to help where I can.
All the best on your quest to find your new best friend!
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