Knowing what you are looking for when buying a German Shepherd can help you get the dog that is right for you, and help you avoid a lot of potential problems in the future.
If you love dogs like we do, it’s also worth noting how you might do so in an ethical way that rewards those trying to do the right thing for the dogs (i.e. ethical, thorough and responsible breeders).
In this guide, we’ve aimed to to save you a lot of time, research and frustration, by giving you some steps to consider in looking for a GSD.
You should be better equipped to find a happy and healthy German Shepherd puppy from a reputable, responsible and ethical breeder after reading this guide.
Having said that, you should also be aware of your own ethics and be aware of your own personal situation when purchasing a puppy or dog.
Let’s take a look at this guide …
(NOTE: this is a general information guide only, and is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. A qualified vet or animal expert is the only person qualified to give you expert advice in regards to your pet/s)
What To Look For When Buying A German Shepherd Puppy: Step By Step Guide
Summary – What To Look For When Buying, & Ethical Considerations
Before you consider getting a dog, and specifically a German Shepherd, read up about the responsibilities and requirements of being a dog owner, and the German Shepherd breed specifically. Read more about the different types of German Shepherds in this guide, and more generally about the breed in this guide with over 100 interesting pieces of information and facts about the German Shepherd Dog Breed.
Instead of buying from a breeder, some prospective owners might consider adopting or rescuing from a shelter or adoption centre
Pet shops, backyard breeders, puppy farms, and breeders from magazines, papers and flyers might have little to no regulations/standards for breeding, and might focus on commercial incentives over the health and the well being of the dogs, compared to other types of breeders who are reputable and who have transparent guidelines available for what to expect from the dogs they breed
There’s several signs you can look out for to spot an irresponsible or potentially unethical breeder (we list these in the guide below)
There’s also several signs you can look for to spot a good, ethical or responsible breeder (we list these in the guide below)
Breeding stock dogs should have a list of standards and requirements that they meet to produce healthy puppies
There’s a basic process you can follow to find a good or reputable breeder in your area, or in a place near you – we’ve listed that process below
There’s basic questions you can ask the breeder when you speak to them – we’ve listed some of those things in the guide below
There’s basic things you can look for when picking a puppy from a litter – we’ve listed some of those things in the guide below
There’s basic paperwork that you should get when you buy a puppy – make sure you ask to see it and are satisfied with it before you buy
Apart from paper work, there’s other basic requirements that a good breeder address – we’ve listed those requirements below
If you follow through and get a new puppy, make sure you are prepared for their first night and first few weeks at home
First, Consider Adopting Or Rescuing As An Option
Although it can be tempting to go straight to a breeder, prospective owners might strongly look at adopting a rescue or shelter puppy, or adult dog first.
There are a few reasons for this:
– Many perfectly sociable and loving dogs and puppies are euthanised every day in shelters and rescue centres
Over breeding/irresponsible breeding, and neglect by the owner once the dog starts growing are some of the major reasons
– Many of these dogs already have the basic social skills, obedience and training, and are past puppy chewing – so you don’t have to deal with all that
– Older puppies and adult dogs can suit some people better
They can have a calmer demeanour, more life experience, be better around kids and have less exercise requirements
You can read more about adopting a German Shepherd puppy or dog from a shelter or rescue here.
Having said that, some people want a new puppy from a breeder and don’t want to adopt or rescue
If that’s what they really want and they are committed to the dog for the long term – who are we or anyone else to stand in their way?
Setting Expectations – Know What Being A Dog Owner Entails, & Research The German Shepherd Breed
Know what you are getting into with a German Shepherd breed dog (you can do some breed research in this guide).
Make sure you have the time, focus, patience, love and lifestyle compatible with a German Shepherd.
German Shepherds in particular as a breed might have the following features and traits:
Have a life span of about 9-15 years – be prepared for a commitment of that time
Are a large size breed
Are naturally herding dogs – meaning they may try to ‘mouth’ friends and family
Need walks daily
Need daily mental stimulation including your attention – tend to be intelligent
Need a focus on socialisation and training as a puppy to ingrain a good obedience and behavior base
Are naturally loyal, loving, protective, and intelligent, but can be wary of strangers
Will form a strong bond with their leader
Need a strong leader
Might come from strong working lines or show lines
Will shed a lot of hair – particularly when they blow their coat between some seasons > will need regular brushing, and vacuuming if they spend a lot of time inside the house
Have a history of hip dysplasia in their genetics
Tend to mature and stop puppy type behavior by about 4 to 6 years old. Dogs of about 7 years or older tend to be more relaxed and calm
Come in short hair and long haired coats
Come in different lines i.e. the different working and show lines
Come in many different colors, and color has not been scientifically proven to affect the health or temperament of the dog – it’s just a color
Types of German Shepherd Breeders To Avoid
Be aware that the following types of breeders might produce dogs at a higher rates where the well being and health of the dogs isn’t regulated, or the top priority:
Breeders from magazines, papers and flyers
There seems to be a lot of puppy farms and irresponsible breeders out there at the moment that don’t have the health and well being of the puppies as a main priority.
A puppy from one of these breeders looks fine on the surface, but can cost you ALOT of time and $$$ in vet bills + complications if the dog ends up having health or other problems.
This is why it’s so important to be aware of these types of breeders.
Potential Signs Of An Irresponsible, Ignorant or Unethical Breeder
Unethical breeders are in puppy breeding to make money – and most time do not care about the dogs or the breed. Signs of a bad breeders might include:
Breeders with one classified ad in the local newspaper
Breeders without a dedicated website, and without information on their dogs or their breeding program for you to read BEFORE you contact them
Little knowledge of dogs, or the German Shepherd breed
Little experience as a breeder
No kennel report available
Doesn’t follow dog breeding regulations or code of ethics if there are any in your country
They are disorganised and find it difficult to explain to you the structure of the breeding program or how it is run
There are little or no health screening and checks for the dogs
Health and well being of the dog isn’t a main priority
Poor living conditions for the dogs – dirty, little space to exercise
The puppies look dirty, underfed or sick
The puppy’s parents look dirty, underfed or sick
You can read about other red flags and potential signs to avoid a breeder here.
This is also a good resource for how to spot puppy mill type breeders.
How to Identify A Reputable, Good or Ethical German Shepherd Breeder
Reputable breeders will ensure that healthy dogs are bred together, who don’t have temperament issues.
Reputable breeders truly care about the health and well being of the dogs, and aren’t in breeding to make quick money.
They have a strict breeding program they follow that protects the breed, and ensure the breeding and puppy spaces are clean with plenty of space to exercise.
There are two types of buyers usually:
– those who want a German Shepherd as a pet or family dog,
– and, those who want a high pedigree dog with titles in working, showing or both.
If you just want a pet or family dog, you can focus on the health and temperament of the parents and puppies and not be concerned too much with things like pedigree and titles.
Those who want are deeply invested in the breed itself and a high pedigree dog, you’ll want the original characteristics of the breed to be maintained and see that parents have titles, great health, great temperament, great bloodlines and great working ability should be bred.
Breeding dogs (the parents) should be:
– At a minimum, 2-3 years old for both the sire and the dam
– Paperwork on the parents showing hip and elbows have been x-rayed and certified good to excellent by Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA – available at ofa.org), PennHip, or the German Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde (SV).
The SV at present does not require elbows to be examined for breeding stock, but may in the future.
– Health tested for blood disorders and eye problems + other diseases common and uncommon to the GSD breed e.g. von Willebrand’s disease (blood clotting disorder) and had their eyes checked in a CERF screening.
– Paperwork on the pedigree of the parents (including proof of age)
– Preferably titled in something to show they can work – Schutzhund, obedience and other working titles
– Paper work for the parents being registered with the national/main dog association (these don’t guarantee a purebred dog though)
– Pedigree papers showing the family tree of the dog
– Paperwork for any working or show type bloodlines, stock and awards plus registration with a Schutzhund association or German Shepherd specific organisations
– Short hair coat
– To breed standard – maintaining the characteristics that make the German Shepherd what they are
– Does not have temperament issues (for example fear, shyness or aggression)
– At least one of the parents should be at the premises where the puppies are (usually the dam/mother)
Breeding should ultimately be done by professionals or experienced dog breeders who have researched bloodlines and genetics and know how to pair to dogs to create a German Shepherd that is healthy.
A reputable breeder will be available for you to contact for the life of the dog – because they care.
Reputable and good breeders will also offer you some sort of warranty or guarantee (such as a replacement puppy) if you find your puppy has a hidden defect that surfaces later).
Here is a really good checklist for a responsible breeder.
How To Find A Reputable or Good German Shepherd Breeder Near You or In Your Area
The following are just guidelines.
It is up to you to cross check facts and do your due diligence on making sure you are buying from an ethical breeder, and that your puppy meets your own criteria.
To find a reputable or ethical German Shepherd breeder in your area, you might:
1. Get on the website, or contact the national dog registration organisation in your country – the national breed registration organisation for America is the American Kennel Club.
2. Within these organisations, there are national and sometimes regional breed specific clubs for each dog breed.
Contact these clubs (the national club can give you a list of regional clubs, or you can google regional clubs in your area), and ask for a recommended breeders list from these dog breed clubs.
For America, the national German Shepherd club is the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.
They have a list of regional breeders here.
UK residents might try the British Association for German Shepherd Dogs
Australian residents might try the German Shepherd Dog Council of Australia
Canadian residents might try the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada
These list aren’t a guarantee of ethical or good breeders, but they are a much better place to start than your local classified ads, or some random independent website on the internet.
3. Work through the recommended breeders list to find good breeders, in particular using this guide, this guide, and this one.
4. Ask friends and people you know where they got their German Shepherds – you may find some good referrals locally.
5. You can find German Shepherd events in your city or town and go to them to ask for breeder referrals
6. You can find trusted German Shepherd forums on the internet. Stick around for a while, find one you like and trust, and ask for referrals from forum members
7. Like we mentioned earlier – if a breeder seems too hard to find, you might try an animal shelter or rescue.
What your breeder should provide you with for the puppies
Your breeder should be organised, and should be able to provide you with the following:
– Paperwork on the puppies showing hip and elbows have been x-rayed and certified good to excellent by Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (available at ofa.org showing ‘HD Grades’), PennHip, or the German Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde (SV).
The SV at present does not require elbows to be examined for breeding stock, but may in the future.
Health tested for blood disorders and eye problems + other diseases common and uncommon to the GSD breed e.g. von Willebrand’s disease (blood clotting disorder) and had their eyes checked in a CERF screening.
– Paperwork for immunisations of the puppies
– Paperwork for de-worming of the puppies
– Paperwork for ID registration of the puppies
– Paperwork for microchipping of the puppies (optional)
– Information of flea preventative used (if the puppy is old enough to receive flea prevention)
– Information on the food they are being fed + the current feeding schedule
Questions to ask the breeder
Be a little bit respectful about how you ask questions to the breeder.
Don’t try to seem like you are interrogating them, but do not be scared or worried at all about asking them any question, or too many questions.
This shows you care more than anything.
If they make a claim about their dogs and puppies, thank them for the information and ask nicely for them to prepare documentation to back up that claim.
You might ask:
– Ask what sort of food they have been feeding them – make sure it’s food that is going to get your puppy off to a good start in life i.e. food that is healthy and helps their growing bodies develop – you can read more about German Shepherd puppy feeding guidelines here
– Ask questions about the parents – pedigree, history, health
– Ask to see where the breeding takes place
– Ask to see where the puppies live
– Ask about the socialisation routine the puppies have
– Ask about any training and obedience they have received including potty training
– Ask about health screening processes the breeder has in place
– Ask about the grooming schedule they have for the dogs – coat brushing, washing, ear cleaning, nail clipping etc.
– Ask if the breeder wants you to keep in contact with them for the life of the dog (a good indicator if they say yes)
How to pick a German Shepherd puppy from the litter
Chances are, if you go to a true reputable breeder, they will know the puppies very well – better than you because they have spent more time with them.
They should try to get to know who you are, what you’re looking for and what your lifestyle is like.
Without sounding too intrusive – they should make sure you have the financial capacity to care for a GSD as well.
They should try to match you up with the puppy that is most compatible with you and your needs (although this is limited to an extent because dogs don’t fully mature and grow into who they will become until about 4 to 6 years of age).
Things that might signify a good puppy when picking a puppy from the litter are:
A sociable puppy – around the other puppies and around you
Welcoming body language i.e. relaxed muscles, and wanting to greet you as opposed to a tense puppy that hides, or charges at you and retreats
Check that the puppy looks healthy – ribs aren’t exposed, eyes are clear, walks evenly, looks clean
Picking A Puppy, Purchasing the Puppy & Paperwork
A good breeder will have some sort of paperwork or contract for you to sign with all the details of the parents, puppies, and conditions of warranty.
If you want to see what a good contract or piece of paperwork might look like, you can check out an example puppy contract here.
This is only an informational and educational example, not paperwork drafted by a legal professional.
Your German Shepherd Puppies First Night At Home
You might like to read this checklist of things to prepare and organise for your German Shepherd’s first night at home.
Final Words On Ethically Bringing A German Shepherd Puppy Into Your Home
Overall, the above are guidelines, and not advice you have to follow, or hard and set rules.
If you are interested in buying your German Shepherd puppy ethically, as a summary, you may pay attention to the following:
Be aware of the responsibility owning a German Shepherd is – make a lifelong commitment and not just a puppy commitment
Prioritise shelters and rescues for buying a puppy or adult dog over breeders
Decide if you want a pet/family puppy, or a high pedigree and working or show line puppy
Try not to reward backyard and puppy mill breeders that care more about money than the dogs themselves
Try to reward breeders that value health and well being of the dogs – even if you have to pay a bit more
Never feel bad for asking for information or as many questions as you like to a breeder about puppies and their parents
Further Resources On Buying German Shepherd Puppies, & Ethical Breeding
Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide & Checklist
German Shepherd Dog Shopper’s Guide (available at workingdogs.com)
German Shepherd Health Issues (available at thegermanshepherd.org)
Information About Responsible Breeding (in depth and detailed guidelines to ethical buying and breeding) – very good to read
Mix Of Resources On Buying German Shepherd Puppies and Dogs Ethically (very good to read)
Educational and Informational ONLY Example of A Puppy Contract
How To Spot Puppy Mill Type Breeders
‘Difference Between Registration Papers & Pedigree Papers’ (available at raisingspot.com)
What A Registered Breeder, and Papers Are (available at leemakennels.com)
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