DEAR DIDI: My husband and I have decided to get a German Shepherd puppy. Although adopting a rescue has its rewards we also feel that purebred puppies need homes. We have specific goals in mind for our potential new fur baby so raising from puppyhood seems the best way to insure we can do those things with him or her. We have not purchased a puppy from a breeder in 25 years and with the Internet and current popularity of the German Shepherd (compared to their reputation in the 70s) we are overwhelmed. Can you shed some light on the types of breeders and how to find a good one? -GSD Enthusiast
DEAR GSD ENTHUSIAST: You win the “best question of the year award”!! Of the 53 million dogs in the United States roughly 2/3 of them came from backyard breeders (BYB). A BYB is someone that either deliberately breeds their pet(s) or just lets them. BYBs are ignorant to genetic issues and frequently love their dog(s). They mistakenly believe that their love for their pet(s) means they are the best version of that breed and should have puppies because it would be so cute. Some BYBs believe that their human children should see ‘the miracle of life’. Others see pure profit in the resulting puppies. BYBs do not selectively breed to improve the overall health, stature, strength and temperament of their chosen breed. A BYB can be someone you normally would respect, such as our local police departments. For whatever reasons, the K-9 officers are not monitored and frequently breed their canines without knowing the background, genetics, or pedigrees of their 4-legged partners. If a Dutch Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, or German Shepherd has a litter of 12 puppies it is the absolute responsibility and duty of the breeder to find appropriate homes that are equipped to handle the energy levels and temperaments of these particular breeds. Instead, those poor puppies, although pure bred, often end up in the wrong homes. Those puppies often end up dumped in orchards, at the dog pound, hit by cars, re-homed or housed by a rescue group. Some backyard breeders are selling AKC registered pure bred puppies which proves nothing if you don’t know how to read a pedigree. It is crucial to remember that just because a dog is ‘pure bred’ does not mean that it is WELL bred.
Truly ethical breeders are guardians of their favorite breed of dog. They actively show, or compete at a sport with their dogs which is the only way to prove that their genetics and breeding program are actually meeting the rigid standards set by the American Kennel Club (AKC). These breeders will frequently refuse to sell their puppies to someone if they believe it is not the right type of home. Prospective owners may be offended by their attitude but GOOD breeders will tell you that people frequently seek certain types of dogs for an image or look rather than what will truly fit in with their lifestyle. It can be like marrying the wrong person. Personalities just don’t mesh sometimes and ethical breeders seek to reduce the possibility of their puppies being re-homed in the future. As a matter of fact, many of them have clauses in their contracts requiring you to give them first option to take the dog back should you ever decide to give him up. Show breeders are always looking for their next champion and operate a professional for-profit business. Their puppies are top notch and the prices frequently reflect their efforts, expenses and time put into producing healthy pups that meet the breed standard which is somewhat like a recipe for the perfect dog. Genetics are complicated and take a lot of experience and knowledge to understand.
A new classification of breeder is referred to as Hobby Breeders. These are people that are absolutely passionate about their breed. They put tons of effort and education into their breeding programs and actively seek to improve the overall breed much like the Show/Professional breeders. Hobby Breeders don’t breed professionally and rarely make a profit. They are very small scale, ethical, and their dogs are registered and health checked.
Puppy Mills are worse than backyard breeders. They breed for quantity and pure profit without regard to the health of the dogs. They frequently hide the size of their operations by enlisting the aid of others and spread the dogs out on different properties. These operations are illegal and usually have multiple legal violations. Some backyard breeders are bordering on being classified as a puppy mill.
I could teach an entire college level course on this topic. In short, good breeders do NOT advertise on Craigslist. They should have both mom and dad on the premises for you to meet. If either parent is not social, well groomed, mannerly or healthy looking, WALK AWAY! For German Shepherds, ask for hip/elbow certifications on the parents. Be prepared to pay well over $1,000 but just because someone asks $1,500 does not mean they have well bred dogs. Don’t fall for cute faces. All puppies are adorable. Only when people start putting their foot down will the populations begin to fall at the shelters. Please stop buying backyard bred puppies! I know you think you are saving THAT dog but the big picture is that you are teaching the backyard breeder that they can, indeed, profit from the lives of these innocent animals. -email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org