How to Breed German Shepherds: Key Insights for Aspiring Breeders

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German Shepherds are one of the most beloved dog breeds worldwide. Their intelligence, loyalty, and versatility as working dogs have earned them a special place in many homes and hearts. However, breeding German Shepherds is not a simple task. It requires extensive knowledge, careful planning, and a commitment to responsible practices.

This comprehensive guide provides aspiring breeders everything they need to know to successfully breed healthy, happy German Shepherd puppies.

An Overview of the Breed

German Shepherds trace their origins to 1899 in Germany when Captain Max von Stephanitz developed the breed from various local herding dogs. His goal was to produce an intelligent, agile working dog for herding sheep and protecting property. The German Shepherd proved incredibly adept at these tasks, leading to widespread popularity.

In the following decades, German Shepherds demonstrated their versatility by serving admirably as military and police dogs. Their heroic actions and devotion to duty solidified their status as an iconic breed. Today, German Shepherds remain one of the most popular choices for families seeking an intelligent, protective companion animal.

Becoming a Licensed Breeder

Breeding dogs professionally requires proper licensing and facilities. Specific regulations vary based on state and municipal laws. In general, there are two main types of breeders:

Hobby Breeders:

These breeders are not classified as commercial enterprises. They may breed occasionally for personal enjoyment or to expand the breed. Hobby breeders are typically limited to a small number of breeding females, such as less than 5. They must comply with all relevant animal welfare laws.

Commercial Breeders:

These breeders operate professional breeding businesses, with 5 or more breeding females. Commercial breeders must apply for applicable business licenses and can face stricter regulatory oversight of their breeding practices and facilities.

All breeders should research and comply fully with their local licensing requirements before breeding any litters. Failure to adhere to regulations can result in severe penalties, including forced closure of the breeding facility.

Choosing Breeding Dogs

The first step in German Shepherd breeding is carefully selecting an appropriate sire and dam. Several crucial factors should guide breeding dog selection:

Health

Health testing is paramount. Both sire and dam should undergo testing to screen for genetic diseases common in German Shepherds, including hip and elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, and congenital heart defects. Breeding dogs must be certified clear of these issues.

Temperament

The ideal German Shepherd temperament is intelligent, confident, and self-assured. Nervousness, skittishness, or aggression are faults. Puppies should be thoroughly socialized and display a sound temperament by 7-8 weeks old.

Conformation

Breeding dogs should conform closely to the German Shepherd breed standard. This includes physical traits like a domed forehead, long and square muzzle, dark almond eyes, erect ears, long neck, muscular and athletic body, and bushy tail.

Working Ability

Most importantly, breeding dogs must demonstrate intelligence, trainability, stamina, and eagerness to work. German Shepherds were developed as working dogs, so those traits are paramount.

Both the sire and dam should come from healthy, proven bloodlines and excel in health, temperament, conformation, and working ability. Their pedigree should be free of serious genetic defects for several generations.

Breeding Age for German Shepherds

German Shepherds are a large breed that matures relatively slowly. Responsible breeders wait until dogs are physically and mentally mature before breeding, typically between 2-3 years old.

Breeding too early can jeopardize the female’s health or produce undersized, unhealthy litters. German Shepherds generally remain reproductively healthy into later years. However, it’s best to retire females from breeding by age 8 to avoid complications.

Males can continue siring litters safely until an older age, around 10-12 years old. But they have a more limited role in each litter’s care, so retirement age is less crucial.

Pre-Breeding Health Tests

Extensive health testing is the hallmark of responsible German Shepherd breeding. Reputable breeders invest substantially in health testing long before any breeding occurs.

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: X-rays screened by the OFA or PennHIP to assess joint conformation.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: DNA test for the DM gene mutation.
  • Congenital Heart Defects: Cardiac exam by a veterinary cardiologist.
  • Eye Disorders: Annual exam by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
  • Autoimmune Thyroiditis: Thyroid function panel every 6-12 months.

Other tests like blood count, urinalysis, and blood chemistry panel also help identify any emerging health issues. Testing should continue annually throughout a dog’s breeding years.

Health Testing Costs

Proper health testing often exceeds $1000 per dog. However, investing in health testing reduces the chances of producing puppies with expensive genetic diseases. It’s a vital investment for all responsible breeders.

Health Testing Limitations

While health testing is invaluable, it cannot detect all genetic disorders. Expertise in interpreting results and understanding lineage health risks remains important. Some conditions like bloat, cancer, and allergies involve complex genetic and environmental factors. Following all recommended breeder best practices provides the highest level of care.

Timing German Shepherd Breeding

Female German Shepherds enter estrus, or “heat” cycles every 6-7 months. Estrus lasts about 3 weeks. The most fertile period is approximately days 10-14 of the cycle, marked by changes in color and consistency of vaginal secretions.

Veterinarians can run progesterone tests during the cycle to more precisely pinpoint peak fertility. This helps guide the ideal timing for breeding or artificial insemination.

Owners should monitor female dogs closely for signs of estrus beginning around 18 months old. Tracking cycles on a calendar assists proper breeding timing.

Confirming Pregnancy

Three primary methods help confirm pregnancy in breeding female dogs:

  • Palpation – Manual abdominal palpation performed by a vet around day 28 post-breeding to feel enlarging uterine contents.
  • Ultrasound – Abdominal ultrasound scan to visualize fetuses, available by day 20-25.
  • X-ray – Abdominal x-ray to count fetal skeletons late in pregnancy around day 45-50.

Pregnancy diagnosis and monitoring is best performed by an experienced veterinarian. They can also calculate expected due dates and recommend care guidelines.

Signs of pregnancy like appetite changes, weight gain, and enlarged nipples generally emerge midway through gestation around 3-4 weeks after breeding. But confirmation testing remains essential.

Caring for a Pregnant Dam

Providing excellent nutrition and care for the pregnant female is crucial to healthy litters. Here are some best practices:

  • Feed a high-quality commercial puppy food to support growth demands. Increase portions 30-50% over normal intake.
  • Supplement with chewable prenatal vitamins and omega fatty acids from week 4 to 8 weeks post-breeding.
  • Limit stress and strenuous activity, especially in the final weeks before labor.
  • Monitor body temperature daily – a drop below 99°F could indicate impending labor.
  • Arrange for an emergency C-section if needed – have a plan and veterinary contact.
  • Prepare an enclosed whelping box with bedding, heat lamp, and supplies in a quiet area one week prior to the due date.

With proper prenatal care, most German Shepherd pregnancies progress smoothly, lasting 63 days on average. But complications like eclampsia or requiring a C-section can arise. Staying alert to signs of trouble ensures the best outcome.

Welcoming Newborn Puppies

The big day arrives with the start of active labor. Typical dog labor lasts 6-12 hours, beginning with small contractions and rupture of the placental sacs. Puppies arrive every 30-90 minutes. Here’s what to expect and monitor:

  • Clear fluid discharge signals labor is underway.
  • The dam strains intermittently and may pant, vocalize, or vomit as contractions intensify.
  • The first puppy should arrive within 6 hours of the onset of labor. Prolonged straining over 3 hours without a puppy indicates an obstruction requiring veterinary help.
  • Check each placenta and puppy immediately after birth. Remove membranes from the pup’s face so it can breathe.
  • Tie off and cut the umbilical cord about 1-2 inches from the puppy’s belly after birth. Dip the cord in iodine to prevent infection.
  • Count puppies and placentas carefully to ensure none are retained in the uterus, which requires urgent veterinary care.
  • Thoroughly clean and dry each newborn, then place it on a warm heating pad covered with a towel.

Newborn Care Essentials:

  • Maintain a warm, draft-free, quiet environment between 85-90°F.
  • Gently wipe puppies with a warm moist towel if needed, but avoid bathing for the first 2 weeks.
  • Ensure each pup nurses the dam’s colostrum shortly after birth for critical antibodies.
  • Weigh pups daily and contact the vet if weight loss exceeds 10%.

With an attentive breeder providing excellent postnatal care, newborn German Shepherd puppies thrive.

Raising Healthy German Shepherd Puppies

The first 8 weeks of life are crucial for shaping healthy, well-socialized German Shepherd puppies. Here are some tips:

Nursing and Weaning

  • Puppies should nurse their mother exclusively for the first 3-4 weeks of life. Never supplement with formula, cow’s milk, or other substances.
  • Dams produce all the nutrition needed in their milk. Allow nursing on demand to satiety.
  • Begin weaning at 4 weeks by offering soaked kibble mush several times per day. Gradually thicken texture and decrease nursing frequency.
  • By 6-7 weeks, puppies should consume high quality puppy kibble regularly. Limit nursing to 1-2 times per day before complete weaning.

Healthy Growth

  • Weigh puppies daily the first two weeks, then weekly to ensure adequate intake and growth.
  • Deworm puppies starting at 2 weeks old, repeating every 2 weeks until 8 weeks.
  • Vaccinate puppies starting at 6-8 weeks old, with boosters every 2-4 weeks until 16 weeks old.
  • Trim nails weekly and inspect ears, teeth, skin, and eyes to catch any potential issues.

Socialization

  • Handle and inspect puppies frequently to acclimate them to human touch.
  • Introduce varied noises, flooring surfaces, toys, and crates for mental stimulation.
  • Invite family and friends to interact with puppies once vaccinations begin.
  • Enroll in early puppy socialization classes after the second set of shots at 10-12 weeks old.

Raising happy, well-adjusted puppies requires dedication but pays off in delightful, friendly companion dogs.

Finding Good Homes

At 7-8 weeks old, German Shepherd puppies are ready for adoption. Thoroughly vet prospective buyers to ensure suitability.

  • Screen buyers carefully with questions about intended purpose, lifestyle, family status, housing, and experience with dogs.
  • Require purchase applications and contracts covering spay/neuter, health guarantees, and return policies.
  • Check references and veterinary history of previous pets. Meet buyers in person when possible.
  • Charge an adoption fee to offset breeding costs. Avoid “free puppy” ads that can attract substandard homes.
  • Supply health and vaccination records, puppy care info, and breed registration paperwork.
  • Ensure all puppy buyers spay/neuter dogs not intended for responsible breeding.

Finding each puppy the right forever home is incredibly fulfilling. Maintain open communication for future advice and support.

Costs of Breeding German Shepherds

Breeding German Shepherds is a pricey endeavor requiring significant financial investment. Expenses can readily exceed $5000 for all the necessary health testing, stud fees, veterinary care, food, and medical interventions.

Potential expenses include:

  • $500-2000 or more for health testing each parent dog
  • $1000-3000+ for a stud fee of a top male
  • $400-800 for prenatal and delivery veterinary care
  • $1200+ for a C-section if needed
  • $1000+ for premium puppy food and supplements
  • $300+ for vaccinations, deworming, microchipping litter
  • $600+ for registration paperwork, vet certificates

Few breeders turn a large profit, especially after investing in the best possible dogs and care. Breeding is first and foremost a labor of love and commitment to preserving the breed.

The Rewards of German Shepherd Breeding

Breeding German Shepherds is intensely demanding but also enormously rewarding. The challenges and investments are outweighed by the joy of bringing wonderful new lives into the world and finding them loving homes. Additionally:

  • Perpetuating the German Shepherd breed’s finest traits is deeply meaningful.
  • Caring for puppies and witnessing their remarkable growth and development is magical.
  • Forging close bonds with people who adore their new companions is profoundly fulfilling.
  • Mentoring new owners and providing lifelong breeding guidance creates community.
  • Having a hand in producing the next generation of amazing working dogs provides purpose.

For German Shepherd devotees, ethical, responsible breeding is a labor of love and a choice to better the breed. Although arduous, it is work at the very heart of what it means to be a true lover of German Shepherds. The effort comes straight from the heart.

In Conclusion

Breeding exceptional German Shepherds requires extensive expertise, planning, and dedication to the highest ethical practices. But the outcome – healthy, happy puppies and satisfied families – makes the effort more than worthwhile. Never lose sight of the duty owed to these intelligent, loyal dogs who give us so much.

Always better the breed; never exploit it. With knowledge, patience, resources, and passion, breeding German Shepherds richly rewards the body, mind and spirit. The result will be wonderful ambassadors for this most extraordinary of dog breeds.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.