Choosing the right breeder is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when getting a German Shepherd puppy. You want to ensure you’re getting a healthy, well-socialized pup from lines with good temperaments. With a breed as popular as German Shepherds, it can be difficult to navigate the multitude of breeders out there.
Doing your due diligence by researching breeders thoroughly and asking the right questions will give you the best shot at finding a responsible breeder producing pups to better the breed. Here’s an in-depth guide on what to look for in a reputable German Shepherd breeder.
1. Do extensive research online first – check health testing, titles, reviews, recommendations, and be wary of red flags.
2. Interview breeders thoroughly on their practices, philosophies, pedigree, and knowledge.
3. Visit facilities in-person to meet dogs and view conditions – look for cleanliness, socialization, health, paperwork.
4. Get and call references from past puppy buyers, vets, show contacts to verify quality.
5. Avoid unethical breeders displaying red flags like inability to verify claims, sales pressure, lack of contracts/guarantees.
6. Consider adopting from a German Shepherd specific rescue which vets dogs thoroughly.
7. Be patient – reputable breeders often have long waitlists. Avoid being pressured into buying from breeders with immediate availability.
Understand the Different Types of Breeders
There are a few main categories of breeders to be aware of:
- Hobby breeders – These breeders are not relying on puppy sales for income. They may have just 1-2 litters per year and focus on producing the best dogs possible. These breeders usually title their dogs in shows, sports, or working venues to prove their abilities.
- Commercial breeders – The primary source of income for these breeders comes from selling puppies. They tend to have more litters per year and often utilize kennel facilities. Be very selective when considering a commercial breeder.
- Backyard breeders – These breeders typically breed dogs without any health testing, titles, or proof of breed worthiness. Their main goal is making money. Backyard breeders almost always need to be avoided.
- Puppy mills – Puppy mills produce large numbers of puppies in poor conditions without regard for breed standards or health. Never purchase a puppy from a puppy mill or store that sources from mills.
For the best chance of getting a healthy, well-tempered German Shepherd, your safest bets are usually hobby breeders or the best of the commercial breeders. Be wary of anyone trying to make a quick profit breeding dogs without proper oversight.
Thoroughly Research Breeders Online First
Your initial breeder search should begin online looking at websites, breeder directories, customer reviews, and forums. Key things to look for:
Website – A quality website shows a breeder is serious and knowledgeable about their program. Look for info on their dogs, breeding philosophy, ages when retired, available puppies, health guarantees, contract terms, etc.
Social media – Many good breeders are active on Facebook or Instagram showing their dogs participating in shows, sports, training, health testing, and puppy updates. This gives you a window into their dogs and practices.
Online reviews – Check for any reviews on Google, Facebook, or independent breeder review sites. Look for consistent reviews praising healthy puppies and good breeder practices.
Forum recommendations – Dog forums like GermanShepherds.com have breeder recommendation sections. Search to see if any potential breeders are consistently praised.
AKC Marketplace – The AKC Marketplace lists breeders across the country and includes health and breeder practice certifications. Focus your search here first.
Health testing – Reputable breeders will post proof of health testing on their site. OFA and PennHIP hip/elbow scores should be listed for each parent at minimum.
Titles – Look for mention of titles in conformation, obedience, tracking, agility, herding, or other dog sports. These help prove sound structure, trainability, and temperament.
Long waitlists – Quality breeders usually have waitlists of 6 months to a year or more. Be suspicious of any with puppies readily available.
Use online research to narrow down your options to 3-5 breeders that appear reputable at first glance. Then begin communicating with them directly.
Interview Breeders Thoroughly
Once you’ve identified some potential breeders for German Shepherd puppies, start a dialog with detailed interviews. Communication is key to understanding their practices, ethics, and knowledge. Discuss:
- Their breeding philosophy and goals for their program. Listen for emphasis on breed preservation and improvement.
- How they select their breeding stock and what titles and health testing is required before breeding. Reputable breeders have high standards.
- How often they breed their females and estimated puppies per year. More than a few litters annually can signify over-breeding.
- Where puppies are raised and how they are socialized. Look for pups raised in home environments with plenty of human interaction.
- How they evaluate puppy temperaments and match to buyers. Good breeders take time to assess pups for the right homes.
- What health guarantees and support they provide. Normal guarantees are for 1-2 years against genetic issues.
- If they require spay/neuter contracts. Most quality breeders will require pups be altered to prevent irresponsible breeding.
- How they stay involved post-purchase with food trials, training tips, and more. The best breeders offer lifetime support.
- Their veterinary relationships. Reputable breeders develop close relationships with vets to optimize their breeding program.
Responsible breeders will welcome your questions and speak knowledgeably about their practices. Major red flags include defensiveness, lack of health testing, or an inability to verify claims. Keep looking if anything seems amiss.
Visit Breeders In Person
After narrowing down your options, schedule in-person visits with your top choices to meet the dogs and see facilities. You can learn a lot by direct observation on site. Look for:
Cleanliness – Dogs and puppies should be housed in clean runs or rooms. Look for proper bedding, fresh food and water. Avoid dirty or cluttered conditions.
Space – Adult dogs need room to move comfortably indoors and outdoors. Puppies should have enough room to play together. Crowded spaces are a red flag.
Socialized pups – Puppies should be friendly, engaged, and comfortable being handled. Fearful reactions or biting at a young age signifies improper socialization.
Health – Check all dogs on site for clear eyes, nose, and coats. Look for sound movement without limping or pain. Observe structure like toplines, bites, rears, and fronts.
Parents – Ask to see one or both parents. Look for stable temperaments and lack of aggression or shyness. Check for any structural faults too.
Paperwork – Reputable breeders will have health records, pedigrees, and registrations readily available for inspection. Verify all documentation.
Contract – Review the contract thoroughly and ask any questions. Good contracts often include health guarantees, puppy return policies, and spay/neuter clauses.
Perfect? No. – No breeder is perfect and minor issues can be overlooked. But major cleanliness, health, or temperament issues should make you think twice. Keep looking if anything seems very amiss.
Visiting the breeder and dogs in person gives you the clearest picture of their program prior to getting a puppy. Arrange follow up visits if needed until fully comfortable.
Ask for References and Follow Up
No matter how professional a breeder appears online or in person, be sure to ask for and contact references to help confirm quality. Reputable breeders should gladly provide:
- Veterinary references – Call their veterinarians to confirm dogs have been properly cared for and health tested. Ask about any major issues.
- Previous buyer references – Get contact info for past puppy buyers (or their vet if privacy is a concern) to ensure they had a good experience.
- Show/sport references – Those involved in shows and sports should be able to provide references to vouch for their dogs’ abilities.
When speaking to references, ask details like:
- Would you purchase from this breeder again?
- Were there any health or temperament issues with your puppy?
- Did the breeder offer post-purchase support when needed?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank your experience with this breeder?
Follow up on multiple references until satisfied this is someone you feel fully comfortable purchasing a puppy from.
Signs of an Unethical Breeder to Avoid
While doing your research and visits, watch for any of these red flags that indicate an unknowledgeable or unethical breeder:
- Unable to verify health testing claims
- Dogs appear unhealthy or unkempt
- Facilities are dirty or overcrowded
- Aggressive, fearful, or poor tempered adult dogs
- Will sell puppies to anyone without screening
- Pressuring you to put down deposits or buy quickly
- No formal contract or health guarantees for puppies
- Cannot provide vet or customer references upon request
- Constantly has many litters of puppies available
- Unable or unwilling to answer questions
If you notice any of the above, walk away. There are plenty of quality German Shepherd breeders available that avoid these practices. Keep searching for the right fit.
Consider German Shepherd Rescue Adoptions
If going the breeder route feels overwhelming, consider adopting! There are many German Shepherd specific rescues across the country. Shelters and rescues have:
- Adolescent and adult German Shepherds in need of new homes
- Puppies that were surrendered along with their mother
- Thorough temperament testing and vetting of dogs
- Frequently lower adoption fees than purchasing from a breeder
- Adoption contracts requiring spay/neuter
Work with rescues to find the perfect German Shepherd for your home. You’ll still want to observe health and temperament carefully when adopting. Rescues enable you to save a life and avoid supporting substandard breeders.
Be Patient – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait!
Finding just the right German Shepherd breeder and pup often takes significant patience and perseverance.
Quality breeders have lengthy waitlists, sometimes 6 months to a year or more. Avoid being tempted by breeders with immediate availability, as they are likely not carefully screening purchasers.
Likewise, don’t let excitement cause you to overlook red flags or warning signs with a breeder. Rushing the process can end badly.
Take your time and remember – the longer you have to wait, the better breeder you have likely found. The perfect German Shepherd pup for you is worth the wait!
With a selective, patient approach you’re sure to find a stellar breeder producing healthy, temperamentally sound German Shepherd pups. Do your homework, vet breeders thoroughly, and let your head rule over your heart during the search. Then get ready for a lifetime of love and companionship!
Frequently Asked Questions
What health issues should a breeder test for?
Reputable German Shepherd breeders should test for hip and elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, eye disease, heart disease, autoimmune thyroiditis, and Von Willebrand’s disease.
How can I verify a breeder’s dogs have health certifications?
Ask to see health certificates like OFA and PennHIP results. You can verify scores by checking the OFA and PennHIP online databases.
Are American vs. German lines better?
There is controversy over American vs German dogs. Ask the breeder which lines they breed and why. Make sure their goals align with yours.
How can I tell if a puppy is well-bred?
Look for proper breed conformation without extremes, good skeletal, muscular, and coat development, clear eyes/nose, and a temperament appropriate for their age.
Should I consider shipping a puppy?
Shipping puppies is controversial but can expand your breeder options. Work with reputable breeders and avoid hot weather. Meet the pup first or get video to assess health/temperament.
What is the life expectancy of a German Shepherd?
The average life expectancy of a German Shepherd is 9-13 years. Choosing a pup from health tested lines can help maximize longevity.
Is pet insurance worth it for the breed?
Yes, pet insurance is highly recommended for Shepherds due to the likelihood of orthopedic issues, cancer, and other conditions. Get quotes to find an affordable policy with your preferred coverage.