With the proven record of the German Shepherd Dog in the Seeing Eye, herding, police work, and as family guard and companion, most of us realize that a good shepherd is the best dog we could ever imagine. But how do you go about finding a good one among the sea of poorly bred ones that are so common?
Something I have learned about selecting a dog: you must have documentation. Many people will tell you how wonderful their dogs are and then introduce you to puppies too cute to resist. But that is not enough, even assuming they are sincere, there is something called kennel blindness where people tend to see their own dogs through rose colored glasses. Documentation of health by hip certification and documentation of temperament by real life work and working titles increase your odds of getting the type of dog you desire. Such documentation verifies the inherited traits of your pup. To assure that his temperament will match that of his parents, you must be certain that the breeder will assure the best environment for his early development, which includes puppy enrichment. Having been assured of health, temperament, and puppy enrichment, the rest is up to you in how you raise your pup to become the stable, healthy partner you desire.
DOCUMENTATION OF HEALTH: OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals http://www.offa.org/ ) is a certification wherein hip x-rays are taken of the dog at age two, at which time growth is more or less complete. The x-rays are sent out to a panel of veterinarians and rated on a scale: excellent, good, and fair, all being breeding ratings. I’ve known some breeders who get upset as the verdicts at times appear arbitrary and there are stories where a dog with a ” fair” rating received an “excellent” when the same x-rays were sent in another time. HOWEVER, I have never heard anyone complain that a dog with hip dysplasia received an OFA certification or a dog with good hips did not. In other words, though the difference between OFA good and OFA excellent and fair may be marginal, the difference between getting the certification or not is clear. A dog without an OFA certification or equivalent should not be bred.
The Europeans have a system similar to our OFA certification which is called the “A” stamp. Unlike the OFA which is done at age two, with the A Stamp, hips are checked when the dog is one year old. When looking at pedigrees, be aware that the European dogs must receive an “A” stamp prior to being bred. You can safely assume that any dog bred in Germany, E. Germany, or Czechoslovakia listed on a German Shepherd’s pedigree has the “A” stamp certification.
There is yet a third hip certification called the Penn Hip. The veterinarians skilled at taking Penn Hip x-rays must complete advanced training. Penn Hip evaluates the dog’s hips based on several x-rays. They claim that the analysis is a measurement and therefore is not in any way subjective or arbitrary. The other advantage of the Penn Hip evaluation is that the rating is expected to be valid through the life of the dog.
Another health evaluation available since 2011 is the DM DNA test. DM (Degenerative Myelopathy) is a debilitating neurological condition which results in crippling of some affected animals as they enter their elder years. Recent scientific research has discovered that many dogs with two affected genes may develop the condition whereas dog with only one affected gene or with two normal genes will not. The DM DNA test is a huge asset to breeders, allowing us to make sure by careful matching of breeding pairs that no offspring will be affected by the disease.
DOCUMENTATION OF TEMPERAMENT: You also need to look for documentation on temperament. Working titles (the titles after the name) on a pedigree verify good temperament as does verifiable work in Search and Rescue, the Seeing Eye, or other fields.
It is worth being aware that dogs with the temperament to do police work or achieve their Schutzhund I, II, or III must have a quality called “fight drive”. Though the SV has the BH temperament test as a prerequisite to weed out faulty temperament, many (not all) of the schutzhund working dogs have a bit more aggression than most of us are comfortable with. In order to do the attack work in which the dog must leave the handler and travel across a field to hold a confident aggressor who is attacking, the dog must have “fight drive”. This is different than protection instinct. For normal protection of handler and home, a dog does not need fight drive–that extra drive is needed only to attack away from the pack support of handler and home. In the ideal world, the schutzhund test is designed to pick out police dog qualities, which are balanced with proper nerve and therefore not unnecessarily aggressive. When you see high ratings such as the SCH III, realize that these would be difficult for an unbalanced dog to achieve. But check with the breeder as some schutzhund dogs are far from huggable.
There are other titles from AKC Obedience titles, to Agility, Herding, and Tracking. Then there are Service Dog performances which may be very involved such as Search and Rescue, or relying on Temperament such as Therapy Dogs who visit hospitals and the elderly.
When reading a pedigree, the letters before the registered name indicate Confirmation. The letters following the registered name indicate Performance.
For documentation of temperament it is important to know what the abbreviations on the pedigree mean. Below is a link for German Definitions of the letters you will see on several of our pedigrees.