How To Select a German Shepherd

German Shepherds are exceptional companions with a human-like intelligence. Around the world, they serve as dogs for the blind, dogs for handicapped people, border patrol dogs, and police, avalanche, and rescue dogs. When deciding to purchase a German Shepherd puppy, make sure that you are ready to commit the time necessary to train the dog properly, as an untrained large dog of any breed is unlikely to be easy to live with.

Before purchasing a puppy, contact the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Schutzhund Club of America (USA) for breeders in your area. The AKC usually recommends breeders who specialize in the American version of the German Shepherd, which differs in appearance and temperament from dogs whose bloodline is purely German. The USA usually recommends breeders of the latter type of dog, which are bred and raised according to the German standard. If you want to show your dog, you probably want a dog with American bloodlines. If you want to train your dog for police work, you probably want a dog with German bloodlines. Visit breeders of both types of dogs, go to some dog shows and AKC obedience events, and visit a USA trial to get a notion of German training.

A puppy of either American or German bloodlines can vary in price, from $500 to $2500, or even more. The price has nothing to do with the quality of the dog but rather with the prestige of the breeder, the costs of his or her kennel stock, and other breeding expenses, which the breeder tries to recoup.  When you have decided on the type of dog you want, visit your chosen breeder and ask to see the sire and dam of the puppies, as well as the litter itself. Look around the kennel to make sure that the premises are clean, tidy, and secure. Are the sire and dam friendly? Do the puppies run up to you, or are they startled when you drop a ring of keys? Be sure to tell the breeder that you want a companion dog, not a show or working dog, and that the dog must have a guarantee of physical and mental soundness and that the sire, dam, and ancestors must have had OFA numbers (which means that their hips and elbows were x-rayed and rated) or equivalent ratings from Germany. In that way, you can ensure that the puppy is healthy in mind and body, and if it is not that the breeder will take back the puppy and refund your money. Be sure that the breeder spells out exactly what the guarantee consists of--some breeders say that their dogs are guaranteed, but when the dog later develops an odd ailment, the breeder may point out that a certain clause in the contract protects him or her against any claims. It is best to have your lawyer go over the breeder's contract to make sure that it is as ironclad as possible. Buying a puppy is a bit like horse trading.

If the puppy will grow up around your children, bring them with you when you visit the kennel and observe how the puppies react to young people. A German Shepherd puppy must be friendly with children and let them play with them, always under your supervision, without nipping or biting or acting aggressive in any way. Your children will want to help in choosing the puppy you decide to take home with you. He or she should be 8 weeks old, almost completely black at this early age (the puppy grows lighter fur with increasing age), and the ears should either be erect or on the way to standing up. The puppy should be seen to get along with its brothers and sisters, not be exceptionally aggressive or dominant, and have a friendly pleasant personality. The puppy should have had the inoculations appropriate to its age and should have been wormed. The breeder should give you the puppy's health record and application form so that you can register the dog with the proper national organization. As soon as possible, take your new puppy to your veterinarian for a complete checkup--usually the breeder allows you to return the puppy if the vet advises against purchasing it.

You may also decide to adopt a German Shepherd puppy from a rescue service. You can find such a service in your area by looking on the Internet under the name of your county and searching for German Shepherd rescue services. Rescue services are run by volunteers who look after puppies, spay and neuter them, make sure they are in good health and have good temperaments, and keep them in a home setting until they can be adopted. The service will ask for a fee usually much less than the purchase price of a puppy, around $250, and the puppy will probably be somewhat older than 8 weeks. An adopted puppy may not be quite as attractive as a more expensive one bought from a breeder, but the rescue volunteers have usually put lots of effort into their German Shepherds, and the animals' temperaments are sound. And adopted dogs are often closer to those who adopt them, as if both know that the relationship is special.


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