What constitutes a good breeder?
To answer this, first one must answer the question "How do you make a breed the best it can be?"
Showing leads to Conformation
The purpose of showing your dogs in conformation is to have objective breed experts rate your dogs' physical build. This is the first critical point for breeding. Breeders should breed to better that breed. On papers, those dogs that are "finished" have a Ch. before their name. No owner can rate their own dogs' conformation due to Kennel Blindness (an owner loves their own dogs too much to be objective).
Sport; Obedience, Agility, Schutzhund, Field, Tracking
Especially in German Shepherds, a breeder should be working hard to preserve their intelligence and temperament. This can be tested and preserved by a breeder who works their dogs in any of the above sports. On a pedigree, champion dogs in these areas may have the following titles:
Sch1, Sch2, Sch3, FH, UD, UDT, TDX, TD
These are some of the more regular titles to be expected somewhere in the Pedigree of a puppy. Also, aside from titles, another critical canine health information is listed on the pedigree; OFA and CERF. These initials would and should be listed behind every dog's name on a pedigree. These abbreviations indicate that certain tests have been run and evaluated by experts to try to avoid major genetic diseases.
Once you've found a breeder that breeds primarily for conformation AND temperament, has his/her dogs all titled and tested for hereditary, genetic diseases, now it's time to look at the dogs.
Does the breeder have a clean and manageable setup for the animals?
Can you handle all of the breeders dogs without noticing fear or anxiety on the part of the dog? [look for even tempered dogs]
What food does the breeder feed the dogs? [high quality?]
What medical care is already given to the dogs? [vaccines, intestinal working, fleas]
Do the dogs look clean and happy? [are the dogs active and happy to see you?]
Is the breeder asking you a lot of questions about yourself and your home? [many questions indicate the breeder's desire for a good home for his/her dog]
Does the breeder required you to sign a contract? [for his/her dog's future safety]
Is there a mandatory spay or neuter? [mandatory spay or neuter for dogs going into homes as family pets shows care for the breed]
What support do you have from the breeder as the dog grows up or if you don't have a good match? [is there a lifetime return?]
BEWARE THE RED FLAGS!
Bad breeders might say:
"I breed guard dogs."
"They're suppose to be mean. I do Schutzhund."
"You can't get near him. He's protective."
"She's just protecting her pups."
"The pups should be ready to go in 4 to 8 weeks."
Why must these statements come from bad breeders?
If you are breeding GSD's, they are naturally protective. You don't breed a guard dog. The most dangerous dog is a loved dog that finds that its family is in danger. Remember—temperament. Dogs acting fiercely without provocation probably have genetic aggression and the solution to that is euthanasia.
Using sport as an excuse for aggressive behavior can only come from someone who is ignorant of Schutzhund. Obedience, tracking, scenting, holding at bay, and then managed takedown of an assuaulter is Schutzhund. A breeder must have a 100% manageable dog for this sport. This means NO AGGRESSION.
With the owner present, the dogs should be comfortable and manageable.
Remember that you have a right to meet the dog's parents! Again, they should be relaxed and confident with the owner present.
It is illegal to sell puppies before the age of 8 weeks. You may pay ahead, but they are to stay with their mother and littermates until, at least, 8 weeks old. Many experienced breeders will insist on a pick-up between 9-12 weeks old which is better for the puppy in the long run.
Some say that the dogs from reputable breeders cost so much, but not in the long run. Acquisition will ALWAYS be the LEAST expensive part of your new friend. If you're disciplined enough to save and do the research, you're probably the type of owner we would all love to give a dog to. Keep in mind that the price sometimes helps to weed out the less committed pet owners.
A final beware: Avoid breeders who concentrate on color, size, or use. Breeders should say temperament, conformation, intelligence, strength and character are what they want to perpetuate.
If you are thinking of breeding your dog, please see Should I breed my dog?