It’s Go Time: planning and preparing for your first litter.

One of our goals for 2022 is focus on the many positives of breeding, and helping as many breeders and breeder curious people as possible. To that end we are starting the year considering how to prepare for that most exciting, and stressful, first litter. I hope you will join us on this year long journey exploring many of the practical facets of breeding.

One thing is certain, we cannot have the dogs we love, and need, without responsibly producing them. We cannot fulfill the needs of dog lovers to own the healthiest, most well adjusted, companion dogs or preserve our historic and important breeds without our breeder skill, talent, and work effort.

So, here you are, embarking on what I hope will be a lifelong journey into the world of dog breeding. Ideally you are fully prepared in the basics of how to build a responsible breeding program, have selected, raised, and trained your foundation dog(s) who have now completed all necessary health testing and whatever optional pre breeding requirements you have for them (ie titles, accomplishments, work credentials, etc). Your foundation female is bred and confirmed pregnant and you are getting ready for the arrival of the puppies.

First a word of warning and a disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace working closely with your veterinarian on the care of your dam and puppies. There are many potentially fatal things that can go wrong during pregnancy, whelping, and gestation. Puppies can become unwell and die in an instant. Always work closely with your veterinarian!

A complete whelping kit and a whelping box are the “core” items anyone needs to deliver a litter in a safe and clean manner. Below you can find visual and printable PDFs with some basic whelping items, you can also find a list of items available on Amazon in my Whelping Supplies Idea List, I will try to keep this list (it’s an affiliate list, so yes, we might make a few cents if you purchase something from the list, but you won’t pay more) updated with as many of the items listed below as possible to optimize your shopping time. You can also follow my main Amazon Profile to find all my dog lists. Many of the items are available at your local box box store or feed store as well. Be sure to visit the Revival Animal Health website for an abundance of whelping supplies, blogs and they also have an excellent You Tube channel and their own list of helpful whelping supplies.

The whelping box is a vitally important piece of equipment for the breeder. The design of the whelping box will vary considerably based on the size of the dam, so we will be discussing German Shepherd sized dams. If you have a toy or giant breed ask in a breeder group what those breeders us and like.

For decades (two actually) I used a simple wooden square (4×4 feet) and this was perfectly adequate. This box cost me less than fifty dollars, was easy to clean, and worked well.

My foundation female Eileen in my handmade whelping box.

A simple wooden whelping square is a great option for many breeders.


1. Inexpensive to construct.
2. Easy to customize to fit your space.
3. Can be easy to store.


1. Heavy.
2. Needs to be constructed.
3. Can be difficult to store.
4. Low sides require higher sides to hold in warmth, privacy, etc.
5. Can be very hard to sanitize and clean, even when well sealed.
6. No bottom, so a bottom must be provided to contain mess.
7. Puppies will climb out sooner, around 2 to 3 weeks.

Our current box is a Durawhelp, this box is larger by nearly 2 feet and has several nice features. It’s very light, being made of corrugated plastic, folds up easily and stores in the box it came in right under my queen size bed. The box has a bottom of the same material, so my floors are protected, there is premade bedding I use for the top layer, easy to remove and clean pig rails, and a hop out for the dam. I enjoy how easy to clean it is, and the high sides help hold in warmth. This box was a nice upgrade and after nearly ten years of use it’s still in excellent condition. There are a wide variety of whelping box brands and styles, one of the most popular is to modify PVC Flower/Garden beds from Costco! So, spend some time in breeder groups asking what other breeders us, especially those with dogs of similar size to yours, before you purchase a high dollar box. Other popular boxes are: Jonart, EZ Whelp, just to name a couple.

After a place to have her puppies, the next thing the breeder will need to consider is a whelping kit to help the dam safely deliver her puppies. For a low risk whelping from a robust breed you may find a few items are used most often. Every whelping I use: a rectal thermometer, rags and towels, a bulb syringe, hemostats, umbilical scissors, unflavored wide dental floss, and a heating pad. These are the tools I need to clean up the puppy, clear the airway, dry and warm the puppy, and clamp, tie, and cut the cord. So, these are the most important tools in my kit.

I also have supplies that I rarely use, but like to have on hand for emergencies or urgent use. Once such example is keeping sterile bandages and a baggie on hand just in case a puppy is born with it’s intestinal organs outside the body, something most breeders may never encounter, but if you do encounter this you will be glad for having the appropriate wrappings on hand to transport the puppy to the nearest ER or your vet for surgery. Breeder groups are a good place to inquire among breeders what items they find most useful and what they like to have for unexpected things.

I keep my kit in a small storage tub made for craft supplies, but breeders use lots of different things, so find a storage container that fits your available storage space.

Once your puppies are born you are faced with neonatal care. Ideally your neonates will need nothing more than a warm, safe, environment and a skilled dam to thrive. But occasionally puppies require anything from a little help to emergency veterinary care. Having a few items on hand can mean the difference between survival or death for some puppies, so while it’s vitally important you are in contact with your veterinarian if a puppy fails to thrive or needs medical care, it’s also important to have a few items on hand to support puppies who may just need a little help. While there are many more neonate care options out there, from incubators, oxygen support, and tube feeding, we will not be touching on any of those options here. Instead we are just considering basic supportive care supplies (warmth, hydration, nutrition).

In my 30 years breeding German Shepherd Dogs, and whelping over 70 litters I have found the supplies listed here to be all I have needed for my At Home whelpings. As a new breeder nobody ever helped me figure out what basic items I needed, I learned through experience and self education. My hope is that by providing these supply lists you will have the equipment you need to have a successful whelping and healthy neonates.

If you want more detailed support Contact Us to schedule a breeder consultation.

You can also subscribe to our Newsletter, and listen to our brand new, soon to be released, podcast where we will be discussing in detail how to use these supplies, the basics of whelping a litter, and raising neonates.

Boomerang Dogs: When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeders Part 3

I had intended to make this a two part series, but I had so many requests to include the difficult subject of Boomerang Dogs (dogs who leave for new homes, but then come back) that I decided to add just one more part to the When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeders series.

It has become so accepted (and rightly so) that breeders have an open door policy towards all the dogs they place that we have now moved into the dismissive stage of this subject.

Now we hear calls of “get the dog back” or “return the dog” whenever relationships between people (breeder and buyer) or people and dogs (buyer and their dog) hit any rough patch.

But lets be clear, unless there is a very good reason for a dog to loose it’s home we should not be flippant or causal about it.

Are there some cases where it is in the best interest of the dog, or owner, for the dog to be returned? Absolutely. Here are some examples from my own program that I’m sure other breeders have experienced as well, that are simple and uncomplicated.

1. Owner is financially unable to provide for the dog (for any reason, but job loss is a common one).
2. Owner has lost access to dog friendly housing (after divorce for example).
3. Owner has passed on, or is so unwell that caring for the dog cannot happen.
4. Owner is caring for an unwell family member and the dog’s care is suffering.
5. Someone (a child, unwell adult, relative) has moved in and there is conflict in the home such that the dog is suffering from chronic stress or anxiety.

Are there cases where things are not so black and white? Of course, puppy blues are one, where the new puppy is actually causing so much distress and depression that everyone is suffering. Interdog conflict in the home, undesirable behaviors on the dog and human side, changes in work schedule. In these cases the job of the breeder is to tease out if the problem has a potential solution that benefits everyone (dog and humans) such that happiness is restored and everyone’s needs are met.

We should never take the loss of a home lightly, or even recommend it lightly, because it’s hard to promise the dog that the new home will be better for them, and indeed some dogs just don’t transition well, and a dog who was a good companion in one home may find adapting to a new home difficult, even impossible. These are decisions that deserve everyone’s best and most thoughtful work.

The Nuts and Bolts: Be ready, and hope you never need to be.

1. Breeders need to think about and decide upon their return policy, and all the ramifications of that, before their first litter is bred. Can’t take dogs back? Don’t breed dogs, because the breeder is the dog’s safety net in all times.

2. Budget funds for return. Some returned dogs will come in perfect health, others may not, be prepared for both.

3. Line up health experts to help you. Discuss the health ramifications of returning dogs with your vet, focus on contagious diseases especially those that may kill puppies (herpes, distemper, parvo), or destroy your entire breeding program (brucellosis) as well as the more common and less dangerous pathogens like internal/external parasites, viruses like kennel cough, dog flu, mange mites, and etc. Discuss quarantine options, costs, and etc.

4. Line up a behavior expert to help you. Find a credentialed behavior expert to help you. Breeders are not by default behavior experts, so unless you are a credentialed professional behavior specialist find one to advise you and evaluate dogs for you. This professional may be the key to keeping a dog in the current home, or helping you determine what would need to happen for this dog to be placeable once returned.

5. Make a list of options to help you: Dog transporters, trainers who can take dogs for evaluation or board/train, kennels that offer quarantine boarding, and etc. You may need to quickly get a dog from point A to Point B, You may need a professional to evaluate what needs to happen for the dog to be transitioned to a new home, and finally, dog may need to be quarantined while necessary health evaluation/treatment is done. Be ready, and hope you never need to be!

Best Practices:

1. Accept that you may be too emotionally invested to make good decisions (this is where your team of professional advisers can help you).

2. Detach your EMOTIONS about the situation from your ACTIONS. You may have very strong feelings about the situation, those are yours, don’t share them with the client and absolutely keep such talk off social media, save that venting for your closest friends and advisors.

3. Keeping number 2 in mind: Always treat your client with empathy, kindness, and respect. This is very difficult for breeders. Being a breeder does not mean we are expert in emotional intelligence, or have expert level communication skills. But, treating our client unkindly in any way increases the chances the dog will NOT have a great outcome. If we create an unsafe environment for sharing things that make US uncomfortable then our clients won’t share with us and that is really bad on many levels.

4. If you know that you struggle with conflict resolution, customer service skills, or empathetic listening and instead tend to let strong feelings lead to defensiveness and aggressive language towards our client then consider it part of your basic breeder toolbox to learn how to communicate with clients in an effective and professional manner.

5. Don’t assign fault. Don’t blame the client for the problem, don’t blame yourself for the problem, this isn’t helpful at all in the moment. Once the situation is fully resolved, FULLY resolved, and you have access to lots and lots of information then you can do detailed break down of what (if anything) went wrong, why it went wrong, and how/if this could be prevented in future. Remember if you decide the fault was the client’s, remember to give yourself a fair share of that blame because you CHOSE that client. Whenever we decide the client is at fault, we need to take a hard look at our placement interview process and criteria, reaching out to mentors, and even better (as they are not emotionally invested either) skilled legacy breeders for advice. If you find yourself tempted to assign fault with the client, without detailed reflection and data collection it’s very likely you are acting from a place of emotion, and trying to make yourself feel better. But feeling better may not teach us anything we can use going forward. Breeding dogs is really hard, to do it well we need to be tough, and that very often means being willing to be uncomfortable within ourselves as we learn. Always remember, life happens, there may not be anyone at fault!

Below you can find a visual of our potential return flow, this chart helps us determine if it’s possible to keep the dog in the present home, and steps to take to facilitate that, or if it’s in everyone’s best interest for the dog to leave it’s current home, and how to facilitate that. Each block could be a blog on it’s own, and of course not all possible outcomes (such as the dog moving directly from the present home to it’s new home) are covered here. You can download a copy below the chart!

Interested in more discussion on this subject, or any of those in our When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeder series? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Facebook, look out for our very own podcast (premiering soon with this very series!), and let us know how you handle these tough aspects of breeding.

Gifts Gone Wrong: When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeders, Part 2.

When I looked at the x rays, up there on the screen, my heart sank as did any remaining hope I may have had for salvaging an entire bloodline group in my breeding program. This was the end of the road, so to speak, for a new bloodline I had brought into my program with the greatest of enthusiasm, after months of pedigree analysis and research and as such it was a sad day. For this dog had given me gifts, some were pleasant surprises such as excellent temperament and overall health, but others were the wrong kind of gifts, such as the elbow dysplasia that was staring me in the face from that screen.

Because we value growing and learning, and addressing even the most challenging situations head on, we have decided to focus our continuing education and growth mindset efforts for the month of September on facing some of the difficult situations we have experienced in the last couple years, breaking those down into great detail, and learning everything we can from those situations. We want to continue that learning, and expand it, by including our colleagues, clients, and friends in the conversation too. So we will be blogging on these subjects first, and then starting a podcast where we can share these conversations with everyone.

Sometimes, no matter how yard you try, you still miss the mark!

Those who know me know that we have well established core values in our breeding program, and the first is to value, respect, and honor the bloodlines entrusted to us by those who bred before us. I am a believer that every bloodline, and every dog, has potential value in maintaining and protecting my breed, until proven otherwise.

In the past I have observed decades in which dogs were excluded from the breeding pool without thought, over the most minor faults, and I have also watched as breed populations shrank, all while the most popular sires influence increased leading to bottle necks, fewer options for breeders, and decreased genetic diversity.

Oftentimes breeders only realize how important genetic options are when there aren’t any left. This lesson has not been lost on me, nor has the irony that many of today’s breeders have not yet learned this lesson and they happily chuck dogs out of the breed pool, left and right, over the stupidest things, things that do not cause any harm to the dog, don’t affect quality of life, and don’t break owner’s hearts. Without any thought to potential future ramifications of such unwise shrinking of breeds and without considering other options. It’s become a “knee jerk” reaction of the novice breeder, as a way of signaling to everyone that they are a “good” breeder….because see how many dogs they exclude.

Instead of showing the wisdom needed to know when a dog, or line, should be excluded, and when further evaluation is warranted.

Every puppy born is an opportunity to maintain or improve traits. A puppy not born is an opportunity lost to the breed.

However, dogs who bring unwanted genetic gifts, the kind that cause suffering and decreased quality of life for dogs and their owners, simply cannot be moved forward in pedigrees, and I know I am not alone in this. In the GSD we don’t have as many genetic options as people think, we have popular sire bottle necks in most bloodlines, and we have self imposed walled off bloodlines as well, where breeders have chosen to try to keep bloodlines “pure” by isolating them from other bloodlines within the breed. In Germany the long stock coat GSD can no longer be bred to the origin stock coat lines causing even more walling off.

These problems hobble breeders more than they realize and lead to fewer good options for all. So, losing a bloodline is never something we celebrate, even when it must be done.

So, as my co breeder Rebecca and I sat down and discussed the list of gifts (good and bad, some annoying and some that affected quality of life) this line had bestowed us with, in a very small number of breedings, and compared the percents affected with our breed’s typical percent affected, and then our program’s percent affected, we confirmed that indeed while this line was producing about the same percent of affected individuals as the OFA and SV stats tell us is “typical” for the HD and ED in the GSD breed, this was many percents higher than our own in program statistics (breeders should always keep both sets of stats, what is normal for the breed, and what is normal for their program) and the dogs affected were more severely affected. This, along with an accounting of some congenital defects produced, led to the easy, but sad, decision to remove this entire bloodline from our program, something we hadn’t had to do in our program for decades.

Another core value in our breeding program is transparency, we believe that our clients, colleagues, and students should have insight into what it’s like to breed dogs, including the bad stuff.

Transparency is hard, it’s a double edged knife that cuts both ways. Knowing what and when to share and to whom to share such information with is something you only know in hindsight. In the moment of decision, breeders work blind to the ramification of bringing people in to an area where a lack of understanding is common.

Breeders have every reason NOT to be transparent, because most people, even dog fanciers, have no idea how complex and difficult breeding dogs is so their judgements are aplenty. The breeding community has a big problem with subconscious self loathing, and conflicted feelings about breeding that stem from decades of being vilified by basically everyone, so breeders often attack other breeders as a way of coping with their own conflicted feelings and desire to be “good” and not be associated with “bad”.

When we are transparent we open ourselves up to both positive and negative feedback, we run the risk that by admitting when there are failures as well as successes potential clients will come to believe that we produce sub standard dogs and we will miss out on great homes for our puppies.

However, we do deeply believe that in order for people to recognize breeding dogs as a valuable, complex, skill that require practice, that we must be transparent about what we do and why we do it. Our hope is that this will increase respect for the work done by the breeders who produce the dogs people want to share their lives with while decreasing the expectation of perfection that so permeates the world of dogs.

So, Once the decision was made to remove the line, how do we move forward while standing by our core values?

1. We only removed this bloodline after careful consideration and after consulting with several trusted breeder friends. We first considered and even tried ways to breed around, then breed out, the problems we were seeing before deciding that was not an effective option.
2. We notified everyone who had a first degree relative and explained the situation, we extended our usual 24 month orthopedic warranty to a lifetime orthopedic warranty, and did our best to allay fears, and offer preventive suggestions.
3. We sterilized all dogs from this line, including those in guardian homes.

But, are there other options? Of course, breeders have a wide variety of tools at their disposal for reducing unwanted traits in their breeding programs. Removing a line is the option of “last resort” because it’s irreversible and it also takes the least skill of those in the breeder toolbox. While removing an individual or entire bloodline group might be the best path forward, there are other options available to breeders.

1. For simple recessive traits for which there is a DNA test (such as DM) breeders can use DNA testing to identify Homozygous Normals, Homozygous Affecteds, and Carriers and then very easily (in the GSD) arrange breedings such that Affected aka At Risk puppies are not an possible with a pairing. This requires very little skill or understanding of genetics, but that does not negate it’s value! Now, this DOES require skill when a breed has very few homozygous normals available (which is why small breeding populations, bottle necks, and Popular Sire Syndrome are risky) because in this case breeders must choose between loosing most of the breed, or breeding some carriers to affecteds. This is tough work that takes skill. Free genetic counseling can be found here, and Embark offers extensive breeder education as well.

2. For traits with an unknown mode of inheritance and polygenic traits breeders can follow the OFAs Best Practices (and take advantage of their E Book: The Use Of Health Databases and Selective Breeding) and breed dogs who appear normal to other dogs who appear normal, with majority normal first degree relatives, and normal pedigrees. This is how breeders have reduced the rate of hip and elbow dysplasia. So when a problem crops up and a particular dog produces MORE affected dogs than typical the dog can be bred to a bloodline know for improving upon this trait, such as “hip improvement dogs” or “hip Improvement lines” and then over multiple generations select breeding dogs from only the litters with majority normal hips, gradually decreasing the percent affected and increasing the percent normal. This is the model used by breeders in the early days of the GSD, when HD normals were only about 10% of the breed, and over the span of 100 years breeders gradually improved hips until normals accounted for more 80% of the breed. This is a very old, and reliable, model for improving traits over generations using the skill of pedigree analysis and data analysis. Every breeder should know how to do this, but in some cases it’s impossible because data is not available. Breeders may choose not to share data, or information may have been lost when a breeder died, or because too many relatives have never been bred so information on how they produced for a trait will forever be unknown.

3. Breeders can use test breedings to try to evaluate if a trait is heritable and how, and while this has become far less common in the age of DNA testing breeders should still understand how this works, when it’s warranted, and what is done with the information discovered. Before the age of DNA testing test breedings were how breeders found out if a trait was a simple autosomal.

4. Breeders can also choose to do a less risky pedigree analysis for a trait, following it through generations and identifying affected and carrying individuals. With this information the breeder could more easily breed around, or improve upon, the trait.

5. And of course, breeders can identify if a trait is expressed due solely to genetic factors, or if environment plays a role. An environmental role does NOT free the breeder of responsibility for the heritable part of the equation, but it should trigger careful evaluation of the breeder’s own environment, dietary choices, chemical exposures, and the careful selection of the new home where ongoing environmental challenges will occur.

6. Finally, breeders and buyers must understand and accept that no dog is ever perfect and that no matter what we do, or how careful we are, that some dogs are going to have problems, health problems, temperament problems, the lot. We do not judge our work against a standard of perfection, but instead against the standard of “dogs in general”. We are not trying to produce dogs that live forever, but we are trying to produce dogs that live a typical lifespan for “dogs”. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting perfection, and throwing away bloodlines without careful consideration when imperfection occurs.

We considered each option, but one by one ruled them out. Because the problems we were seeing could decrease quality of life and had no simple mode of inheritance, we could easily rule out several options as just not being that helpful. Much of the pedigree analysis had already been done as our pre purchase research, and on paper this dog should not have been producing these problems, so further pedigree analysis would not be productive. We could have accepted that a percent affected that was very near to the OFA percent affected was good enough, but since our program typically runs much better this was also not acceptable. Finally, we had a variety of other options to meet our goal of bringing a new bloodline into our program.

So, with much thought we made the decision, notified everyone involved, and have now moved on with our program. We have since brought in two new bloodlines, but it’s early days and we don’t know yet how these dogs will produce for us and that’s ok, because that’s what breeding dogs is about, making the best choices you can and then always moving forward.

I leave you with this, breeding dogs isn’t easy, it becomes only more difficult the longer you do it, the more curious you are, and the more you know. So don’t assume the worst of a breeder when things go poorly, instead accept that the standard of perfection isn’t real, it’s an illusion, life is imperfect and that is part of what makes it wonderful. So while we might judge a breeder harshly for failing to meet the basic best practices of responsible breeders we should not judge them harshly for doing their best and finding that in some cases the outcome isn’t what was hoped for.

Well Crap: When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeders, Part 1 Parvo.

“Susanne, this could be catastrophic” those were the words I heard through the phone. I had called my vet, at home, on a Sunday, as I returned home from Animal Emergency Center without my 6 week old puppy. Live-wire had developed a high fever, and intense malaise that morning and by afternoon parvovirus had been twice diagnosed and little Live-wire had been admitted to the ICU for overnight care and monitoring.

I was chilled to the bone by the words of my normally cheerful and optimistic long time vet, though not surprised, parvo virus is a fear that every breeder with common sense carries with them. All breeders fear things that can kill their puppies, and parvo is high on that list. We still have a generation of breeders and vets who remember when parvo was a novel virus, without a vaccine, and it killed dogs of all ages from the youngest to the oldest, from the infirm to the healthy in huge numbers. Thanks be to the scientists who developed a vaccine, and the veterinarians who have given them to millions of dogs. Despite this work, parvo virus is a crafty virus that has eluded most attempts at eradication. So I needed no reminder of the potential danger to my 12 6 week old puppies, or the potential cost for their treatment (parvo hospitalization can easily run $1000 per day for a single puppy and indeed Live-wire’s 12 hours of supportive care topped $1000). So my fear was two fold, would my puppies suffer and die, and would I be able to afford treatment costs that could in a worst case scenario climb well into five digits?

As Rebecca and I drove home, and with the help of our amazing vet, we formulated a plan for moving forward. Because breeders don’t have the luxury of taking time to breath and ask “why” and process thoughts and emotions when infectious disease is involved. There would be time for the How and Why later, but now was the time to act.

I’m writing about this now as we enter a new monthly theme project. This project is part of our professional growth initiative designed to ensure that as breeders and trainers we are not becoming stagnant but instead pushing ourselves to explore, learn, and consider a variety of subjects related to all aspects of our lives with dogs.

Because this project is designed to help us evaluate what is happening in our professional lives, we have chosen to focus for the month of September on Moving Through Difficulty In a Growth Mindset (Yes, I know it’s controversial). As breeders we have experienced several difficulties in our breeding program over the last few years, we have been evaluating how we have responded and will respond to such problems in the future. We wanted to share this process with our many friends, breeders, trainers, and dog lovers as part of our commitment to transparency and because breeders don’t exist in a vacuum, we learn from each other and we teach each other and that is how we all get better at our craft.

Our plan, coined Parvo Sucks, involved the following: Please note, we worked very closely with our veterinarian and his techs, we were in daily contact with the hospital and never acted without having a conversation with the vet. The following is what OUR vet recommended for OUR situation and it may not be what your vet recommends for you. Parvo is a serious disease and you simply must work with your own vet.

Step 1: Evaluate every puppy for signs of active infection: Monitoring temperature (every 8-12 hours), appetite, energy, hydration, and stool consistency. This step turned out to be the key to our success because we were able to identify a puppy and start treatment promptly, before the vomiting and diarrhea started.
Step 2: Until we could confirm that the bulk of the litter had been infected all infected puppies would be isolated. Once we knew the exposure had already happened we reunited the litter.
Step 3: Increase disinfect measures to include isolation protocols.
Step 4: Prepare for the spread of the virus from the Index Case (Live-wire) to the other puppies despite all these efforts, because it was most likely all puppies were already exposed to the virus.
Step 5: Gather all supplies we would need to treat mild to moderate levels of sickness at home. We purchased Pedialyte, parvo test kits, Fluids for subQ administration, Kaolyn-Pectin, Science Diet ID canned and dry and changed puppies over to this diet, and our good friend and client Melinda Luper DVM sent us a case of Proviable Forte for every puppy to have with every meal.

Together with our veterinarian we stocked up on medicine we would need to give puppies as soon as they developed any symptoms of parvo. Each puppy was taken for a medical assessment the first business day following the development of symptoms (and for a while I was at the vet every single day) and if the puppy experienced dehydration inducing vomiting and diarrhea the puppy would be checked into the hospital for IV fluids and supportive care.

The treatment protocol was started at the moment of the first symptom (for our puppies this was fever over 102F) and involved.

1. Long acting antibiotic injection given by the vet to prevent pathogens from leaving the compromised digestive system and causing sepsis.
2. Prescription anti nausea medicine to prevent vomiting.
3. Sub Q Fluids for any puppy showing any indication of dehydration. We offered one bowl of water and one bowl of pedialyte and the puppies drank the pedialyte over the water for the duration of their sickness. Once a puppy was well and healed they would prefer to drink water. If we did not witness a puppy drinking we made a note of that puppy and monitored every hour for signs of dehydration (which we could address through Sub Q fluids). If a puppy did not respond they would be admitted to the vet hospital.
4. Science Diet ID (canned and dry) was the sole diet during this time and puppies were fed meals in crates so their eating could be carefully monitored. The food was soaked in water to increase fluid intake and the Proviable was added to every meal.
5. Any puppy with moderate or severe sickness would be taken to the vet for evaluation asap, this meant I was often at the vet daily, or two to three times daily, having puppies evaluated for in hospital care. One puppy required in hospital care, Faraday, who became moderately ill and anorexic.

How things Shook Out.

I won’t lie, the following month was really hard, but it could have been So. Much. Worse. (after all, we didn’t loose any puppies). After the index case (Live-wire) we went three days with no more sick puppies before another 2 puppies broke with fever and started treatment, then 2 days later 8 of the 12 puppies broke with fevers (1 puppy never developed any symptoms at all!) and at that time every puppy was started on treatment. I wasn’t petrified every day until the last puppy was past symptoms……

Live-wire, the index puppy, actually had only very mild symptoms and after spending one night at the ER (for a tab of $800) getting supportive care his regular vet released him for ongoing care at home. He never developed any further symptoms except a single bad poop. One puppy, Colt, never developed any symptoms at all. One puppy, Faraday was very ill, with bloody vomit and diarrhea, and was hospitalized for 5 days of supportive care, and didn’t eat a single bite for 10 days! Faraday did fully recover, after giving us quite a scare. The rest of the puppies exhibited the following symptoms: Lethargy for one or two days, fever for no more than 1 day, a few puppies missed a meal or two, some never stopped eating. Most puppies had one or two days of bad poop, some shed their intestinal lining and this was obvious from their stool, others did not and had just loose stool. Aside from the window of sickness, averaging 24 hours, this litter had outstanding stool quality (which I found quite odd and credit to the Science Diet ID and Proviable Forte).

After 1 month from first to last puppy showing symptoms, and another month of recovery, all puppies were tested for parvo via tests I bought and administered at home and no puppies were still shedding the virus when tested and were released by our to go to new homes.

This delayed send home from our usual 9 weeks to 13 weeks of age. Despite being in the middle of a pandemic we were able to schedule weekly visitors for the puppies once they were well to ensure they had adequate socialization. We continued the Puppy Culture protocols which are already designed to extend through 12 weeks.

No puppies died, or had severe sickness (even as sick as Faraday was he was still classified as moderate), and all recovered quickly and completely. No adult dogs became ill, and all were current on vaccinations (meaning they had received a parvo vaccination sometime in the previous 3 years).

All puppies went to their amazing and supportive families by 3 months of age, and our feedback on the litter is all positive to date, with no ongoing problems related to the illness, treatment, or delayed send home. This litter is now over a year old and as healthy and happy as we could have hoped.

Happy Puppies, Happy Breeder

Interesting things I learned, good sources of info, and about my case in particular:

1. No matter what you do don’t force food on an anorexic puppy. When puppies are sick with parvo their gut loses it’s lining and pathogens move easily from the gut to the abdomen, causing sepsis. Puppies instinctively know when they should not be eating, so undue encouragement to eat can actually make them sicker. I learned this from a fellow breeder and remembered it whenever I was tempted to try to “get” puppy to eat something. Instead I focused on keeping every puppy hydrated.

2. My puppies mild case and full recovery was most likely due to inherited maternal antibodies still being present at the time of infection. I assumed that maternal antibodies PREVENTED infection, but they don’t always, instead when an infection does occur they help the puppy mount a rapid and effective immune response. So my annual vaccination schedule for breeding females was likely the reason this case was so mild overall, the puppies still had maternal antibodies.

3. Sources of info on infectious diseases in dogs are plentiful, but many are not evidence based nor do they reflect the consensus view. When I traced many of the common things I had heard about parvo to the sources of good evidence based information I found a LOT of what I thought I knew about parvo to be untrue or partly true, this included information I had heard from veterinarians, or read on websites and authored by veterinarians and of course tons of things I heard from breeders. I opted to only use a small number of reliable sources for information, I ran these by my vet for confirmation: This resource for Cornell, this one from Revival Animal Health who have a wide variety of educational resources and products, along with experts to help you know what you need, and I contacted UWM to see if nomographs would be part of our moving forward plan (spoiler, they are not) and to get feedback on our vaccination plan moving forward now that our location was highest risk (spoiler: I was told to vaccinate early at 4 & 6 weeks with a parvo only vaccine before moving to a traditional vaccination schedule of 9/12/16 weeks- this is a standard vaccination protocol for endemic parvo areas and one widely used by breeders, but it was nice to have a leading infectious disease expert tell me this was the best course of action.

4. We now use Wysiwash or Vircon to disinfect everything outside, grass, gravel, cement, all of it.

5. We now use Rescue to disinfect everything indoors.

6. And none of that would have helped prevent my puppies from getting parvo. You see my puppies were infected with parvo during our state’s Safer At Home lock down due to COVID-19. This means we were not leaving our property, or if we did we did not leave our car, at all during this time. So it’s almost impossible that we brought the virus home on our shoes or clothes. We also have a fenced yard, so free roaming dogs bringing the virus on the property is unlikely, and while we do have game in our area there is no evidence they ever enter our yard. We do however live in a rural area with a large population of free roaming and unvaccinated dogs, and we have insects. In our case the likely vector of the virus was actually flying insects and in particular flies, that carried the virus from infected dogs in our area to our puppies when they were outdoors on their puppy patio. So, while we are certainly disinfecting constantly now, to kill what virus remains, or is brought onto our property, it was a hard lesson that you can literally do everything right and STILL have bad things happen. Oh, and LOL, our puppy patio which was easily disinfected was not screened for flying insects, and yes, screening it in is definitely on the “to do” list.

We chose to handle the transparency aspects of our summer of parvo with full disclosure via our Facebook page and private client group for the puppy buyers of that litter. While we did get a bit of push back, mainly “about us” and not “to us” the overwhelming response from our colleagues, clients, and friends was overwhelming support.

We asked for, and received donations to help with the cost of treatment, while I was really uncomfortable asking for help I’m glad I did because this really helped to relieve some of the stress of buying supplies and treatment costs for the puppies.

We updated everyone almost daily, including how the sickest puppy, Faraday, was responding to treatment.

We reached received so much support from fellow breeders, from kind words, to advice, to the daily check ins I received from our good friend Christiana at Kaos Farm Goldendoodles that kept me focusing on the good things of the day, and prevented me from getting mired in the mud of dread, our long time friend Dani at Avid Aussies helped with practical advice about disinfecting that helped my sleep deprived brain grasp what I needed to do right then and who suggested contacting Revival to get supplies asap. Of course my ever patient vet, Dr. Patrick Grogan at VCA Woodland East and the entire staff of the animal hospital, were endlessly kind and understanding and undoubtedly saved my puppies lives.

Our Austerlitz Family was, as always, wonderful and supportive. Many of our clients who are veterinarians reached out to see if they could help, Dr. Melinda Luper in particular answered so many questions, and sent me the Proviable Forte that so helped my puppies gut heal up. Every family was able to take home their puppy, and that made us all just so happy.

But I don’t want to gloss over how hard it is for breeders to share the “nuts and bolts” of breeding dogs, because it’s hard. For decades breeders have been demonized for breeding the dogs people want to share their lives with, this never ending drum beat has been so constant that breeders themselves have too often internalized it. Breeders who believe that breeding dogs is “dirty business” feel guilty, and make a big show about how IMPORTANT their breeding programs are because champions, and titles, and “improving” the breed. Breeders who have internalized the shame of breeding are also aggressive towards other breeders they deem are not “pure” enough or good enough, and so they go out of their way to show everyone how they are not “that type of breeder” by attacking them, bullying them, and demeaning them in the name of “educating”.

So breeders are vulnerable at every turn. They are a target for the Animal Rights Community, the Adopt Don’t Shop Community, the Dog Snob Community, and the “I’ve Never Bred A Litter But If I Did This Would Never Happen To Me Because Breeding Is Easy” dog fancier community, and so breeders have every reason to be defensive and closed up.

I feel this too, don’t kid yourself, and I’ve been on most sides of ugly behavior in my life. But they say as you get older you get both wiser and more radical, and I hope that I’m both. Either way, I’m not afraid of what others might think of me at this point in my life.

Breeding dogs is much more difficult than most people realize, Mother Nature is a killer and she’s out to end most puppies if she had her way. The natural order of things is that most litter born animals die before sexual maturity, the only thing that stands between this outcome and our domesticated animals is human intervention. That is the breeder and their veterinarian, they are the ones standing between nature and puppies.

So, next time a breeder shares some difficult experience they have had, instead of trying to find a reason The Thing Happened, or think that it could not happen to you, instead reach out and offer support and encouragement. Instead of throwing out all manner of social signals to tell everyone how responsible a breeder you are, try offering support and encouragement. Basically, be kind, empathetic and assume others are competent, do these things visibly so that others will see good behavior and model it themselves. Be the one that makes a safe place for transparency.

Next Up: When bad things happen to good breeders, Part 2: Hip, elbow dysplasia and birth defects.

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Puppy Selection Process

One of the most common questions we get is how, when, and why we select puppies for each family.

First, the reasons we believe it is important for us to choose puppies for our families.

1. We have decades of first hand experience with the dogs in our pedigrees, many of whom we raised from puppies themselves. This means we understand the traits present in our dogs, and what traits are expected in a particular litter.

2. We have decades of experience working with puppy owners and their puppies, both those who have puppies from our program and those who take classes with us through Clickety Split Dog Training.

3. We have spent hours and hours of time working with our puppies. This means we know each puppy and have lot of observations about their behavior and personality.

4. We know our clients, we have put considerable effort into getting to know our clients so we can best understand their needs in a German Shepherd Dog.

5. Ultimately we are responsible for our puppies for LIFE, while puppy owners may relinquish responsibility and return the puppy to us, the buck stops with us, and so in the end we are responsible for the choices we make, or allow to be made, for our puppies.

This means that there is just no comparison between our methodical and information based system of puppy placement and the emotion driven choices made by well meaning puppy seekers flush with puppy fever, but very little experience or knowledge.

Second, the system we use to make selections.

1. Screening at the website level. We have designed and written our website to act as our first level of filtering. We provide an abundance of information about all facets of our program and we place responsibility for exploring that information on the puppy seeker. This weeds out impulsive puppy seekers, and those who have little interest in investing their time and effort into their puppy.

2. Screening at the contact level. We have designed our contact flow system to answer common questions, provide links to necessary information, and again, to discourage impulse puppy seekers and those who think puppies are easy.

3. We know that the GSD is not an easy breed to live with. These dogs need considerable commitment from their owners, so each step of our selection process is designed to filter out those who are unlikely to “put in the work” with their dog. This means even before we send out the questionnaire we are thinking about how to encourage good prospects while discouraging high risk prospects.

4. Program Level Screening. Once we have the New Client Questionnaire in hand we immediately screen out those who are just not right for our program. This doesn’t usually mean they are not right for the breed, just that our program doesn’t best meet their, and our, goals.

5. Litter Level Screening. For those clients who are right for our program our next task is determining if a particular litter is right for their needs. While our traits are pretty uniform (as any good breeder’s should be) this doesn’t mean that there are not subtle differences from litter to litter. Our job is to do our best to recognize the needs of the puppy seeker, and match those to the expected traits in a particular litter. When those don’t match up, it’s our job to communicate that to the puppy seeker and shift them to a future litter.

Finally, as we are raising the puppies we are making the final puppy placement decisions. This is never done impulsively, or carelessly, but instead is done using our decades of experience with our families and our bloodlines and our new knowledge of the needs of our families. Here are a few of the things we consider.

1. Sex: Sex is a very important consideration, especially if there are dogs in the home, as most dogs do best in opposite sex pairs. Sex also affects size (males generally being about 20 pounds heavier than their sisters) and for some owners the size is important.

2. Mouth Skills: A puppy who tends to have a “hard mouth” will usually outgrow this trait, but during that time these puppies can be really hard on small children. So we need to consider this.

3. Prey Drive: Some puppies have more, or less, “chase and bite” instinct, and while it’s true that the puppy biting stage only lasts a few months, these puppies will chase and bite more and so again, we need to be sure we find unflappable and experienced owners for these high prey drive puppies because we know those types of owners do best with enthusiastic chaser biters.

4. Structure: Structure is most important for puppies who will be living a physically demanding lifestyle. Adventure buddies, sport dogs, service dogs, and farm dogs, often move the most and from an early age and traits such as flat feet, short underlines, imbalanced degree of angulation front to back, while harmless and unnoticed in a typical companion dog can make for long term soundness problems for hard working dogs.

5. Color and Coat: While these traits are cosmetic they are occasionally very important to our puppy owners and we want to respect that. So these are traits we also have to consider as we make placements. There are two coat types for our breed (that are commonly seen) and our program produces three colors (sable-all shades, black and tan- all shades, and solid black).

Now, to the things we rarely if ever consider because while these things may be present in puppies they are transitory and NOT a good way to predict which puppy will flourish in which home.

1. High Drive/Low Drive: These labels are just not real, they don’t describe real traits we can identify in a puppy.

2. High Energy/Low Energy: Again, while a puppy may be busier or more laid back, this type of behavior is transitory and often the “laziest” puppy in a litter will mature out to be just as busy as it’s siblings and the reverse is just as true.

3. Dominate/Bossy or Sumissive/Shy: Again, while a puppy may be quite a pill with the litter, be quite bold, and another may be picked on, or slow to explore, these traits are common and often a single puppy will exhibit ALL of these behaviors during the first 9 weeks. Our years of experience and knowledge also allows us to recognize if a puppy is not behaviorally typical, and just like for a true runt, we do not place puppies that are not behaviorally normal and typical.

4. Larger/smaller: Within the bell curve of normal size for a puppy there is considerable variation. A puppy may be larger or smaller due to the quality of it’s placental attachment, crowding within a uterine horn, or a slow to come along suckle reflex but these sizes rarely hold true. Generally puppies within a litter will mature out within a few pounds of their same sex siblings. Note: Runt is often a term applied to a small, but normally sized puppy, and that is not correct. An actual runt is a puppy so extremely small it’s well below the small end of the bell curve for size/weight, these puppies can have (but don’t always have) congenital defects that might affect their health later on. We do NOT sell true runts, but instead either keep them and grow them out, or place them with trusted friends, so we can determine as they mature if they are healthy. Thus far, our program has produced only 2 true runts, one was our beloved Vespa (not healthy or normal as an adult) and the other Portia (completely normal sized and healthy as an adult). Again, we would never sell any puppy that is not typical in size, health, and behavior.

5. Show Quality/Working Quality: While these labels are often used by breeders to bring a higher price for one puppy than another, we really do not believe this is ethical. There is NO WAY for a breeder to evaluate the show or working potential of an individual puppy. Yes, structural assessment can be done, but those are of little use if testicles don’t drop, the bite goes off, or any other DQ fault, or structural fault develops. Yes, there are lots of Puppy Aptitude Tests that breeders love to use, but the research on such tests (which is extensive) proves that there is NO PAT that accurately predicts adult behavior, yet alone talent for show or sport. We have placed lots and lots of show and working titles on our home breds, and none of those showed any special shiny label that guaranteed their talent. Purchasing a puppy for show or sport is a crap shoot, and boils down to pedigree knowledge coupled with the talent and work ethic of the new owner much more than anything we can see at 9 weeks.

So, to sum up, we choose puppies for our families because we are responsible for each puppy we produce, and nobody is better qualified than the are to choose a puppy for your family. Not only do we have the experience and skill to do this work, we value each and every family that chooses to get a puppy from our program and it is our sincere effort to do our best by our puppy and our client.

You may have also noticed, that picking individual puppies is FAR FAR less important than choosing breeding program carefully, because in the end the talent of the breeder and the quality of the pedigree is the really important part.

Nuts and Bolts

1. We will select the puppy for each family, with input from the family based, and on our observations and skill.

2. For those families who can attend Puppy Parties, we also take our observations from these days into account.

3. Puppies are selected between the age of 7 and 9 weeks. We usually know by the 8 week Puppy Party who is going where.

4. Do NOT get attached to certain puppies simply because they are more photogenic than other puppies. Try to observe all the puppies as we post about the litter. Remember to keep your mind open to all the puppies and not to get fixated on a particular one.

5. Placement decisions are usually announced at the 8 week puppy party.

In the end, the dog your puppy grows into depends far less on which puppy from the litter you bring home, and more on the breeder you choose, and your own hard work, care, love, attention, and skill as your raise your puppy.

When it doesn’t matter: If you are not getting a puppy from a program like ours, it may not matter if the breeder picks your puppy for you. The breeder may house their puppies in a kennel and not really know each puppy very well. The breeder may not be very well educated in puppy raising, or breed traits, pedigree, learning theory and etc. The breeder may have purchased (instead of bred) their breeding stock and really not know the dogs or traits in the pedigree very well. The breeder may have lots of puppies on the ground at once and not have time for spending hours with each litter. The breeder may not do any interview process, or may not know what questions to ask. The breeder may be hoping that Puppy Aptitude Testing will give them a crystal ball into the puppy’s future (it won’t). None of those things are “bad” they just reflect different priorities for different breeders.

In such cases it probably doesn’t matter if the breeder, or the client, chooses the puppy. The breeder may use a “first come” process or charge more for “first pick” (don’t pay more for first pick unless you know enough that your pick is meaningful) and that’s fine. When this is the case don’t get hung up on who chooses, because it likely doesn’t matter.

Welcome Home Puppy!

10 tips to help your new puppy settle in to your home without the drama.

So, you are bringing your new puppy home soon, or maybe your new puppy is already trundling around your feet at this very moment! Congratulations on the newest addition to your home, the next week is going to be a roller coaster of puppy and human emotions, so buckle up, keep your hands and feet inside the car, and prepare for the ride!

While ups and downs are normal and expected you have some control over these highs and lows, even the ability to level things out for you and your puppy. With just a few tips you can by pass the roller coaster and take a scenic drive instead.

Tip 1: Plan beforehand. Before you bring your puppy home sit down with all family members and discuss the training, management, feeding, schedules, rules, and all the other minutia involved in a new puppy. Write things down, make lists!

Tip 2: Purchase and collect supplies. Puppies need a LOT of stuff, just like babies do, it’s really difficult to manage a puppy without the needed supplies so source these items before your puppy’s arrival date.

Tip 3: Talk to your breeder about how they have prepared the puppy for transitions. Be sure to ask the breeder how you might leverage this work into a smooth transition week. You can review our Easy Transition series for ideas!

Tip 4: Prepare your management plan and set up all areas. Puppies need a variety of types of management. Baby gates and playpens can keep a puppy in the same room as caregivers. Closed doors keep puppies out of places they should not be or cannot be supervised. Start teaching children (and some adults) to keep stuff up, and to put stuff away, before the puppy comes home. If toys litter your living space now, they will once the puppy arrives and this will mean extra work for parents and conflict in the family. Make keeping possessions put away when not in use a priority.

Tip 5: Keep things quiet and low key upon arrival and for the first week.
Your new puppy will be under a great deal of stress, and even distress, due to the change in location, loss of known humans and their canine family, and the new humans and pets already in the home. Don’t make this stress into distress by “throwing everything” at your puppy at once. Using management and this awesome Dog and Puppy Survival Guide carefully and gradually introduce your new puppy to your other dogs. Use this Pandemic Puppy Podcast episode to help you make the first week a happy one.

Tip 6: Use confinement to your advantage. Crate training and confinement training is where things can really go wrong fast. Use a program like our own Crate School to help you navigate this training in a positive and productive way.

Tip 7: Use a solid house training plan from day 1. When everyone in the house is on the same page with house training things go better for everyone. Pick a plan, such as our Poop School, and stick with it. Be sure the plan you choose does not involve depriving the puppy of freedom to move, excessive confinement, or restricted access to water.

Tip 8: Prepare Children: Children (and adults!) often have unrealistic expectations about what having a puppy is like. Prepare children for the puppy by reading to, or with, them some good books about living with dogs. Visit the Family Paws website a vast array of resources and help on this subject.

Tip 9 Connect with other puppy parents! There is a great sense of support in a community with those also raising puppies. Take advantage of our FB group devoted just to puppy raising. You can find free resources in the guides, everything from detailed house training plans, to webinars on socialization and biting/mouthing. Curated by a group of professional trainers and puppy raising experts, this group is a great place to get real time answers to the abundance of questions that come up when raising puppies, or just getting support.

Tip 10: Keep that puppy close. Puppies who have just moved to a new home will easily experience separation distress, so stick close to your puppy at first. Sleep the puppy in a small crate right on the bed with you, set up their playpen very near where you work so the puppy can see you. You can even sit right by the pen and work on a laptop, to help soothe a sleepy, but distressed, puppy. Then using a plan such as Crate School you can gradually get the puppy used to you being further and further away as the puppy settles in and moves past the stress of transition week.

In closing, remember, that puppies grow into dogs fast, and dogs don’t live very long compared to humans. So cherish every moment of your puppy’s early life, in a moment those days will be gone. Have realistic expectations, take lots of photos, get support and good advice, and ENJOY your puppy!

Puppy Fever: 5 Things you Absolutely Need To Know BEFORE you contact a breeder.

Is Puppy Fever keeping you up at night? Do you spend free time scrolling through breeder listings, asking friends where they got their puppies, and searching high and low for the puppy of your dreams?

Before you start reaching out to breeders, here are 5 things you need to learn, consider, and plan BEFORE you start interviewing breeders, and being interviewed by breeders. This blog is part of our Finding a Puppy by Finding a Breeder Series.

1. Are you ready for a puppy?

2. What type of dog is right for me and my family? (For those looking for a GSD: Is a German Shepherd Right For Me)

3. What kinds of supplies will I need before I bring my puppy home?

4. What types of professionals do I need to find to help me?

5. How to start searching for a breeder.

A puppy is a decade plus commitment to providing for another living being. By taking the time to fully consider this decision before jumping in you can stack the odds firmly in your favor and join the ranks of happy owners, whose dogs make their lives better, happier, and more complete.

Are you considering adding a German Shepherd to your family or searching for a German Shepherd puppy? Feel free to explore this site and Contact Us if we can be of any help.

Rin Tin Tin, or Run Run Run?

The other day someone asked me if I thought a German Shepherd was the right breed for their family and this got me thinking about why some owners do so well with this breed, while others do not.  

I certainly see a LOT of talk from fellow trainers on how many of their clients who have a German Shepherd should NOT have a German Shepherd, and while trainers and behavior consultants taking to social media to complain about their clients and client dogs is a subject for another day, their initial observations are sometimes interesting, and often accurate.  Some owners seem to really struggle with this breed.  

I also see lots of owners who do very, very well with this breed, after all the GSD is arguably the most popular (read numerous) dog breed in the world, and the vast majority of those dogs are nicely situated into pet homes. 

While a very worthwhile subject is what traits does a German Shepherd need to be an easy companion dog, that won’t be my subject today.   Instead I’m going to jump right in to an already crowded subject….Is a German Shepherd Right for you?

First, a super brief history of the German Shepherd Dog.  The German Shepherd is a medium large herding breed in the tending style.    Tending breeds work as a “living fence” by carefully trotting around large herds of sheep out on the graze each day.   They also help the shepherd move the sheep from here to there, moving them through towns, on roadsides, until they reach the day’s chosen graze.   This work required a dog of tremendous stamina, able to trot for hours and hours on end, intelligent enough to understand the work and to learn this work in a timely fashion, and biddable enough to restrain themselves from stressing, harassing, or bothering the stock (who need to graze calmly) while still containing them.    Tending dogs often work in pairs, and must be able to be indifferent to any free roaming dogs they may come across in their day’s work. 

More well known is the German Shepherd’s work as a sport dog favored for bite sports such as the sport formerly known as Schutzhund.    Being titled in a bite sport OR herding has been required for prior to breeding in much of Europe since the end of WW2.    Even European show dogs must have one of these two working titles to compete in the very competitive world of breed shows.  This work historically involved passing a tracking, obedience, and protection test on the same day requires a dog of medium stamina, with tremendous sprinting power, enough intelligence to understand the training, and enough resilience to withstand often difficult training methods used by mostly hobby trainers ranging from unskilled to highly skilled.  In modern times of course the GSD competes in a wide variety of sports, with protection sports being just a small fraction of those competing with this breed.

European FCI style breed shows have also helped shape the modern German Shepherd.   Unlike the American Kennel Club shows we are used to here in the states, European dogs are gaited at the trot for extended periods of time, and are expected to show joy for this work.   This means that show line dogs draw on the stamina and endurance from their tending heritage, they have tremendous joy in trotting, and are expected to gait and show for extended periods of time in very close proximity, often even bumping each other, sometimes off leash, with other dogs of the same gender, preserving the old dog tolerance the breed’s founding tending dogs had.   Show line dogs are expected to enjoy this work for no other reason than the call of their owner.   

While I know these histories are short and in no way due justice to the long and interesting history of this breed, they do explain the origin of our breed’s traits and some of the words that are often used to describe them and thus what type of owner and lifestyle suits them.  

As I researched this blog I read about a billion other blogs and articles and lists about the German Shepherd and who is potentially a good owner for this breed and I noticed a lot of really generic words, and these often lacked really good explanations, or “real life” explanations.    I’m going to run down some of these common labels, and give you some real world examples about what these words mean when it comes to living with a German Shepherd.  

1. Intelligent: The number 1 most frequently used word I found to describe the GSD was Intelligent.   Personally, I found this odd, because I just don’t think the GSD is any more intelligent than the average herding breed.   All herding breeds are smart, they just have to be to learn this work, and in my experience the German Shepherd is of average intelligence for the herding group.   What really sets the German Shepherd apart is it’s aptitude for training, it’s ability to forgive poor or average training skills of it’s owner, rough training techniques, and still maintain it’s keen interest in working.   This determination is what sets this breed apart and very often what gets this breed into trouble with the average owner.   The GSD wants what it wants, and it will pursue that no matter how difficult or unpleasant that process is.

So, instead of thinking about the GSD as some super smart dog, think of these dogs as clever dogs who are extremely determined to get what they want or need.   This is great for you if you know how to harness that intensity, and control that learning. This is NOT great for you if you do not know how to do that, if you struggle with consistency, or don’t have much free time.  

Real World Application:  So what does this mean for you – the average dog owner?   What this means is that if you don’t control and direct what your German Shepherd learns, it may learn behaviors that range from annoying to dangerous.   Does your puppy learn that coming in when called means that you are going to leave the park?   So, now your dog may not come in when you call.   Does your GSD learn that children pinch or hurt or scare them?   Your GSD may start to use aggression to defend itself from all children.   Does your GSD run the fence line all day while you are at work, barking at every passerby, or fence fight with the neighbor dog?   Oh yeah, you can fully expect your dog to do that behavior on leash too, and carry that frustration with them to walks and the dog park.   “Reactive” behavior (barking, lunging, spinning, with and without fear or aggression) is one of the most common behavioral complaints associated with this breed.   Much of the reactive behavior we see in the GSD is a direct result of this breed’s instincts interacting with things it should never learn, being allowed to be frustrated, scared, or practiced by running fence lines. 

If you enjoy planning and directing your dog’s learning, and are good at meeting goals, you will likely do well with this breed.

This breed learns, it is designed to be active and determined, so if you don’t have the time or energy to control what your dog learns, or the interest to learn what the breed needs to know, this breed is not right for you.  

2. High Energy: Another common buzzword used to describe this breed is high energy.  And of course they are, almost all herding breeds and all tending breeds, have been selected for generations for their ability to trot all day long.   While some sport bred or “working lines” have been selected, either deliberately or not, for their sprinting power and may be more easily satiated, the European show lines (ironically often recommended as “easier” to live with) and herding lines still posses the extreme endurance and love of movement breeders have selected for in these lines.    While all herding breeds are high energy, the German Shepherd tends towards the top middle of these breeds, being lower in exercise requirements than the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle dogs and all the Belgian Shepherds, but more than the other herding breeds.  

So, what does this mean in real life?   While the GSD is a vast breed, made up of millions dogs, thousands of breeders, and hundreds of different lines, so variation in traits is to be expected, a healthy adult German Shepherd is a busy dog who wants to move, and move a lot.  

Does this mean your GSD will make a good jogging partner? You bet! If full grown and healthy, a GSD is a good jogging partner, hiking partner, or running partner.   But don’t count on your dog to create this habit for you.  If you don’t exercise regularly, or don’t exercise outside, a dog may not change that habit.  

One of the most common problems we see in this breed is too much repetitive exercise, the kind that makes dogs mindless. From running on treadmills to overuse of fetch, mind numbing forms of exercise do not make for happy and well adjusted dogs. Like salt, such activities are best in small amounts.

When we think about the exercise needs of high energy dogs we are not talking about trashing a dog’s body by playing fetch every day after work, road working, or hours on a treadmill until the dog drops.   Nor are we talking about a walk around the neighborhood after work.  We are certainly not talking about a run at the dog park on weekends or every other day full time dog day care.  We are talking about regularly scheduled exercise from a variety of these and other activities that is built upon long periods of free movement.  

Swimming is excellent exercise for German Shepherds

What a GSD needs is like a well balanced diet:

Lots and lots of free movement such as hiking on a long line, long robust sniffing walks on trails where the dog can stretch out and trot along while investigating all the sights and smells.   Long walks through a new neighborhood, training and games that allow the dog to work independently such as scent work, tracking, shed hunting.   Think of these as the exercise version of vegetables.   Very healthy, interesting without being crazy exciting, and making up most of the exercise diet.   This needs to make up the bulk of a GSDs exercise plan.  If you already enjoy such things, awesome!  You will likely do really well with a German Shepherd.   If those are things you do not enjoy, this breed is going to be a challenge for you, and your dog may not be happy.  

German Shepherds need to use their body, including opportunities to run.

While free movement, and lots of it, is the bulk of a GSD’s exercise needs, they also enjoy and benefit from, more intense forms of exercise in moderation.   Many dog sports fulfill this need, sports like agility, bite sports, obedience, competitive herding, all offer high intensity “thinking” learning and exercise opportunities.  

But dog sports are very time consuming and expensive, if you do not have the time, funds, and thick skin, needed to break into the world of dog sports, another viable option that is easily accessible are canine powered sports like canihiking, canicross, bikejoring, and etc.   While some of these are also competitive sports, it’s very easy to train your dog and participate just for your own enjoyment.   If you already enjoy such activities, you are an outdoorsy person, with lots of free time to travel to trails, to hike, or camp and want to include your dog, this breed is great for you.

But it’s not just about physical exercise, the GSD needs mental exercise and enrichment as well. Training and exercise are two forms of exercise that offer enrichment value, but every meal offers an opportunity to give our GSD an outlet for it’s natural species specific behavior, as well as it’s inherited breed traits.

So, if you would enjoy providing enrichment activities such as those found on the AniEd 100 Days of Enrichment Website (and FB) group your GSD will be happier for it.

  If those activities and needs sound like a burden, or an activity that would cause tension or stress on your family time or budget, then a GSD might not be for you.  If you don’t like to spend time outdoors, live in an urban area where open spaces are not handy, if you work long hours, don’t have a yard at all, or have a busy schedule of commitments already straining your free time, this breed at this time may not be right for you.

Frankeigh loves to play fetch, this activity is offered in 5 minute blocks, no more than twice per week.

Finally, yes, a GSD will likely love playing fetch, and tug, and some even enjoy a day at daycare or the dog park, but such activities are like dessert, best enjoyed occasionally, and best not to over indulge.    

Does a German Shepherd really ” Need a job”?

3. Along with High Energy we often find the words “needs a job” or “needs to work” and while the meaning of these phrases depends greatly on who is uttering them, the grain of truth at the center of what is usually a long winded one sided discussion about how that person is an awesome dog sport trainer and thus knows everything about the breed and dogs, is that like all large and powerful dogs the GSD needs some serious skills to be a fun and pleasant companion.   Think about all those needs we have already talked about. 

Or does a German Shepherd need some mad skills?

Exercise in wide open spaces, on a long line or if appropriate offleash, around town for exploration walks, at training classes or clubs, remember all that your dog can’t enjoy these activities if YOU have not taught them the skills they need.   Lack of training sentences a large dog to a small, boring, and diminished life at home, lack of manners, boredom, excessive energy, can lead to frustration (ie barking, aggression, compulsive behaviors) as the dog seeks to meet it’s own needs.

Frustrated, frantic, unhappy dogs are difficult to manage and often labeled as stubborn, dominate, hard, and this can lead to the use of painful training devices in an attempt to control the dog or “teach it manners” and such devices and their use often end with even worse behavior and welfare.  

If you would not enjoy spending time EVERY DAY working with your GSD and teaching it skills, practicing those skills, and teaching more skills, this breed is not a great choice for you. 

Canihiking is great exercise for your GSD, but only if you teach them the skills needed.

German Shepherds don’t need “a job”. They need skills, life skills primarily, that enable them to have a full and rich life, and allow them to have their considerable exercise, enrichment, and learning needs met.  Teaching and practicing skills takes time and hard work, if you have both, the time and the enthusiasm to devote to this work , this is the breed for you.  

4. The GSD “needs a leader.” This hearkens back to the old debunked dominance philosophy of dog behavior, that dogs are wee wolves and we should pretend to be dogs to boss them around, otherwise they will never be happy.   And while some trainers and celebrity trainers are still cashing in on the old dominance/alpha philosophy, the rest of the dog training, dog behavior, and scientific community has left this nonsense behind.   

While dominance/leadership/alpha philosophy is baseless and just plan mean, and while dogs don’t need to be bullied to be happy, they do need a owner they can trust and have a strong bond with.   The best way to build a strong bond, and to earn a dog’s trust, is by being safe, predictable, and competent.     

A trusting and enriching relationship is what a GSD needs, not an alpha.

If your dog learns you are unsafe to be around,because you do scary or painful things to them, they will not trust you. 

If your dog learns you are unpredictable, if you praise and punish the same behavior, they won’t trust you.

If your dog learns you are incompetent and doing what you ask leads to scary or painful things for them, they won’t trust you.

German Shepherds don’t need a leader but they do need a kind, predictable, and competent owner.  If you cannot provide those things this breed may not be for you. 

With both skills and trust in place the GSD is a manageable and pleasant companion

5. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that the German Shepherd is a big dog, with big hair.    Now, what does this mean? 

Big dogs need big crates, big toys, big chews, lots of dog food, and everything medical cost more due to their size alone.   Boarding and day care will be more expensive.  

So, if you have a family member who is afraid or uncomfortable around big dogs, someone who is frail, or if you are looking for a dog for your kids, this is not the best breed for you.  

And the hair, yes, the German Shepherd sheds.  They shed a LOT, they shed all the time, and it will never end.  If you don’t want dog hair on your stuff, in your car, on your pants, this is NOT the breed for you.   There is no way around it, this breed is a walking hairball.  

Keeping a long stock coat GSD comfortable and beautiful means regular coat care!

While stock coat GSDs have a pretty low maintenance coat, requiring only weekly or monthly  brushing, the increasingly popular long stock coat GSD requires the same time consuming grooming of a rough collie.   As breeders are increasing breeding long coats for showy coats they are getting more and more hair.   Expect to brush out a long coat GSD every day or their coat mats.  NO, you can’t shave them, except for a sanitary trim (yes, some long coats are being bred for so much coat they now require a professional groomer to give them a sanitary trim or they will urinate on their hair and feces can get stuck on their bum) once or twice a year.   They need to be brushed out to avoid mats. Long coat is softer than stock coat, so expect burrs, stickers, rocks, and small pets to all become entangled in the abundant coat.

   To be easy to groom ALL GSD’s need to be taught to tolerate brushing, ear cleaning, burr removal, and yes, even nail trimming.

Stock coat GSD (left) and Long stock coat GSD (right) both get dirty!

But can’t the dog just live outside?  That leads us to…

6. The German Shepherd Dog is highly social and loves it’s family passionately.   We often hear the GSD described as “loyal” and they are, so what does that mean in real life? 

This breed was designed to spend all day with the shepherd, tending the flock, then after the stock were settled back on the farm for the night, the dog goes with the shepherd home to spend the nighttime with the family.    This is not a breed that ever needed to spend time away from it’s shepherd and family and that is the root of it’s highly social nature to this day.   

To be happy and well adjusted the GSD needs a loving home environment.   This means your big hairy and muddy dog can’t just be left outside because that is convenient.   Isolated this breed quickly loses mental health and is prone to a variety of compulsive behaviors, such as barking, pacing, digging, spinning, shadow chasing, and fear aggression.  If you would not enjoy having a large hair machine in your home, on your furniture, in your car or bed, this is not the right breed for you.  

Big dogs, big hair, and big, sometimes muddy, feet all over your house.

When not bred and raised effectively this breed can also develop separation problems, these can lead to highly destructive behavior, and a phobia of being alone.   This just highlights the importance of finding a reputable and skilled breeder AND doing the needed training and exercise.  

While this breed is intensely loyal to it’s family and familiar friends, the breed is not always open or interested in making new friends.  While this is a correct trait for our breed, what does this mean in real life?  

What this means in real life is your GSD may not like their vet, they may not like your step kids that visit only in the summer, or your relatives that come for Thanksgiving every other year. They might take offense when the plumber comes inside too.

At the extreme end, some GSDs will be aggressive to strangers, or afraid of them, at the other end they might be neutral (as our standard describes) or neutral but easily offended.   Where a particular dog falls on the spectrum, from friendly to aloof to suspicious, depends greatly on the traits they inherit, but also on what they learn when they are trained and socialized.  

If you want your GSD to welcome your step kids each summer you will need to do A LOT of work socializing your puppy around children, and be darn sure your puppy has a GREAT time and only learns that kids are safe and fun.   Want to have strange adults in your home at the holidays?   Be sure sure you think about that when your dog is a puppy and spends a lot of time having company over when your puppy is little.  Want your dog to be easy to handle and manage at the vet? Start training that day 1!   So now we are back to training and planning again.  

Are you excited and looking forward to spending time teaching your dog these skills? It’s never ending work, and if that sounds perfect and something you would LOVE to do, then this breed is for you.

Meeting novel people of different ages helps puppies be adaptable.

Where a particular GSD falls, between friendly goof and serious as a mafia hit man, depends on both it’s inherited traits, mental health, learning, it’s pre and post natal environment, and early life socialization. So choose your breeder wisely

So, just what type of home IS great for a German Shepherd?  

  1. Are you the type of person who loves to plan things?  Do you enjoy making goals and meeting them?  Do you find it easy and enjoyable to do things on a schedule?  If so you will likely also enjoy making and sticking to a training and socialization plan for your GSD. 
  1. A person or family that already spends a considerable amount of time outside, in natural places, doing activities that can easily include a large dog.   Do you hike?  Camp?  Have a very large property that you enjoy tending?  Do you walk every day and love to go walk in different areas?  Do you live in a suburban or semi rural area with a plethora of parks and trails and wide open spaces to exercise your dog?  Heck yeah!  You will find it easy and fun to work a GSD into your lifestyle.  If you describe yourself as outdoorsy, if you have designed your life to include natural places and exercising outdoors even when it’s cold or hot, the needs of your dog will line up nicely with your current habits.
  2. Do you already enjoy learning about dogs and dog behavior and training?  Are you spending time watching You Tube, or reading books, podcast, blogs about animal behavior and training?  Do you have a history of training dogs as a hobby, for sport, show, or just for fun?  If you are already devoting your free time to consuming all manner of dog related content you are very likely to enjoy spending that time actually training and practicing with your dog.  
  3. Are you someone who enjoys your dog as a friend more than a follower?  A partner more than a subservient?   Are you empathic, patient, and understanding of Big Emotions?   If so, you’ll do great.  
  4. Do you like big dogs and don’t care about dog hair?  Yes, awesome!
  5. You are already disciplined enough to make and stick to a socialization plan that will allow your GSD to be socialized effectively to the things and situations you need them to enjoy or tolerate as an adult dog?  Yes, fantastic.  You have the “plan and proceed” habits needed. 
  6. Do you have the patience and tenacity to find a reputable breeder and Fear Free Vet?  Can you afford to purchase and care for a well bred German Shepherd for a decade or more?  Good. 
  7. Are you interested in and willing to commit to using modern, low risk, positive reinforcement based training methods with your dog, and working every day to reinforce habits and behaviors you value?  Yes, perfect. 
  8. You are prepared to care for, train, socialize, and love your dog for a decade or more, even if your dog sheds buckets, is poorly, or otherwise fails to meet your expectations?  Yes, excellent, because committed owners are how dogs stay out of shelters. 
  9. You are already active, outdoorsy, LOVE getting out there and doing All The Things, and WANT to make room to do these activities with your dog.

Not sure?

If you are not sure if you can do all the things a German Shepherds needs, “try one on” for a while.

You can volunteer to foster a dog in need for a local rescue or shelter. This doesn’t have to be a GSD, just treat it like one!

Not able to foster? That’s OK, you can still “try on” the responsibilities of ownership.

1. Start putting aside funds every month for dog supplies, such as food, toys, enrichment items, training classes, veterinary costs and etc. While this will be different in different areas a good rough average for the first three and final five years of a GSD’s life would be $250 per month.

2. Start putting aside TIME. If you are planning on exercising your GSD every other day during the week and daily on the week end then take that time and GO to those locations and walk, hike, or run. If you cannot maintain that habit now, it’s likely you won’t be able to maintain it later either.

3. Start attending local training classes in person (or join a dog club) and go without a dog. You can often audit for free, or pay a reduced fee to audit. This is actually a great way to check out local trainers or clubs.

4. Start taking some online classes, work through the content with a foster dog, a friends dog, or no dog at all, just devote that time to learning.

If you find that those tasks are enjoyable and fulfilling for you this breed is likely a great match for you. However, if you “never get started” or can’t maintain these habits, or you just find them a burden instead of an enjoyment, then this breed is likely not right for you and in this process you will likely be able to more easily identify what traits you would most enjoy in a companion dog, because there are so many wonderful and diverse dog breeds, there is no reason to choose one that won’t fit your needs.

Still not sure? Contact Us to learn even more about this amazing breed.

Another One of those Stupid “how to find a good breeder” lists…..

“Can you help me find a puppy?” I can’t even count how many times I get asked this question, and often as a breeder of German Shepherds, I can!

But often I can’t, and as our FB group Pandemic Puppy Raising Support Group grows and grows, nearing 10,000 as I write this, I am seeing some common problems faced by new puppy owners that could have been prevented, or decreased, if they had known how to find a breeder who valued some simple “ease of living” skills and traits.    This is important because for puppies to have a good long term outcome, avoiding losing their homes, or being shuffled from one home to another, there are some really important things for people to consider BEFORE they purchase and bring home that puppy.  

I didn’t want to make this another “how to find a good breeder” post because there are just so many of those out there, some are good, some are very good (but still want you to choose a rescue over a breeder), some are great, and some not so great, and to be honest they often fail to mention things that are actually really important to the average dog owner.   So I’m hoping my view on how to find a puppy has not only a different point of view, but also very actionable steps.  

The most important thing to remember about purchasing a puppy (from a breeder, rescue, or shelter) is what you really need to focus on are shared values.   Finding a breeder who values the same things you do sets everyone up for long term happiness.  

Here are some things I find are valued by most puppy seekers, and also by most responsible and ethical breeders, fosters, and shelters.   Some of these apply only to breeders, but many will apply to fosters and rescues as well.

  • Want the quick version? Look for “In a Nutshell”
  • Want a more in depth explanation? Look for “By the Bushel”
  • Want to know what to avoid? Watch for “Bad Apples”
Finding a healthy German Shepherd Puppy
Frankeigh von der burg Austerlitz OFA is the picture of health.

Value 1: Long Term Health:

  In a nutshell:  Do you value owning the healthiest adult dog possible?   If so find a breeder who values producing healthy dogs and knows how to do this work.

By the bushel:  How to find a breeder who values health.  

Start here: Go to the OFA website ( and click the link for “health testing by breed” and find the breed, or for mixes all involved breeds, you are considering.  For example, Border Collie and Whippet for a Border Whippet cross, or Golden Retriever and Poodle for Goldendoodle.  Once you find this list, screenshot it.  Be sure to note which tests are DNA tests, which tests are a medical evaluation, and which tests are recommended versus optional for your breed.  

After That: Click each condition and read about it, and how, and how often, breeders screen for it.   This is really important, if you don’t have a rudimentary understanding of how these diseases are screened for you won’t know what to ask the breeder, or how to know if you are being misled.  Further, If you really want to understand this work, find and read the “best practices” for breeders content on the OFA website and then ask the breeder questions about not just the health screening but also their over arching plan for preventing or reducing the chance of such diseases occurring in the puppies they produce.  

The Bad Apples (Avoid these breeders if you want a healthy dog). 

A HUGE NOPE! Those who do not do the recommended health testing for the breed, or breeds.  Period, end of story.

Caution! Beware breeders who do DNA testing and say “ Dog is tested and cleared for over 100 genetic diseases.” This is a deception.  The big DNA panels include MANY tests that do NOT apply to all breeds, for example for the GSD only about 12 of the 100 plus tests actually apply to the GSD!   And our most common health problem, hip and elbow dysplasia, cannot be identified via DNA test AT ALL!   Breeders who imply that their dogs are “clear” of a hundred plus diseases when only a handful apply to their breed are misleading you, breeders who mislead people are either extremely ignorant, or deceitful, and neither shares your value of honesty.  

Bad Apples: Breeders who don’t follow guidelines for health evaluations, for example, a breeder who does OFA Preliminary Opinions (or worse the “my vet says” hips are ok thing) on hips/elbows instead of OFA Certification, or a breeder who does an OFA cardiac exam via auscultation when ultrasound evaluation is the standard, or a breeder who has a general practitioner “check” eyes when a veterinary ophthalmologist is required for certification. Take time to read about each disease, and how it should be screened for, and use caution if a breeder seems to be doing half measures.

Take your list of tests from the OFA website and only consider breeders who can talk to you intelligently about these diseases and how they are inherited, how they are screened for, and how the breeder uses that information.   Take notes and talk to several breeders to help you identify red flag behavior.   

Do not complain about your adult dogs health problems if you did not purchase from a breeder who has a solid plan for breeding for health

Healthy German Shepherd puppies from a responsible breeder
These German Shepherd Puppies are getting a Well Puppy Checkup prior to going home with their new families.

Value 2: Bringing (and sending) home a healthy puppy.

In a Nutshell: Another value you and your breeder should share is sending home the healthiest puppy possible

By The Bushel:

While producing long term health is about the health of the dogs in the pedigree, sending home healthy puppies is about puppy raising health practices and protocols. You will find that these protocols are different between breeders based on their own experiences, belief systems, and veterinary advice. There doesn’t need to be one “proper” way of raising healthy puppies, but YOU do need to be comfortable with your breeders protocols. One good way to evaluate your comfort level is to discuss these protocols with the breeder, and your own veterinarian.

Preventive health care, even if excellent, will not guarantee a puppy will not become unwell in the new home, puppies are prone to a variety of illnesses, so many responsible breeders will enroll in programs that provide their puppy owners with a complementary 30 days of health insurance policy (sometimes called an “offer”) and if you choose an puppy eligible for AKC registration it’s also eligible for the AKC policy.

Typical health care for puppies:

  • Preventive worming for intestinal parasites.
  • Vaccination against infectious diseases (often done by vet)
  • Flea/tick prevention.
  • Heartworm Prevention.
  • Veterinarian Well Puppy Checkup before send home.
    • Fecal Exam (ideally an ELISA Antigen test)
    • Cardiac exam via auscultation or ultrasound (if warranted)
    • Eye, mouth, ear check.
    • Abdominal Palpation and check for umbilical/inguinal hernia.
    • Evaluation of body condition, skin and coat health.
    • Normal body temperature, respiration rate.
  • Health Certificate (if needed for travel).

Caution: Breeders who do not do typical preventive care. If a breeder does not do preventive care, this warrants further discussion, there may be a good reason. Perhaps a particular disease is not active in their area (such as heartworm, fleas, or ticks, in some geographical areas, or their breed/line is sensitive to common preventive medicines. While lack of preventive care may be a red flag, there may also be a very valid reason for the lack of certain types of care. Politely ask the breeder they why behind their choices, and then run that information by a trusted veterinarian, once you have all the information you can decide if you are comfortable with the risk/benefit involved.

Bad Apples: Avoid a breeder who does not do any preventive health care at all, or who omits typical health care without any valid reason. Avoid any breeder who places a puppy too early (prior to 8 weeks) or without a well puppy check by their veterinarian.

Healthy puppies are raised in clean environments.

Those who value healthy puppies maintain their puppies in clean, sanitary, environments. You are looking for a breeder who understand the importance of cleanliness and has the skills to maintain their puppies in a clean puppy raising environment.

Observe: Look for a breeder who is transparent about where and how puppies are housed. Most breeders maintain social media pages, websites, or even webcams and this is an excellent place to observe the living conditions the puppies are kept in. Expect some degree of transparency. What should you look for?

  • Look for clean bedding, while puppies do potty a lot the breeder should also keep areas clean, so a poop is ok, but lots of poop is not. It should be obvious the breeder cleans up after puppies frequently.
  • Look for absorbent footing with traction, so puppies are not walking and laying in urine.
  • Look for a litter box, so puppies are not forced to walk about in their own waste. Litter Box trained puppies are cleaner.
  • Outdoor areas should be free of dirt, with a surface that can be sanitized, kept clean and as free of feces as possible.
  • Do NOT expect a pristine environment, puppies are messy, but DO expect cleanliness and obvious regular and complete cleaning of puppy areas.
  • Puppies should appear clean in photos and on webcams, and smell and feel clean in person.

Bad Apples: Avoid These Breeders!

Avoid breeders who refuse to discuss or provide examples of where and how puppies are raised or breeders whose puppies are obviously kept in dirty environments, cramped conditions, or cage like kennels.

Value 3: Ease of House Training

In a Nutshell: Everyone wants a puppy who is easy to house train and nobody wants a dog that soils the house long term. In fact, one of the leading reasons owners often give for relinquishing their dogs to shelters is house soiling. For this reason good breeders value ease of house training as much as puppy seekers. This is one area where good breeders and good dog owners agree, an easy to house train puppy that grows into a house trained adult dog is the gold standard. What makes a puppy easy, or hard, or impossible to house train? Two things, early puppyhood learning and the house training plan, or lack thereof, in the new home.

By The Bushel: What puppy raising practices make house training easier.

  • Keeping puppy pen clean and free of feces.
  • Keeping puppies themselves clean and free of urine or feces.
  • Keeping puppy bedding, crates, and toys clean.
  • Litter box training started early. Litter boxes kept clean.
  • Avoiding “pee pads” in litter boxes, using grass, pellets, or shavings instead.
  • Access to an outdoor area, when safe and weather permitting, so puppies can experience relieving themselves outside.
  • Breeder observing puppies going potty, so puppies are used to someone watching them void BEFORE they go to the new home.
  • Even better, if the breeder is rewarding puppies for going potty in the litter box, or outside, with treats and praise.
  • Even Even better, if breeder teaches puppies a “go potty” cue.
  • Keeps puppies a bit longer, because a slightly older puppy (9-16 weeks) will have more bladder and bowel control.

Bad Apples: Things that make house training harder.

  • No litter box training meaning puppies relieve themselves thoughtlessly and everywhere.
  • No Litter Box Training: Puppies end up resting, walking, and playing in and around their own waste and learn this is normal.
  • Infrequent clean up means puppies normalize being around waste.
  • Dirty puppies: Puppies learn that having waste residue on their body is normal.
  • Breeder never observes puppies going potty means puppy may be unsettled, even scared, when the new owners start staring at Puppy on potty breaks.
  • Breeder punishes puppies for going potty in some locations.
  • Breeder uses pee pads for the toilet area, meaning puppy thinks fabric is a toilet.
  • Puppies never have access to voiding outdoors.
  • Puppies are house in small kennels, so puppies think crates are ok places to void.
  • Puppies are placed too young, before the age of 8 weeks, or when still quite immature (rate of maturity varies by breed!)

Value 4: A well socialized and confident puppy.

In a Nutshell: Another area of agreement between responsible breeders and responsible puppy seekers is socialization. We know that early puppyhood socialization, starting around 21 days, is vitally important for the long term behavioral health of dogs. Those who breed dogs want to send home happy and well socialized puppies, and puppy seekers want puppies who have been socialized well and who are most likely to grow into pleasant and adaptable companion dogs.

In a Bushel: What to look for.

  • Breeder uses a well defined and evidence based puppy raising protocol (such as Puppy Culture).
  • Breeder raises puppies in the home, or a home like setting.
  • Breeder prioritizes the emotional health and wellbeing of puppies.
  • Breeder provides an experience rich environment that is changed regularly, so puppies are not bored, and have an enriched environment.
  • Breeder makes the most of the 3 week to send home “socialization” window.
  • Caregivers have positive and predictable interactions with puppies frequently each day.
  • Novel people are introduced to puppies at safe and appropriate ages.
  • Novel people interactions are fun, predictable, and pleasant for the puppies.
  • Food is used for all teaching and training, ensuring puppies are having fun.

Bad Apples: Lack of socialization, or “bad learning” can have lifelong negative effects on a dog’s behavior, intelligence, and personality.

  • No well thought out plan for socialization.
  • Very little interaction with caregivers.
  • Scary interactions with caregivers.
  • Caregivers who use punishments (physical or mental) or who are using outdated “dominance” or “alpha” techniques on puppies.
  • Caregivers who trap the dam in with puppies, forcing the dam to resort to biting, growling, and other punishments to protect herself from her puppies.
  • Lack of socialization with novel people.
  • Scary interactions with novel people.
  • Boring, bland, unchanging environments.
  • Breeders who place puppies too early, prior to 8 weeks, or too late, after 16 weeks.

Value 5: Puppy is easy to crate train.

In a Nutshell: Crate training is a valuable skill for dogs. Puppies who enjoy confinement are easier to house train (see Value 2), travel with, and care for if unwell. Puppies who have some positive associations with crates are easier for the new owner to crate train, and this means a happier puppy, and a happier family, during transition week. Easier transitions facilitate bonding, and prevent a plethora of behavioral pitfalls.

By The Bushel: Breeders can, and should, do some exposure to the crate, but not all exposure to the crate and confinement is positive for puppies or leads to a puppy who is comfortable being confined. Puppies must have positive exposures to the crate, and not scary or upsetting ones.

  • Has crates open and accessible in the puppy pen.
  • Has comfortable beds in crates, so puppies learn that crates are good for resting.
  • Feeds puppies meals, snacks, or chews in the crate.
  • Gives puppies treats for entering crates.
  • Ensures the crate is a fun and safe place to be.
  • Uses a positive reinforcement based crate conditioning plan like my own Crate Conditioning For Breeders and Fosters Blog and Course.
  • Place puppies who are slightly older, between 9-12 weeks.

Bad Apples: avoid breeders who…

  • Lock puppies in crates and leave them to “cry it out”
  • Punish puppies who vocalize when confined.
  • Allow puppies to learn how to climb out of puppy pens or escape from crates.
  • Allow puppies to scream or run along the side of the pen.
  • Place puppies too young, prior to 8 weeks.
  • It’s BETTER for breeder or foster to avoid any crate work at all than to teach puppies that crates are scary or unpleasant places to be.

Value 6: Ongoing Support

In a Nutshell: Responsible breeders want to help you, and you will need help.

By The Bushel: If you value having an ongoing relationship with your breeder choose a breeder who values having an ongoing relationship with you. It’s important for the long term success of your puppy that you have the support you need, for that a positive and productive relationship with your breeder will be vital. The breeder should treat you with kindness and respect, and you should treat your breeder with kindness and respect as well.

Bad Apples: Avoid a breeder who does not make it easy to stay in contact. Look for Facebook pages, Facebook Groups for puppy owners, websites, and other ways of keeping in contact. The absence of easy routes of communication should be a red flag. Avoid breeders who “blame” others for problems that occur, or who seem unwilling or unable to communicate or help you. Breeders who blame clients, “rant”, and otherwise seem frustrated with their puppy owners are a red flag.

Value 7: Standing Behind Their Puppy and Realistic Expectations.

Puppy send home kit that sets up for success

In a Nutshell: Look for a breeder who has a written warranty/contract that reflects their values AND your values. Do not expect your breeder can guarantee a good outcome, perfect health, or behavior, or that a contract releases you from your own responsibility to do a good job with your puppy.

In a bushel: Contracts/warranties are a sticky subject but suffice it to say you should read and agree to all terms of the contract BEFORE signing it or paying any money. Do not agree to any contract stipulation you cannot happily accept. The breeder should discuss each clause, disclose any MLMs or affiliate programs they are requiring you to participate in, and answer any questions you have. Remember, the contract should be agreeable to both parties, it provides the framework for the breeder to stand behind the puppy they sell, and it outlines buyer responsibilities too. There are few “right” or “wrong” things, there are lots of points of agreement and disagreement, just ensure you are comfortable with the contract before signing it. If the puppy you are purchasing is quite expensive, more than a couple thousand dollars, or you are looking for a show, sport, or breeding dog it may be worth considering having an attorney review the contract and explain it’s terms to you, before signing. Once signed, be a respectful client and abide by the terms you have agreed to.

Bad Apples: Avoid any breeder who does not have a written warranty/contract. Avoid a breeder who demands you agree to stipulations you cannot happily agree to. If you do not want your breeder to come between your veterinarian and your dog, don’t agree to take your breeders medical advice over that of your vet. Don’t want to buy supplements, foods, or training that your breeder wants you to agree to buy via an MLM or affiliate program? Then don’t agree to do that. Whatever you agree to is between you and your breeder, so be sure that you actually agree, otherwise don’t purchase that puppy. Avoid any breeder who will not discuss the contract openly and allow you to preview it, or whose contract is overly restrictive to the point you are not comfortable agreeing to it.

Value Last and Most Important

In a Nutshell: Find a breeder who is producing the traits that are important to you. Are you looking for a companion puppy for your family, look for a breeder who values companion dog homes, and understand the traits a pleasant companion needs to have. Want a show dog? Look for breeders who show successfully. Looking for your next agility prospect? You need a breeder who values the traits needed to excel in agility.

By the Bushel: Here is a little known secret of dog breeding. Breeders apply selection pressure for traits, both behavioral and physical, that are important to them. Sometimes this means the traits you value and the traits the breeder values will match up, sometimes they won’t match up, and that’s ok. Don’t feel it’s only OK to get a puppy from one type of breeder. Look for a breeder whose values align with yours. Sometimes there will be crossover, and a great companion dog may come from a “show” breeder, but let’s face it, there are not enough “show” or “sport” breeders to even come close to meeting the demand for responsibly bred dogs, this can mean waiting lists are very long, and pet puppy seekers are usually lowest on those lists. Same for sport bred dogs. Additionally, it’s a falsehood that all show dogs or all sport dogs are easy companion dogs, many are not, and some breeders of show or sport dogs are so detached from the needs of the typical companion dog owner that they cannot really say they understand what traits a companion dog needs.

So don’t hesitate to enquire about a puppy from a show or sport breeder, but don’t overlook the companion dog breeders. Unlike show and sport breeders the FIRST consideration a companion dog breeder has is making healthy and pleasant companion dogs, for working and show breeders these considerations come after structure or working ability. Don’t believe the falsehood that show and sport breeders are the only responsible breeders, because that’s not accurate, and don’t believe the falsehood that companion dog breeders are always unethical.

If you are looking for a companion dog you are clever for seeking out a breeder who values companion homes, who understands what traits are needed to be a companion dogs, and who produces those consistently.

Do you want a pet that is good with your other dogs? Then be sure to talk to the breeder about if their their pedigree has dogs who are safe and tolerant of other dogs. Have children, be sure to make sure the breeder knows if their dogs are tolerant of children. Want to take your dog to work, be sure the breeder produces gregarious dogs. You get the picture right? Think about how you want to live with your dog and make sure the breeder understands those needs and the traits that go along with them.

If the breeder says their dogs won’t be a good match, believe them!

If you’re are looking for a companion dog for your family.

  • Choose a breeder who can discuss with you exactly what traits they produce that make their dogs good companions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask what traits they think you need for your lifestyle and situation.
  • Choose a breeder who is interested in you and asks for lots of info about your life, family, and lifestyle.
  • Choose a breeder who keeps their dogs in their home and who raises their puppies in their home.
  • Avoid a breeder who makes it apparent their interest lies mainly in show or sport dogs.
  • If a breeder talks extensively about structural traits, or working traits, titles, scores, wins, and has little information for you about what the dogs are like to live with, avoid this breeder.
  • If the breeder considers pet homes as lesser, places them lower on selections lists, or talks down to you about “just a pet” avoid this breeder.
  • Avoid a breeder who does not live with their dogs and who kennel raises their puppies exclusively.

If you are looking for a show prospect puppy.

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  • Look for a breeder who produces dogs that finish easily with owner handlers.
  • Look for a breeder who is willing to mentor you.
  • Ask the breeder if the puppy can be purchased on full registration, and if so, what are the requirements.
  • Avoid a breeder who is not producing dogs that finish easily with owner handlers (unless you want to pay for professional handling).
  • Avoid a breeder who is unwilling to mentor or support you while you show your dog.
  • Avoid a breeder who has outlandish contractual obligations for obtaining full registrations, or breeding your dog if it finishes.

If you are planning on competing in dog sports.

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  • Choose a breeder with a history of producing dogs that make title in the sport of your choice.
  • Choose a breeder who is willing to mentor you in puppy raising and training.
  • Avoid a breeder who has no history of producing dogs that make title in the sport of your choice.
  • Avoid a breeder who is unwilling to mentor or support you as you compete with your dog.

I hope this blog has been helpful and has given you many things to consider, many things to discuss with your breeder, and the best chance of finding a fantastic breeder who will have the puppy of your dreams waiting for you.

And of course, if you are considering adding a German Shepherd Dog to your life please Contact Us or learn more about what sets us apart or our Puppy Purchase Process.

Tip Tuesday: Quick & Easy Pacifiers

When I was a girl and my mom would take me shopping (boring!) she would give me a new book to take along. I would happily sit in the corner and read this book while Mom took care of her shopping. No fussy child meant my mom was able to relax and finish her shopping faster. We would do the same for long car rides, or when my parents had parties. In this case the book (or coloring book and crayons) kept me busy and also taught me to enjoy these events that might have otherwise really disliked.

Our puppies and dogs are not so different from that hyperactive bookworm of a child that I was. There are just SO many uses for pacifiers. A pacifier is a toy or chew given to a dog or puppy to engage them in a quiet activity for a few moments.

Now, if my mom had given me a book way over my reading level, say an adult novel with no pictures, tiny text, and words I had not yet learned, I might have given up on books. I might have even thought that books were terrible and I was a bad reader.

We often do something similar with puppies and pacifiers. We give our puppies pacifiers best suited to an adult dog, and one with great skill, learned through many hours spent experimenting and learning what works, what doesn’t, and how fun it is to try.

But most puppies are easily discouraged if they can’t succeed, and further, they may learn to give up when faced with a too difficult pacifier, because they are never successful. Then they generalize that too all types of pacifier challenges and they give up more easily in future.

So when you bring your new puppy home, realize that one of the important things you need to teach your puppy is pacifier skills, and pacifier enjoyment. These skills are arguably as important as learning to sit, or down, or heel.

Today’s Tip Tuesday is beginner level quick and easy pacifiers, while these are “starter” pacifiers for puppies they are also great for adult dogs who have just never learned the joy of engaging with a pacifier, or even a pacifier savvy dog who just needs something to do for a moment.

Supplies I used:

Nylabone Dinosaur
Benebone Pawplexer
Cream Cheese
Peanut Butter
Purina ONE True Instinct Canned
Instant Oatmeal (unflavored plain oats)
Purebites: Freeze Dried Beef Liver
Kong Ziggies (1)


Step By Step Pacifier Prep.


  • Dry clean toys “grip” the soft foods better.
  • Pasty thick cold soft foods are easier to smear on.
  • Pre freeze a cookie sheet, put cream cheese side down first for easier clean up.
  • “Pate” type ground canned food works best.
  • Make the oatmeal mixture rather pasty so it stays in place during freezing.
  • If you want to stick a chew (like the Ziggi, or a chicken foot) into the Benebone cavity do that before filling it.
  • You could use any soft but pasty food to smear on, such as canned baby meat, canned pumpkin, Greek yogurt, whatever stays put and your puppy’s tummy can tolerate.

This is part one of a series on teaching dogs to use pacifiers. For part two, click here!

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