Questions to ask when contemplating the purchase of
a companion puppy.....
This page was expanded after I learned clients/friends of 15+ years had bought a puppy
with no health checks/papers, questionable situation and wondered "how could that be,
surely they knew better???".
So, I began to look at ads and breeder websites and found that some breeders are
being too cute by far with how they word/advertise things. BUYER BEWARE! Pay
particular attention when you read the health section below.
I have gone into great detail, but if you read no further when deciding to purchase a companion
puppy, IF a litter/puppy is advertised that health checks have been done on the parents,
INSIST that you receive copies of the test results.
Everybody knows how to hit attach/send on an e-mail or include a link to the OFA website.
First, the good news; due to their many wonderful characteristics the
German Shepherd Dog is a very popular choice for a family companion. For as
long as I can remember, the GSD has been either third or fourth on the AKC's
"most popular dog list".
Now, the bad news; the demand for puppies has caused a rise
in indiscriminate breeding and proliferation of backyard breeders (BYBs) and puppy
mills offering puppies from parents with questionable temperaments and health histories,
raised in far less than adequate environments.
As the past Corresponding Secretary for
a regional specialty club and the past national Chairperson for the Breeder's Code of
Ethics for the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, my phone would ring off the
hook with new owners looking for help with temperament and health issues, asking
questions and facing difficult decisions.
The angels who work in breed rescue receive even more calls than I did.
In almost every case, after reciting all the "bads" that were occurring, inevitably,
the dog owner in trouble would say, "I should have known....", "something just didn't
feel right" or "things were so bad we thought we were doing 'good' getting the puppy
out of there...".
There is a tremendous cost to the pet owner in these circumstances. Not only the
veterinary cost from puppies with genetic issues that can arise when the health of the
breeding pair isn't known and/or considered, (veterinary care today is awfully
expensive!), but often more trying, the emotional cost that goes along with a dog not
working out and a puppy facing an uncertain future due to health and/or
The goal, when searching for a companion puppy is to find a healthy, happy baby
raised in a clean, caring, hands-on environment with lots of attention paid to
early socialization. If something doesn't "feel right", pay close attention to that feeling!
Where to look for a reputable breeder? Try your State Federation of Dog Clubs, a
regional specialty club, or a local all breed dog club's breeder referral service.
The AKC has a list of events on its webpage. Go to dog
shows, speak to breeders, ask questions. If there is nothing available at the time you are
looking, which is likely, expand your search to neighboring states, or if you find a breeder you "click"
with, ask if there is a waiting list for a future litter. Ask your vet for references, they
certainly know who has healthy, happy, well cared for dogs!
The AKC has a Breeder Classified section on their website as do many
Internet search engines, but now you start the careful screening process.
The AKC is (only) a registry and anyone can list a litter on the Internet.
What questions to ask and what answers to listen for? Read on....
How did you find the breeder? What national and regional clubs and organizations
is the breeder a member of and what activities do they enjoy with their dogs?
Do they have multiple breeds of dogs? How are their dogs kept?
How long has the breeder been breeding?
How often do they have a litter (more is not better!)?
How are the litters raised, how much early one-on-one interaction is provided
and what steps are taken to provide for early socialization?
Many temperament problems that cause a dog to land in a shelter or rescue including
sound sensitivity, separation anxiety, and lack of bite inhibition,
can be traced to careless combinations of breeding partners and little or no early socialization of puppies. Problems with potty training can be traced to unsanitary living
conditions. Show me a puppy who is hard to house train and
I'll show you a puppy who was allowed to be dirty!
Use common sense if you are invited to visit a breeder, but don't be surprised if that isn't welcomed
or allowed (more on that on the visitors' page). Are there too many dogs to reasonably
expect that a puppy has received critical individual attention? Is the puppy used to
being groomed, having its toenails clipped, its teeth examined and its ears cleaned or
is everything a struggle? How clean are the surroundings?
Finally, will the breeder be there for you after the purchase to answer your questions?
Ideally, you want someone to pick up the phone or return a call when it's past
midnight and your puppy ate a pack of chewing gum.
The best breeder/owner relationships last the life of the dog. It's wonderful to send
birthday and holiday pictures to the person who loved your dog first and it's particularly
comforting when waiting for a biopsy result from a suspicious bump on an old dog to
have someone who will worry and pray right along with you.
What should I expect from the breeder?
At a bare minimum, you should expect a breeder to
begin a puppy's immunization and worming schedule
provide copies of the same
provide a written contract
provide evidence that the litter has been registered
provide hard copies of health testing that was completed on the sire and dam
Many responsible breeders will go a step further and will provide written certification
from their vet that the puppy has been examined and found to be
healthy and free of a congenital defect.
Let's talk about contracts...
Some contracts restrict breeding rights; AKC registration papers can be issued on a
"limited registration" basis, which would prohibit any progeny from being registered with
the AKC. That may be reasonable, the original breeder can always change registration
status at the completion of health testing on a particular dog.
Other contracts will provide that the breeder is to be listed on the
registration as a co-owner. That may work between friends when discussing potential
show dogs, but for companion puppies, simpler is always better.
Obviously, you would want to know the particulars before committing to a litter.
Don't be talked into making a "deal" for a lower priced puppy by promising the
breeder (now "your" new co-owner) breeding rights. You might hear such
arrangements referred to as "guardian homes". If it's uncomfortable now to
write a check for the full price of a bitch puppy, it won't get any easier to find the
$$$$ for the health checks and pre-breeding tests completed prior to a
responsible breeding and it certainly won't be easy to write a check for
$3,000+ for an emergency c-section.
Would you be comfortable giving your bitch up for 10 weeks at a time to stay with your
co-owner to whelp, wean and raise the puppies?
And...that doesn't cover the emotional side.
A common saying among breeders is that "breeding isn't for the faint of heart".
Though GSDs are usually an easy breed to whelp, things can occasionally go very wrong.
The same goes for a potential "Mr. Wonderful". If you contractually promise
breeding rights in return for a lower purchase price, you will obligate yourself to
spend $$$$ on health checks and pre-breeding tests. As the stud dog owner, the
bitch comes to you and you have the added responsibility of getting her bred.
(That's how it works in dogs.) And...it isn't all soft music and candles; be sure the
children are someplace else or you will have some serious explaining to do!
Or, perhaps when it was time for his "date" the dog would go and live with the
breeder, your co-owner, but then you'd be giving your dog up for weeks at a time.
If the bitch comes to you, do you have the facilities and resources to keep a
strange bitch safe for several weeks during her season?
(Are you sure? Really sure? Dogs can get out of almost anything when
procreation is involved!)
And how on earth will you explain all of the noise to the neighbors?
Dogs are...well...vocal, and it's unlikely the neighbors will enjoy the serenade!
Remember too, if you make such an agreement, contractually, you can't spay or
neuter your pet until whatever provisions you agree to are fulfilled. It's best not to
make a "deal" for a lower priced puppy and promise "breeding rights".
In the end, it never works out to be such a deal!
Pine Hill does not participate in any "guardian home" schemes.
And the Breed Standard...
This is a difficult subject for me to address without sounding "snobbish", but here
goes...A breeder gets a phone call from a distraught companion dog owner who has
lost their much loved pet. We've all been there, and believe it or not, hearing a person
struggle with the word "puppy", listening to a person's raw hurt brings a flood
of emotion for the breeder too. I've cried with many a dog owner I don't know and
will never meet. The deceased pet's owner usually wants something just like their old
companion, but every now and again they are asking for something that a responsible
breeder just wouldn't be trying for. There's no easy way to say "gosh, I wouldn't have
that nor would any responsible breeder I can think to refer you to",
without sounding uncaring.
Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the breed standard.
It is, quite simply, a blueprint for the breed. Learn what is a disqualification
(currently, this includes white, blue, or liver colored dogs).
Learn what IS desirable so that you aren't asking for
something that ISN'T desirable for the breed (i.e., cream w/ tan, silver, etc.).
Learn the correct size for a GSD, (22-24 inches at the withers for a bitch,
24-26 inches for a dog). Bigger is NOT better.
That's not to say puppies/dogs with
disqualifying or undesirable traits don't deserve loving homes, they do! However, if a
pairing of a dog and a bitch produces less than desirable traits, it's not a combination a
responsible breeder would repeat. You may have no intention of showing your dog in the breed
ring and/or later breeding your dog, but IF the goal is to find a reputable
breeder, a big tip-off is the type of dog they promote.
Be VERY wary of unscrupulous breeders who deliberately breed and market an off-
color or coat and call the puppies that result "rare", and/or who deliberately breed above
average-sized dogs. Those who are passionate about a breed, any breed, know the
breed standard inside and out and do their level best to breed only those dogs that
closely resemble that standard.
The Sire and Dam of your new puppy
When researching a particular litter ask what health checks have been performed on
the breeding pair. And now you must verify!
Insist on copies of tests performed on the parents or a link that shows them listed on the OFA's website.
Ask the breeder for the registered name of the sire and dam (check the spelling), and
their AKC registration numbers. This will come in handy when verifying the
information you will ask for regarding health certifications.
If a breeder is unwilling to give you that information, run, don't walk away.
Ask what criteria were used in making the decision that the dogs are worthy of
being bred. (NOT all dogs deserve to be bred!)
Different breeds of dogs have different "issues", any breed's national breed club will list what
testing is preferred for their specific breed. With German Shepherd Dogs
in particular, a person contemplating a particular litter would want to see hip
certifications completed. Many responsible breeders now certify elbows, do cardiac
testing, and test DNA to determine if a dog can produce Degenerative Myelopathy too.
IF a dog has OFA testing completed you will find this information @ www.offa.org.
Permanent hip and elbow #s are issued by the OFA after two years of age. If a dog or a
bitch has preliminary results completed prior to two years of age, those results
should be readily available from the breeder. It would not be unheard of to "prove"
a promising young male before he turns two and is eligible for a permanent OFA #.
He doesn't, after all, have to carry and rear the whelps, but you would
expect to see OFA preliminary results.
Let's take a look at a few of these tests, how to read them
and what to expect:
Here is a copy of an OFA preliminary report:
Now, let's take a closer look at how to read the report:
We have the age in months, we have the AKC #, and we have the microchip number.
(I have prelim'ed dogs before naming with just a microchip # to ID)
Later we will see why the chip number is important.
Please note the only results for hips could be
Excellent, Good or Fair
Borderline, Mild, Moderate, or Severe
This gal, Kate, is also negative for elbow dysplasia (ED) and by viewing the report you will
see what results are the only possible results for elbows.
Here is a copy of an OFA certificate when a dog/bitch is over 2 years of age, for this
example, a certificate for the same bitch. Here's what to notice:
the permanent OFA # is GS-80989G26F-VPI
Here's how to read the OFA number:
"GS" = German Shepherd, "80989" is the # in sequence, "G" means Good,
26 is her age in months, "F" means female,
"VPI" means that permanent identification was verified
When you see NOPI following any OFA test/result it means
"No permanent Identification".
Permanent ID, a microchip, or tattoo, was not verified. (Why?????)
Now try this: Go to the OFA's website, www.ofa.org type in either the exact name of
the bitch above or her AKC registration # DN20414201 and what do you see?
So... when you read an ad or look at a breeder's website and see
"All breeding stock x-rayed", "OFA Certified",
"has been OFA'd", "parents have clear hips and elbows",
what does that mean to you?
You should be thinking "fine, show me the results, give me the AKC #,
and there's no such result as clear".
There are other organizations that certify hips. You may see the OVC referenced
(Ontario Veterinary College, Canada), you may notice an "a" stamp in a German
pedigree or you may see PennHIP scores. While the OFA offers three grades of
acceptable or passing hip ratings, the OVC rating is either pass/fail. If a dog receives
a number from the OVC, there is no evidence of dysplasia.
The (German) "a" stamp is quite different; stamps are issued to dogs with mild
dysplasia as young as one year of age, so when comparing "a" stamps with other
organizations' findings, it's not enough to know that a dog has an "a" stamp, you must
know the actual designation to make a fair comparison.
PennHIP uses a different system entirely and rates the dog compared to other dogs in
the same breed whose x-rays have been submitted to date.
If there is no OFA, OVC, "a" stamp, or PennHIP information on the breeding pair,
you'd again have to wonder why. The cost of submitting x-rays for evaluation to
these organizations is nominal in the overall scheme of things, for example,
OFA charges $35 for the evaluation of hip x-rays.
There are only three possible explanations for lack of certification;
(1) x-rays were never taken/submitted,
(2) x-rays were taken and they were submitted, but the dog failed to certify or
(3) x-rays were taken and they looked so bad they weren't even sent in.
Let's look at Cardiac certification.
Here's a certificate:
Here's how to read the OFA certificate:
German Shepherd, Cardiac # 956, 32 months old, female, P = general practitioner
(could also be "C" for board-certified cardiologist or "S" for specialist),
verified permanent ID (and of course the microchip # listed on the certificate)
Please note that during the covid pandemic the OFA was (only) emailing certificates and although
they look slightly different the information is the same.
Now let's consider DM testing.
Degenerative Myelopathy affects numerous breeds and is a horrific disease.
DM is a disease of the spinal cord that usually strikes dogs around 8 years old but
can occur earlier. Symptoms involve loss of coordination in the hind limbs with eventual
complete loss of use. Eventually, there is also loss of bowel and bladder control.
The test available for DM, Degenerative Myelopathy, is a DNA test that can be taken
from either a blood sample or cheek swab.
DM is genetic.
DM is genetic.
DM is genetic.
(That's not a typo.)
Many other spine/disc diseases/injuries including tumors can mimic DM and the only
test to prove or disprove DM is a necropsy. This is important to understand:
the only test to verify that a dog had or did not have DM is a necropsy.
If one suspects that a dog is suffering from DM, the first step would be to request a
cheek swab be sent to a lab to either rule in or rule out DM as the possible problem.
It's an inexpensive test, $20-$60. Most labs can perform the test,
although at the current time only one lab's results are listed on the OFA's website.
The test results will show that a dog is n/n Clear, n/DM Carrier or
DM/DM At Risk Some labs will use the word "affected", meaning the gene copy is affected by the mutation and not necessarily that the dog is affected.
How does this apply to breeding?
DM is a simple recessive and a puppy will receive one gene from each parent.
But why is this important?
If a carrier is bred to a carrier, each puppy has a 25% chance of being at risk.
If a carrier is bred to an "at risk", each puppy has a 50% chance of being at risk.
If an "at risk" is bred to an "at risk", 100% of the puppies will be at risk.
If one parent is "n/n clear", there should be no "at risk" puppies in a litter since each
puppy can only receive a "n" gene from the n/n Clear parent.
(I say "should" because this is a relatively new test,
and genes can and do occasionally mutate.)
Here's what I have seen on websites and in puppy ads:
"DM tested", "Has been DNA-Cleared of degenerative myelopathy", "DM Normal"
In the first case you should be thinking "and what were the results?",
in the second, technically the dog could be a clear or a carrier and still not be at
risk for developing DM, therefore "cleared" and
in the third case, "normal" is not a test result.
If avoiding DM is important to you, there's an easy solution...ask for a copy of the
results for a dog/bitch that was tested and find a litter where
at least one parent has tested n/n Clear.
Having said that, there are breeders who do not test and who
aren't convinced the test is accurate.
My policy for Pine Hill is that each litter will have one parent that tests n/n Clear.
Here is a sample of a DM test with the possible result codes listed below but realize that different
labs use slightly different forms:
DM Result Codes:
n/n Clear: Dog is negative for the Degenerative Myelopathy mutation.
DM/DM At Risk: Dog is likely to be affected by Degenerative Myelopathy, and will
always pass on a copy of the mutation to any offspring.
n/DM Carrier: Dog carries one copy of the mutation associated with Degenerative
Myelopathy, and could pass on the mutation to any offspring.
You can find more information on all of the tests listed above on www.offa.org
and you can find a video of an educational program on DM given in 2012 at the
GSDCA National presented by
Dr. J. Coates located on the parent club website, gsdca.org.
Is your head spinning?
There's no perfect dog and even when health tests are
completed and results are favorable, things can and do go wrong.
BUT, (and this is a big one!), by testing and through careful selection a breeder
can improve the odds of producing a healthy puppy. If you were told testing was done,
verify by insisting on hard copies of the tests!
Pay particular attention to how the brood bitch is cared for and how a litter will be raised.
It is thought by many that certain health "issues" including orthopedic abnormalities and
immune deficiencies that arise in mid to later life in a dog can be traced to practices
breeders employ. Don't ever hesitate to ask "please tell me what drugs, prescribed or not
prescribed, flea and tick/heartworm medications mom may have been exposed to
immediately before breeding, and during pregnancy and lactation." And then, "please
elaborate on your philosophy on caring for your indoor and outdoor areas as it relates to
potentially toxic indoor/cleaning or outdoor/lawn and garden chemicals."
A "replacement" guarantee is of little or no use once you've fallen in love with your
new family member and/or spent several thousands of dollars with orthopedic vets!
Will I see both parents?
Probably not! When looking to match breeding partners, it would be unusual to
find the very best stud dog for a particular bitch living at the same location.
In fact, it's not unusual today for breeders to take advantage of chilled or frozen semen
when considering a dream pairing.
Dad may be in a distant location or may have died decades ago
If you find Mom, Dad, Uncle Joe, and Aunt Sue all at the same location, there's a
pretty good chance you've found a backyard breeder (BYB) or puppy mill.
If a bitch is worth breeding at all, it's worth finding the best possible mate for her
taking into consideration health, longevity, temperament, and structure.
Serious breeders pour over pedigrees, usually for months if not years before a
particular breeding. Progeny from dogs within various pedigrees under consideration
is painstakingly scrutinized for health and structure.
You certainly don't want to choose a particular dog to breed to a bitch just because
he happens to be handy and willing!
Generations of healthy, good tempered dogs don't happen by "accident".
Is the litter registered with the AKC?
You would like to think so, but don't assume! The AKC is particular;
particular about the way dogs are kept and particular about the accuracy of their
pedigrees. Breeders who register their litters with the AKC are subject to
unannounced inspections and their dogs are subject to DNA testing during an inspection.
None of this is a hardship for a breeder that takes reasonably good care of their dogs
in a clean, safe environment and maintains accurate breeding records. Those who
don't and either choose not to register their dogs with the AKC and be subject to
inspection or have been prohibited by the AKC from using their registry due to a
failed inspection frequently use similar sounding, bogus registries.
A puppy from such a breeding cannot ever receive full registration with the AKC,
and if they are bred, their offspring cannot ever be registered with the AKC and
many of the AKC's events will be closed to them.
Buyer beware and ask questions!
When can I see my puppy?
This is a tough one. It is often advised that a puppy buyer goes to the breeder's home
and meets at least the mother of their puppy-to-be. That makes good sense EXCEPT
it puts the bitch and unborn or newborn puppies at risk for diseases that a visitor may
bring with them, either from another kennel they may have visited, a dog park, or from
dogs/cats of their own. Many "bugs" that can pose a risk are airborne (kennel-cough).
An adult dog can be asymptomatic, but an unborn puppy is at risk for birth defects and
a pregnant bitch is at risk for resorbing or aborting her litter.
New puppies receive maternal immunity from colostrum in the first 24 to 48 hours
of life. There's no good way to predict how long that immunity will protect a
newborn to weeks old puppy.
For these reasons, at Pine Hill, once a bitch is bred I have no visitors until after the
puppies are six+ weeks old, have had their vet check and have started their
immunizations. Please visit the visitors' policy page for more detail.
When can I take my puppy home?
In most states 8 weeks is the earliest a puppy can leave by law and even if it isn't the
law in a particular state, responsible GSD breeders will not let a puppy go before 8
weeks. The last week spent with mom and siblings is critical for development.
How much does a companion puppy cost?
What you would reasonably expect to influence the cost of puppies from a particular
litter would be the quality of the dog and the bitch involved, the quality of the dogs in
their pedigrees, the health checks performed, and naturally, the positive results of the
same and the cost of raising and caring for the puppies until they can go to their new
homes (pre-and post-natal vet care for the brood bitch, early vet care for the whelps,
worming, immunizations, health certifications, top quality food, and lots
of sanitary bedding material).
Given these considerations and the very real costs of the goods and services
mentioned, it would be unrealistic to expect to spend below
$3,000 - $4,500+ for a quality companion puppy that was carefully raised.
You certainly can look through the newspaper and surf the net and spend less, but
if you've read this far you now know enough to realize shortcuts
have been taken, and shortcuts have a way of turning out expensive in the end.
Expensive from not only a dollars and cents perspective but perhaps even more
importantly, from an emotional standpoint as well.
Conversely spending more does not guarantee shortcuts weren't taken or that a dog is even a
purebred. "Designer dogs" with no predictive temperament and rarely any health testing often
cost a good deal more.
Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions!
Get copies of health checks that have been performed on the parents.
If a quality bred and raised companion puppy is out of reach at this time, rather than
cut costs by considering a litter without health checks and/or raised in less than ideal
conditions from a backyard breeder or puppy mill, rather than buy from a pet shop,
please consider the Parent Club's list of rescue resources and/or consider adopting a
dog from a shelter.
call Kathy Salvucci, 610-796-1718
or e-mail Ksalvucci@aol.com