Once you know that you want a dog, and which dog breed you would prefer, the key question is How to choose a dog that is right for you. Only thereafter you should consider Where to Get a Dog, and if you want a GSD, who are the Best German Shepherd Breeders, and - most often overlooked - Questions to Ask a Breeder including what to observe when with the breeder.
So let's address here the key question: How to choose a dog that's right for you?
The following topics should get your attention:
- Am I the right person and have the right environment for this dog breed?
Let's briefly look at all of these areas individually. More insight is in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
Am I the right person and have the right environment for this dog breed?
Regardless where you get your dog and whether you adopt or buy the dog (or if you get the dog as a gift), you should first ask yourself for an honest answer: "Am I the right person and have the right environment for this dog breed?"
Because you may have the best intentions, yet this doesn't necessarily mean that you will continually have sufficient time and interest to look after your dog, to feed the dog, to socialize the dog, to train the dog, and most importantly, to treat the dog with respect and to give your dog the love the dog needs in order to develop well.
A dog, puppy or adult, is not a plush toy that can be disposed of in the bin when you outgrow it for some reason or if your circumstances change dramatically. You need to be sure that you will regularly have sufficient time and interest to be there for the dog. A bit similar to your commitment to be there for your child for 17 years minimum when you decide to make a baby.
For the German Shepherd Dog breed this requirement means:
- daily socializing with other dogs and other people
- daily exercise of two hours minimum, in addition to plain dog walks
- daily challenging the mind (games more than training)
- healthy REAL food, no toxic waste products from rendering plants
- free run of the premises once fully house-trained
- joining you when you go traveling
Hard facts aside, a big part of How to choose a dog is the attraction you feel to the dog, and the dog apparently feels to you.
When you first meet the dog, how do you feel? And how seems the dog to feel? Is the dog attentive to you, does (s)he want to play, is (s)he primarily dominant or submissive? Do you like that particular dog, and if so why? Is it because of how the dog is acting/behaving, or merely because of the dog's or puppy's looks? The looks will change more than the behavioral characteristics if you have a puppy in front of you. If you don't feel a bonding with the dog, don't get the dog.
For the majority of dog owners, the dog's health should be the most important selection criterion, because a sick dog may wreck your bank account as much as your nerves. And you certainly want to avoid the genetic disorders, defects, and diseases that commonly occur in German Shepherds!
So, verify that your chosen dog and the parents are healthy. Ask to see their documents and vet book and invoices (you can, except for a rescue dog). If it's a smaller breeder or a dog rescue center, naturally you may not be able to see the documents of your chosen dog's parents. But as a minimum, you should request to see the most recent full health screening report for your chosen dog.
With modern technology it couldn't get any easier to fake any documents. Therefore, if you have the slightest doubt that the presented documents are authentic, then you should require to take the dog to the local vet before you sign a contract or hand over a lot of money! A reputable dog breeder as well as reputable dog rescue centers will have no problem with this, because it is in their own best interest to give the dog away to the right person who will keep and nurture the dog for life.
Basic DIY checks:
- Look the dog in the eyes - they should be clear and responsive
- Look in the ears - there should be no infection, no swelling, no redness
- Look in the mouth - do teeth, gums, and tongue look healthy?
- Look at the skin and coat - can you see patches of hair loss, swelling, redness, scabs, anything atypical?
- Watch the gait - does the dog limp or seem to have pain?
- Look at the paws and pads - are they malformed, the toenails too long, or the pads broken?
Now compare what you see with what they say! For example:
- They might be saying: "Oh, these dogs get lots of outdoor exercise, they're freely running around the premises all day"
- But you see very long toenails.
Then you know immediately that they are lying: A dog that runs around a lot outdoors, naturally has short toenails (run-down). If someone lies about this, what else will (s)he be lying about?!?
- They might be saying: "These dogs get nice natural foods, basically leftovers from what I cook for the family"
- But you see brittle hair and hot spots.
Then again you know immediately that they are lying: A dog that gets natural homemade food, naturally has shiny healthy coat and skin. If someone lies about this, what else will (s)he be lying about?!?
You're getting the message? Good.
So, observe a lot, and compare what you see with what they say.
Watch how your chosen dog interacts with people and with the siblings or other dogs if there are any. Then, interact with the dog yourself. Both these situations are to be treated separate, and together they will give you substantial clues as to whether this particular dog is right for you!
When you regularly study the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL, you will know within a few months a LOT how healthy German Shepherds look and behave. Reflect on this when you are at a breeder on your shortlist or at a dog rescue center. Does your chosen dog look and behave as you have learned the dog would?
Also, look your chosen dog in the eyes, pat the dog tenderly on the chest, indicate the dog to lie down and see if the dog accepts to be submissive for a moment but then comes back up naturally?
If you can, watch the interaction of your chosen dog with parents and siblings and other dogs. This will give you a LOT of clues as to the dog's personality.
However, do NOT worry if the dog barks a lot at the moment. This is a dog's natural reaction to the stress, including excitement, experienced because of your visit, and this can rather easily be corrected with appropriate training later in case the dog "barks too much" for your liking.
Do NOT limit yourself to getting a young puppy only. Let me be frank: For all but a handful of new dog owners, a young untrained German Shepherd puppy is too much to bear! German Shepherd puppies must be one of the most difficult dog breeds: They require a LOT of attention, they need a LOT of direction, they nip ("bite") a LOT, and most problematic for new puppy owners: German Shepherd puppies pace through certain "attitudes" as they grow up, and some of these "attitudes" are... well, quite something to chew on for a new puppy owner! MANY give up on their puppy, but at an age where the pup is considered an adult dog by potential adopters.
Example for you to check your own resilience: If you know you would already get stressed when the puppy relieves indoors or chews on your possessions, then DON'T get a puppy! That would mean a LOT of stress for you (unless you immediately start the right training, but few, very few puppy owners do).
Every puppy, like every child, needs time to learn what you like and what you don't like. And in the beginning, it is our responsibility to safeguard our possessions such that we don't get stressed.
As for age, also note that a responsible breeder will not give you a puppy younger than 8 weeks of age! German Shepherd puppies in particular need 8 to 10 weeks within their litter to develop the litter skills that will make life in your family later so much easier. Until this age the puppy needs mum and litter mates more than you!
You need not worry that the puppy would not bond well with you when adopted later: There is never a reason to worry about bonding of a German Shepherd puppy. This breed is exceptionally Pack (owner) focused - it actually may be rather too much for you.
Consider this: Even an abandoned dog at a dog rescue center of say 8 years of age will fully bond with you (of course subject to you treating the dog reasonably well). And a German Shepherd, more than most other dog breeds, is very attentive and loyal to the owner (accepted Pack member, or accepted Pack leader). Naturally, if the owner changes frequently then this will lead to stress for the dog at first. Still, every dog will fully bond with the new owner within a few weeks if only treated reasonably well. And the right training will do the rest.
You will normally get an owner certificate that describes you as the new owner. You will normally get a vet certificate that describes the dog and summarizes the health status. For a purebred German Shepherd Dog you will normally also get a registration certificate.
In most countries in the world (not all), any dog aged 6 months or older must have a valid Rabies vaccination. Only in very few countries another vaccination is required. Do NOT let an ordinary average allopathic vet lure you into needless and harmful vaccinations that your dog doesn't need given your geography and living environment!
So, get informed first what risks are prevalent in your geography and given how you plan to keep your dog: A free roaming countryside dog faces very different risks to a leashed city dog! And note that vaccination boosters are never needed and are in fact harmful, unless you or the vet have ruined the dog's immune system with antibiotics, steroids, or other lab medicaments subsequent to the first vaccination - but in that case the booster won't help anyway!
Do yourself, your dog, and your bank account a favor and get the Dog Expert Interview Series with Reviews - even if you are only interested in the dog health topic in Interview 4, so helpful they are! Just ONE needless (or even harmful) vet visit saved saves you more money than this costs. And you reap the benefits not once but for life!
A Dog Rescue Center and the best German Shepherd breeders will give you all required documents without a problem. A young puppy may not yet be registered though, but a reputable breeder will help you with the registration process upon sale.
Backyard breeders, Puppy mill breeders, and Pet stores too may present all of these documents to you (including a registration certificate), however be wary if you don't know the seller because even the best-looking documents can be fake.
Only purebred breeders can register their dogs, and you can check if a dog is purebred if you review the registration files at the registration authority, usually the national Kennel Club: Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), American Kennel Club (AKC) or United Kennel Club (UKC) in the USA, and The Kennel Club in the UK.
Note that the registration certificate does not certify the health of the dog, only the purebred bloodline.
Finally, the contract. If you get a dog from a backyard breeder, you rarely will get a contract at all. So how do you want to prove ownership? Usually this isn't a problem though, and you become the registered owner through the first vet visit if you microchip the dog or if you get the Rabies vaccination (because in both cases this will be documented in a booklet under your name).
If you get a contract, the contract must describe the seller (breeder or rescue center), you as the buyer, and the dog via physical characteristics (often just says name, sex, and "GSD standard colors"). The contract may also mention any restrictions (for example non-breeding agreement, neutering, export, etc), and it should include a clause for returning the dog under certain circumstances.
Only hand over the purchase price in exchange for all documents including the contract. For the dog you may sometimes have to wait a few days or even weeks if handover is not yet appropriate. Reputable German Shepherd breeders will feel responsible for the well-being of their dogs.