How to Select a German Shepherd

Avoid breeders who advertise dogs as "extra big" or "extra small"; such extremes generally indicate unhealthy dogs.
German Shepherd image by Terraina Lambert from

The German shepherd is the "world's leading police, guard and military dog," according to the American Kennel Club, but the breed can also be a loyal and loving family pet, show dog and herder. Originating in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 1899, the German shepherd is often considered the king of dogs by its fanciers and is consistently one of the most popular breeds registered with the AKC. Selecting the right German shepherd puppy is important if you want a happy and healthy dog and depends a great deal on your preparations and ability to recognize a trustworthy breeder.

Step 1

Research the breed. Be certain you understand the German shepherd dog's physical characteristics and temperament, exercise and training needs, and any health issues that may be a problem in the breed. Once you've gathered all the information, assess whether the breed will be a good match for you, your home and lifestyle.

Step 2

Study what to look for in a trustworthy breeder before you make an appointment with any. Contact her and determine exactly what she provides with the purchase of one of her puppies. A responsible breeder will typically give you a signed pedigree, a current health record that includes vaccination and de-worming dates, a sales contract, an American Kennel Club application or registration papers, and a copy of certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for both parents if possible. This certification is frequently referred to as an OFA certification and indicates the dog has been tested for hip dysplasia, a common problem in the breed. A good breeder will usually supply you with a feeding schedule for your new puppy too, along with a list of suggested foods. You should also question the breeder about her qualifications. She should be an expert on German shepherds, including their genetic defects, and be involved in some form of dog sport -- conformation, obedience, agility, herding or tracking.

Step 3

Meet the breeder and talk with her about what you're looking for -- a show dog, a companion animal or a competitive performance dog -- before observing the puppies. She should not only be willing to answer any questions or concerns you may have about your puppy now, but also at any time during the dog's life. Be prepared to answer questions from the breeder as well. A responsible breeder will be concerned about where one of her puppies is going and how it will be cared for, often interviewing you as stringently as you interview her. She'll likely ask about your lifestyle, family, home and yard, as well as your training and activity plans. She might also want to know about any previous pets you've owned and may ask to see vet records.

Step 4

Observe the litter. Watch how the puppies interact with each other to get an idea of each one's character, noting which ones are assertive, submissive, boisterous, calm, shy or friendly. You should already know about the size and weight differences between a male and female adult German shepherd dog and have an idea of which would work best for you, though you may want to discuss this further with the breeder.

Step 5

Examine the puppies' coats, which ought to be thick and shiny, not dull, thin or patchy. Also look at the puppies' eyes, ears, noses and anuses, making sure they are clean and free of excess mucus or discharge. The puppies should not have a pungent or unpleasant odor.

Step 6

Select a puppy that appears even-tempered and best suited, in both structure and temperament, to your intentions, whether competition or companion. German shepherds are renowned for their fearless, inquisitive, outgoing, self-confident natures, so avoid a shy, introverted puppy. Also steer clear of those that display any aggression or that bark incessantly, as well as any that seem to recoil from human contact. A good breeder will be able to advise you on your choice, but look for a curious, playful and friendly puppy.


  • Remember to use your best judgment when picking a puppy, and avoid purchasing puppies from a breeder who has few credentials or seems evasive or dishonest in any way.

  • If the breeder will not let you see the puppies or the puppies look sick, do not deal with the breeder.

  • Be wary of breeders with ads that state both parents are on site. Many breeders do not own both parents, though it does occur occasionally. In such situations, the breeder should be able to offer a valid explanation -- for example, both parents are strong competition winners -- as to why she chose to breed two of her own dogs.

  • Avoid breeders who use AKC registration or papers as a selling point. AKC registration is standard documentation and should not be presented as something unique that warrants a higher price.

  • A dog advertised as "rare" could indicate breed or health defects. Also avoid ads that include statements such as "Must go now!"


  • An overly shy puppy is often difficult to train and work with. Such puppies may grow up to snap at their owners or others when frightened and should certainly never be bred. Shyness, nervousness or aggression are not desirable traits to preserve in the breed.

  • Never purchase a puppy that has not been seen by a veterinarian and received the correct vaccinations.

  • Young puppies learn a great deal from their mothers and siblings, so never purchase a puppy that is younger than 8 weeks old.

  • If you intend for your puppy to be a family pet and not involve it in competitions, a quality breeder will require -- or at least strongly encourage you -- to spay or neuter your puppy.



About the Author

Kent Page McGroarty has worked as a writer since 2006, contributing numerous articles to various websites. She is a frequent contributor to the health and fitness sections of the online magazine EDGE Publications and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Saint Joseph's University.

Photo Credits

  • German Shepherd image by Terraina Lambert from