By Terry Boaz of Ashwood Shepherds – Loma Rica, CA
Note from Kathy of Paws-A-Tive Choice: I found Terry when I was actively searching for a good German shepherd breeder. Her female, Suzi was the dog I wanted to get a pup from. Sadly, the breeding never took, but her daughter, Keiko had a litter of pups and I was blessed to adopt a puppy from that litter. My dog, Mojo is Suzi’s grandson and the brother of Kora that Terry owns and bred for two litters. Kora is happily retired at the age of 7 and is enjoying being a mom to her pups, Ziva and Sully.
I began breeding German shepherd dogs in the late ’80s. My goal was to produce a dog that could be used for working, but have the temperament of a great family dog. When I first started looking for a puppy, I didn’t have a clue as to what was involved in breeding dogs. I only knew the type of dog I wanted. I had always been a horse person. I raised and trained my horses, so I knew a lot about the equine lines, but nothing about dog pedigrees. Going from horse training to dog training and breeding was like night and day for me.
As I searched for a puppy, I was extremely disappointed in what puppies were available in my area. Even more so I was appalled at what “so called breeders” were breeding. These breeders explained the conformation faults away as though it was nothing to be concerned about. I looked at litter after litter for six months and found nothing I liked.
I had sold one of my horses and kept back the money to buy a puppy, so I was in no hurry to make a purchase. I wanted just the right puppy, but was becoming so discouraged. When I would tell breeders what I wanted to do with the puppy I purchased, they would suddenly change their demeanor and began to view me as “competition”. As long as I did not mention what I intended to do, they were more than willing to sell me a puppy. Soon I learned in my quest to become a breeder that other breeders were more than happy to sell me their mediocre puppies and I also learned the hard way that even a written guarantee is meaningless to these breeders. Now, not all breeders are bad, and I have made lasting friendships with those who truly love the breed and want to better it. Unfortunately, there are those breeders who only want to line their pocket books and the betterment of the breed is the furthest thing from their minds.
Our First Puppy
After months of searching, I bought a female puppy, Shayla, from working lines. A few months later, I acquired her mother and then spotted an ad in the paper for a female about one year old. When I went to look at this young female, I found her in deplorable conditions. She was way over priced and reluctantly, I bowed out and went home to think about it. I could not get her soulful brown eyes out of my head, so the next day I went back and bought her. She tested positive for heartworm and under went treatment. She was scared to death of people and hid in the back of her doghouse. It was evident that she had been abused. She was everything I wanted in conformation, the old style German shepherd of the fifties and sixties; black and tan in color with deep, rich brown eyes and later I was to discover one of the most intelligent dogs I have ever owned! She became our foundation dog. Her name was Suzi.
Sadly, Shayla, my first purchase, died of bloat at one year of age. Later her mother would give us Bear, who was our family companion for 12 ½ years before his passing in 2002.
I purchased dog after dog and went through approximately 22 dogs to finally find another equal to Suzi, who had finally come around and learned to trust people. I never bred any of those dogs I purchased. The dogs I bought from breeders had to be returned or put down because of the health issues ignored at the time of breeding. Sad commentary on our breed.
I finally found Questa, of German lines, a gorgeous dog out of a Schutzhund Champion male. Suzi’s lines were German/old style American lines. With Questa and Suzi I finally had my foundation females for our kennel. Through these two dogs we produced many SAR (Search and Rescue) and police dogs, some obedience, 4H, protection, and Schutzhund dogs. The majority of our dogs went to families. By my fifth litter it was not necessary for me to advertise because people liked what they saw. They would stop people with one of our dogs on the street and ask for the breeder’s name. Our kennel, Ashwood Shepherds, gained a good reputation.
One thing I promised I would always do is stand behind our guarantee. That is the key to being a good breeder. If you stand by your guarantee, then you believe in your dogs. If a breeder will not honor their guarantee, then they are not breeding for the right reasons! If you won’t guarantee for hips, congenital diseases, and soundness in temperament, then you should find some other hobby or profession, because breeding is all about producing soundness. You want to breed the best to the best. You want to study the pedigrees and learn every flaw there is behind your dogs, and once you learn that, then you can understand what should be bred and what should not. If the dog is outstanding and you know of a weakness in his/her pedigree, then you must research very thoroughly the pedigree of the dog you intend to breed this dog to. You want to overcome the weakness and make the line stronger, not promote it or bring it to the front.
I started out wanting to produce sound hips, but was not always successful. Finally I hit on a line that began to produce OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) Excellent dogs. This line is now in the third generation of OFA Excellents. I was determined to breed only dogs with sound hips and OFA certified. This was the key that led to the OFA Excellents. Suzi was OFA Good, but neither of her parents was certified because they were pets. Many people don’t see the importance of OFA certification on pets, but it is such a vital part of the database. We need to keep sound hips going in the German shepherd breed. At the time I bred Suzi, I had certified her hips, but had several generations of unknowns behind her. So, we began looking for dogs with soundness in hips and pedigree for her. I bred her to two different OFA Good males. Second breeding to a Schutzhund titled male, which resulted in a litter that produced three police dogs, three obedience dogs, and one 4H obedience winner.
From Suzi, we kept Kasey and again bred her to an OFA Good dog. That litter resulted in our second “Suzi”, which was OFA Excellent. The second Suzi produced OFA Excellent offspring in each of her litters. Two in one litter and that was the litter we kept a female out of, which was OFA Excellent and she later produced the female we now have who is also OFA Excellent. Three generations of OFA females from a dog I bought to “save” and in turn, she saved our kennel by producing our best lines.
Questa produced the sire of the female we now have, which is Jasko, a Placerville, CA police dog and also the sire of Mojo, Kathy Edstrom’s dog. Our Kora is Mojo’s littermate. (Jasko was from our “J” litter and in his use as a stud dog, has produced OFA Excellent offspring, too. Jasko is OFA Good).
Hips are an important part of German shepherds, but so are temperament and other health issues. Fortunately, through Suzi and Questa the dogs had soundness of health and temperament and it continues today. My breeding program is not a large one and I kept it that way on purpose. Breeding one litter at a time helped to concentrate on the quality of the puppy being produced and the importance of socialization. Breeding one litter at a time is a great advantage to the puppies and the people who adopt them. Socialization and handling from birth is essential to the puppy’s well being and his/her becoming a good canine citizen.
Training Pups Starts on Day One
We always handled our puppies from the day they were born and the mothers always expected us to sit in the whelping box with them and assist in the whelping process. Our puppies loved to be cuddled, loved to play and were always outgoing. Everyone that bought a puppy would call and compliment us on how their puppies just confidently strolled into their homes as though they had always been with the family. Every breeder’s goal should be a puppy sound in health, but also a well-adjusted puppy, a puppy with good, sound temperament and vital socialization.
Age of the puppy going home was so important too, because puppies need to remain with their siblings until they are at least 8 weeks of age. They need that time for their canine socialization. We also made sure the puppies played with our adult dogs and cats. They were exposed to children, loud noises, different objects, etc. Loud clapping and a cap gun meant time for food. That was their “dinner bell”, which provides a part of learning that is important to puppies that later become police dogs, protection dogs, SAR dogs, etc.
The puppies were never frightened, because each new sound or object was introduced slowly and as a part of “fun and games.” Taking the puppies to newplaces and meeting all kinds of people are also an important rolein socialization. We never took them anywhere that might be harmful and they never left our place without two puppy shots. We started their vaccinations at 5 1/2weeks and boosters every 2 weeks until they left to go to their new homes. We also wormed them on a schedule our veterinarian put in place for us.
Making sure that your kennel is disease free is very important to raising healthy puppies. People who came to see puppies before they could be immunized were asked to remove their shoes and dip the soles into a pan of disinfectant. We never had a case of parvo.
Puppy buyers would leave with not only a health record, but also the photos and pedigrees of all our dogs and lines that we have had through the years. They know their full family history. The advantage of good sound breeding is the knowledge of what is behind each and every line you have and every dog you have bred and who that dog has been bred too. Our buyers have always been amazed at the “pedigree booklet” filled with pedigrees and generations of photos that they take home with them. This is a practice I would recommend to anyone who is starting out breeding dogs. Know your history, your lines, the health and traits of each dog you breed, and pass that info along to each of your puppy buyers. Keep the history record going. The soundness can then be improved upon and kept going for many generations to come. Encourage the puppy buyers to do the same and in so doing, we can make sure the German shepherd breed stays sound and healthy so that we can enjoy this noble breed for many years to come!
I feel so many breeders have lost sight of the goal to breed a sound dog. They breed to show the dog, to work the dog, for certain physical traits, etc. and many tend to forget about soundness in temperament, hips, elbows, etc. Certification of hips and elbows is often neglected, leading to many crippled German shepherd puppies. There is enough heartache in breeding dogs without producing dogs that must be put down. Don’t breed a dog that is certified on his/her hips BUT has several dysplastic littermates, because you only increase your chances to perpetuate the dysplasia in the breed. Breed a sound dog that has sound littermates, sound parents, and sound grandparents. Then you know you have achieved your goal to better the German shepherd breed.
There is so much more that could be said, but I will end on this one piece of advice. If you become a breeder or are now a breeder, share your knowledge with others. Don’t lock it away and keep it hidden, because it will not help the German shepherd breed that we all love. Sharing helps promote soundness, produces the best puppies, and the best puppies produce the same. Those puppies are the future of the breed. Lets keep our noble and beautiful German Shepherd a breed to be proud of, a breed that is still one of the most versatile and intelligent of the dog world!