Companion to the German Shepherd Dog Email List (GSD-L)

FAQ's About Selecting A Working Dog Puppy

This FAQ is designed to help you select a promising pup for working in Schutzhund, and can be adapted to many other levels of dog sports. Selecting a puppy with these thoughts in mind does NOT mean that your pup will be the next World Champion, nor even get to a SchH1 level. Much depends on you, your training, genetics, your club, decoys, etc... not to mention health. It is meant to be a guideline only, and hopefully will assist you in selecting the best possible pup for you and the sport. If you have any suggestions or constructive criticism, please e-mail me (Dori Painter) at Any ideas utilized in the amendment of this FAQ will be credited appropriately.

Q: Where do I look for a schutzhund puppy?

A: First you need to decide what your goal is in training. If this is a pup for competition, and you have no desires to win the Sieger Show with it, then I would suggest looking to the working lines for your best chances of success. If your goal is to achieve SchH titles, AND enter conformation competition, then your breeder selection process would need to be somewhat different. A conformation line pup may do well in sport competition, and a working line pup may do well in the show ring, but the chances of having either do extremely well there are slim. It would be better to select a pup from lines that are known to do well in the arena you choose to devote most of your time.

Q: How do I select a puppy once I have decided on the lines I want?

A: First, be sure the parents both have health clearances. This includes hips and elbows certified clear of dysplasia. The latest rates from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), shows hip dysplasia in German Shepherds to be 20.8% among the films submitted to OFA. This is a drop from the previous 21.9%, but obviously it is still a problem in GSDs. The current rate for elbow dysplasia (3 types) is 18.2% in females, 23.9% in males. Hip and elbow problems CANNOT be ruled out merely because the dog moves well!!! The only definitive method of diagnosis is through X-raying. In addition to hip & elbow certification, other inherited problems should be cleared.

Once the parents are certified clear of disease and you are satisfied with the contract from the breeder, then you can look at the puppies once born. For a first time handler, try to select lines that are guidable. This means a dog that is willing and eager to learn and work, and learns relatively quickly. Determine what your temperament is: hard, or soft, or in between. If you are heavy-handed, select a puppy that can take harder corrections, but is not a bone-head about life. If you are soft hearted, select a puppy who takes a light correction. Do not take a puppy who crumbles under a slightly loud voice or under a mild correction from Mama. This pup would probably be best in a pet home. Look for a pup who makes eye contact easily. Look for the medium pup in the litter... the guy (or gal) who comes to play, then goes off to explore, then comes back again. The lover is likely to be very dependent, and the independent one is likely to remain independent and an unwilling partner.

The more dominant pup in the litter is more likely to try to dominate you through its life. The one who knows his place in the pack, but is not at the bottom of the pack order, is a good selection. He may test out his position, but he will give up Alpha position to you if you maintain your position.

Play drive is important. A pup should show good instincts to chase a moving object. This will be developed into prey drive. Without prey drive, good protection work is difficult. Prey is used to channel the stress from the defense work. Without prey drive, it is very difficult to successfully relieve that stress to an acceptable level. The dog will always be in conflict and will not realize success. Play drive is used to relieve the stress of obedience work, to increase motivation and drive.

Retrieve drive is important also. Look for the pup that will run to get a tossed object (keeping in mind their limited sight abilities and attention spans) and either bring it back to you immediately, or will bring it back when enticed with another similar object.

Strong nerves are vital. It is important that the pup not frighten easily. Pups will startle when encountering something new & strange, but they should recover quickly and move forward to check it out closer. A good nerved pup will either playfully attack the object, or check it out & decide it is nothing to be concerned with and ignore it. Look at the temperament of the parents. It is possible that strong nerved parents will produce schitzo pups, but it is far rarer that poor nerved parents will produce a strong nerved pup. Observe the mother in particular. The first 6-8 weeks of the pup’s life are spent with the mother. Everything it learns in terms of dealing with the world, it learns from its mother. If she spooks easily, the pups will learn to startle easily. If she runs to avoid a situation, the pups learn to run away. Their basic responses to life are learned from their mother. Even if the pups inherited good temperament genes, early life with a schizo mother will undo most if not all of that through learned behavior.

When testing a puppy, observe how it reacts when taken away from its littermates and into a strange portion of the yard. It should not be afraid to leave its pack. It should follow you, explore its new surroundings, and not be easily frightened by new surfaces and textures.

Q: Now that I have my perfect puppy, what do I do?

A: Now comes the tough part... guiding your puppy through life and the sport. Before bringing your puppy home, you should have found a good sport club to join. You should have all the necessary toys and trinkets to make his and your life pleasant. Socialization is utmost. Expose your pup to the world... the whole world. It must learn to explore new sights and sounds. Keep in mind however, that our modern world has brought with it many communicable diseases. Keep the pup up to date on all vaccines. Find places & things to stimulate him while exposing him to the minimum of contagions. A tough task. Many schutzhund clubs are fairly safe, particularly on private grounds. Check with the local breeders and competitors about bringing your pup out to the club. Parks are off-limits until all shots are completed. Airports and piers may be a possibility. Scout these areas out for dog population before bringing your pup there.

Allow your pup to visit people it meets, but do not allow people to fawn over or play with your puppy. A quick pet is more than enough. He needs to learn that the world & people in it are nice, but he doesn’t need to become a social butterfly.

Enlist the assistance of your local Schutzhund (or sport) club to learn to develop drives for working. Your club may or may not start tracking young pups. Many obedience exercises can be molded at a young age through motivation. Keep in mind that this is a puppy, not a 2 year old dog ready for SchH1. Instill an eagerness to learn, not performance through fear or drudgery. Best of all, have fun!

This article is Copyright (c) 1996 by Dori Painter. It may be freely distributed in its entirety
provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for profit nor
incorporated in commercial documents without the author's written permission.
This article is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty.

Back to Breed Info

Site Links

Graphics and Site Contents Copyright Our GSD Web Site 1999 - 2007
No copies or reprints of any content within this site without expressed, written permission