Learning how to breed German shepherd dogs requires knowledge, professionalism and ethics, and it therefore encompasses more than just letting a stud dog meet a female dog in heat and then waiting for the birth of puppies 63 days later. The German shepherd breed requires attentive care to prevent flaws and hereditary problems from being passed down from one generation to another. It also requires paying attention to temperament, something that too often is sadly neglected. The work of a breeder doesn't stop with the birth of the puppies. Puppies need to be socialized, provided with training and gentle handling so to build a foundation that will turn being priceless to the new owners.
How to Breed German Shepherd Dogs
Learning how to breed German shepherd dogs, takes much more than simple passion. Breeding is a science, and as such, it takes a certain level of devotion, knowledge and commitment. The ethical breeder must understand that the practice is time consuming, expensive, and sadly, at times even heartbreaking. Breeding is not a matter of making fast money nor it is of letting children experience the miracle of birth.
The ultimate goal of breeding German shepherd dogs is to improve a breed that the breeder is enamored of, and willing to devote as much time on learning as possible.
As a start, a good breeder should get as accustomed as possible to the German shepherd breed standard. The breed standard is as close as it can get to portraying the ideal specimen. More information can be obtained from the many parent breed clubs which offer great resources for all breeders. Meeting other German shepherd breeders with the same passion can always be insightful.
On top of studying the breed standard, a practical way for getting more accustomed to different "looks" of the breed is by attending German shepherd shows. By watching these dogs in action, you can learn what to look for when it comes to movement and conformation.
Reading can also be quite insightful to the aspiring breeder. Read about the history of the breed, go in depth on the health ailments that afflict the breed, read on how to effectively train and control this powerful breed and read as much as you can about breeding dogs and the importance of genetics. Your local library and bookstore can offer a plethora of helpful reading material. A good place to start is by reading "The German Shepherd Dog In Word And Picture" by Max V. Stephanitz a German dog breeder credited for having developed the German Shepherd Dog breed as it is currently known.
Last but not least, and this cannot be emphasized enough: find a mentor. He or she can provide invaluable information which no other person can provide. Not many people are aware of the fact that the American Kennel Club has a mentoring program for each parent club. Mentors can also be found by attending local dogs shows contacting the breed’s national club.
Choosing a German Shepherd Puppy
After attending various shows and understanding what judges are looking for, and after consulting with your mentor, it may be time to pick a puppy. By now, you should know if you want to breed a working dog or a show dog. A German shepherd working dog's pedigree generally has a lot of Schutzhund titled dogs within the pedigree; whereas, a German shepherd show dog will have more AKC champions in the pedigree.
It's worthy of pointing out that choosing a good puppy that is worthy of breeding is not an easy task. Pay close attention to what the what the parents look like, (from a health, conformation, working ability and temperament standpoint) inquire about their history and learn as much as you can about their pedigrees.
Ensure that the parents have been screened for hereditary disorders and have good hips and elbows. Consult with your mentor if you have doubts or have questions before making the purchase.
Once you have found the ideal puppy, make sure to spend enough time socializing and training. Make sure your puppy is comfortable being touched everywhere, having teeth examined and being groomed. Teach your puppy to obey to obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, come and heel. Teach your German shepherd puppy good bite inhibition. This will provide a great foundation for the future.
Investing time in getting a German shepherd puppy accustomed to a crate is important for potty training and general training purposes. This investment grants a great return on the investment as times of need such as when the puppy will need to be transported, boarded or kept quiet when recovering from an injury.
Feed your German shepherd puppy a quality premium dog food that is balanced and suitable for a large growing puppy and easily digestible. This is important as German shepherds are prone to digestive problems. German shepherd puppies should also be kept lean. There's nothing worse than feeding excess food which may lead to deleterious problems to the pup's immature tendons and ligaments.
Age to Breed a German Shepherd
Many novice dog breeders have high hopes for when their puppy goes into heat, but ethical breeders know that breeding a German shepherd on the first heat is a big mistake. A German shepherd can go into heat as early as 6 months and generally by 9 months, and at this age, the dog is still a puppy mentally and may not have the maturity to successfully raise a litter and she will not yet be fully developed to endure the stress of pregnancy and lactation
On top of this, the ethical breeder will need to have the dog's hips and elbows graded by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals which is usually done at 24 months or older. However, preliminary evaluations are available for dogs over 4 months and under 24 months. Other tests to conduct may include thyroid panel, eye check with CERF, Von Willebrand's Disease test and degenerative myelopathy test.
Unfortunately, in the case of any underlying genetic problem or possible hereditary health issue popping up, the dog should be be fixed and removed from the breeding pool.
The age to breed a German shepherd is therefore usually around 2 years of age, once all health clearances are done and the dog can be certified free of genetic diseases.
Did you know? The American Kennel Club will not register puppies (except with special documentation) from males who were less than 7 months old or females less than 8 months old at the time of breeding.
Breeding German Shepherds
At least one month prior to breeding, the female dog should have a thorough physical examination by the vet. She should be up-to-date on shots and should tested for parasites and dewormed. Before breeding German shepherds it's also important to run a brucellosis test.
It is also important that the chosen stud dog has had health screen done as well with good hip and elbow scores. Choosing the ideal stud is also not an easy task, in general pick one that, on top of being healthy, has a good temperament, excellent trainability and great conformation and whose qualities will strengthen your female dog's weaknesses while emphasizing her qualities. This can be time consuming research considering that it will require you to study pedigrees.
Knowing exactly when to breed is crucial. The average heat cycle in a dog is about 3 weeks long, but there are many individual variances. A heat cycle in general takes place on average every 6 to 7 months. As mentioned, a German shepherd female dog should not be bred at least until 2 years old.
During the first part of the heat cycle (proestrus), the female dog may urine mark more and there will be visible swelling and a pinkish discharge. Male dogs may start being interested, although females will be reluctant to allow them to mount. This part of the heat cycle usually lasts for around a week.
The second part of the heat cycle (estrus) lasts on average 7 days. The discharge at this point will typically change from pink to a straw color. This is the fertile stage where the female is more willing. She may flirt and play and then will lift the tail out of the way and will eventually allow the stud to mount. Allowing the dogs to mate every other day may be optimal during this stage until the female no longer stands for him.
Finally, the female is no longer interested in the male dog and the swelling goes down. This last part of the heat cycle (diestrus) is characterized by progesterone dominance, which is something that is unique to dogs. While in most animals, when pregnancy doesn't occur, their body recognizes lack of pregnancy and progesterone secretion stops, in dogs progesterone secretion remains stable for about 60 days regardless of whether she is pregnant or not. This unique trait makes it difficult to determine whether a dog is pregnant or having a false pregnancy.
Due to female dogs being less inhibited by new environments, they are typically taken to the chosen stud. Sometimes, breedings will require assistance to help the dogs attain a tie and then stay calm afterwards.
Now, not always it is possible to breed German shepherds naturally, or the stud may be far away. In such as case, artificial insemination performed at a vet's office may be a good way to try to at least guarantee a litter. Registration of litters obtained by artificial insemination require DNA certification.
Typically, a dog's pregnancy will last about 63 days. At some point, you will need to ensure she is eating an ideal diet for canine pregnancy. This is very important to ensure she is getting all the nutrients she can get to whelp and provide milk for her pups.
A good way to tell when the dog is about to give birth is to take the temperature by inserting a lubricated thermometer in the dog's bum. A dog’s normal temperature is between 101-102.5F degrees. As the birthing day comes near though the temperature will fall below 99 degrees. When this happens, it means that labor will likely happen in the next 24 hours. This temperature drop is due to a reduction of the dog's serum progesterone levels.
Caring for and Selling the Puppies
Shortly after whelping, if no complications set in, the puppies should be kept warm and cozy. Being too warm or too cold can prove to be deleterious to the puppies. The ideal temperature can be obtained with the use of an insulated heating lamp or heating pad controlled with a thermostat. The ideal temperature is 85 and 90 degrees for the first five days, followed by 80 degrees from the seventh to the tenth day, and then 75 degrees by the end of the fourth week.
Immediately after being whelped, the puppies need to nurse mother dog's first milk, which is called colostrum, or "mother's gold." This milk is rich in important antibodies which help protect newborn pups from the infectious diseases. Puppies should be weighed to ensure they are growing properly.
Mother dog may eat very little the first days after whelping. She is too busy focusing on her puppies. It is her job at this stage to clean up her pup's bums and stimulate them to defecate and urinate. She will also need to keep them warm and clean them. Mother dogs should be monitored for complications after birth such as mastitis, a retained puppy or placenta, and low calcium levels (eclampsia).
Around 4 weeks of age, puppies are ready to be weaned. This is the time, they can be introduced to alternative foods than milk. There are several puppy mush and gruel recipes to promote the weaning process. The process of weaning should be gradual, until the puppies can rely totally on kibble.
German shepherd puppies should be left with their mom and littermates at least until they are 8 weeks old. By this time, the breeder should have already interviewed prospective buyers to ensure the puppies will be going to good homes that understand a German shepherd's needs. Ethical German shepherd breeders do not engage in misleading advertising practices and do not sell their puppies to pet stores, puppy mills or wholesale dealers and don't surrender them to the Humane Society.
Prospective owners should be provided with the pups' health and vaccination records, documentation of the parent's hip and elbow screenings, printed feeding instructions, health guarantees, return policies, a copy of the sales contract and registration papers. An ethical breeder should remain in contact with the owners should they have any questions or concerns and should be willing to take the puppy back if need arises.
Costs of Breeding German Shepherds
German shepherd dog breeding done ethically and responsibly is not a money making business. By the time the puppies are born, a lot of expenses will have occurred.
Novice dog breeders may think along the lines of purchasing a German shepherd puppy for about $300 to $500 and then breeding her and then selling the resulting puppies for $500 a piece. If the dam has produced anywhere between 3 to 8 puppies this would yield an easy $1500 to $4000. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
First of all, a good German shepherd puppy with great bloodlines will not cost $300 to $500 as ads on newspapers often portray, but closer to $1,000 to $3000 or even more. After this investment, breeders will then need to factor in food costs (which can be considerable in a large breed like the German shepherd) and all the health clearances and genetic testing which can easily total anywhere between $300 and $1,000 a year.
Once the dog is in heat, there are other potential costs. Dog breeders may decide to have their female dog tested to verify the best time to breed (cytology smear), artificial insemination may be required and then there are likely stud fees to cover. Other costs involve verifying whether the dog is pregnant which can be done through vet's palpation, x rays or ultrasound. Equipment needed to ensure a healthy whelping include a whelping box, bedding, heating pad/heat lamp, thermostat, towels and other necessities.
While small breed dogs are more likely to need a c-section, sometimes German shepherds may require that too, so best to plan ahead a dog's c-section costs considering this possibility. There may also be complications prior to or during the birthing process which can turn costly. The ethical dog breeder will lose time away from work to monitor the birthing process and assist any puppies in need. Sometimes puppies can't nurse and this requires bottle-feeding them day and night every 3 hours.
If the puppies thrive and survive, the ethical dog breeder will then have to factor in the fees associated with registering the German shepherd puppies so that they have papers. This is only possible if both parents have been registered with the American Kennel Club. Next, comes weaning the pups and therefore, starting them on puppy mush and then regular puppy food and then getting the pups vaccinated and dewormed before going to their new homes.
A reputable breeder should also have a list of people interested in purchasing the puppies and will interview them, carefully screening the ideal owners.
As seen, breeding German shepherds is not a profitable business and there are chances you may barely break even or even incur in losses. Ethical dog breeders are aware of this, and breed out of passion and to better the breed rather than for money.
Important Resources/Further Readings: