Good Breeder - Where Art Thou?
Good puppy prospects for Schutzhund do not just “happen”; they must be carefully bred for by conscientious breeders who understand the value and attributes of good working dogs, not just pet dogs or show dogs. This requires the breeder to invest a lot of work, effort, research, and experience into their breeding program. Thus, when looking for that future IPO prospect, you are not just finding a puppy, you are finding the right person to produce that puppy. So how do you find the right person?
Photo courtesy of: zu Treuen Handen.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD BREEDERS
While there are many things good breeders do that separate them from the hordes of so-called "breeders" out there, there are four main characteristics that can quickly identify who these breeders are. At the minimum, your potential breeder should meet these four characteristics:
Active with their dogs in working venues like IPO.
Appropriate health certifications on all breeding dogs.
Working titles or real work certifications (Police K9, SAR) on breeding dogs.
A producing breeding program that has yielded dogs successful in IPO and other venues.
Active in Working Venues
There are two revealing questions that you can ask a potential breeder: "What have you personally accomplished with your dogs?", and "Which local Schutzhund club do you belong to?" This weeds out those breeders who do not title their dogs, and those who simply import titled dogs and breed them without ever working the dogs or their progeny themselves. It reflects poorly on a breeder's program if the breeder produces puppies but never wants to keep or work anything they produce!
There are additional reasons to look for a breeder who at the minimum titles their dogs in IPO. The breeder who actively trains and works their dogs:
Voluntarily exposes their dogs and breeding program to public scrutiny at trials.
Builds a verifiable reputation in the working dog world.
Actively evaluates and tests their breeding dogs by subjecting their dogs to the rigors of training and trialing in IPO.
The breeder who is actively working their dogs will be better informed on who their dogs are and what they produce compared to those breeders who don't.
Sports containing a protection component are essential for testing the full complement of genetic traits valued in working breeds. Photo courtesy of: Landgraf Working Dogs
Appropriate Health Certifications
There are objective tests for a variety of genetic health conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), von Willebrand’s Disease, inherited cardiac problems, and more. These tests allow the breeder to make informed breeding decisions, and help them provide their puppies with the best genetic start in life. Research which tests are considered standard for your breed, and only select breeders who meet or exceed the minimum standards.
Please note that these tests require more than just a vet exam. Checking for dysplasia requires x-rays (like those in the photo at right) to be sent to a certifying body like the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the SV. DM and von Willebrand's both require a DNA test. Cardiac problems require an ECG or a Holter test. Appropriate documentation will then be issued from the evaluating organization. So the claim of "my vet said they're in good health" doesn't cut it. Good breeders have legitimate proof that their breeding dogs are free from testable genetic conditions, increasing the likelihood of producing puppies free of these inherited diseases.
Working Titles on Breeding Dogs
"Titles aren't everything" is a common refrain on Internet discussion boards. True, titles aren't everything. But they should be the minimum standard! Those who make this claim usually are the same ones breeding their dogs without titles while stating: "Of course they can do Schutzhund, and their puppies can too!" But only setting foot on the trial field and actually titling their dogs will prove this claim.
Why are titles important? IPO titles show that the dog:
Has the basic elements of proper working temperament in some degree.
Has been evaluated against an objective standard in a public setting by an objective third party.
Has been through the stress of training and trialing in a public setting outside its home, and has handled this stress successfully.
Has what it takes to be successfully trained and titled in IPO, increasing the chances that your puppy will too.
Selecting a breeder who uses titled working dogs increases the odds of getting a puppy that genetically possesses the traits needed for IPO. Photo courtesy of: Landgraf Working Dogs
A Producing Breeding Program
There's a common adage: "The proof is in the pudding." So it is with breeding working dogs. The proof is in the quality of dogs that the breeder has produced. A strong breeding program produces dogs that excel in IPO and in other working venues. The breeder should not just be a "one hit wonder" with one token rockstar. Dogs from their breeding program should be found trialing successfully and earning titles. Even if a breeder is not active in an established club at the moment, dogs from their kennel should be found working in IPO and other venues.
Yes, it is challenging for many working dog breeders to find working homes for their pups, and many of their puppies go to active pet homes. But there should be a number of progeny performing in some working venue, even if it's not all IPO. If a breeder breeds frequently but has very few successful working progeny to show for it, then consider going to a breeder with a stronger track record for producing good working dogs.
Future working dog. Photo courtesy of: zu Treuen Handen.
FINDING GOOD BREEDERS
Fortunately, finding a good breeder is not as difficult as it seems at first. Good breeders can be found through a combination of Schutzhund clubs, personal references from other handlers, trial results, and Internet searches.
When it comes to finding an IPO dog, personal recommendations from other handlers, trainers, or helpers is a good way to go, and can help you avoid the frustration of sorting through all the "breeders" out there. Talk with people who are working dogs of your chosen breed, and they may guide you to a reputable breeder. If you aren't already a member of a club, go to a Schutzhund trial or contact the closest club to ask about breeder recommendations. Schutzhund clubs are a wonderful place to interact with dogs and their handlers, sometimes even putting you in direct contact with breeders.
The Internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be horribly misleading when searching for a good breeder. What shows up first in a Google search is not the quality of the breeder, but the quality of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for a person’s website. The first page of search results often displays the "breeders" who invest in a good web designer and have optimized SEO content, not the best breeders who truly invest in your chosen breed. And message boards and online groups discussing bloodlines and breeders also abound, but you must aggressively filter out those “breeders” who advertise puppies from unproven parents with no health tests and no titles.
But the benefit of the Internet is that you can verify breeder reputations, trial results, and more. You can search the breeder's kennel name, and see what comes up. Good reviews, bad reviews, complaints on Ripoff Report, trial results from across the country, pedigrees listed in online databases (which may also have trial results listed), etc.
Be a savvy buyer, and take your time. Don't rush into getting a puppy. If you use the Internet to help you find a breeder, compare every breeder's website against the four characteristics listed earlier to sort out the bad ones. Ask for breeder recommendations from those already in IPO. The better informed you are as a buyer, the greater the likelihood that you will find a good breeder and get a healthy, well-bred puppy that will excel in Schutzhund.