Due to the wide range of German shepherds that are offered for sale, it is impor- tant to know your options. It is also wise to know what qualities are desirable in the breed to find quality, well-bred dogs. Even within the world of reputable breeders, there are different ideals for the perfect shepherd. Some breeders focus on conformation, movement, and a proper coat. Some focus primarily on conformation and a specific coat color, such as black or white. (A white dog can be registered, but white is a disqualifying fault in AKC confor- mation shows; however, whites may be shown in UKC conformation shows.) Other breeders are more interested in the dog’s working abilities (such as drives, innate abilities, and temperament) and “functional” conformation—things like head shape and angulation are not as important as the dog’s soundness, athleti- cism, and agility. Still other breeders strive to have it all: beautiful, functional con- formation in a dog that has the proper drive to be a working dog and a treasured companion.
Work, Performance, and Show
The German shepherd is bred for several different reasons: for work (as a police or military K-9); as a “working” sport dog (i.e., VPG) or to compete in all-breed formance events (herding, obedience, agility, and/or other performance events); and for show, where conformation reigns supreme. There can be such distinct dif- ferences between working, sport, performance, and conformation dogs that the breeder you choose may directly affect your ability to raise the dog.
“Driven,” “relentless,” and “fearless” are just a few of the adjectives that could be used to describe the German shepherds working as K-9s. These shepherds are bred for their intelligence, nerves, endurance, courage, and boldness. The working dog requires constant interaction with the handler—even more so than the “normal” shepherd. The dog requires regular mental stimulation as well. If you don’t show the dog that you are the leader in the relationship, she will recog- nize your timidity and will take over for you. She will tell you where you can and can’t sit or what you can and can’t touch by pushing, growling, snarling, or biting. A dog from working lines is a gorgeous, highly trainable dog; however, the work- ing dog is not a good choice for anyone who is strictly looking for a family pet. There’s simply too much horsepower here for the novice owner—and perhaps even for some experienced owners.
Performance Dogs and Working Sport Dogs
German shepherds that are bred for VPG, or all-breed performance events, such as herding, agility, obedience, tracking, and other dog sports, are very similar to working dogs. Many times a shepherd from performance VPG or Schutzhund lines (particularly one bred from titled Schutzhund competitors) can become a working dog if he has the correct mixture of drives. These dogs tend to be very confident and intense. They have a high play drive and need lots of interaction with their han- dlers. Performance dogs are bred to be sound and intelligent and to have good temper- aments. Depending on the type of performance events the breeder breeds for and participates in, the performance dog has the potential to be either very calm and attentive or too challenging for a novice owner. At the very least, a breeder whose greatest interests lie in working dog sport or all-breed performance events is a “hands-on” breeder—one who knows the tem- peraments and abilities of his dogs very, very well. This breeder (as is true of the working breeders, too) will be very good at placing the right puppy with the right owner. He will know not to recommend a puppy or dog that will be too much for a novice to handle.