Your candidate’s Breed Survey should also be scrutinized to learn more about the potential purchase. When the survey was done and when it expires (in the case of a young bitch) are important details. A young female with her first survey under her belt will have to appear again before a Körmeister to be evaluated one more time before she receives the final survey “for life”. Here is where good character comes into play. I have seen several females that pass their first survey under “ideal conditions” in Germany, only to be sold to our country and literally flunk all other attempts, or be demoted to KKL2 due to a variety of problems such as gun shyness, lack of courage and fighting drive, or incorrect measurements.
The wording of the breed survey in modern times has lost some of the original intention by becoming a little bit “common place” and little too general. It is often difficult to picture the true nature of the dog by referring to the words on the Breed Survey, however, some things can be rescued and added to your body of information. The size of the female should give you an indication of what she really is like. When you find measurements right at 60 cm three times, you are probably dealing with a very large female who might even be a bit over the limit, but of enough quality to warrant “creative measurements”. Ideally you will be seeing measurements in the mid-range of 57 or 58 cm and about 28 kgs. Also, the polite wording of surveys often gloss over things that may not be quite ideal in your female. The words “good” and “very good” used in reference to things like angulation or movement are degrees of quality and should be read properly. A term like “good angulation in the front” means really that the angulation is somewhat lacking, otherwise it would read “very good angulation in the front.” The term “almost straight front” means the front is not straight. The term “the upper arm could be longer” means that it is not of ideal length, therefore is short. Terms like “normal proportions” or “normal position” means usually that the trait is unremarkable, perhaps not extraordinary, but also not faulty, and so on.
One of the terms I always look for in evaluating females has to do with their overall strength. Much of the type in German Shepherd Dogs depends on the appearance of physical strength, which in most Breed Surveys is discussed at the beginning of the critique. Two words usually sum up this concept, one word refers to size, the other to constitution. The categories of size are: medium, over medium, and large (notice the absence of the term “small”.) The categories of constitution or substance are: strong and medium strong (with some additional reference to the fatty tissue such as the words “dry” and “hard”, or to the overall look like “somewhat coarse” or “somewhat refined”). Ideally you want your brood bitches to be of medium to over medium size and strong, rather than medium strong (without being coarse). This denotes a female of proper size but with very good bone and muscle mass to be able to produce good males and yet strong females. The term medium strong usually denotes smaller or more refined bone structure, something that in my estimation has become a real problem in our breed today, especially with females that compete at conformation shows.
The last piece of advise in relation to paperwork has to do with the quality of joints. If you have a choice, hips should always be “normal”. Any degree below this means that the hip joint is less than desirable. “Almost normal” (Fast normal) may be acceptable for a brood bitch only when her other qualities are above average, especially in regards to temperament and working ability. The rating of “still acceptable” (Noch Zugelassen) should not be acceptable for a foundation bitch in my analysis, unless you can do a new evaluation prior to purchase after the age of two (especially if the female is already in the U.S.) In addition to hips, I would require elbow films on foundation dogs. The Germans may frown at the request, for they are still not convinced ( in the most part) that elbow dysplasia is indeed an endemic breed problem. I have seen too many problems out of the very best bloodlines to avoid the topic in this article.
“She will pay for herself” and other favorite myths
How many times have you heard the phrase “this bitch was bred to so and so…you will recover her purchase price with her first litter and then you have a ‘free’ female to keep on breeding.” With all due respect to dog brokers, it hardly ever works so smoothly. The world of breeding is riddled with the “unexpected.” “The bitch only got pregnant with three puppies.” “A few puppies died at birth.” “She had a good size litter, its just that half of them were longhair.” “Well, she ended up having a C section since the last puppy could not come out even with oxytocin.” Or worse yet, “The C section did not go so well and we lost the mother too.” Although this seems like a grim scenario, it happens, and more often than you would like to think. The idea of buying an imported female to have a little “business on the side” just does not work very well in most cases. Do not expect to make money on a pregnant import. Do not even expect to break even. In fact if you are thinking about making money breeding German Shepherd Dogs and you are approaching this endeavor as a business rather than an expensive hobby, then this article is not for you at all. The expectation should be to bring to your kennel a valuable source of new blood, a foundation female that can set the course of your breeding program in the direction of excellence, even when you may not see the results immediately, or even when, in the final analysis you end up in the red financially.
Another favorite myth of mine is “she was bred to VA so and so, therefore the litter will be of extraordinary quality.” I once had a litter out of a very prominent sire. I wanted to make sure I got the dog I wanted, so I kept three puppies. The litter seemed good at first but as they grew older every one of the dogs ended up being either given away as pets, or euthanized due to serious problems of different natures. As far as the sire is concerned, this outcome means little. I am still convinced that he earned the prestige he had, but the point is, that there is no magic in breeding, even when you improve your odds by using a well known producer.
In a conversation with a well known judge, breeder and Körmeister, I once asked the question: “At what point do you consider yourself successful as a breeder?” to which he responded “If you are producing one top puppy every other litter you are doing very, very well.” This estimate is coming from a German who is in the thick of things breeding constantly and seeing others do the same. This is coming from someone who has many of the top males and some top females available to create the product he seeks. Yet, the best estimate he could give me was of about 8% success rate, that is, “if you are doing very, very well.” The goal for a foundation bitch should simply be that in her lifetime, she will leave behind one or two daughters who are better than herself in most areas, and in the areas they are not, they at least should represent the breed’s average.
For example, suppose you started with a nice V rated female with very good temperament and good structure and type. Her drawbacks were a certain softness when it came to accepting corrections, a steep croup, and lack of pronounced pigmentation. You took special interest in the character issues and bred to males that had very good working ability and were a bit harder in nature. These males also had correct croups and very good pigment. Now you have a good female out of your brood bitch. She is very much like the mother but displays the temperament you like for working—accepting corrections well and bouncing back easily. She has better pigment than the mother but not quite ideal yet. She has a correctly positioned croup but is short. She falls well within the V category, and if she could have gone up against the mother during her prime at a show you would predict that the daughter would come up in front. If you can achieve these few improvements in one generation, then you are doing very well! Again, the key is that the daughter is better than the mother in some key areas that need improvement (especially temperament) but more importantly, in the areas that she is not, she needs to remain within the breed’s average. So if your new female was terribly cow-hocked, extremely roachy, or had missing teeth, then you are simply exchanging one set of problems for another, since these problems are the norm within the breed.
Breeding to top sires who are known producers can accelerate the process, however, do not expect miracles just because a dog has a VA title. Genes are genes and you will get poor quality out of a top male as well as you may get good quality out of a home bred male that has little international exposure. The final myth is one that is very prevalent in our country and comes from the notion that a person that produced a few top winners is a top breeder. It is very common to find lots of what I call “shooting starts” in every walk of life. The rock star that has a hit single that takes him to the top, only to disappear months later never to be remembered again. The boxing champion that beats the world title holder with a good punch only to loose the title on the first defense, and yes, the lucky breeder that hits the genetic jackpot with a single breeding (usually their first as beginner’s luck would have it) and goes on to believe that the whole thing is a “piece of cake” realizing years down the road that litters like that first one don’t happen every time. The true mark of a good breeder is not the winning product he or she can come up with while standing on the shoulders of foreign breeders, meaning while breeding their imported female to the latest fad male in Germany. Real breeders are those that after many generations of polishing and shaping a sound and powerful mother line, begin to consistently produce a good line of dogs that is genetically sound and of predictable quality. This depends on a foundation of several generations of carefully selected mothers going back to your foundation bitches. So the final myth is that one good bitch will establish you as a good breeder. One good bitch will mean the starting point of years of breeding with knowledge and purpose to finally establish your own line of maternal characteristics that will produce consistent results. It is fitting to remember that one of the most successful breeders in the world, Walter Martin, did not stand at the Sieger podium until he had been breeding for almost half a century.
Money vs. Knowledge
I often talk to people who are devastated because they went to a big show filled with hope for their young prospect only to find that a few breeders with great financial backing seemed to control the winning podium. Well there is not much you or I can do about that. If there are people who can afford to spend small fortunes on a single dog, it is quite possible that he or she will be of such quality that would be extremely hard to beat. If, in fact, they have money left over to purchase several more males and females with the same price tag, well it is quite possible that they will end up on the podium several times before the day is over. It happens in Japan, in Italy, in Argentina and everywhere you go. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. But even these type of competitors will have to have the knowledge to extract and retain the quality they started with (unless they just want to be known only as importers.) This, in some ways, is even more difficult than the task you and I have ahead of ourselves. Think about it, us “blue-collar breeders” will take a middle of the road foundation bitch that we bought for a few thousand dollars, and we embark on the exhilarating mission of creating excellence out of an above average dog. The “monetarily endowed” breeder (if that term even applies since many spend more money than they make) has the insurmountable task of mimicking what they already purchased, of retaining a quality which, at the highest levels, cannot be easily improved upon and is very elusive. This, to me is a very difficult position to be in, because the only place to go, if you cannot keep up with the quality breeding of those who excel in Germany, is nowhere but down. The pressure will always be on proving to the world that all that money and the fancy dogs actually were used wisely. I take my hat off to those that are equal to this task and are successful.
I don’t know about you, but I like my mission better, it is more exciting to me since I am forced to attempt similar results but through the use of knowledge, research, craftiness, and by making my quest a life-long project I can enjoy.
A wild goose chase
We all want to find the goose that lays the golden egg. It is our right and privilege to attempt to do so, and if you find her, more power to you. I hope that these ideas and pointers help you in your quest. That you know what questions to ask yourself, before you ask the seller, and that the entire process does not end up being a wild goose chase. Future topics will include concepts of genetics like inbreeding and line-breeding, puppy selection, sire selection, health matters, and aspects of temperament and conformation.