Working German Shepherd Dogs
The German Shepherd has been my favorite dog my whole life - as a child, I was a Rin Tin Tin fan. Most of my adult life has been spent training, showing and studying horses. I have been successful in breeding athletic performance horses who are proving to be very competitive with only a few breedings entailing four generations.
I have been a student of pedigrees and bloodlines my whole life, developing an eye for patterns, 'nicks' and attributes in the pedigrees of successful horses; transferring this interest to German Shepherds was a natural progression as I grew more fascinated and involved in the sport of schutzhund.
As a horseman, the performance ability and potential of a psychologically, functionally correct animal is the goal of my breeding program. I think the whole process of understanding and breeding a the German Shepherd Dog must be looked at as a triangle - all three sides equally important and in balance. Thus, in breeding the German Shepherd Dog I seek to produce:
The ideal German Shepherd must have the desire to perform the tasks for which he was bred. At the same time, he must have the stability to interact with his owner and society while being physically able to do his job! Thus, breeding a good German Shepherd is a challenge in balancing these factors! Breeding is an art of combining dogs who have the same attributes - who complement each other, while adding compensatory attributes in an attempt to strengthen those features which are not as strong in one or the other partner. I believe in thoroughly understanding and testing my females, and find that schutzhund training is the still the most comprehensive of all venues to test the character and understand the German Shepherd Dog.
von Wolfstraum is a small kennel in Western Pennsylvania. "Kennel" is concept more than a physical description! German Shepherds are companion animals, and live in the home. I do not have a fancy kennel building with breeding stock who live in concrete runs full time. The dogs are family members, they live in the house, yet do have regular outside time; and they squabble over who rides "shotgun" in the car! Training is a daily event, and can consist of obedience in the kitchen, out to the horse farm for tracking, or a trip to a schutzhund club for more specialized work.
THE GERMAN SYSTEM
I believe in the "quality control" of the German SV system, while having to adapt to the geographical differences between the US and Germany. Many, many more schutzhund trials and Koerings are easily available in Germany than here, as training groups and clubs are common in every town. Here, many schutzhund enthusiasts have to drive 50, 100, 150 miles each way to a trainer or club. Trials are held once a year at the club, and koerings are often 500-700 miles from home! Unlike the AKC style of dog, you cannot register a purebred puppy in Germany without meeting strict standards and performance criteria. Those criteria are being followed at von Wolfstraum as closely as possible. No dogs without titles will be used in my breeding program - while schutzhund titles are preferred, I may someday re-incorporate a female who has been titled in AKC obedience and/or agility venues, or the new proposed working venue.
All dogs, male and female, do now, and will in the future, be required to have passing hips and elbows under the SV "a" stamp or OFA systems before being incorporated in my breeding program. While CHD is not entirely predictable or avoidable, I feel you can "load the dice" so to speak, by carefully studying the history of hip production in the dog's family. This is a gamble, 17% of all x-rays of GSDs submitted to OFA for evaluation have CHD - Excellent and HD can occur in the same litter, no one has yet been able to isolate the cause of CHD, and this may never happen. We breed as conscientiously as we can, feed and exercise our dogs and puppies judiciously, and require our puppy owners do the same. HD is pure and simple - the conformation of the HIP JOINT. Just like set of ears, angle of croup, it is a genetic factor that cannot be guaranteed or predicted. No breeder intentionally breeds a dog with poor hips - breeding is a gamble, no matter how hard a breeder tries, HD will happen. No one can "guarantee" a dog against CHD - all they can do is provide an alternative when it does occur. Carefully reseaching bloodlines, nicks, sucessful and unsucessful matches are all part of the process of choosing a male to sire the litter.
From "the German Shepherd Dog" by Max v Stephanvitz - founder of our breed
"Dog breeding must be done by a dog-lover and cannot be a profession. The work of breeding service dogs must be the work of dog-lovers, (such as) the Shepherd with sheep breeds as a dog lover, for they have the desire to breed for exemplary, efficient and useful dogs."
"The dog bred as a business is no longer bred for his service to the breed, but for his market value. The direction of the breed then is dictated by the desires of the market, usually Novices to the breed, who knows nor cares (nothing) of the weal and woes of the breed, knows nothing of the value or aptitude for work...he often only has eyes for Imposing, Remarkable and even a Ruffling Swashbuckler."
"The breeder on a small scale, one who works with 1 or 2 bitches, is the most suitable breeder for service dogs because he can care for his breeding animals & their progeny to such an extent that he can produce strong sound animals that can be trained."
" Breeding on a large scale and in a Kennel is the ruin of all sound shepherd dog breeding. It is not possible to keep shepherd dogs in 'herds'...his master must be able to be busy with him, especially as a young dog".