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How to Buy a German Shepherd Puppy: A Step-by-Step Guide

Adding a new member to your family is a big decision that causes much excitement – and many questions. Buying a puppy isn’t as straightforward as simply walking to your local pet store and plucking the cutest pooch from the litter as there’s a lot that goes into buying a dog of any breed.

However, that’s a good thing: doing your homework will ensure you’re neither supporting unethical practices nor setting yourself up for future heartache.

When buying a German Shepherd puppy, you will want to make sure that you work with an ethical breeder, weed out any scammers, ask the right questions, come prepared to answer questions, and arrange your finances to accommodate this newest member of your family.

There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to buying a German Shepherd pup. Below, we outline the process step-by-step. 

About German Shepherds

It’s worth knowing a little background about this dog of relatively recent origins and exceptional characteristics before we dive right in. It will help you understand why thorough research is important before you buy – or maybe just inspire you!


The intelligent German Shepherd was developed around the end of the 19th century by a captain in the German cavalry named Max von Stephanitz. For 35 years, Max searched all over central and northern Germany for the right farm and herding dogs. The breed was his life’s work.

It didn’t take long for German Shepherds to become beloved in The United States, too. Throughout the early 1900s, they grew in popularity thanks to a German Shepherd “movie star” of the period called Rin Tin Tin

Unfortunately, anti-German sentiment around the time of the two world wars caused many people to turn away from the breed. But there were those in England who sidestepped politics by simply calling the dogs “Alsatians” instead.

Even today, you’ll find many British men and women who refer to German Shepherds as Alsatians.

These days, German Shepherds are perhaps best known for using their natural herding instincts to perform important work in K-9 units. 


German Shepherds perform so well as K-9 dogs because of their aptitude, courage, and endurance. 

These are dogs who are strong in both body and mind. That’s why they’re so valued in society: in addition to serving in the police force and military, many German Shepherds also help humans as guide dogs.

They’re quick learners and very energetic. They tend to be happy dogs who are at their best when performing a job. They need lots of exercise and an owner who has the patience and the time to train them well. 

If you are such a person, you’ll find yourself rewarded with boundless affection and unwavering loyalty. These dogs love people and those who care for them the most.

If you are considering buying a German Shepherd, it may be helpful for you to understand more about the role of German Shepherds as police dogs, guide dogs, and emotional support dogs. We have a few excellent articles for you on these topics listed below:

  1. Why Are German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?
  2. Are German Shepherds Good Service Dogs?
  3. Are German Shepherds Good Emotional Support Dogs?

Where to Buy a German Shepherd Puppy

There are several things you need to keep in mind when searching for your new German Shepherd puppy. 

Most importantly, you will want to buy from an ethical breeder.

An ethical breeder is someone who is knowledgeable about the breed, active in German Shepherd groups, organized with specific questions and answers and is not associated with a puppy mill, which mass produces puppies for profit with no regard for their health and well-being.

You will want to avoid at all costs an unethical person, organization, or place. An unethical seller’s primary motivation is money. They will say whatever they think you want to hear in order to convince you to buy from them, even if it is untrue or exaggerated.

It may be hard to turn away from a puppy if you have already started dealing with a seller whom you realize is unethical. That’s understandable.

But keep in mind that any purchase from an unethical seller only encourages that person. If they are making money, they’re more likely to continue their harmful practices.

If you can, it’s best to do your research before going anywhere to look at puppies.

Signs of an Ethical Breeder

German Shepherd puppy in grass

So, what exactly should you look for when you set out to vet a breeder? You will know you are dealing with an ethical breeder if:

  • They look after their puppies’ health: Before selling one of their puppies, they’ve made sure the pup has visited a licensed vet and has been dewormed and given shots.
  • They try to match your personality: Reputable breeders care that their puppies are placed in the best homes for them. They may test the temperaments of a new litter so that they can match the puppies’ personalities with the prospective buyers’.
  • They want you to spay or neuter: Ethical breeders are very careful when they choose two parents to breed a litter. In order to ensure the continued health of the breed, as well as of the puppy itself (some otherwise healthy dogs might have genetic traits that make breeding unwise or dangerous), they will ask that you agree to have the puppy neutered or spayed. 
  • They ask you to sign a contract: This contract may include a guarantee against health problems, as well as a clause that stipulates you need to notify the breeder if you find yourself unable to care for your dog any longer, among other things.
  • They are lifelong learners: They are knowledgeable about diseases and genetic problems affecting German Shepherds, such as elbow and hip dysplasia. They keep themselves up-to-date on the latest information and treatments. 

There are also several things an ethical breeder might give you. These may include:

  • Health documents: Many reputable breeders will have screened their puppies for elbow and hip trouble prior to selling. They should be able to provide you with a letter from a vet radiologist or a report from PennHIP, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), or the original German Shepherd dog club that’s based in Germany, the SV
  • Registration papers: Ethical breeders will have already registered with, or else will provide you with an application to register with, The American Kennel Club. 
  • Certification: It’s important to know where your puppy came from. That’s why some ethical breeders will have an OFA document certifying the dam (mother) and sire (father).
  • Eating schedule: How much food has the breeder been feeding their puppies? When do they feed the puppies, and what type of food do they use? A trustworthy breeder will be able to provide you with an eating schedule so that you can continue this important routine for your puppy uninterrupted. 

Signs of an Unethical Breeder

On the other hand, an unethical breeder may:

  • Be ignorant: They might know very little about the history of the German Shepherd breed. More importantly, they might be ignorant of ailments and genetic defects common to German Shepherds. They might deny that German Shepherds are prone to any afflictions at all, which is not true.
  • Be uninvolved: Is your breeder a member of any dog clubs or associations? Are they active in any canine sports? While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about this, a breeder who is not involved in any dog-related activities outside of breeding might have little actual interest in the animal. Anyone who does not love the dogs they breed or sell should be avoided.
  • Be ill-prepared: If the breeder is unable to provide you with any health documents, such as the PennHIP, OFA, and SV reports mentioned above, you might want to steer clear of them.
  • Be evasive: Will your breeder let you see the puppies? If they won’t, are they providing you with a specific explanation as to why? Some laws and issues related to homeowners’ insurance can complicate in-person viewings, so don’t be alarmed if you’re told you can’t visit the kennels. Just make sure the reason you’re given is justifiable.
  • Be disinterested in you: A reputable breeder will ask you lots of questions before agreeing to any sale (see below). They may also be expecting many questions from you. A breeder who isn’t concerned about your lifestyle, what you do for work, and how much time you’ll have to devote to the puppy isn’t worth buying from.

The best thing to do is to weed out such unconscientious people as soon as possible. Many ads provide helpful clues that point to a person’s disreputability. If you know what to look out for, you might save yourself time and headaches. Be wary of any ads that:

  • Cite American Kennel Club registration as a bonus: Reputable breeders will provide you with AKC papers or an application automatically. There is nothing special about a breeder who touts themself as having AKC-registered pups. That is only what they should have. Anyone who boasts of AKC registration may be trying to prey on ignorant buyers who are impressed by the mention of an official-sounding organization. 
  • Use superlatives: “Extra tiny! Extra large!” and other phrases that shout about how “extra” or “super” or bigger or smaller the breeder’s dogs may be, are red flags. If a dog is healthy, which is what any conscientious buyer like yourself cares about, there’s no need for the seller to boast of its size. Plus, if the dog truly is under or oversized, chances are it’s unhealthy. Best to stay away altogether.
  • Tell you that you can meet both of the parents: This one is a little tricky, but worth mentioning. It is unlikely that a breeder will have both the perfect sire and the perfect dam in their own kennels. It’s a good sign if they have one parent, but two parents who are readily viewable begs the question: Did the two dogs breed unsupervised? 

There might be an understandable explanation, however. If nothing else in the ad alarms you, it might be worth contacting the breeder and asking. But remember to go with your gut and don’t accept any vague or evasive explanations. If you receive them, move on.

How to Find an Ethical Breeder

Now you know the signs and what to avoid, but where do you begin to look for the right seller?

  • Start with whom you know: Reaching out to trusted members of your own network is one of the best places to begin. Talk to dog-owning members of your circle to learn how they found their pups and ask if they have any advice. Even if they themselves are not German Shepherd owners, they might have helpful tips or know someone who does.
  • Ask a vet: If you’re already a pet-owner, pick your vet’s brain. If you don’t yet have a veterinarian, reach out to family and friends for recommendations. Cold-calling a veterinarian who has not been recommended is not a good idea, but a vet trusted by someone close to you is more likely to be reputable and may know ethical breeders.
  • Visit a dog show: Many conscientious breeders raise German Shepherds who become show dogs. If a dog is a show dog, odds are, its owner takes good care of it. After all, these dogs are being judged as the best-of-the-best.

Attending a dog show as an audience member will give you the opportunity to see for yourself how the breeder interacts with their dog. You can get a feel for how they treat their animals before making contact.

Online Resources for Finding Ethical Breeders

German Shepherd puppy with tongue hanging out

If none of the above works for you, below are three great websites at your disposal:

  • The WUSV: The German “Weltunion der Vereine für Deutsche Schäferhunde” (or World Union of Associations for German Shepherds) offers this map of German Shepherd dog clubs around the world. (Be sure to translate the page into English if you don’t speak German.)
  • Valor K9 Academy: If you’re looking for more North American options, you’ll want to check out The Valor K9 Academy’s excellent list of recommended breeders.
  • AKC Breeders of Merit: The American Kennel Club recognizes breeders they believe have shown exceptional care and dedication. You can search the AKC’s registry of these meritorious American and Canadian breeders. Filter by state and then scroll until you find one who breeds German Shepherds.

Places to Avoid

It may go without saying, but Craigslist should not be part of your search. Unfortunately, many puppies listed on the site are part of puppy mills, which you should never, ever support with your money.

The same holds true for pet stores. The Humane Society of the United States states it plainly:

“Pet store puppies come from puppy mills.”

Humane Society of the United States

These puppies may have been mistreated, and sadly may suffer from mental and bodily health problems. 

Finally, stay away from any websites that offer to ship you a dog inexpensively. There are ethical breeders who will ship to you if you live far away from them, but “cheap” is never a good sign.

What to Ask a Breeder

You’ve done your homework, and you believe that you’ve found a wonderful, conscientious breeder – congratulations!

The next step is getting to know this person and their German Shepherds better, so you can take home the perfect pup for you.

When you meet a breeder, you will want to ask them:

Have You Tested the Puppy?

As noted above, many reputable breeders will have screened their puppies for elbow and hip dysplasia and should be able to provide you with a report from the OFA, SV, or PennHIP. 

Be wary of any breeder who tells you they didn’t feel the need to screen their litter because neither of the parents has hip or elbow dysplasia.

Although the offspring of healthy parents are less likely to suffer from dysplasia, they’re not immune. The only way to know for certain that a puppy is healthy is to have it tested.

Which Shots Has the Puppy Been Given?

You will want to know for certain which vaccinations the puppy has had, and if it’s been de-wormed. A puppy will need a few rounds of shots, but it should have had its first round before it goes home with you.

A German Shepherd puppy should have specific vaccinations by a certain age. The table below will provide you will a full list of age appropriate vaccinations from puppy to adult:

Age of Puppy / AdultNecessary VaccinationsOptional Vaccinations
6-8 weeksParvovirus and DistemperBordetella
10-12 weeksDistemper, Adenovirus (aka hepatitis), parvovirus, and parainfluenza. (Collectively called DHPP)Lyme Disease, Influenza, Bordetella, and Leptospirosis
16-18 weeksRabies and DHPPLyme Disease, Influenza, and Leptospirosis
12-16 monthsRabies and DHPPLyme Disease, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Coronavirus
Every 1-2 yearsDHPPLyme Disease, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, and Coronavirus
Every 1-3 yearsRabies (laws vary by state - check local legislation)No further optional vaccinations

How Are You Rearing the Puppy?

It’s vital that a puppy is properly socialized during its first few weeks of life. Has the puppy been safely introduced to new things – places to walk, things to smell and see and hear? Or has it been kept inside a kennel?

Early exposure to new things helps develop a pup’s confidence. You will want to know how it’s been brought up.

For a more comprehensive look into what it takes to properly socialize a German Shepherd, we have an excellent article for you linked below:

How to Socialize Your German Shepherd

May I Contact Your References?

Speaking with other people who have purchased dogs from the breeder will give you a better idea of what you yourself can expect.

Plus, if the breeder is evasive when you ask, or even worse, refuses to provide you with references, then you’ll know to move on!

What Is the Puppy’s Ancestry?

A reputable breeder should be able to furnish you with information about the bloodlines of the dam, the sire, and their ancestors.

Ethical breeders are concerned with advancing the German Shepherd breed and should speak knowledgeably about why they chose these particular parents.

Who Is Your Ideal Buyer for the Puppy?

The answer to this question will help you determine if the pup is the right fit for you, your lifestyle, and your family.

The breeder should be able to speak to the puppy’s temperament and give you an idea of its ideal situation.

But don’t try to fit yourself to the puppy – better to prolong your search until you’ve found the best match than bring home a pup who won’t thrive.

What a Breeder Might Ask You

Matching the right puppy with the right buyer is precisely what an ethical breeder is concerned with, too.

Don’t be alarmed if it suddenly feels like the breeder is interviewing you: that’s a good sign!

Just be sure to come prepared to answer questions, which might include:

  • Do you own or rent? The breeder isn’t being nosey if they ask this: some landlords don’t allow pets on the premises. The best breeders want to get a feel for your ethics just as much as you do theirs.

    If you’re a renter, don’t be surprised if the breeder asks for your landlord’s contact info so they can confirm that a puppy would be allowed to live with you.
  • Have you ever had a German Shepherd? The temperaments and needs of different dog breeds can be as distinct as their appearances. But it shouldn’t be a mark against you if you’ve never owned a German Shepherd before. Be honest and open to what the breeder has to advise.
  • How do you plan to exercise the dog? They’ll likely talk about exercise! A German Shepherd needs plenty of it. Knowing beforehand how you plan to exercise your pup (Daily walks? Where and for how long?) will help you and the breeder both.
  • Have you ever trained a dog before? Because they’re so intelligent, German Shepherds are an easily trainable breed. However, their training needs to begin right away, so they don’t grow up stubborn and unmanageable.

    But if you’ve never trained a dog before, don’t worry. It might be helpful to come prepared with the name of an obedience school that you plan to bring the pup to instead.
  • Will there be other pets in the home? The breeder will want to get an idea of the kind of situation the puppy will be entering. Once again, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you own other pets.

    The more information you give the breeder, the better able they’ll be to find the perfect match for you.
  • Will there be children in the home? If there are, the breeder may also want to know: How old are they?

    German Shepherds are great family pets, but very small children will need to be trained, too. They’ll need to be taught which commands to use, and what behavior is and is not appropriate toward and from the pup.
  • Will you let your dog live inside? Or do you plan to have him sleep in a dog house outside?
  • Do you have a yard? Because exercise is so important for the breed, having space for the puppy to play in is important as well. If you do have a yard, the breeder will probably want to know if it is fenced.
  • What do you do for work? The breeder will want to feel assured that you are financially able to care for the puppy. This includes being able to feed it the highest quality food and provide it with the necessary accessories.

    It’s also very important that you have time for the puppy: not only to train him but to play with him as well. A reputable breeder will want to be given a full picture of your work/life balance.
  • What do you want in a pup? This may be one of the most important questions you’re asked! A conscientious breeder knows their litter, so they should be able to tell you truthfully if they have a German Shepherd pup that’s right for you.

What to Look for in a Puppy

German Shepherd puppy looking

It’s a very good idea to visit the puppy in person before you make the purchase if you’re able to do so.

While a reputable breeder will be able to describe the puppy’s temperament to you, there’s nothing like having a look for yourself.

The kinds of characteristics that you want to see in a German Shepherd puppy include:

  • Curiosity
  • Extroversion
  • Fearlessness
  • Affection

These are all signs that a pup is being properly socialized and has not been mistreated.

What to Avoid in a Puppy

If, on the other hand, a puppy has not been treated well or has not been properly socialized, it may show signs of the following:

  • Introversion
  • Wariness or fearfulness
  • Sickliness

A Caveat

Sometimes puppies in a litter choose one pup, in particular, to gang up on. But this doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with the bullied pup.

The best thing to do is to take the puppy aside and see how it acts when it’s not with the rest of the litter. If the pup is curious, extroverted, and affectionate on its own, chances are, he’s a perfectly healthy dog.

Cost of Owning a German Shepherd Puppy

The cost of purchasing a German Shepherd puppy can vary, depending on the breeder and location.

You can get a feel for prices in different areas by visiting the AKC’s Marketplace and filtering by state or zip code. 

Some German Shepherd puppies in California, for example, are being sold for $3,000-$5,000. Others in Iowa are listed at $500-$1,500.

These are not rigid prices for these states, and every breeder will be different, but they give you some idea of what you can expect to pay.

If your search for a conscientious breeder took you far from home, you would want to factor in shipping costs as well. (Remember, a reputable breeder may agree to ship, but be wary of anyone who touts “cheap” shipping costs.)

Depending on how far away the breeder lives, shipping can add upwards of several hundred dollars to your total.

Lastly, once your pup is safe at home, you will need to feed him the high-quality food that he deserves, take him for regular visits to the vet, and spoil him with a toy or several toys.

In general, you can annually expect to pay in the low-thousands for puppy care.

For a better understanding of the costs associated with acquiring and raising a German Shepherd puppy, we have it all broken down for you in this excellent article linked below:

How Much Does a German Shepherd Puppy Cost?

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are an exceptional breed that rewards an investment of time, commitment, and love with affection and faithfulness. 

In order to make sure you’re buying a healthy puppy who will grow to be a healthy, happy dog, proper research is essential.

Only buy from an ethical breeder and come prepared for a discussion where both you and the breeder ask each other specific questions. 

With all your information and finances in order, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect pup for you!