There is a lot of talk about buying from a good breeder rather than a backyard breeder, buying a well bred puppy, researching before you buy your puppy, etc… However, it seems that a lot of new people may not realize exactly what to look for or even how to educate themselves on what is good versus bad.
The first thing you should look at when considering a breeder is their current breeding dogs and their pedigrees. You want to see that their current breeding dogs are of breeding age, have passing health certifications, have some sort of title or have been proven to be breed worthy and have no disqualifying faults.
A German Shepherd Dog should be at least two years old before being bred. If you find that the breeding dogs are under two years old, ask why. Very rarely is there an acceptable reason for this. You will also want to see that the dogs have hip and elbow certifications to prove that they are free of hip and elbow dysplasia. If the breeder is not able to show you proof of these certifications, that is a big red flag. There is no excuse to purposely breed a dog without these certifications. Never simply take the breeder's word that these certifications are done, as sadly many people will lie and mislead you.
Once you have determined that the dogs are in fact worthy of being bred, there is much more to consider. It is important to remember that a dog is more likely to produce what is behind him, rather than what he is himself. This means that the pedigree is equally as important as what the individual dogs have accomplished. Sometimes a breeder will have a dog that is OFA'd hips and elbows and maybe even titled, yet the entire pedigree is full of "holes". This means that the dogs in the pedigree are not OFA'd (or 'a' stamped) and are not titled. This is called a "backyard bred pedigree". That simply means that the pedigree is full of dogs that were not tested or proven in any way at all and were all bred for the wrong reasons. There are several problems with this, one being that if the dogs are not tested then you really have no idea what you will get when the dog is bred.
Please watch for my upcoming articles taking a more in depth look at deciphering the GSD pedigree including more on health testing, titles, breeding for pets and determining the lines your dog is from.