Breeding Goals of the Leerburg Kennels Breeding Program
The goal of my breeding program is to produce police service dogs with a hard temperament, sound nerves, good drives, good hips and pleasing to the eye to look at. I want litters with consistency of temperament and type. In addition, I want dogs to have the temperament to live as family member (which means gets along with kids) and still function as very good working dogs.
Every legitimate breeder needs to have a set of goals on what he (or she) is trying to accomplish in their breeding program. As a breeder gains experience he will learn from his successes and failures. This results in a situation where he is constantly refining or fine-tuning his goals. Since the mid- 1970's I have bred over 150 litters of German Shepherds. I have certainly gone through this process.
In this article I will walk you through the reasoning behind my breeding program and its goals.
Like many people, I have always wanted to breed working dogs. After seeing the lack of strong nerves in show dogs (both American and German show dogs) there was little question in my mind that there was a lot more to a dog than how it looks or how it moves as it runs in a circle around a show ring.
If a dog lacks good nerves, it will never be able to handle the stress of serious protection work. Not only that, weak nerves lead to temperament and personality problems. The extreme example of poor nerves is a fear biter. The normal picture of a dog with weak nerves is either a shy dog, or one that easily gets his hair up when he feels threatened.
Dogs with weak nerves are often what I call "sharp dogs." These are dogs that are quick to bark at people and can be a little dangerous for strangers to be around. Many people who don't understand canine temperament think that dogs that try to eat chain link when a stranger walks near their kennel is a really tough dog. The fact is that this dog is a little nervy (it lacks strong nerves). This display of kennel aggression is not strength, but rather an aggressive display of avoidance. It's close to the fight or flight syndrome.
A dog with good nerves may bark at a stranger that walks by the kennel, but he is not going to get his hair up and hit the fence like a crazy loony.
In 1974 I attended my first Schutzhund seminar in St. Louis. Gernot Riedel (a German Schutzhund judge) was the instructor. Gernot did an excellent job of demonstrating the importance of good nerves in a working dog. From that point on I knew that if I wanted working dogs I was going to have to use German bloodline dogs. In the following years of breeding I quickly learned that it took more than german lines to get a good dog. The Germans have 2 sets of bloodlines. They have show lines and working lines. While some of the show lines can do passable schutzhund work, none of them have strong enough nerves to do police service work. It took me awhile to realize this.
In the early 1980's I went through a phase (that many breeders in America and German do.) I thought I could re-invent the wheel by breeding a better looking working dog (as if there is really anything wrong with the look of a working dog with a big head, good bone and deep rich pigment.) This (I thought) could be accomplished by crossing the top working bloodlines with the top show bloodlines. Everyone that tries this finds out that this does not work. It produces mediocre to poor dogs. None of the dogs had enough drive to do good work and none were good enough looking to show.
It only took a few litters to realize that to breed the type of dog I wanted to produce I was going to have to focus on breeding strictly working dogs. As I gained experience I refined this to the point where I am today. The fact is that if a breeder is to produce good working dogs he must breed the extreme to produce the norm. This means that the stud dogs that I use are not normal dogs. They are dogs that have extreme drives.
People often ask what I mean when I describe a dog as having a "hard temperament." They confuse this with being tough. A hard dog is a dog that can take a correction and not act like the world just came crashing down on its head. A soft dog is one that tucks its tail when it's corrected. Some will drop their belly to the floor and act like they just died. A hard dog is one that is resilient to corrections; some people define them as having a high tolerance to pain. When corrected they quickly bounce back and react in a positive way. A working dog has to be a hard dog.
If you remember, one of my goals is to have consistency of temperament and type. In reality this needs to be one of the goals of every dog breeder. Basically this means that the litters should be very uniform in looks and temperament. When this happens the old theory of "Pick of the Litter" does not mean much. Obtaining uniformity in a breeding program happens as a result of line breeding (if you do not know what this means I explain it in the "Questions and Answers on Breeding") and experience in putting pedigrees together.
Every breeder needs to determine the look he likes in a dog and then breed to obtain that look. Working dog breeders must get beyond what show judges think a dog should look like. Remember show judges are the people who have destroyed the breed by placing unrealistic restrains on a working breed while ignoring temperament and working drive. To prove this to your self, ask a breed judge if he has every bred a dog that has become a good police service dog. None ever have. Need I say more?
Many people call my kennel and have specific colors in mind (which is fine.) But as a breeder I never breed for color (maybe some day I will refine my breeding goals to include a specific color - but that time has not come yet.) I am much more interested in drive, temperament and deep pigment than a specific color. A percentage of the dogs we produce are dark sable dogs. Max von Stephanizt (the founder of the breed) wrote in his book in the mid-1920's. In it he said that the sable color is the richest of all pigments. When a breeder needs to add pigment to a bloodline, he should go to the darker sable. If you have not seen a dark sable from German bloodlines (there are no American bloodlines that carry this color), you can see them on my web site or in my kennel video. In addition to various shades of sable we also produce black and tans, bi-colors and the occasional blacks.
A lot of people see and like black and red. This is a color that has developed in the show bloodlines. It is not a color you will find in very many (if any) true working bloodlines. Therefore I do not even try to breed black and red dogs.
One of the most important points of a working dog or a breeding dog is to have good hips. This certainly is a major goal for my breeding program. Every dog I breed must either be OFAed or have the German "A" stamp (normal) or have been preliminary x-rayed. The sad thing about our breed is that even though all the breeding stock has good hips (and comes from a pedigree of good hips) this is not a 100% guarantee that the puppies will not be dysphasic. It can still happen. I always recommend that people who buy puppies for breeding or working do a preliminary x-rays as young as 4 1/2 to 5 months of age. Send the x-rays to the OFA and ask them to do a preliminary reading. There is a small fee. Studies by the OFA have shown that a pup that has good hips at 4 1/2 months has an 85% chance of having good hips at 24 months, (which is when the can be certified.)
Any German Shepherd breeder who claims to have never produced a bad hip is either a liar or has very limited experience breeding. I have been lucky. In the last 550 or so puppies I have had fewer than 45 bad hips.
Finally, just as a breeder has to have goals, so to does the person that buys a puppy. The biggest problem I see with people who want working dogs as adults is that they do not realize how important the first 18 months of a dogs life are. They need to realize that, while I can give them a genetic package that has the potential to become and excellent working dog, without their input in training and socializing, that dog will probably not develop into a strong working dog. I tell people, this is a 50-50 proposition. The work they do when the dog is young is just as important as the work I have done over the past 20 years to develop my skills as a breeder. If they want a police dog or a schutzhund dog or a personal protection dog they are going to have to put a lot of work into their pup. If they are prepared to do that then they will get what they want.