If you've just begun the puppy shopping journey, the amount of information and research ahead of you can be a little overwhelming. The best way to go about things is to choose your breeder and THEN choose your puppy. So what are the necessary things you need to know when shopping for a breeder?
1. Health Testing
GSDs are prone to various health issues; hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy being two common (and devestating) health concerns. Both of these health problems can be tested for in the parents to help genetically avoid an issue in your pup; responsible breeders have the parents tested BEFORE breeding their dogs. You want to see hip ratings on BOTH of the parents, and ask to see the actual certificates, don't just take their word for it. You also want to know the DM status of each parent.. If your breeder "can't find the certificates", "is about to do the testing", says "the vet x-rayed them and they look great", or says "we've never had hip problems with our dogs/pups", RUN. This is unacceptable, irresponsible, and a big red flag.
2. Health Guarantee
Responsible breeders will back up their puppies with a health guarantee. Since they have already done the health testing on the parents BEFORE breeding puppies, they have genetically stacked the deck in favor of having healthy litters. Breeders are still human and not invincible- health issues can still arise even in pups from health tested parents; what you're looking for is a breeder who will be there for you if this was to happen so you're not out thousands in vet bills and stuck with an unhealthy pup. GET YOUR HEALTH GUARANTEE IN WRITING AND READ THE CONTRACT IN FULL BEFORE SIGNING!
Your puppy goes through a variety of stages before he's ready to come home and live with you. All of these stages are CRUCIAL to his development; if overlooked they may be difficult if not impossible to "train" your puppy to later in life. Your puppy needs to be well socialized and acclimated to the world around him in the early weeks of his life. This includes things like meeting new people and animals, walking over strange surfaces, hearing loud noises- all of these things will add up to a confident, trainable, happy and we'll adjusted adult dog. Avoid breeders that don't have a socialization program in place, or just have guests "play with the puppies" when they visit.
Meeting the parents and the puppies before you purchase is always a great idea. Its not 100% feasible in all cases; the breeder may have used an outside stud, or you may be located 100s of miles away from each other. Luckily with todays technology, Skype/FaceTime is available to almost everyone. Ask your breeder for a tour of their facility; or ask to FaceTime with them in order to see the parents and the pups yourself. Breeders that won't welcome you to view the conditions of their dogs and puppies, or tells your their kennel has been inspected by an agency so you don't need to see it for yourself- need to be crossed off your list.
No, having papers to a puppy is not an "end all be all". There are plenty of great dogs out there without papers, and plenty of terrible dogs out there with papers. Papers, and more importantly the pedigree they contain, DO tell us the lineage and the genetic history of the pups parentage. Knowing the health issues (or lack there of) that run in the lines, knowing the trainability of the parents and grandparents (through titles), knowing the temperaments, sizes, conformation- all of this adds up into a complete picture of what you can expect from your pup in the future. A breeder that doesn't register their litter, breeds unregistered dogs, or will "get the papers to you later" is an irresponsible breeder. Papers do not guarantee you will have a happy and well adjusted puppy- but they do show that the breeder has some responsibility to the pups they are creating.