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Do Titles Really Matter?

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German Shepherd PuppyWhen it comes to serious competitors in the sport of Schutzhund/IPO, titles on the puppy’s parents matter, because these show that their future puppy is receiving its raw genetic material from parents that were successful in the sport. But for someone looking for just a pet German Shepherd puppy, does it matter whether a breeder titles their dogs or not?

What Does a Title Show?

If someone is only looking for a pet, why should they consider buying a puppy from parents with a working title? After all, their pet will not need the drive or desire that a working dog should have; all they want is a good companion. So are titles on the parents really all that important?

A working title like an IPO or Schutzhund title (or advanced herding title such as the HGH) can tell the potential puppy buyer several things, both about the dog and about their prospective breeder:

1. German Shepherd Dogs should be intelligent, trainable, tractable dogs. Having a working title shows that this particular dog is intelligent and trainable, and is capable of being trained reliably to an advanced level. It shows the dog has a desire to work with its handler, and the ability to learn new behavior. The dog that possesses these traits can pass them to its offspring. A dog that does not have these traits cannot! This is very important for the pet owner, because a dog that has the genetic desire to learn and to work with its handler is much easier to train!

John and Bruno heeling their way to a 96-point obedience score.

2. A working title demonstrates that the breeder does more than just breed their dogs. They are engaged with and involved in other activities besides breeding their dogs over and over, and they are able to connect regularly with other people within the breed. Just as collaboration with knowledgeable colleagues and access to good programs build a better working environment, so also do collaboration with knowledgeable GSD people (breeders, handlers, trainers, judges) and access to good German Shepherd Dogs build a better breeding program.

3. A working title shows that the breeder has had the opportunity to compare their dogs with other representatives of the breed, and to compare them against a set, objective test (that was designed with the German Shepherd Dog in mind). They can see how their dogs match up to other well-bred specimens, and how their dogs match up to the objective test of IPO/Schutzhund. Without this, the breeder’s only standards are their own dogs and their own personal opinions on them. This often includes the claim that the dogs are “papered”, and therefore of great quality. However, simply “having papers” is not an objective test or qualification for breeding!

4. A working title shows that the dog has actually left the breeder’s property, and been exposed to everyday situations beyond the small world of the breeder’s home.  They have been exposed to and socialized with the world at large, and have not been kept locked up in the house or backyard for their whole lives. Taking a dog out in public and working it in public (as all trials must be open to the public) tends to provide evidence for a stable, well-rounded temperament (compared to a dog that must be left at home because she is “afraid of strangers”,  or is “uncomfortable in public places”. Temperament is genetic!). 

5. The GSD is supposed to have a confident, resilient temperament that allows it to capably handle the stress of the world around it. A working title shows that this dog has been through the stress of training and trialing in an environment much different from its comfortable home, and the dog has handled it successfully. This, too, tends to indicate a solid, stable temperament. Stable temperament is a MUST for the pet owner.

6. A working title shows, in part, that the dog has the proper working temperament of a German Shepherd Dog. In the GSD breed, good temperament has always been linked to working ability since the very beginning of the breed. Whenever temperament was failing in the breed, breed founder Max von Stephanitz  and the early fathers of the breed brought in working dogs (particularly females) to stabilize it. They did not bring in show dogs, nor “pet dogs”. They brought in working dogs that were tested for their working ability through the HGH trial (advanced herding trial, involving large flocks of 200 or more sheep). To breed for one aspect (looks, conformation, pet qualities, etc.) while neglecting the working ability causes a downward spiral in the quality of the dog’s temperament. This has been seen time and time again throughout the history of the GSD. This is one reason why titles are so important. They show the dog has the genetic ability and temperament for the work, and this in turn preserves the valuable genetic traits that make the German Shepherd Dog such a wonderful companion.

 In the words of the breed founder himself: “Take this trouble for me: make sure my shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all my life long for that aim.”

But Titles Aren’t Everything!

This is a common criticism directed at those breeders who wisely insist on titling their dogs before breeding and on only using titled dogs in their breeding programs. It is true that titles aren’t everything—meaning that breeders should not breed on titles alone, nor should puppy buyers buy a dog based on titles alone—but this is used by many pet breeders as an excuse to not train or title their dogs in anything at all! They move from “Titles aren’t everything” to “Therefore I don’t need to do anything with my dogs to show their true qualities.” That is quite a jump, and it is not logical. It becomes an excuse to rationalize a breeding program that uses untested dogs.

Crischa with kidsGood breeders look beyond the title, and look at what it reveals about the dog.  Titles show the dog is capable of doing the work and of enduring the stress, pressure, and temperament test of trial day. In other words, the title verifies that the dog can do it, has the basic genetic abilities to do the work, and possesses on some level the basic traits for which the German Shepherd Dog is valued (such as courage, resilience, confidence, hardness, devotion to master, trainability, and intelligence). But after this, breeders often look to the training for the title, coupled with the dog’s performance on trial day, to provide in-depth information into who the dog is. This provides answers to questions like:

    • Is the dog courageous? Confident?
    • Is he biddable, eager to work with his handler, excited to do the work, or is he independent and handler hard?
    • How is the toy drive? Food drive? Prey drive? Pack drive?
    • Does he have the confident temperament, strong nerve, and desire to engage and overpower a threat (the helper)?
    • Is the dog a natural tracker? How easily can this behavior be shaped and directed?
    • Is the dog easy to train? Does he learn new behavior quickly, or does it take a long time?
    • Is the dog easy to control and direct while in high drive, or is he difficult to handle and hard to direct?
    • Is he resilient? How does he handle pressure from the handler? From a threatening helper?
    • Does he handle stress well, or is he weak-nerved, or is he “too soft”?
    • Is he sensitive to noises like applause, gunfire, large crowds, etc.?
    • Can he contain himself and “cap” his drive, show self-control; or does he “bleed” drive everywhere by barking and whining?
    • Is he calm under pressure, or does he become hectic?
    • Does he become upset or aggressive when he is corrected or when he is prevented from doing what he wants to do, or does he accept correction and move on (resilience)?

Training and titling a dog thoroughly informs the breeder so that they can make good breeding decisions. They now know without a doubt who and what their dogs are, and have proven it through the training and titling process.  They know where their dog needs to be complemented, and what needs to be corrected for the future breeding.

Which breeder would you rather get a puppy from: one who has thoroughly informed themselves on and proven what their dogs are like through training and titling them, or one who “knows” what their dogs are like at home only, and who decides that this is good enough for breeding, without any objective proof or test?*

Next blog we will tackle the question of “Why Protection?” What does a title in a sport with a protection phase show us that obedience, agility, and tracking titles do not?

* = If, after reading through and thinking through this, you still feel that titles do not matter to you, then PLEASE look into rescuing a German Shepherd Dog from a local breed rescue instead, rather than buying a puppy from a breeder who does nothing but “breed pets”.  There are many pet-quality German Shepherd Dogs waiting in shelters and rescues for good homes and good owners!
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  1. LouAnn Stokes Reply

    I have loved German Shepherds since I was a little girl. When I turned 40 I decided it was time. I went through a learning process with three dogs. The German Shepherd I have now is a perfect fit. He is from German imports. The way the Germans do things has been a real learning process and a lot of fun. When I looked at his pedigree I saw all of these Schutzund II and Schutzund III dogs so I knew these dogs were intelligent and they could work. If it had not been for the titles I would have lost interest. I have a dog that is indeed a perfect fit for me. He has been trained as a service dog. In the past I have done a lot of different training with my dogs that I can’t do anymore. We can still herd sheep because the dog does most of the work. I had my dog herding tested and he has a good herding instinct. I have become aquainted with a bunch of wonderful people who breed and train Schutzund. dogs. They let me play along by taking photos. I hope they will help me train my dog to track. A dog from Schutzund II and Schutzund III dogs has to have some tracking DNA.

  2. Larry Kye Reply

    Great article it all comes back to working temperament.

  3. Kim Reply

    Working titles are very important, but so are show titles and breed surveys.

    Show titles proves that the dog is within the breed standard, and without a breed standard there is no breed.

    Breed surveys include working titles, show titles, endurance test, and certified hips and elbows. This proves the “whole dog” is an exemplary representation of the breed.

    A breeder should work toward a balance of working ability, endurance and correct conformation. To give more value to a show title or a working title, show a breeder who doesn’t understand what the breed is.

    • Carissa Reply

      Good point, Kim! Working titles help prove and preserve temperament, while show ratings and the breed survey help prove and preserve structure. Plus, a breeder who puts show titles and breed surveys on their dogs is not going to be the ‘breeder’ that breeds for the “old world”, oversized, huge and heavy GSDs, nor for those “rare colors” that are actually breed faults. Hmmm…I sense another blog in the works!


  4. Carla S Reply

    Titles help prove the dogs to be bred in temperment and conformation. For me, as a puppy buyer they are just the tip of the iceberg, they get my attention, but htey won’t hold it. As an EDUCATED puppy buyer I want to see more, I want OFA or PennHip scores on the joints, I want to see the appropriate health testing on both sides of the pedigree and I want to know the lifespans of the lines involved and what health issues have been known to crop up. I’m getting a family member, I want to insure the pup I’m giving my heart to will have the best chance possible at a long and healthy life from earliest planning of the breeding.

    I know all this won’t be a guarantee, things happen and even the best and most stable lines can have issues crop up. It’s all about improving the breed as a whole and reducing the chances of an early heartbreak.

  5. Schonwasser Shepherds Reply

    Great points, and I would also include certifications for Search & Rescue as qualifying factors for breeding dogs. I tell my puppy buyers, the old saying is “The WORK proves the WORTH.” Thanks for a great article, well-thought, and beautifully expressed.

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