I got my dog Skywalker as a puppy when my first search and rescue dog, Condor, was 6 years old. I expected Condor to mentor Sky and that Sky would probably certify as a search dog around the age of 2 and that would mean the two dogs would have a couple of years of working together before Condor would be of retirement age.
Unfortunately, Condor died quiet unexpectedly of cancer. He had no symptoms until he just collapsed and by then it was too late to do anything.
It turns out Sky has bad hips so I wanted to get a puppy sooner vs. later just in case Skywalker’s hips become an issue in deploying him on searches.
I knew I wanted a breeder who was ethical and who screened for health issues. I wanted a positive, reward-based breeder as well. After Condor died; I had four different people recommend the same breeder to me, so that seemed like someone I should check out. I met the breeder, Susanne Shelter of Austerlitz German Shepherd Dogs at Clicker Expo in St. Louis in March of 2018. I liked her immediately. For one thing; when she started talking about pedigrees and breeding, her face lit up and she talked about so many things that I got lost because that’s just not my background. But, I did know enough to understand she really did know what she was talking about.
After that I started thinking about a puppy and wondering if I should get one, should I wait, what should I do. In the end I sent Susanne an email and told her all the things I would want in a dog and asked her to let me know if she had any breedings that would meet my criteria. I was hoping to find a puppy within a year; but Susanne had a breeding almost immediately that she thought would meet all of my goals.
Susanne told me all about both parents. I had access to all of their information. I watched her Facebook page as the due date came near and after that she had a 24/7 puppy cam up so anyone could watch the puppies grow. As soon as the pups were born I told her that if any of them had what she thought it would take to possibly be a search dog then I would be interested.
Susanne and her daughter Rebecca did an amazing job. They use Puppy Culture puppy raising techniques (read more about that here.) They answered all of my questions. As the weeks went by and the puppies grew I narrowed my top picks to two of the pups (one I loved more just for the coloring). Susanne agreed with me that either pup would work so we waited to see what happened as they continued to grow.
There were tons of Facebook videos to watch as Susanne and Rebecca trained the puppies. They also did some special work for me when I asked them to put a paper towel with human blood on it into a box. They put the box along with two empty boxes in a room when the pups were around 8 weeks old. My favorite puppy LOVED that box. Since I am interested in training a human remains detection dog, this was super important for me.
Susanne keeps her puppies until they are 10 weeks old and she doesn’t decide who gets what puppy until the last weeks. I knew there was a chance she would say none of these pups would be the right choice for me.
Luckily, the pup I loved most turned out to be the one she thought I should get, so I made the 14 hour drive to see them once they turned 10 weeks. It was love on first sight. I am so grateful that Susanne and Rebecca entrusted me with this pup.