If you really look around for a German Shepherd Dog, you will find that you will come across two different types of dogs that are called German Shepherd in this country. You will need to decide whether you want a puppy out of German bloodlines or American bloodlines. The two are very different and below is the founding reason why they are so different.
The breed was developed in Germany in the late 1800's and became very popular in this country during the early 1900's. Americans bought dogs from Germany and began breeding them in this country. With the advent of two world wars, it was difficult to import dogs for much of the early part of that century and American breeders had to use the breeding stock which they already had in this country. This would have been fine if dog fanciers and breeders had adhered to the original "blueprint" or standard for the breed. But somewhere along the way in this country, breeders began to change the German Shepherd Dog breed into what you will now find in the AKC show ring. Someone else's interpretation of what the breed should be and not Max von Stephanitz's standard for the breed. Max von Stephanitz was the man who developed and began the breed in Germany. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) has there own standard that is different from the FCI recognized standard for the breed. According to FCI rules, all countries must adhere to the standard of the originating country for that particular breed of dog. The FCI is the Federation Cynologique Internationale, which is the global organization for all the kennel clubs.
The German's follow a very strict and defined set of guidelines for breeding German Shepherd Dogs. These rules are set forth by the SV and followed by most countries. The SV (Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, basically the German Shepherd Dog club for Germany) is a member of the VDH (Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen, the all breed kennel club in Germany). In America, the AKC (the all breed club in America) relies upon the individual breed clubs' guidelines concerning breeding. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) is the AKC's breed club for German Shepherd Dogs. (Basically what this means is that in Germany, the same organization that creates and governs the rules for the German Shepherd Dog is the organization that is also in charge of the registration of the breed. Where in the US, the GSDCA is in charge of the breed, but the AKC issues the registration.)
The GSDCA does not follow the same breeding guidelines as the SV. This absence of strict breeding guidelines and the allowance of promoting dogs that do not conform to the German standard has produced a dog in this country that is not a true representation of the German Shepherd Dog. The American version of the German Shepherd Dog is so far removed from the original standard that many people refer to these dogs as "American" Shepherds. There are 2 organizations in America that use the German system though. There is the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA) whose members must adhere to the German system in order to register litters with their organization and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America - Working Dog Association (GSDCA-WDA) whose members may follow the German system, but can still register their litters with AKC even if they don't follow the system.
Dogs that are produced following the German system are the result of the culmination of generations of dogs that have met very specific breeding requirements: hip certification (became a requirement by the SV back in the 1960's), endurance test (trotting along side a bike for 12 miles), working breed suitability test of at least the first level (SchH 1 or HGH or equivilent, please refer to the glossary for these terms), a conformation rating of at least G (good) after the dog has turned 1 year old, minimum age requirement at first breeding (20 months old for females and 2 years old for males), and a breed survey (the dog undergoes a very detailed evaluation by a German breedmaster and is given a rating as to its breeding quality). During all of these tests the dog's temperament is extensively evaluated also.
In contrast, the GSDCA has a breeder's code that it's members use as a guideline, but following this code is done so on a voluntary basis. A breeder is still allowed to register their puppies with AKC even if the breeder did not follow the breeder's code. Whereas, if you don't adhere to the German system, in this country you cannot register your litters with USA and in Germany the litter can't be registered with the SV.
This division in the two breeding methods has resulted in dogs that look and act very different.
You will find breeder's that register their puppies with AKC that do follow the German system. You will also find breeders that use American bloodlines for breeding and still have decent dogs (they're hard to find, but there are some out there) because they test their dogs through the different AKC field trials and don't care so much about turning their dog into a AKC conformation champion. You will find problems when you deal with breeders that use the AKC high showline dogs or breeders that don't understand enough about breeding (that it invovles so much more than just letting 2 dogs mate). It is very, very important to educate yourself and ask a lot of questions when you go looking for a puppy. You may find a breeder that uses parents who have passed hip certification, but how far back in the ancestry does hip certification go? Two, five, twelve generations or just this one? What about temperment testing? If you find a good breeder they should be able to answer just about any questions you may have concerning not only their dogs but the breed itself.