Real Talk From a German Shepherd Breeder in Saluda
When it comes to raising animals humanely and naturally, Marisa Shaw, owner of Grünberg Shepherds in Saluda, has a lot of species covered. If she’s not busy tending to her Dexter cows, Khaki Campbell ducks, Icelandic horses, or her brood of chickens, she’s spending time with her German Shepherds, making sure each is consistently trained, happy, and living at the epitome of health.
Shaw has been working with German Shepherds for more than 20 years. Her fascination with the breed began when she was a child, growing up with Shepherds on her family’s farm in Upstate New York. When Shaw was in her early thirties and living on the west coast, she began researching the breed and found a German Shepherd to adopt. “The dog was a trainwreck. It had a bad temperament, and the breeder wasn’t very helpful,” Shaw tells Bold Life.
After moving to Vermont and finding herself growing even more curious about the breed, she began asking around town where she could find a quality dog. She was pointed to Richard Crane, an experienced breeder who, in the end, had the kind of dog she was looking for — and the advice she needed to start her own Shepherd-breeding business.
Crane was retiring, but was able to help Shaw find her first protection dog — one of many — and become her mentor. “Personal protection was a priority for me because I was alone on the farm a lot,” she explains.
Protection dogs are trained to be calm, confident, and to provide security while staying in the handler’s full control, so that they can be brought in public. Shaw and her family, including her now-grown kids, took their new Shepherds to soccer games and on vacations — and she never again felt unsafe while alone in the house. Eventually, it became her business’ motto: ‘Where peace of mind is just another member of the family.’”
Eventually, Crane passed the business down to her.
But she paid her dues. She had dogs that didn’t want to be trained, animals with energy that was too high or too low. “That’s how you learn,” she says. “Later, people would come to me [for a dog] and ask where my protection dogs are — and I was like, ‘He’s the one in your lap!’”
After moving south to Saluda in 2016, Shaw took all of the facets of knowledge that Crane had provided — breeding, training, importing, competing — and began to fill a need working with service dogs. “I noticed there were many fake service dogs, or untrained dogs that were being passed off as service dogs … service dogs are supposed to be invisible,” she explains. “The dog has to be very well trained and secure to go out in public … equally important, the person needs to be trained, and be able to provide the 50/50 partnership.”
But Shaw was mostly drawn to training companion dogs. “I loved a really top-shelf companion, no excuses. I didn’t want to hear that the dog was afraid [of loud noises or other people, for instance]. I don’t want a can’t. I want a can-do dog.”
The German Shepherd’s natural intelligence, combined with good training, helps it assess every situation, distinguishing sudden or enthusiastic attention from a true threat. Shaw recalls the time she had one of her Shepherds, Echo, in front of WalMart, when a special-needs young adult “threw herself” upon the dog, “hugging and squeezing” him. “He was a protection dog, but he did absolutely nothing. My dogs have also served as reading dogs at the kids’ schools. They’ll just curl up with the students.”
Today, she focuses on the breeding and creating an obedient companion dog. Her workline dogs go on to do search-and-rescue missions and personal protection — but not at the exclusion of being family companions.
“A misconception is that because I do work lines and not show lines, the Shepherds need to put on a suit and tie and go to work,” she quips. But all work dogs can be play dogs, too. “If you take out a ball, it’s a different dog. They’re ignitable, but not ‘on’ all the time.”
Since Shaw is so dedicated to the breed, she’s able to guarantee consistency — healthy hips, for instance — but, “most importantly,” she says, “I guarantee the temperament of the dog. I have yet to find another breeder that does that.”
According to Shaw, it’s against the breed’s standard to be fearful, timid, or even shy. Instead, a Shepherd is supposed to accept and work through adversity. “My advice is to find a breeder who is invested in the standard, produces it and doesn’t try to change it or water it down,” she says.
Shaw trains her personal dogs so well that she has been able to take them to Planet Fitness with her to workout. “Well-bred German Shepherds are a natural sentinel, a presence, a guardian. Personal protection is such a slim part of it, but it comes with a big responsibility.”
Good breeding is crucial. Shaw precedes any purchase by examining an animal’s entire pedigree, making sure it’s consistent across the board. The game of genetics is like “throwing marbles on the floor,” she says. “If I know they produce these specific traits, those are the marbles that I’m guessing will trickle through. A stud will pass along his traits, but a good stud will pass along his best traits.”
And it has to be a passion on top of a business. Shaw feeds her dogs human-grade raw food that is Shepherd specific. The breed was created to be a well-rounded family farm dog, protecting livestock from predators (but also a welcome presence in the home). If given the option, they naturally eat fresh food that’s close to the ground; it’s also natural for them to eat raw meat from lamb, buffalo, and rabbit. Shaw weans her puppies on highly digestible, certified A2A2 milk from her Dexter cows.
Every puppy gets the basics using a prey model, while the food is supplemented and personalized with nutritional ingredients.
“The best thing I did in my business was to raise the price, but my guarantee is null and void if the clients don’t continue to raw feed [and continue the training practices],” Shaw says. “Look at it this way. When I sell you a dog, it’s not like you go down my driveway and won’t see me again. I care about the families, and I always get updates.”
Dog owners who come back for another Grünberg dog (or a third, or a fourth, or a fifth) are perhaps the best validation.
“I had a veteran with PTSD who came back for a second dog. She bought a puppy. She called me a few years later, telling me she was [now] able to attend the 4th of July fireworks with the dogs.”
Grünberg Shepherds, Saluda. See grunbergshepherds.com for information about current litters. Also on Facebook with daily updates: @Grünberg Shepherds: The Book of Thor. 802-379-5462.