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Kozies Shepherds are NOT Family Dogs!

There lies a delicate balance between energy, intelligence, and calmness when you're deciding on a dog to bring into your home. Having been raised with German shepherds, I always knew my first dog would be this breed. As much as I don't like to tout the "sameness" of dogs within the same breed, there's something to be said about certain clich├ęs holding true – shepherds are intelligent, high-energy dogs who need a "strong" owner. I.e., someone who'll take charge and be a leader.

Since I research everything before buying, I'm not sure how I let myself get suckered into buying a Kozies shepherd. As I've stated before, Mark Kozitza rubbed me the wrong way from day 1, but I persisted in gathering information about his dogs because they seemed – at a glance – to be just what I wanted. (Intelligent, energetic yet calm, and good-looking.)

However, a person who breeds "European working line German shepherds" and says he introduces every puppy to many things shouldn't also promote his dogs as "good with children" if he keeps it for you past 8 weeks. I didn't purchase my pup until she was 3 months old, and due to some circumstances I didn't bring her home from Kozies until she was 4 months of age. What I did NOT know was he had discontinued working with her to socialize her. Let's look at why it's important to continue that with puppies beyond 8 weeks of age:

"My breeding goal here at Kozies is to consistently produce dogs with the genetics and temperament to be a trustworthy family member (by that I mean living with children) and at the same time a strong working dog with solid nerves, good drives and is structurally sound with a rich dark pigment that is pleasing to the eye."

Let's see.

Genetics to be trustworthy? Possibly – although he's breeding "working line" sheperds...i.e., HIGH PREY DRIVE dogs.

Temperament to be trustworthy? Absolutely. Until one day that lovely temperament – with kids, no less – turns into a nasty debaucle between you and your family friends, because your dog with the good "genetics and temperament" just stalked, pounced upon, and bit the neighbor girl. With no warning. And in spite of being raised around different ages of children.

Strong working dogs? Absolutely. I knew that from the beginning – Zada can run ALL DAY LONG and actually NEEDS to in order to be content.

Solid nerves? Maybe. With some things, she's pretty solid. With most things, she's average. In brand-new situations, she's a coward, tucking her tail between her legs. (Yes, I realize this could be due to the way I handle things, but when there's a bag in the middle of the street and I don't even notice it; she's spooking at the end of the leash.)

Good drives? YES. In this category, Kozitza, I give you 5 stars. She definitely DOES have strong drives. Pronounced PREY DRIVES, that is, which started out "innocently" enough being focused on other dogs, and have evidently graduated to young children. The reason why she's intent on "dominating" other dogs? She's TERRIFIED of new dogs. This is most likely because this man kept her segregated in the whelping pen, away from all the other dogs, and when he'd let the adult dogs out of the barn, they'd all rush the fence and she became very afraid of approaching dogs. Mind you, I take this dog to obedience classes, and I have been working on this from Day 1. (5 years later, we're still working on introducing her to new dogs.)

Structurally sound? Not at all. Initially (when she was young), I thought she might have a stretched/mildly torn ACL, which COULD have just been from landing on it wrong, bending, twisting, etc. but it could also be a genetic defect in the knee. The vet said it wasn't enough of an issue to consider surgery (yet), but once something like that occurs, it normally doesn't return to its original state. She also started displaying signs early (around 2 years) of some problems in her elbows – although the X-rays came back clear, she was young yet AND I only did the front end; not her hips. She seems to favor a front leg after exercising; it also makes a clicking noise. This wouldn't normally concern me (as I have a hip tendon that "pops" occasionally) but since it's also the leg she favors, it makes me wonder why a dog bred for working goes lame after 20 minutes of running. Granted, it doesn't happen all the time, but it's been occurring with greater frequency lately. She was also diagnosed with (low grade) luxating patellas. That's right, BOTH of her "knees" are affected by this. She's been displaying progressive signs of this in the past year and I fear this genetic disease will create many problems for her in the future.

As of February 2012, she has also been diagnosed with hip dysplasia. That's right, my "structurally sound" German shepherd will now – at the age of 5 – have to be watched constantly for signs of pain in her right hip and will suffer arthritis as she gets older. Nice job, Kozitza.

And, lastly - rich, dark pigment which is pleasing to the eye? Again, yes. 5 stars on that. Thanks for delivering. She's wonderful to look at while she's either a) holding up her leg because it hurts, b) getting reprimanded for chasing after dogs (again), c) honing in to "stalk" a child/dog, or d) barking, terrified, at the neighbor dog across the road, whom she's seen since she's lived in this house...

The point with all this is, DO NOT BUY A KOZIES SHEPHERD after 8 weeks of age if you want a "family dog." And, if you do, always, ALWAYS watch the dog around kids and other dogs! Just yesterday, my sister and I were on a walk – with her dog, my dog and my niece – and at the end, we went to a small park to let Sophia out of the stroller to toddle around and let the dogs stretch their legs. I was throwing a "flippy-floppy" for the dogs and they were getting worn out.

After a while of being there, Sophia (my 2 1/2-year-old niece) started to trot off towards a different area of the park. Zada was near me (thank GOD), and when she saw that baby running, her ears perked, she got "the look" and started after her. She didn't get more than a few strides in before I recalled her (again, thank the Maker and obedience classes).

She'd NEVER done anything like that – which is why I trusted her with kids...but now neither I nor any member of my family will ever trust her again...and rightly so. She'll constantly need to be watched. To be honest, I think my sister breathed a sigh of relief when we left for the evening. I have an inkling she'll feel that way until the dog either dies of old age or I have to put her down due to failing health.

Let's hope I don't have to euthanize her because she attacks another child. If she does, that's the only course of action – she's already had her 1 "freebie".

Again, DON'T BUY A KOZIES SHEPHERD after 8 weeks old if you expect a kid-safe German shepherd! This is how he markets them, but if not socialized correctly they probably will NOT be safe around children! Zada was in a kennel by herself up until she was 4 months old, segregated from other dogs...which is why she has "fear aggession" issues with new dogs. You have to be ready and willing to have a dog that always needs to be watched around kids and you must devote a LOT of time to dog obedience/behavior classes, proper socialization, and numerous hours every day running/exercising, etc.

In fact, let's just cut right to the chase – with this new development of her hip dysplasia, don't buy a Kozies German shepherd AT ALL. He doesn't breed sound dogs, nor does he title his short, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE for a well-bred German shepherd dog. You will not find it at Kozies shepherds.

Sigh. I'm writing this to inform; I've wasted enough time and energy defiling this man who sells these "strong drive" dogs as children-friendly (and structurally sound). I hope I can think on him no more. After all this, I'll always trust my gut feeling in the future when picking a dog breeder. And, of course, I'll NEVER recommend his dogs to anyone.


EvoPsych said...


I have a Kozie's dog and would like to hear more about your situation.


Anonymous said...

I was not surprised to see this blog entry. I purchased an 8 week year old GSD puppy from Kozies in February of 2008. "Charlie" is a loveable and attractive dog but he is not without issues. On balance, Charlie is a strong, handsome and an affectionate dog at least towards my wife and myself and I could never give him up unless I felt he was a definite threat to others; but I would agree with the blog author that if a person is looking for a GSD family dog then Kozies GSD’s may not be your best choice. Charlie has an extremely high prey drive and if I do not work Charlie out for at least an hour of intensive exercise every day he can become dog aggressive and destructive. He has shown a great deal of trepidation with other dogs, especially males and will attack them unless I have him in the right state of mind, which means he has to be exhausted. As for children, Charlie is only interested in their energy as he plays very well with my daughters but when the play is over and he is resting he will occasionally let out a very low growl at my daughters when they have attempted to pet him. I have taken steps to remediate this issue and it appears to be working because otherwise I would have to get rid of him. In regards to the breeder my opinion is mixed. Mark can be quite pleasant and he is knowledgeable but he ostensibly has issues with certain inquiries as if somehow questions are equated to accusations. In particular, he at times appeared to me to be overly sensitive, defensive and provided vague responses to any detailed questioning about his training and socialization methods. I also got into a pretty good argument with Mark about the number of pups left when it was time to select our puppy. We had a misunderstanding about the size of the litter and what order we would be selecting our pup. My initial inquiry into this matter was quite mild but he acted as if I was attacking his character and reacted harshly which of course led to a heated exchange. Perhaps Mark’s recollection is different and this argument was merely a clash of two completely different personalities but either way his business sense needs an overhaul. I probably should have pulled the plug but our family had our hearts set on the dog so I went ahead. At the appropriate time we did enroll Charlie into an obedience class but the instructor gave him the boot as she felt he was too aggressive. In all fairness, Charlie has a fear aggression issue but this trainer’s approach exacerbated the situation as she was a very nervous sort and did not like powerful dogs which she openly admitted (absurd but true). In the end, she never gained Charlie’s trust and she lacked common sense on how to even approach a fearful dog. They did recommend that I bring Charlie to the University of Minnesota for evaluation which I thought was over the top. Fortunately, I have done a great deal of research and work with Charlie on my own and he is responding quite nicely but he does have his bad days and they can be stressful. We even until recently reconsidered using Mark to train Charlie largely because my wife thought he would be the best choice since he presumably knows about working GSD’S but he has never responded so I am left to assume that our disagreement was too traumatizing for him to overcome. Frankly, this attitude does not reflect well of his professionalism and it makes me question his devotion to his customers once the sale is complete. So far Charlie’s health is pretty good although he may have elbow dysplasia as he occasionally limps or carries his leg after exercise but he does respond to rest and tri-coated aspirin which suggest it may be muscular. My advice is that if you are considering a GSD you would be wise to look at a number of breeders including outstate and if you do opt for Kozies then remember that his dogs may require more training than you anticipated and for harmony sake, if you are capable, it may be wise to keep any contrary opinions to yourself. Anyways, to GSD enthusiasts; caveat emptor and good luck.

Sarah said...

I recently received this inquiry:

"very interested in a shepherd, would like to hear a good recommendation."

Here's how I responded:


I received your comment.

I'm certainly not qualified to give out recommendations...just opinions :) I didn't do my homework very well when it came to working-line, European GSDs.

According to all the not-so-nice comments I've gotten from my blog, evidently there are plenty of Kozies shepherds owners out there who are perfectly happy with their dogs. However, they probably got them at 8 weeks of age. I didn't. Mistake.

Here are a couple of the other breeders I was researching:

Katzel Kennel

Sable Rock Kennels

Good luck!

samuel said...

I also bought my GSD from Kozies, but I've had a different experience, and have different views. I picked up my girl, Fida at 8 weeks. She's very fond of humans, and somewhat passive with other dogs, which I wish wasn't the case, but she's only 8 months so we still have much yet to see.

It's unfortunate that you weren't able to pick your girl up until she was 4 months since one of the most critical socialization periods for a puppy is from 7-12 weeks. My brother, who I still live with, didn't pick up his girl (different breed) until she was 4 months. She happened to stay in the company of all of the other dogs the whole time, but she still exhibited strong social issues when we brought her home.

It's not uncommon for breeders to keep the puppies in the whelping penn, at least as their place of stay. If he didn't let her out to meet and greet the other dogs that would be a different case.

Was Zada playing, or did she intend to hurt the girl? Not that one means she didn't cross the line, but it makes a difference in interpreting the situation.

Based on your more recent posts, it seems like she has made progress. You seem to love her a lot.

- Sam

Sarah said...

Sam -

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I DO love this dog, although 4.5 years later I'm STILL working on socializing her around strange dogs.

When I purchased Zada at 3 months of age she had strong drives, great confidence, and was an overall great little pup.

When I picked her up at 4 months of age, she was skittish and TERRIFIED of new dogs. Mark even told me, "she's started this new behavior where she attacks the fence when new dogs come up to smell her." Aghast, I said, "Well, what have you been doing to correct it?" To which he replied, "Oh, nothing...she'll grow out of it."


Guess what, Kozitza, dogs don't just "grow out of" behavior. So what I got was a high prey drive GSD (which I wanted) with socialization issues and a nervous demeanor.

This was partly due to her age, and partly due to her "socialization" - which evidently ended at 3 months of age. When I took her home, she was a bundle of nerves: she'd never worn a collar, been on leash, been in a crate, been off the property. She was a wreck when I got her home - had diarrhea for over a week.

I enrolled her in puppy class right away, of course, and while they helped a LOT (she had NO manners to speak of) she still was terrified/aggressive while meeting new dogs.

To this day when I take her to the dog park, I have my eye on her at all times and need to redirect her energy if she "hones in" on another dog - she'll chase and bite (not friendly, either) any dog that runs from her. Yet if a dog wants to chase her - in play - she raises her ruff & gets defensive and snappy.

When she jumped on that girl, yes, I believe she was "playing" - i.e., like she'd "play" with another dog, by rushing them and biting them. I'm proud to say these days she's much better around kids - but of course I never will completely trust her OR allow her to be unsupervised again.

Long story short: I won't be purchasing from Kozies ever again. I'm sure a LOT of people have great dogs from him. I just happened to get one that wasn't socialized properly in his care; has health issues (chronic GI tract issues & patellar luxation in both hind legs) and is nervous. Like I said, I still love her.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the feedback. Strongly considering another breeder. Best of luck with her. :)

Sarah said...

Dear "Anonymous,"

You're very welcome. As I've said before, these are my opinions here, but since this blog post I've learned much more about how this back-yard breeder operates and frankly, he seems even worse than Jerland (who runs a European-line GSD puppy mill), in that he breeds back to the same lines and crosses them much too closely (IMO). I've met two other people with half-sisters to my dog and they BOTH have problems -- one of them has physical ailments and the other was dog-aggressive.

Mr. Kozitza has also completely taken my dog's mother off his website -- there's no mention of her anywhere (her name is "Josie" ). I'm wondering if she's the "bad egg" who was passing along bad genes. Also, according to one of the owners I met, my dog's sire (Ringo) has gone sterile. !!! That is NOT normal. Of course, this is hearsay but he said that Kozitza told him that. So who knows.

Either way, between the bad breeding and him not being able to train properly -- why else wouldn't he title his dogs? For those trials, you need to be able to tell the dog ONCE to do something and have it obey; if you've ever seen Mark work his dogs, he constantly has hot dog bits in his mouth and he says his "commands" over and over and over to get them to listen -- I'd definitely recommend another breeder.

Good luck to you.

grandma barb said...

Hi Sarah,
I saw your blog when I googled Kozie's and had to read further. It was interesting because my son purchased a puppy from Kozie's in 2006. They have 3 children and she has been really good with their kids. I only see them maybe once a year in MN. The first time she was not friendly but not hostile either. After the first time though she has remembered me and I am one of her people. She has a very strong shepherd instinct. She always kept an eye on the babies. She is very devoted to her family and is a real sweetheart - loves to be loved. We babysat for 9 days earlier this year and she was fine. Healthwise they have had no problems. She is very energetic and loves to play ball. I'm not sure how old she was when they got her. Sorry to hear about your experience. I thought about getting one of their dogs in the future, as my dog is aged. Hope all is better now!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah:

Thank you for taking the to narrate your experience with Kozies. I will avoid this breeder and I intend to let them know why.

Breeders need to understand that customers DO read reviews and act accordingly.

Best wishes,

Donna Arnett said...

We have had two Kozie's GSDs, and our experience has been quite positive. Structurally, our dogs have been solid, and our bitch will be 14 in July. She was a certified therapy dog and was excellent with children in the therapy area. Our boy died at 12.5 years. Both have excellent hip structure. Yes, they have strong prey drive. We used that to train AKC tracking and both were titled with Tracking Dog Excellent titles. I would agree with others that Kozie's shepherds are high drive, but ours were also great pets in the home. We did run/walk them twice a day, however, and gave them other jobs (agility, obedience). If you are not planning on doing some kind to training to engage their intelligence and drive, these are not the dogs for you.

Sarah said...

To Donna --

I find it interesting that people continually tell me, "these are high-energy dogs; you need to exercise them."

When I clearly state that I do -- and have, for 7 years now -- exercise this dog. A lot. I specifically got this breed because I'm an active person who loves to be outside (I used to be a runner but have become a hiker; I ride my horse a couple times a week, etc.) and I wanted a dog that was bred to be outside "working" all day. This isn't my first GSD -- I grew up with them and am very familiar with the breed.

In addition to all the physical exercise this dog gets (and has gotten her entire life), I took her to obedience classes for years -- normal obedience/leash work, trick classes, even a scent class -- and she was a rockstar. Still is. She's very well-trained...but still has her moments :)

As to her prey drive -- we live in a townhome near a wooded area and there's a plethora of wildlife we see daily: squirrels, rabbits, ducks, deer, feral cats. The only things that set off her prey drive are cats, deer and other dogs. Oh, and previously small children :)

We've worked past the kid issues -- as in, don't stalk & pounce on them -- but I still wouldn't trust her alone with them. EVER.

She's now 7.5 years old and I give her Rimadyl more often than not for the dysplasia and front-leg limping. She's also on daily Cosequine for her joints per my vet's recommendation. She wants to go all day, but she just can't anymore. Too bad -- another reason I got her is because I'd heard of the longevity and health of Mark's dogs.

She's finally settling into the dog I've always wanted her to be -- like I said, she still has her "moments" -- but it's taken 7 years and a LOT of work (read: exercise, obedience classes, mental stimulation, etc).

Just to be prepared I'm already researching GSD breeders for the next pup -- again, I want a high-energy, healthy dog -- and I will not even CONSIDER purchasing from Kozies. I tell anyone who's asked me about him not to bother.

Em said...

I can confirm the Jerlands puppy mill comment by Sarah - we got our girl there years ago and weren't smart enough to run for the hills when Larry said 'there was no return policy/plan other than the hip dysplasia guarantee' and that we couldn't see the parents because they were 'with their families'...unlike the pups.
Our girl has been to the vet over 50 times since we got her, the first 30 visits before she turned 3 years old (almost all allergy related). Called Larry for information [only] to see if any other of his dogs had similar issues, and all Larry could tell me is that he has "NEVER had any similar problems with any of his other dogs" but that he sure hopes we'll consider him for another shepherd some day.
While we love our girl to bits, Larry couldn't GIVE me another of his dogs, even if it was free.