I think Pedigree Data Base is a great tool. I started as a total newbie, no knowledge of GSD lines at all! I did know how to read/research pedigrees due to my horse knowledge, tho.
What I did and still do, is ask questions to any and all GSD owners I come across. I attended Schh clubs, obedience clubs, dock diving, etc. I would try to ask handlers where their dogs came from, kennel name, pedigree (if they knew it). I asked these questions about dogs I liked and dogs that I did not care for. Then I would research on pedigree data base. You definitely need to get out there and see the dogs and meet the people. One advantage I had was teaching a puppy school with lots of german shepherds going through. I got to see what I liked and what I didn't.
You will see patterns in the pedigrees. You will see some dogs names over and over again.
I also read on this forum. Read the threads about dogs that are problems. What is their pedigree/breeding? Read about dogs that are doing great, (well, or are doing things you are interested in) what is their pedigree?
Read the threads asking about specific dogs in the pedigree section.
Read ads on pedigree data base. Read the description. Of course, not all will be totally accurate, but you will start to get a picture of what the dogs are like.
I ended up with my dog by researching for lines that :
competed in IPO, (I wanted to try it),
were considerable biddable and handler friendly
I also met some close relatives and the sire and dam.
Max turned out just like I expected. Or maybe even a bit better! Good luck and have fun!
Max Von Zahnderhaus -CGC- DOB 2/14/2012
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Tim the Collie- RN -DOB 4/01/2010