Pedigree Power

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Match

A dog breeder is like the European and Asian matchmaker; it was her job to research family backgrounds, values and financial status to establish a compatible alliance between the bride and groom and their families. Similarly, the dog breeder should research the background of the dog to be bred for physical and mental qualities that will enhance the characteristics of the breed. The pedigree, a family tree of your dog’s immediate ancestor’s, is the breeders’ major research tool.

Pedigrees And Papers

When you purchased your dog, you should have also received a copy of his/her pedigree and KC registration papers. Neither registration papers nor the pedigree guarantees a dog’s quality. The registration merely means your dog’s records are kept on file with The Kennel Club; the pedigree is essentially a copy of those records as received from the owners of the ancestors of your dogs.

Reading The Pedigree

As you look at a pedigree, you should first confirm the name of the dog, his date of birth, colour, gender, registration number and breed are all correct.

Pedigrees consist of groupings of dogs’ names. On the far left you will find a column of two names; the sire’s (father’s) will be the upper name and the dam’s (mother’s) will be the lower name. Championship titles are normally included as part of the names. The column to the immediate right will contain four names. The first two will be the sire (on top) and the dam (second) of your dog’s sire; the second two will be the sire (third name down) and the dam (bottom name) of your dog’s dam. In other words, the first two names in the second column are your dog’s paternal grandparents and the second two names are your dog’s maternal grandparents. Each column to the right shows the previous generation.

Studying The Pedigree

Beauty, Brains and Achievements

Do you see “CH” preceding many names on the pedigree? If so you know many dogs in the family have been conformation champion “show dogs”. This does not mean they are necessarily top specimens; it does mean the owners have had the fortitude and finances to complete the championships and that the dog was probably a reasonably good representative of the breed. Unless you are familiar with the dog’s show career and the competition he showed against you cannot tell how good he is or was. Dogs without titles may have been as good as, or even better than, the ones who became champions, but it will be harder to learn about them. Some breeds can also earn special titles relating to their function such as obedience, field work, etc.


Registry organizations have no way of knowing your dog’s health. However, The KC does receive information from the OFA and CERF on dogs who pass exams and are, at the time of exam, clinically clear of hip and eye problems; this information may be included on the pedigrees. Many breeders put this information on pedigrees as well. Remember, though, a dog who is clinically clear may still be able to produce those problems

Type of Breeding

You can tell if your dog is inbred, linebred, or outcrossed. If you see the same dog’s name several times in pedigree and he/she has been bred to brothers, sisters, parents or his own offspring you are looking at the pedigree of a dog who is INBRED. If the same dog appears several times but has been bred to half-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren or cousins then the dog is considered LINEBRED. If no names appear more than once, the dog is considered OUTCROSSED. The more common ancestors you find in a pedigree, the greater the chances are that the genes will have “doubled up” and will not only be evident in the inbred dog but s/he is more likely to be dominant for these characteristics. This can be good if you are trying to develop consistent size, coat, personality or other desirable traits; however you may also be “doubling up” on undesirable traits such as PRA, crooked teeth or other traits that will be brought to the surface instead of remaining hidden.

Working With The Pedigree

My own preference is to work with a pedigree that shows at least five or six generations. Although I store a lot of information in my computer, I find it helpful to do this project on paper. In order to study a pedigree I take the largest blank pedigree form I can get and fill in the names. Then I make notes about all of the dogs. Some characteristics I note in a personal “shorthand” and others are just short phrases. Everything, good and bad, is included. At the very least I will have hip and eye information. Some things I look for in my breed include: size, jaw closure, missing or scrambled teeth, color and markings, coat volume and texture, comments on general structure and movement, personality, show records or special awards, known siblings or offspring and pertinent facts about them, and whether I have personally seen the dog. Often I end up having a least one additional sheet of paper for some dogs or putting the information on note cards that I spread out on a table the way a pedigree is set up.

Finding Information

What do you do if you do not have the dogs in your house to look at? Ask questions of the person from whom you got your dog. Talk to the people who own(ed) and/or bred the parents and other ancestors and ask about relatives. Look at dogs in the ring and make notes. Although there are not many books on some breeds, there are often club publications that are full of photos and descriptions of the dogs who may be in your pedigree. Videos from past and current specialties are often available for purchase. Look at show catalogs or other pedigrees carefully to find possible relatives of your dog. Write to people who may have information they would be willing to share. Look in the AKC GAZETTE which lists all new champions with the sire and dam and periodically prints the OFA and CERF updates for all breeds.

You may find information in surprising places. Talk with people you don’t know if they have your breed in tow or are standing ringside watching judging. My vet casually palpates hips and check sunder the fall when she treats a dog of my breed knowing these are areas of concern in my breed; she would alert me (if she knew it was one of my pups) as well as the owner if anything looks suspicious. She takes mental notes and tells me things about the few dogs I bred that she has for clients that the owners would either not know about or think to tell me. For example, I learned the half-brother to a dog I lost under anesthetic was himself very slow to come out when he was neutered. An inquiry about my breed on a computer bulletin board generated responses from a couple of pet owners. One turned out to own a pup my male sired in an outside stud service and I am finding out what characteristics of my line are showing up in a pet 600 miles away that I will never see. The other was a granddaughter of a dog I had used as stud and I was able to add to the list of X-rayed and clear-eyed offspring for that dog.

Using the Information

Write down everything you have learned in your research. Be sure to indicate if the information is absolute fact, based on first-hand observation, is your personal opinion or is facts or opinions obtained from outside sources.

Now your real work begins! Look for qualities, favorable AND unfavorable, that endure from generation to generation. You will find that some characteristics will dominate for several generations or among close relatives while others crop up very rarely.

If you are studying your own dog’s pedigree you will be able to get an idea of what your dog is likely to produce or carries the potential to produce. If you are studying the pedigree of someone else’s dog, you can intelligently guess the same about him/her. Of course this is helpful if you are looking for a mate for your dog as you can look for pedigrees containing dogs who have produced qualities you seek to add, intensify or avoid. It is just as helpful if you are looking to acquire a new addition as you will be aware of the traits apt to show up in the families of dogs you may be considering.

To become a real student of the breed do not limit your study to just a few pedigrees. You will be surprised at what you can learn by researching the pedigrees of other dogs. What is behind your competition’s stock — find out and you may learn the strong and weak points of your competition. (If they have great rears and not so good coats, you know to be competitive your dog must have a great rear and will have an advantage if he has a nice coat.) What is behind dogs who were great winners or known as great producers in the past — find out and you may find their descendants in unexpected places. (You may find out CH. Super Kennel Mr.. Big Time, the foundation of the Big Time line, was sired by a dog who is now considered a rival line.) Do you wish you could use a dog for breeding who is not available to you — research his pedigree and you may be able to find close relatives that may carry the traits you admire. (CH. Fido’s Number One Son may no longer be available for breeding but his owner continued to breed his descendants and may have placed one where it is accessible to you.)

Happy researching! And remember, if you are studying pedigrees with thoughts of breeding, the number of champions in any dog’s pedigree is the last thing you should consider. The most vital considerations are the quality, temperment and health of the dog, his parents and grandparents and all their littermates.

About Sue Mechem

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