Reading a dog’s pedigree is an overwhelming task for novice dog breeders. Often, you look at the chart and linked data without much of an objective. It’s hard to find a piece of information we don’t even know we are looking for.
Breeding dogs has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with genetics and heredity. Therefore, knowing how to read a dog’s pedigree is essential if you want your bloodline to be amongst the best.
In essence, a dog’s pedigree is its family tree (so yes, every dog has a pedigree). What people tend to mean by pedigree is a family tree where each family member was registered on a pedigree dog registration scheme — such as the Kennel Club, the International Sheep Dog Society, and there are plenty others.
For newcomers in the dog breeding world, the pedigree is not clearly understood and a common mistake is to get a registered Dam and Sire and think it is a great start. Well, not really. Not at all quite frankly. Being registered does not mean, in any way, that the dogs are of high quality: it is just a record in a database. The simple rule is that all exceptional dogs are registered but not all registered dogs are exceptional. What makes the difference is who is composing the pedigree of a particular dog or litter.
In short, you need to dissect it and research its family members to then study them individually. It is called the pedigree analysis. If they fit the characteristics are looking for, you then want to have a deeper look at them and see how well they performed in championships and shows.
For example, if you are breeding herding Border Collies, you want to find a dog that has a line which demonstrated amazing herding abilities, either by reputation or by actually winning herding contests and championships.
Obviously, the more champions there are in a bloodline or a pedigree, the more expensive the puppies produced will be. This is exactly why you really need to figure how much you are ready to invest.
This article tells you what you should pay attention to in every single pedigree you read. Obviously, every breeder has different needs, and each pedigree displays its very own set of unique pieces of information. With experience and by having a clear dog breeding program laid out, reading the pedigree of a dog will become a simpler exercise.
Titles and Awards
All the titles and awards a dog earns at qualified AKC events becomes part of its record maintained by the AKC. When a dog or bitch wins a championship title in an AKC qualified event, it will have it permanently noted in its pedigree. Any buyer of an offspring of a champion dog will know it by looking at the pedigree. The various kennel clubs share a common core of several abbreviations and titles, you can find a list here.
The abbreviation “CH” appearing before a dog or bitch’s name on a pedigree means “Champion”. Please mind that UKC records note CH in red. Champion or “CH” means a champion in a Conformation show. Meaning, the dog carrying the “CH” before its name conforms closely to the standards for that particular breed. A close look at the ancestors’ names on the pedigree for the abbreviation “CH” indicates how many champions have made up the genetics of this particular dog. With dog breeding, it can also give some assurance that the future offspring of the dog, if mated well, will carry on those desirable traits. Proven dogs are always scoring better.
Other championships and trials like Field and Obedience also have their abbreviation and are noted on the pedigree. For example, an “FC” before a dog’s name indicates a dog that is champion in the field, e.g. perhaps a pointer or retriever. A label like this would be most important for a breeder who specializes in breeding dogs for duck hunting, and the likes.
Other awards appear behind a dog’s name and, also, carry their own abbreviations. For example, the abbreviation “CD” means that this dog or bitch has been certified in a formal process as a companion dog. Again, this information can be very important to a particular breeder or buyer. The American Kennel Club, of course, is the primary source for the decoding of information appearing on its pedigrees.
Inbreeding in dogs has its good and bad sides. On the good side, it increases the likelihood that puppies carry on the most desirable traits of their breed. In fact, inbreeding is how many of our most popular breeds came into existence. People in the late 19th and early 20th centuries didn’t have the scientific knowledge of current canine genetics, but they did understand from years of raising farm animals how selective breeding worked. In fact, eugenics which now carries many negative associations was a very popular thing among the rich and intellectual elites in that time period.
The creation and recognition of dog breeds in an organized way sprung out of that movement. Inbreeding will appear simply on a dog’s (or bitch’s) pedigree by the reappearance of a certain dogs’ names and identifying registration number on different lines of the same family tree. In case of grading up, the same stud will appear over and over again with his distant offsprings.
A championship dog or a national champion dog will be a carrier of valuable genes (as a eugenicist might say.) That dog will be sought after for stud services, and the owner of the dog may try to breed that dog also (this is how the popular sire effect begins…) If that dog is bred with one of its own progenies, inbreeding will appear on the puppies’ future pedigrees. Those puppies are now more likely to be champions themselves because of their advantageous genetic makeup. This is generally called coming from or having a championship bloodline.
The bad side of inbreeding is that a closed gene pool increases the chances of bad genes being passed along, too. A knowledgeable breeder will understand the risks involved with the appearance of inbreeding and linebreeding on a dog’s pedigree.
For example, a breeder of German Shepherds knows that hip dysplasia is a major problem within the breed. If inbreeding occurs in a pedigree of a German Shepherd pup, a responsible owner of that pup will be on the lookout for screens of that condition so that it is not bred in the future. Unfortunately, it is difficult if not impossible to know from just a pedigree if a puppy or dog has come from responsible breeders. This is why it is a starting point that will require further research (and hours of investigation sometimes.)
In general, inbreeding in breeds with a high number of known genetic diseases and conditions may be more of a worse than a good thing to see on a pedigree. Genetic diversity is very important and this is how humans and most animals on Earth thrive over centuries. Inbreeding depression can irreversibly destroy a bloodline or a breed (e.g. the English bulldog.)
The pedigree of a dog carries a lot of information just on the face of the document. It doesn’t contain all the information, though. If a dog does not carry that “CH” in front of the name, does it mean that it has some flaw or does it mean that the dog didn’t compete in any show? This is where pattern recognition will help!
Patterns of Desired & Undesired Traits
A close reading of a dog’s pedigree with a bit of detective work will give much information about a dog and how its genetic makeup translated in our practical world. Most genes only represent a potential that the dog’s environment and life experiences will express to a certain extent.
Seeing how often a particular characteristic appeared in a dog’s ancestors can give you an idea of what can appear in your future litters. This goes with most traits that you seek to have or better in your own bloodlines. These traits may be the ability to perform a specific job (herding skills, or athletic performance for example), or a particular physical attribute that you are keen on (e.g. longer and more powerful legs, longer snout, naturally more muscular body, etc.)
Reality is, undesirable traits may be more difficult to glean from a pedigree because not having a “CH” in front of the name of a dog doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog had flaws. And unless a dog is a champion or participated in many shows, it will be hard to find relevant information for you to work with. Perhaps the owner never wanted to compete nor breed himself.
Many fine AKC dogs with good bloodlines do simply serve as companion animals while many flawed puppies are registered by unscrupulous breeders just to be able to raise their price tag.
The health of a particular dog at this point in time is not going to appear on every pedigree. The good news is that the American Kennel Club has taken some very progressive steps to try to bring 21st-century science into a 19th-20th-century system. The AKC now includes a DNA analysis and a unique number on dogs that are categorized as Frequently Used Sire (i.e. a stud who sired more than seven litters of puppies or sired three litters in a calendar year.)
Many types of diseases have genetic roots. Tests may be developed in the future for common canine ailments like cancer and diabetes. The AKC, by building a genetic database and also displaying on a dog’s pedigree that it has that information available, will someday be extremely valuable to a breeder or a prospective buyer. A dog with a DNA record will have the annotation DNA and its unique number on its pedigree so the public can dig deeper.
Currently, there are few but important pieces of health information that can be found on a pedigree. The abbreviation OFA is an important abbreviation to see on a dog’s pedigree. It stands for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The OFA has maintained a database on hip dysplasia in dogs since 1966 and sets out standards for the examination of a dog for this condition. A dog examined under those standards is given the grade of E (Excellent), G (Good), or F (Fair). The age of the dog when it was examined (in months) and the grade are sent in by the breeder or owner to be noted on the pedigree.
Similarly, the OFA has set out criteria for a pass examination for elbow dysplasia in dogs. A pass on that exam will appear only as OFAL and the exam date in months. Finally, EYE means that the dog passed the eye examination and was free of any apparent eye disease when tested. These kinds of certifications can be very important for prospective buyers and breeders of breeds known to have problems with such conditions.
Coat Types, Colors, and Patterns
Coat colors should appear on a dog’s pedigree when the color of the dog’s coat is one of the breed’s standards. For example, Labrador Retrievers will conform to breed standard with one of three colors: yellow, black or chocolate.
The pedigree of a Labrador puppy normally shows each parent’s color indicated by the abbreviations ylw (yellow), blk (black) and chlt (chocolate). Many other breeds have allowable and disqualifying coat colors. Information about coat color is a piece of important information on a pedigree to note, especially if you have a particular focus on your bloodline’s appearance.
If the same coat color appears everywhere on the pedigrees of a mated bitch and dog, the puppies have an extremely high probability of having the same color. That is simple genetics. However, an ancestor somewhere in the family tree with a different color — even a conforming to standard one — increases the chances of a random puppy being born with a beautiful but potentially disqualifying mix of two conforming colors. The same goes for the different coat patterns and lengths.
Canine genetics are just beginning to be analyzed and understood and there is much more scientific research that still needs to be done. Yet, the genetics behind dog colors is very well covered on this particular website.
Stud Book and Ancestry
The Stud Book is the key to the success of any kennel club. For over a century, the original and first British Kennel Club as well as the American Kennel Club have kept a careful record of the breeding of its qualified dogs. The number on each pedigree will provide information as to the lineage of a particular dog.
This kind of information can be used for all kinds of purposes, even just for just the curious. Need a name for a dog? A look at the pedigree will show great-great-grand dog was a Champion and carried the name, “Sylvester” —a great name to pass down to a pup. There could be even litigation that calls into question whether this dog produced those puppies. The studbook, then, could even find its use in a courtroom.
The pedigree is what sets purebred dogs apart from the average mutts on the street (no judgment here, all dogs are amazing.) It makes them, perhaps, more interesting for dog breeder seeking particular traits and characteristics. A pedigree does, in fact, make a dog more valuable.