What's a Pedigree?

Find tips and advice on what to look for and what questions to ask when buying a puppy from a breeder.
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What's a Pedigree?

If you're interested in purchasing a purebred puppy, the breeder should provide the puppy's pedigree before you make a commitment. I've heard of buyers being told that they can have the pedigree when they buy the pup. That's completely backwards! The pedigree is one of the things a serious breeder uses to plan a litter. An educated buyer looks at the pedigree when deciding whether to buy a puppy, and a responsible breeder will be proud to show you the pedigree and explain it to you. She should know a lot about the dogs in that pedigree—in fact, she should know most of it by heart. If the breeder doesn't seem to know much about the pedigree, beware.

Okay, so exactly what is this pedigree thing? It's quite simple—it's a family tree. Normally, a breeder will provide a pedigree showing four or five generations. The pedigree begins on the left with the individual dog or litter and moves one column to the right with each earlier generation, giving the registered names of the ancestors. Titles earned are shown on most pedigrees, and very often the pedigree will give additional information, such as the dogs' colors, Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) ratings, and special honors.

So why bother with a pedigree if you're looking for a pet, not a show or breeding dog? For several reasons. First, the pedigree gives you an indication of whether the breeder is a serious, responsible breeder of quality dogs, or just a puppy producer trying to make a buck. How can you, a novice in the world of canine pedigrees, tell the difference? First, look at the names of the dogs. Serious breeders have kennel names that appear in their dogs' names. In most breeds, you'll see names like “CH. Foxpacks Here's Lookin at You” or “Fallen Tree Cinderella CD, CGC,” where Foxpack and Fallen Tree denote the respective kennels. You shouldn't see names like “Suzi Q. Jones” or “Big Tuff Guy.” There are some exceptions, particularly in breeds that have only recently moved from strictly working status into the realm of show breeders. But overall, expect to see “fancy” registered names, and usually more than one dog with the same kennel name—maybe Foxpack's Here's Lookin at You is a son of Foxpack's Look the Other Way.

Next, look for initials before and after the dogs' names. These are abbreviations for titles earned in competition. For example, in “CH. Foxpack's Here's Lookin at You,” the CH. denotes “conformation champion.” If you don't know what the initials mean, ask the breeder. (If she doesn't know, walk away!) At least half the dogs in the first two generations (the puppies' parents and grandparents) should have titles or be on their way to titles. Most serious breeders are active in competition. In some breeds, it is very difficult to finish a championship. Still, some of the dogs in the pedigree should have performance titles and points toward the champion title.

But hold on, you say. You just want a nice, healthy, reasonably well-behaved pet dog. Who cares about show titles or the breeder's goals? Well, to be honest, you should. Even champion parents and grandparents will produce some puppies that just don't have what it takes to compete successfully. Most of the time, whatever it is that keeps such a pup out of the game for breeders and competitors is insignificant for that pup's future as a wonderful companion. You may luck out and get a dandy puppy from a badly bred litter. But the odds are not in your favor. Looks, health, temperament, intelligence, and beauty are all influenced by a puppy's genetic background. Do yourself a favor—either buy a well-bred pup or adopt a dog in need from a shelter or rescue organization. Don't support bad breeding—you'll help no one if you do, least of all yourself or your dog.