by Vicki DeGruy, Thunderhill Chow Chows

"He has a pedigree a mile long!" exclaimed the owner of the dog wagging his tail next to me. Most people are justifiably proud of that large, mysterious piece of paper with a list of strange-sounding names, some of them outlined in red ink. What exactly is this paper that seems so impressive? What does it really mean?

Very simply, a pedigree is a record of your dog's ancestors: sire (father), dam (mother), grandsire, granddam, great-grandsire and so forth. Every creature - animal, plant or human - has a pedigree. Unless someone has taken the trouble to write it down and keep track of it, the information is usually lost in the mists of time and memory.

The American Kennel Club and other animal registries are designed to keep track of pedigrees. For a small registration fee, the AKC will record your dog's name and pedigree information. The AKC registration certificate you received means that your dog's information is kept on file in the AKC's records. For another fee, the AKC will provide you with a certified pedigree - a listing of the information they've kept on your dog's registered ancestors.

The AKC records your dog's name, color, sex, parentage, date of birth, breeder and owner and any titles the dog has won in AKC-sanctioned shows, obedience or performance trials. The AKC also records OFA & CERF certification numbers - evidence that your dog and his parents were certified free of hip and eye diseases. When applying for registration, AKC relies on breeders and owners to be honest. If the breeder of your dog has given the AKC false information, your dog's pedigree may not be correct. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for AKC to verify all this information individually. Unless you personally know and trust your dog's breeder, you really have no way of knowing if your dog is really the one recorded on his papers!

What a pedigree doesn't tell you is very important! Any purebred dog that meets AKC's requirements for registration may be registered and receive "papers". The papers can't tell you if the dog is of good quality or if it even looks like the breed it's supposed to be. All it can tell you is that the dog is registered and his records are kept on file. Most people misunderstand this very important point! Many dogs of poor quality are AKC registered. You can't judge a dog's quality from looking only at his registration papers or pedigree.

With this in mind, you now know that a pedigree can only tell you who your dog's ancestors were - it can't tell you if they were of good quality, what they looked like or whether they had inherited health of temperament problems that they passed on to their descendants.

If your dog serves you well as a pet or companion, you may not care about finding out more about his family. If you intend to breed or show your dog, however, getting accurate information about his background is crucial! You'll need to do much, much more than just memorize the names on his pedigree or count the number of champions in it.

To find out more about the dogs in the pedigree, you should visit your dog's breeder to see his sire and dam firsthand. The breeder should be able to tell you where to find your dog's grandparents as well. For information on dogs farther back in the pedigree, you may have to rely on books and magazines about your breed. Videos may be available as well. Contact the national breed club to find veteran breeders who can give the history on dogs now deceased. Pictures can only tell you part of the story. You need to talk to people who have firsthand knowledge of what the dogs were really like.

What does "CH." mean? CH. is the abbreviation for “Champion”, a title that makes everyone's heart beat a little faster! A pedigree filled with champions, their names written in red ink, is an impressive sight indeed!

A champion is a dog that's defeated enough other dogs at sanctioned shows to win the required number of points to achieve the title. The required number of dogs to be defeated

varies with each breed. It can be easier to become a champion in some breeds more than others.

Is a champion a dog of exceptional quality? Sometimes - and sometimes not. A champion is only as good as the competition he defeats. In areas where the competition is poor, a champion may be just slightly above average for his breed. He may not be able to achieve his title in places where the competition is tougher. Having the title doesn't tell you whether he actually deserved it.

A championship title also can't tell you if the dog was good breeding stock or if he/she had inherited defects that were passed on to his/her puppies. Only firsthand knowledge from

people who actually knew the dogs can tell you that.

In short, a pedigree is a tool to help breeders produce better dogs. It's a starting point for research. A pedigree by itself really doesn't mean much. Without knowing what the dogs in the pedigree were really like, a pedigree is just an impressive list of names.

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