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Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Do Pedigrees Tell Us?

A dog's pedigree is like a family tree - it lists his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth for however many generations are listed.  Pedigrees give you the registered names of the dog's parents and ancestors as well as what titles, if any, they obtained. Often, pedigrees list other information about the dogs such as dates of birth and death, health registry listings, color, etc.

Unlike a family tree, a typical dog pedigree does not list siblings. Pedigrees list one offspring of a sire and dam, throughout the generations. (Certain pedigrees, called "vertical pedigrees" do include siblings; this information can be useful to breeders when making breeding decisions.) The sire is listed above and to the right of the dog, the dam is listed below and to the right. Here's an example of the pedigree of one of the most famous Boxers in history, Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest, SOM, LOM:

Am/Int Ch. Ursa Major of Sirrah Crest, SOM Ch. Yobang of Sirrah Crest Ch. Duke Cronian, SOM
Madiera of Sirrah Crest
Umbra of Sirrah Crest, UD Whirlaway of Mazelaine, CD
Ch. Oracle of Sirrah Crest
Verily Verily of Sirrah Crest Ch. Xebony of Sirrah Crest Nightcap of Sirrah Crest
Madcap of Sirrah Crest
Ch. Quest of Sirrah Crest Ch. Kobang of Sirrah Crest, SOM
Ovation of Sirrah Crest

What this pedigree shows is that Bang Away's sire was Ursa Major of Sirrah Crest, a dog who was an American Champion, and International Champion, and a Sire of Merit (SOM). His dam was Verily Verily of Sirrah Crest - an untitled bitch, but she obviously produced well! We can also see Bang Away's "tail male line", the top lines in the pedigree - Ursa Major, who was sired by Ch. Yobang of Sirrah Crest, who was sired by Ch. Duke Cronian, SOM. Tail male lines can often illuminate trends in stud dog prepotency - the ability of dogs to produce puppies very similar to themselves.

Another important, though often overlooked, line for breeders is the "tail female line", the bottom line on the pedigree. Verily Verily, whose dam was Ch. Quest of Sirrah Crest, whose dam was Ovation of Sirrah Crest, make up the tail female line in the above pedigree. While much emphasis is placed on choosing the stud dog, many old-time breeders followed the adage that "the strength of a kennel is in its bitches". After all, it is the dam who raises the litter. She must have good health to manage pregnancy, whelping, and nursing puppies; she must have a solid temperament to properly socialize her puppies (with the breeder's help, of course); and she must have desirable genetic traits since the puppies get (at least) 50% of their DNA from her. (Horse people have figured this out, in general, and pay more attention to the tail female line.)

Pedigrees can also tell you what type of breeding system, if any, the breeders followed. If many of the same dogs show up in the pedigree, some form of linebreeding has occurred; depending on where the dogs show up, this may or may not be intentional. (Repeated dogs within the first 3-4 generations is probably intentional; repeats 5 generations or further back is probably not. Most people would call repeated dogs within the first 2 generations inbreeding rather than linebreeding.)

A pedigree full of unrelated dogs, such as shown in Bang Away's, may be due to outbreeding (often called outcrossing) - purposely choosing dogs that are unrelated for x generations (usually five, sometimes 10) or type-breeding (sometimes called assortative mating) selecting mating pairs based on physical traits rather than pedigree. Most breeders use all of the systems at various points throughout their breeding program. (And if you take Bang Away's pedigree a little further back, Duke Cronian shows up twice in the fourth and twice in the fifth generations.)

For the average dog owner, of course, these issues are of minor importance, though you should look for a breeder who understands the importance of a pedigree (without overvaluing it - the individual dogs are more important that the names on the paper). It can be helpful to know if your dog's ancestors obtained obedience, agility, or other performance titles, however, if you think you may be interested in pursuing those activities. If you're interested in showing, a pedigree that contains dogs who were successful in attaining their championships generally gives you better odds of attaining a championship on your own dog. And, yes, it's kind of fun to know that your dog has a famous ancestor, or shares a grandparent with the top-winning dog of the day!