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Understanding your dog's pedigree
by Marjorie Bunting

I am regularly asked how to read a pedigree. "What does it all mean... Pedigrees are just a jumble of names to me... I don´t know whether it´s a good pedigree or not". Of course, on the surface a pedigree is just a list of names, and before being able to interpret that list into knowledge which will assist you when planning a mating, you first need to know something about your breed. For instance if I were to study a pedigree in a breed which I didn´t know, it could appear to be well balanced and carefully line-bred to a particular dog or pair of dogs, but as I know nothing about the qualities of that dog or pair, I won´t know the significance of the careful line-breeding.

Double up
The matings which have given our kennel the most success have benn aunt to nephew, uncle to niece, grand-parents to grand-children and occasionally cousin to cousin. In the early days in my breed I studied pedigrees of the most successful kennel and found the winners had been line-bred to a particular pair. By luck (as I did not have enough knowledge in those days to have bought a bitch on the strength of the pedigree) I found this pair doubled up in the pedigree of my foundation bitch.  With the help of the owner of that line, I too used this pair as the foundation on which to build my own line. That line, nearly 40 years on, has produced between thirty and forty champions for us, apart from the many other kennels which have that breeding as the foundation of their own success. In telling you this I am not claiming my own cleverness, merely my luck in starting with the right line, followed by my realisation that I need the experience of the originator of that line to get me off the ground, so to speak.

Line-breeding itself is usually carried on within the first three generations, but you need knowledge back to at least the fourth and the fifth generations to see the significance of a line-bred pedigree. So first look for the relationship of the sires and dams in the first three generations. Then trace back any parent, grandparent or great-grandparent which is repeated within the three generations and notice which, if any, of their ancestors have been line-bred to build up a pedigree based on a good dog, bitch or pair.
As you became more experienced at reading pedigrees you will slowly learn the significance of the relationships in each generation, and here is where you need to know something about those repeated names. Have they produced a successful line which has consistently won over the generations? Are they behind any other successful kennel? If so, the more they have been successfully used over several lines, the more important they are for good and bad, let me add, but I will come to that later.The following pedigrees will illustrate this. They are of two well-known champion bitches, but the names have obviously been changed.

In looks, B was the better bitch, easily gaining her championship title. While A was a worthy champion, she was not as outstanding as B. A was a first rate a brood bitch, producing Group and Reserve Group winners plus a top stud dog, and through her offspring she is behind most of the top winners in her breed today. Although B produced two champions when mated back to the best line in her pedigree through Ch. Bill Sykes, her descendants to the present day are mediocre and only occasionally produce an indifferent champion.
If you study the structure of their pedigrees you will see why. A was the result of careful line-breeding over many generations and was produced by a full cousin mating to the breeding which produced Ch Top o' the Line, one of the most outstanding dogs both in looks and at stud which the breed has had.
Bitch B on the other hand was the result of an outcross with only one really good line through Ch. Bill Sykes who, although a mediocre champion himself, was the result of a careful line-breeding and became an outstanding stud dog. Actually, Ch Bill Sykes was one of the two dogs to whom bitch A had been line-bred. The other three quarters of bitch B's pedigree mainly consists of indifferent dogs and bitches, badly out crossed. If the fact that her qualities had come through Ch. Bill Sykes had been recognised and careful line-breeding had been carried out to him, her descendants too may have eventually reached the quality of bitch A's descendants. Yet apart from one mating, she was bred to the wrong lines in her pedigree.

Future offspring
You can look at the pedigree of your foundation bitch and because you do not as yet know much about the breed, think it well planned. But as the qualities of the common ancestors are unknown to you, you won´t know how they will be likely to affect future offspring. A champion repeated over and over covering several generations does not necessarily mean it is a good pedigree. It depends on the quality and breeding of that champion.
You see, a champion can be an outstanding specimen of its breed, or it can be one which has been lucky to win three CCs. The outstanding champion may be a lucky chance bred from poor ancestors. This type of dog or bitch is less likely to produce winners and so needs to be treated with caution, searching for the dog or dogs from which it has inherited its qualities and then breeding to them, ignoring the rest of the pedigree when making breeding plans. Of course you can´t ignore the rest altogether as their mediocrity will keep coming out. If you wish to continue with such a dubious line, you must keep breeding back-all the time- to the quality ancestors.
The non-champion ancestors who keep recurring are important too, but so often new breeders only look at the well known names. They will have points you will need to understand if you are to take advantage of the qualities they appear to be able to pass along the generations.
I you are lucky enough to start with a bitch who is carefully bred to quality stock, things should be less difficult for you. But don´t try to go it alone too early. Until you understand all the dogs and bitches in her pedigree and the reason they have been mated in that way, you are most likely to do all the wrong things and bring out the bad points rather than the good in the line. Learn all you can about her pedigree from her breeder, as that is the only person who really knows about it. Every time a puzzle crops up, go and talk to him or her. Every line has its problems as well as its successes and only those who have successfully used a line for several generations really know about them, and where and how they are likely to crop up.

Turning your back
When you first come across problems in a line, don´t  throw up your hands in horror and blame everyone who has ever had anything to do with that line. Stop and think, and most of all, keep those problems in proportion. I repeat, every line in every breed has its problems. Turning your back on them and pretending they´re not there won´t work. I´ve seen people who have try it! Vociferously condemning the breeders of that line won´t work either, as they will clam up and leave you to get on as best you can. Look at it logically. What else can they do? If you are behaving negatively, they can´t give you positive help.
When you come across a problem, accept it as a challenger... Something to be coped with...something you will have to learn to control. Or get out of that line and that breed and leave them to more level-headed breeders. If you quietly go about the business of learning about the problem, particularly as it concerns your breed and your line, you will find other breeders more than willing to advise you and discuss your experiences with you, comparing them with their own. Believe me, I have seen more than one problem improved in my own breed by breeders quietly getting together to cope with knowledge and experience within the breed itself.
Remember, it´s human nature to talk more about troubles than give praise for success. Isn´t that what our daily papers are mainly about? While you are busy knocking the successful breeders you are building a wall between you and them, and you won´t be able to talk through a wall; it has been my experience that no matter how they appear on the surface, the majority of my fellow breeders, deep down, only want the best for their breed and will gladly help others if they go about seeking help in the right way.
To sum up, interpreting a pedigree means you need to know about line-breding so that you can understand the significance of the names from one generation to another, and have knowledge of your breed so that you know the show and breeding potential of each of the repeated names.
Understanding the value of a pedigree is a vast subject and I have only touched on the fringe. But I hope it has given you enough to at least start a successful study of the breeding of your own foundation bitch... And other pedigrees in the breed too of course, as you will need to investigate the breeding of the dogs you are considering for her as a mate.

Published in: "Dogs Monthly". March 1986. UK

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