Understanding Pedigree Services

How far can you trace your family history? Most people can go back three, four, maybe five generations. Beyond that, things get sketchy. But if you were a purebred dog, you may be able to go back 30 or 50 generations – all the way back to your family's beginnings.

And that is just what Shirley Lawler did for her Great Dane. An exhaustive search tracked the dog's history back to the 1830s, when the original cross of a mastiff and a wolfhound began her dog's lineage.

Many people who own purebred dogs hire pedigree research services to trace their pet's lineage. Essentially, they are putting together a family tree of their dogs that will show who was bred to whom, what litters were produced, their description, and which dogs were champions in dog shows, agility competitions and other events.

The research is possible because the records of breeds, litters, sires and dams (fathers and mothers of a litter) are meticulously kept in studbooks. Lawler, owner of Indrio Pedigree Service in Texas, says most pedigrees are researched three to five generations.

However, a person can go much farther back because the studbooks are updated monthly. That means, Lawler enters 500 to 1,000 new bits of information every month on what purebreds produced litters, which dogs won championships, in what events, etc.

Lawler says people seek a family tree on their dogs for different reasons. "Some think it's cute and want something to hang on the wall," she explains. She usually recommends a relatively short history – about three or four generations. Price goes up the farther back one goes. Indrio charges $13 for four generations, $18 for five generations and $28 for six generations.

Prices vary among the different pedigree research services, which can be found both on the Internet and in the back of magazines such as Dog Fancy. Pricing may also differ on how the pedigree research is presented. A fancier presentation – one that is framed, with a gold seal, breed imprint and the like – may cost more than a more simple document that simply details your dog's lineage. The AKC also offers a pedigree research service. Call several agencies to compare levels of service and pricing.

People wishing to show dogs often want a pedigree that goes back five generations, but don't have the time to go through the massive stacks of studbooks. A dog does not require a pedigree history to be shown – as long as they are registered with the AKC – but a pedigree may help a dog in the ring, by demonstrating that a particular canine comes from a long list of champion dogs. In addition, breeders often want to be able to show a dog's pedigree so the litters will fetch a higher price.

Another reason for conducting a pedigree research is to uncover a genetic problem that crops up continually in a particular line of dogs. The studbook includes a description of the dog, and a trained researcher and breeder can ferret out clues that may point to the origin of the defect. It may help determine the likelihood of whether the trait can be bred out.