How to Read A Pedigree and Understand It

by Stephanie S. Hedgepath

Copyright, 1993, All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be republished or used on another website without the express written permission of the author.

The basic construction of a pedigree is the same, no matter what the breeding or animal. The first generation is composed of the parents of the individual, the next, or second generation is of the grandparents, the third, the great-grandparents, etc. What makes reading our Corgis' pedigrees so interesting is looking for patterns of breeding in a dog's background.

There are three basic patterns of breeding animals: inbreeding, linebreeding and outcrossing. While there are ongoing discussions as to where inbreeding stops and linebreeding begins, for this discussion we will consider inbreeding to be son to mother, father to daughter, brother to sister, and half-brother to half-sister. Linebreeding is the mating of dogs who are closely related to the same ancestor but are generally not related at all through any other ancestor. When you say your dog is "linebred" it usually means they are related through both the sire and the dam to one particular ancestor. An outcrossed pedigree would be one in which an individual has no common ancestors in the first three or four generations. Not much credence is given to the influence of dogs beyond the fourth generation. An ancestor appearing in the fourth generation, in pure mathematics, contributes only 1/256 of the heredity factors in a puppy and therefore seemingly can do little to overcome the influence of any unrelated inferior specimens appearing in the pedigree later.

Before we journey any further into the discussion of reading and understanding pedigrees, I would caution the reader that selection by pedigree alone without considering the physical traits of the animals attached to the pedigree can lead to great disappointments! We are not building "paper Corgis" but should always strive to improve upon the dogs that we have. A pedigree is only a guarantee of bloodlines - a record of the ancestors whose genetic contributions have given us the dog we wish to breed in order to continue the line. A complete evaluation of the individuals themselves is essential for any success to be expected. The foundation of breeding purebred animals must begin with the physical character of the animals themselves and not pedigrees alone.

Why linebreed or inbreed? Most all breeders do linebreeding to some extent. This is done to bring about breed improvement by combining animals not only similar in their characteristics, but also by narrowing the pedigree to a few closely related lines of descent from outstanding individuals. Linebreeding thus narrows down to the selection of the individual ancestor one chooses to emulate. A line from a book published in the late 1800's sticks in my mind: "Whatever unit, then, the breeder desires to reproduce, that unit becomes the prototype, and the pedigree terminates with him or her." ("Rational Breeding") In other words, "at the place where a great name is mentioned, the pedigree should stop."

If your goal is to intensify and preserve the characteristics of your top producing female, you would attempt an inbreeding of mother to son, thus multiplying the bloodline of the dam. To intensify the bloodline of the sire, you would mate him to his best daughter. Mating brother to sister should preserve the bloodlines from both sire and dam equally, but is only really successful if the combination of the parents has proved to be exceptionally successful in producing the ideal combination of desired characteristics. If you study pedigrees for long, you will see some definite patterns in most all pedigrees that are linebred. Other than those mentioned above, the other patterns most frequently seen are grandfather to granddaughter, grandfather to double granddaughter, son to granddaughter and son t double granddaughter, grandson to granddaughter, and grandson to double granddaughter.

When researching a pedigree for breeding purposes, you should look for an animal that is inbred or linebred on a great individual. In selecting to breed, you should, therefore, linebreed on the individual in your dog's pedigree that most closely approaches your ideal - whether that be a dog or a bitch. Remember, if you linebreed or inbreed on a mediocre dog, you will only produce more mediocrity! Only those animals that are of *superior* quality should be selected for inbreeding or linebreeding. Careful consideration should be made for the selection of the breeding female. Think about it - where a male becomes the sire of hundreds the female becomes the mother of tens; yet in each case only about the same number of "pillars" (those animals which consistely produce top quality animals) within a breed result! Since it is much easier to trace a distinctive type among the comparatively few descendants of one mother, it is possible to make valuable use of female influence.

Alas, superior breeding animals are not so easy to obtain, and the majority of us must start with what is usually considered an average bitch. The best breeding practice to take in this situation would be to mate her with a stud whose structure approaches the ideal, thus "breeding up" through him. With the resulting female progeny, one can then breed back into the sire's side of the pedigree for the next step upwards. But, I digress into breeding practices when I am supposed to be talking about pedigrees! Perhaps this could be another topic, the actual breeding practices of the patterns of breeding.

All breeds of purebred animals evolve. No two people will select for quite the same series of points within a breed. With some it is head, others, body, still others, color, until a strain with marked and characteristic features is evolved. Every strain or family within a breed has its exceptionally good characteristics and its acknowledged bad ones, both of which it reproduces with a fair amount of consistency. Most of us can easily pick out the dogs in the show ring from certain kennels - they are stamped with that Heronsway, or Caralon or Phi-Vestavia "look." They are essentially the "strains" or "families" within the breed. The great value of a pedigree is that through its use we may learn the possible hereditary tendencies or peculiarities of the dogs from which we are breeding.

We must accumulate some knowledge of the characteristics of the famous animals (or "pillars") whose names appear in a pedigree or we will be unable to make much use of the information a pedigree can afford us. If all we had to do to produce top quality puppies was to breed to the top winner of the day, everyone could do it and the show rings would be full of nothing but superior specimens. Breeding to the top winner is not always the sure way to succeed, as a top winner is not always a top or even a consistent producer. A breeder should be able to classify any animal from which he intends to breed into its strain or family type and therefore should be able to make a fair guess as to which ancestor was responsible for its predominating qualities. If your dog is a cross of kennel/strain "A" and kennel/strain "B" - which of the two strains does the dog most resemble? By assessing the breeding animal in this way (via his or her pedigree) you should know which animal you should choose for its mate in order to intensify or suppress the existing characteristics. Again, if you only select mates by pedigree without consideration to physical compensation you will undoubtedly produce dogs with notable faults and linebreed or inbreed yourself into failure!

If you have read your pedigree successfully and have embarked upon a plan to build your own recognizable strain you should have several generations of linebreeding accomplished before you need to think about the third pattern found in pedigrees, the outcross. Usually a breeder of an established strain will only outcross for a definite purpose. If you can gather enough information on the dogs in the outcrossed pedigree, with some thought you can usually figure out what the breeder wanted to accomplish in his strain of dogs with an outcross. Often the initial results of an outcross utilizing two *excellent* animals exhibit many of the good points of both parents. When these pups hit the show ring and are successful, many breeders rush to make similar breedings. Unfortunately, without a clear cut purpose in mind, the resulting generations of this outcross will often show a great lack of uniformity - which will leave the less experienced breeders at a loss of what mating to make next. This only further helps to make the breed one of differing types in size and proportion. (Sound familiar?)

In conclusion, let me say that it is essential for the beginning breeder to obtain some knowledge of genetics and also a complete understanding of the breed standard of the breed to which he is committed. Not until these two steps are taken can one be considered serious in his protection and advancement of a breed instead of just wanting to play the "game" of winning in the show ring.


Stephanie S. Hedgepath, Jimanie