Pedigrees: The Breeder’s Roadmap

Pedigrees are the breeder’s roadmap. They tell us where we’ve been, and they can help guide us in the future.

What kind of traveler are you—the adventurous type who takes off without a map and explores unknown byways, or the planner who carefully maps a journey with a very specific destination? Or are you so trustful and dependent of GPS that you fail to notice the landscape or landmarks along the way? Are you an embracer of new and challenging destinations, or are you the type who is comfortable going to the same vacation spot year after year?

Travel and pedigrees have a lot in common. With travel, maps can show us the most direct route or take us on a scenic byway, and they can even show us the topography of an area.

Pedigrees are the breeder’s roadmap. They tell us where we’ve been, and they can help guide us in the future. However, a pedigree is only as good as the information behind the name. If we don’t know the individuals, if we’ve never seen the dogs, if we have no picture of the journey it took to arrive at that destination, then it is like driving at night with the headlights off. We are creeping along in the dark.

Even when we think we know the terrain very well, there can be surprises. So why not study the map as best we can?

Beginners in the journey find it more difficult when some or all the dogs are unfamiliar. I still have the pedigree of my first show dog. I knew none of the dogs firsthand, but as a Collie fancier I was very familiar with the beautiful photographs of the Tokalon Collies, which gave me a mental image of the overall look of the family. Like names on a map, however, without ever visiting the town, you have no idea what that place is really like.

Whether our dogs are for companion, performance, show, or breeding, that sheet of paper is the sum total of a cute little bundle of fur. There’s blood, sweat, and tears behind those names, and four generations of health, temperament, and conformation history spelled out in neatly typed rows. Breeding or buying is often a matter of trust, but the information is there, and the first clue to the story is a name. 

Years ago I researched my foundation bitch’s pedigree as far back as possible. I printed her registered name in the middle of the first page, and as the roll of shelf paper slowly unfurled, I traced her family tree to the very beginning of American Collies. I searched for photographs of as many of the dogs on that long sheet of paper as I could find, often referring to the CCA Library of Champions. Even if the photographs were poor (and many are), I gained insight. Gradually pictures and articles disclosed who was related to whom, and some of the mysteries of breeding decisions were unveiled. It was like exploring a treasure map!

Obviously, this little exercise doesn’t reveal many of the things I still want to know about health, temperament, and conformation. What I also long for when I look at those names is the story, the details that form the big picture—the individual’s personality, the struggles to overcome setbacks, the joys of accomplishments. Sometimes you can get those in the casual surrounding of a dinner or visit with someone who remembers and is willing to share the history. It’s entertaining, but it also informs us. Now the map means something. —Marianne Sullivan, Collie Club of America