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What is in an AKC Pedigree?


Waterfowl Magazine - Feb/Mar 1992

Debra Folsom

Most people that come to our kennel to purchase a Labrador puppy can't wait to get out to the whelping kennel and paw through the cute little devils. They're absolutely sure they can pick the most intelligent and aggressive hunting dog out of the bunch just by looking at them. The old saying, "Beauty is only skin deep" is true when looking at alitter of puppies. The worst puppy of a good litter is going to be better than the best puppy out of a poor litter.


The answer to whether a puppy will prospectively be a good hunting dog or not lies in the pedigree. What is a pedigree? A dog's pedigree is it's family tree. It is a chart showing the pup's parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. All American Kennel Club registered dogs have their pedigrees on record at the AKC headquarters in North Carolina. You can obtain a copy of any registered dog's pedigree on line at the American Kennel Club's web site at

So now we have a pedigree or family tree containing the exotic names of retrievers that are a dog's ancestors. How does this help us determine if a dog is going to be worth a darn as a hunting dog? Included with the dog's names on the pedigree will be the field accomplishments or titles the dog has earned in AKC Field Trials or Hunting Tests. The Field Trial Champion titles are found at the front of the dog's name. These are FCH (Field Champion) and AFCH (Amateur Field Champion or Field Champion competed by an amateur). These dogs are the "creme of the crop" in field skills, trainable and intelligence. They have competed against some of the best retrievers in the country and won at least one first place and several other second, third or fourth places necessary, to accumulate the total points needed to make a Field Championship. Few dogs are capable of competing at this level. The field trial dogs can be compared to the pro ball players of the human athletic world.


At the end of the dog's names on the pedigree can be found the AKC Hunting Test Titles. These are JH (Junior hunter), SH (Senior Hunter) and MH (Master Hunter). To earn these titles, retrievers must complete 5 or 6 tests at the particular skill level in which they are trying to earn a title. It is not a competition but rather a matter of completing tests at a certain standard set by the AKC. The dogs are tested in several hunting situations per test. The junior level is very

basic consisting of only single is very basic consisting of only single retrieves and the difficulty progresses through senior, up to Master which is a fairly

complex series, of multiple mars and blind retrieves.


When looking at the pedigree of a prospective puppy, it is the field titles of the dogs in the pedigree, that we are interested in. If a dog in the pedigree has no field title, we cannot assume that dog had any field accomplishments or ability, unless we had known the dog personally. Ideally we like to see field titles spread throughout the pedigree on both the dam and sire's sides. The closer they are to the immediate dam and sire, the better. If both a puppy's parents are field champions, the chances of that pup being an exceptional field dog are very, very good. 


One or two field champions, four generations back in a pedigree is not very significant. Unfortunately this is often the case in litters advertised as having field champion lines. If there are several field titled dogs in the sire's linage but none in the dams' that is an indication that the pup has maybe only 50 % field genes, the rest unknown. When picking out a pup, we want to keep the unknown to a minimum.


Besides considering the pedigree, it is important to look at the temperament, and field abilities, of the immediate, parent dogs. I would rather buy a pup from good hunting parents with mediocre field pedigrees, than one from parents that had never been worked in the field but looked great on paper (on their pedigree). 


A good retriever, breeder should be able to send you the pedigree on a prospective litter and answer any questions you may have. If the pedigree appears satisfactory, visit the kennel if possible, and see the parent dogs. Ask about their performance in the field, and why the breeder selected these particular dogs for breeding. If the pedigree is good, the parents are both good hunting dogs, or have been competed in field trials or hunt tests, and the breeder knowledgeable and reputable, go for it. Put a deposit down on a pup. The rest is up to training and a little luck. 


Buying a pup without looking at its pedigree is like baking a cake without a recipe. You would have no idea of the end result. You can't completely eliminate the possibility of buying an unsatisfactory hunting retriever pup, but by carefully doing some research on the pedigree, the characteristics of the parent dogs, and the breeder, you can certainly optimize your chances of getting a good one.


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