What guarantees does a top-notch dog pedigree get you? Article by Canis bonus. December 2016
Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits at the end of the post.
About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague
I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour.
I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).
If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.
Mutt or pure-bred dog?
As my old dog is nearing the end of his life, we are starting to contemplate whether we’ll go the rescue route again, or whether to go the breed route for once. So I have started a series of blog posts about breeds. For the full list, go to the first post in the series: He’s good with kids, right? He’s a Labrador – Beware of positive assumptions about dog breeds.
This present blog post encourages the reader to view a ‘spotless’ pedigree with caution.
Both my dog’s parents were working champions!
The number of times I’ve had to have this conversation… Sometimes, being a dog behaviourist is pretty much about raining on people’s parade… It’s not fun, but someone’s got to break the news. Today was no exception. I was standing in front of Ted and Lucy, the hapless owners of a fine pedigreed dog who was making their lives hell.
They were incredulous that Lex, the dog they’d flawlessly picked to the nearest ancestor, could come with behaviour problems? They’d nicely followed all the steps they thought guaranteed a ‘good dog': they went to the local puppy school, they picked a ‘good breed’, they chose a pedigreed dog whose parents were national sheep herding champions, no less. Yet come adolescence and his rap sheet could make Tupac blanch. “How could this have happened?” they asked me, in disbelief.
My answer wasn’t going to make their day any better. The thing is, your dog’s parents being working champions does not necessarily work in your favour if you want your dog to be a family dog. Chance is they were extremely driven to be so good on the job, and had the stamina and energy to boot. Assuming these ‘qualities’ are heavily heritable, you’re in trouble if all you want from your dog is a couple of walks around the block per day – and, yes, maybe a long walk on Saturday.
Even assuming these ‘sport champion’ traits aren’t all that heritable. Then what is the point of paying through the teeth for a dog whose parents were world champions in their discipline?
“But we did our research!” they said. “We didn’t choose him from conformation champions. We know these championships only select for extreme physical traits and not behaviour. We’ve really looked into this and that’s why we picked working parents for him!”
And that’s just the issue: dogs from a working line are also picked on extreme traits, only temperamental ones. Unless you’re ready to quit your job and keep your dog mentally stimulated at least 2-3 hours a day, chance is, if your dog has inherited a lot of his parents’ drive, you’re headed for trouble. That’s like buying your granny a Ferrari.
Both my dog’s parents were conformation champions!
I get this argument a lot too: people who insist I look at their dog’s pedigree to detect what could have caused his behaviour problems. When we start talking about this, my clients are often dumb-founded. They’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for the hard-sell of their breeder: “He’s got a pedigree, you see. It’s a good dog! Look, his mother is the breed photo on Wikipedia” and now I have to rain on their dream.
That’s like saying to your marriage counselor: “I don’t get it. My wife’s parents each won the beauty pageant for their country. Why aren’t we more compatible?” To winning a conformation, the dog must conform to the archetypal physical traits of the breed – and must carry him/herself gracefully enough for the duration of the show. It says little about whether the dog tends to guard his food fiercely, or needs five hours of exercise a day to be remotely calm. No amount of me ‘checking his pedigree’ will change that.
So pedigrees are useless?
Not so fast. A pedigree AND a responsible breeding could be your winning combination. No guarantees, mind; but less risk of headaches. A responsible breeder will look at the temperament of the sire and the dame, and later, the pup (for what little a pup’s temperament predicts his future behaviour, but that’s another kettle of fish), and will flat out refuse to give you a pup whom he considers incompatible to your life-style.
This responsible breeder will, likely, not pay so much attention to winning beauty pageants or championships, but rather on character traits the make a happy, well-adjusted family dog: tendencies for, say, stress resilience, and tolerance, and calm, and confidence, etc.
I get it: prizes look can look like a quality stamp. But when it comes to a successful match as a family dog, you’re better off going for the “companion line.” A dog whose father and mother, and many of his brothers and sisters, have been successfully placed as pets in suburban families, like yours will be.
And of course, if your dog does come from sporting or conformation champions, and things are working out, that’s fantastic. I am not saying it always goes wrong. All I am saying is prize-winning, pedigreed forebears do not guarantee ‘a good dog’.
Take it from my experience with plenty of families’ disappointment: steer clear of vanity when you research your next dog and go for the couch potato dog.
No modifications were made to any of the illustrations