Purebred, pedigreed, registered?

What does it all mean?

  • What’s the difference between “purebred” and “pedigreed” puppies?
  • If I adopt a dog from the local shelter, can I register it with a kennel club?
  • My dog comes with “papers,” so he’s a perfect representative of the breed, right?

There aren’t many topics more confusing for novices than those having to do with a dog’s parentage and purebred status. And frankly, there aren’t many topics that could possibly matter less in the grand scheme of things, unless you are interested in showing your dog in conformation… or breeding your dog (something I hope you are not planning to do).

Purebred – What it Is, What it Isn’t

A dog breed is basically a distinct type of dog characterized by a defined appearance, temperament, and purpose. In the loosest sense, the dogs of a breed should “breed true.” This means that when two dogs of a breed mate, their offspring will possess the same characteristics, and the offspring of those dogs will also possess the same characteristics. Dalmatians produce Dalmatians, Standard Poodles produce Standard Poodles, and so forth.

Breeds are recognized and described by kennel or breed clubs. A breed may be recognized by more than one kennel or breed club, and each kennel club may have a different standard, or idealized description of the “perfect” individual, for that breed. (We will talk more about kennel/breed clubs in a moment.)

A purebred dog is a dog whose ancestors were all dogs of a single breed.

Contrary to popular connotations, “purebred” and “quality” are not the same thing. Purebred dogs can still be poorly bred and badly handled; they can come with genetic deficiencies, health problems, and behavioral issues. Purebred dogs do not necessarily meet the breed standard, for that matter (although this is certainly a goal for responsible breeders).

A dog whose parents were of two different breeds is a mixed breed dog, not a purebred. Mixed breed dogs may possess some characteristics in common with one or both of the breeds of their parents. Although we often classify mixed breed dogs as a mix of only two breeds (Chow-Lab mix, for example), in fact mixed breed dogs can contain genes from many different breeds, especially if their parents and their grandparents were not purebred dogs.


A pedigree is a written “family tree” that shows the lineage of an individual purebred dog. It may trace the dog’s ancestors back for three or more generations. If any of the dog’s ancestors received titles from a kennel or breed club competition, the pedigree should identify those titles next to the name of the dog that received them. Some detailed pedigrees list health information about each ancestor if that information is available.

Pedigrees are recorded by the breeder. The breeder should send the dog’s pedigree information to the kennel club where the dog is registered (see the next section). Copies of the dog’s pedigree should also be given to the purchaser of the dog.

To see what a pedigree looks like, you can view the American Kennel Club (AKC) pedigrees at http://www.akc.org/reg/pedigree_overview.cfm. However, not all pedigrees look alike. The breeder may even print his or her own pedigrees.

Because pedigrees are created by breeders, there is always the possibility of error—or downright fraud. A breeder may make false claims about a puppy’s ancestors in order to inflate demand or increase profit. Although we now have a few DNA tests which can confirm (or deny) a dog’s ancestry—assuming DNA can be obtained not only from the dog but the dog’s purported parents—these tests tend to be expensive and difficult, and are not routine. (Some kennel clubs have made DNA tests required in some cases, but the policies differ.)

Kennel Clubs and Registered Dogs

Kennel clubs are organizations that bring purebred dog owners, breeders, and handlers together. Clubs may host conformation shows or canine sports. They may also be socially or politically active. The larger kennel clubs, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC), are national organizations that are affiliated with and assist smaller, regional clubs.

Major National Kennel Clubs
American Kennel Club (AKC) United States
United Kennel Club (UKC) United States
Canadian Kennel Club Canada
The Kennel Club (KC) United Kingdom

Each kennel club maintains their own list of recognized dog breeds and breed standards. There are differences between kennel clubs. For instance, the AKC recognizes American Staffordshire Terriers and does not recognize American Pit Bull Terriers, whereas the UKC recognizes APBTs but not AmStaffs. Furthermore, while both kennel clubs recognize the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the breed standard for that breed differs slightly between the two kennel clubs.

Kennel clubs also maintain a registry—a list of individual purebred dogs. Today, the national kennel club registries are closed to most established breeds, including the “pit bull” breeds. This means that the only dogs that may be added to the registry are direct descendants of dogs already listed in the registry. If your dog’s parents are not both listed in the registry, your dog cannot be registered with the kennel club.

How do I register my dog with a kennel club?

Usually, a breeder registers his or her litters with the kennel club with which he or she is affiliated. When the breeder sells the puppies or dogs, the breeder provides the new owner with registration papers.

If you purchased your dog from a breeder under the impression that the dog was or could be registered, but you did not recieve registration paperwork, then you need to pursue the matter with the breeder.

You cannot register a dog that does not come with the requisite paperwork from the breeder. If you got your dog from a shelter, the side of the road, your neighbor, the flea market, or any other person or place, and the dog did not have kennel club paperwork, you cannot register your dog. But don’t despair—in the grand scheme of things, registration really doesn’t matter unless you want to show your dog (and most people don’t).

What does registration mean for me and my dog?

A registered dog is able to compete in conformation competitions and canine sports which are hosted by the kennel club with which he is registered.

Some kennel clubs extend conditional or limited registration privileges to dogs that cannot be registered. These limited privileges allow a purebred or, in some cases, a mixed breed dog to compete in kennel club-hosted sports events such as agility competitions. However, the dog is not allowed to participate in conformation competitions or breeding programs; limited privileges often require the dog to be spayed or neutered first.

What doesn’t registration mean?

As with the term “purebred,” the term “registered” carries connotations of quality. Novices may have unrealistic expectations for a registered dog. However, a registered dog is not necessarily a “quality” dog. A registered dog could still have genetic flaws, health issues, and behavioral problems. Registered dogs do not necessarily meet the breed standard.

A registered dog is registered only because its mother and father were also registered. You should not automatically assume that a registered dog is a quality representative of the breed.

Is registration necessary?

Consider what you intend to do with your dog.

Do you want to show and breed your dog? If so, you need to take steps to become a responsible breeder. One of those steps may be to work with registered, titled dogs. You should not breed a dog that is not titled, and many titles (especially conformation titles) can only be obtained by registered dogs.

Do you want to compete with and title your dog in canine sports? Kennel club registration is not necessary for owners and their dogs to participate in a variety of canine sports. Many sports, such as agility, are hosted by national organizations that are unconcerned with a dog’s purebred or registered status. For instance, the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) will allow any type of dog to participate in their agility competitions.

However, certain titles (the abbreviations that go after a dog’s name to recognize a dog’s competition wins) are only offered by certain kennel clubs. If you are determined to win one of those titles, your dog will need to be registered with the host club. If your dog is not able to be officially registered, you may be able to register your dog via a special limited registration. Check with the kennel club to find out what your options are.

Do you want a pet and a companion? If you’re not interested in competing, you definitely don’t need a registered dog! You just need to be a responsible, committed, loving owner.

Imitation kennel clubs

A word of caution: certain kennel clubs will register any dog at all. Some novice owners enthusiastically fall for backyard breeders’ claims that their dogs are “registered,” believing that these dogs must be purebred and must come from a long line of registered dogs. In reality, some greedy breeders send a couple bucks to an imitation “kennel club” to “register” their random litter. The breeder doesn’t need to provide any sort of proof of ancestry at all. This allows the irresponsible breeder to boost his or her profit by claiming that the dogs are “registered with a kennel club”—which they are… but not with a reputable kennel club.

These fly-by-night kennel clubs, like fake online colleges, provide paperwork that looks good but is essentially meaningless; these “kennel clubs” do not host events, conferences, or competitions, and they are completely unconcerned with the needs and interests of their “members.” If you are going to spend the extra money to buy a “registered” dog, do your homework and make sure your dog is registered with a legitimate kennel club! Otherwise you are basically wasting your money, supporting a fraudulent organization, and netting no real benefits whatsoever.

Registered—with the government

A “registered” dog could also be a dog that has been added to the registration lists of a particular municipality.

Many counties or cities legally mandate pet owners to register their dog or cat with the local animal control department. Often this registration must be performed on a yearly basis. The pet owner goes to the vet, the local shelter, or the animal control department, fills out a form, and pays a registration fee. (Procedures may differ—check with your local animal control department if you aren’t sure of your local law.)

This is not generally what a breeder means when he or she says his or her dogs are “registered.” But the use of the same term to refer to two totally different processes causes quite a bit of confusion. I have occasionally gotten an email from a new owner asking simply, “How do I register my dog?” I don’t know how to answer that question without clarification.

“Papered” dogs

Some breeders advertise “papered” dogs. This could mean that the dogs have pedigrees. This could mean that the dogs are registered with a kennel club. This could mean that the breeder has copies of veterinary records. Who knows what “papers” the breeder is referring to? Before you buy, always clarify these vague terms with the breeder.

Or, go adopt a homeless dog, save a life, get a great pet, and avoid all this nonsense altogether.

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