Tracking a dog's genealogy is a simple process of going back through the generations. Breeders of purebred dogs keep detailed records that go far back into the dog's ancestry. With mixed breeds, you cannot learn who the actual ancestors are, but you can learn their likely heritage.
Purebred Dog Genealogy
Speak to the breeder where the dog originally came from. If the dog came from a pet store, you will need to learn in which state the dog was bred because, unless you live in Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Minnesota or Connecticut, the dog probably came from another state. Ask for the dog's registration papers. If the pet store provides the registration, you will be able to go to the next step. If the pet store doesn't provide it, take a deep breath and then question everyone who has ever had the dog, going back to when the dog was a puppy and try to learn where the papers are. In the unlikely event that the breeder does not have your dog's registration papers, ask about any litter mates your dog may have had. It's possible that the owner of one of the other puppies in the litter kept their registration papers and you can ask that person for a copy of the papers. Narrowing down the litter registration number is a good start to finding your own dog's papers.
Search the registration papers to find the litter registration number. This is the number assigned to the litter by the breeder when she registers the litter with the American Kennel Club. If you are working off your own dog's registration papers, you will have the names of the sire and dam of your dog. The registration papers will provide key information on these dogs as well, such as whether one or more of the parents or grandparents were shown in AKC dog shows and whether they received any points toward a championship. Hey, you may have a champion bloodline on your hands and not even know it! If you are working off a litter mate's registration papers, you will have to forward the litter registration number to the AKC and request to have papers on your dog sent to you.
Contact the AKC (AKC.org) and ask them to perform a search under the litter registration number, or under your dog's actual registration number if you have your dog's papers. If you are trying to learn your dog's ancestry beyond the parents, you will have to ask the AKC for information going back farther than what is supplied on regular certified pedigree papers. There are some online tools you can use to find out information about your dog's lineage, but you will need the litter number and the dam certification issue date, so if you don't have the official registration certificate you will need assistance from an AKC staff member.
Mixed Breed Dog Genealogy
Look at your dog and break his body down into parts. This sounds strange but it's a good start to finding out what breeds of dog comprise your fuzzy friend. Note the type of ears he has, such as erect, long and floppy, short or button ears (erect ears that bend forward at the tip). Check his nose to determine what kind of snout he has; is it long and narrow, short and stubby or brachycephalic (snub-nosed, like a pug)? Note his tail; is it long, short, curly or nonexistent. If it is nonexistent, ask your vet if he can determine if the dog was born that way or if the tail was docked when he was a puppy. Look at his paws. Webbed feet are found in certain breeds but not in others. Is his coat long, shaggy, short or curly? The purpose of all this observation is to try to figure out what breeds your dog resembles most.
Compare your dog's body parts to pictures of purebred dogs. In his book "The Mutt Book, Decoding Your Dog's Heritage," author David Alderton offers suggestions on figuring out what kind of dog you have, and provides plenty of photographs of purebred dogs and body parts to help you play sleuth. Reading and working through "The Mutt Book" is a good start to helping you determine your dog's ancestry, but if you want to be absolutely sure, have a DNA test done.
Purchase one of the many DNA kits available online and in some stores. These kits provide the tools you need to perform a DNA test on your dog. Simply swab his cheek, send the swab into the company in an envelope provided by the company, and in about three weeks you will have the results. One test requires a blood test instead of a cheek swab so you would have to get your vet involved. The kits cost anywhere from $40 to over $100, and some are more accurate than others. This is a clear case of how size does matter, because the kit with the largest database, not the one with the highest price tag, usually has the best results.
- If you have an idea of what breed your dog may be, ask a breeder of that breed for her opinion on whether your dog could have some of that breed in him.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.