How to Read a German Shepherd’s Pedigree (In 9 Steps)

I know reading a dog’s pedigree, which sometimes can be as long as your arm, is an overwhelming task. But regardless of whether you are about to start a breeding business or just looking to buy a dog from a breeder, a pedigree can give you a lot of useful information, and learn how to read it is worth all the struggle. Here are my quick, easy steps to read a German shepherd’s pedigree:

  1. Start at the beginning of the pedigree to find your German shepherd’s general information.
  2. Trace the upper portion of the pedigree to identify the sire’s information.
  3. Look further into the dog’s sire history.
  4. Look at the bottom half of the pedigree to find the dam’s information.
  5. Read over the other dogs in the dam’s history.
  6. Check for DNA numbers (if available).
  7. Look at the studbook numbers.
  8. Evaluate any titles listed on the pedigree.
  9. Check for any health issues related to your German shepherd and their ancestors.

Keep on reading as I’ll take you through everything you’ll need to know about a dog’s pedigree or if you prefer to jump straight to the breakdown of each step, just click any step from the list above.

how to read a german shepherd's pedigree

Difference Between Registration Certificate and Pedigree

When you buy a purebred German shepherd, you’ll get a dog’s “papers” that consist, at the very least, of two elements: a pedigree and a registration slip. Registration slip is used to register your puppy with American Kennel Club, Canadian Kennel Club, and other entities or to transfer the ownership of an already named and registered dog.

Don’t confuse a pedigree with the registration certificate. Although they share much of the same information—sire, dam, and birth date of the dog—they are two different things. Registration papers are the official documents that have the dog’s registration numbers on them. A pedigree is more like an unofficial document that lists the dog’s family tree, dating back at least three generations.

To put it in other words, if you’re looking to register your German shepherd dog with a legitimate registry, they will have to have a pedigree, but a German shepherd with a pedigree is not necessarily registered.

Different Kinds of Pedigrees

When visiting different breeders to find your new puppy and ask for the puppy’s pedigree, you may find different breeders present you with different kinds of pedigrees. 

The most popular is the official AKC pedigree that will tell your dog’s ancestry, up to three generations (parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents) and contains extra information such as birth date, sex, color, registration number, titles, and certificates.

If the German shepherd is sv-registered, as part of the SV registration certificate, you will get a four-generation pedigree complete with the most extensive information about the dog, including breed survey information, color, hip health certification, titles, and details about their littermates.

And there is the breeder’s pedigree that contains as much if not more information than the SV pedigree. It will also include every title and award each of the breeder’s dogs has won. If you have any questions regarding any terms you see on the dog’s pedigree, don’t hesitate to ask the breeder for an explanation. He or she should be happy to explain any abbreviations and which competition they had entered to earn these titles.

Although you can purchase a certified pedigree from the AKC (https://www.akc.org/register/pedigree/) or other breed registries, in practice, it is the breeder who often writes out his or her dogs’ pedigrees.

Step-by-Step Guide to Read a German Shepherd’s Pedigree

Reputable breeders spend hours studying pedigrees to choose the best sires and dams for their breeding programs. Now, let’s go through each step of reading a German shepherd’s pedigree closely and what information you can take from it.

Step 1: Find the German shepherd’s registered name and birth date.

A pedigree is often formatted to look like a family tree with your dog’s name, and date of birth should appear in the first few rows of the pedigree, along with related information such as registration number, breed, and a brief physical description.

Step 2: Review the sire’s information.

The second step is to identify the sire’s information, which is usually available in the upper half of the pedigree. Depending on the pedigree, you may also see the name of the sire’s just to the right after the dog’s column. The sire’s side should include the sire’s name, registration numbers, and a brief description of the sire.

Step 3: Identify the sire’s ancestors.

A proper pedigree should list all of the dog’s ancestors up to their third or fourth great-grandparents. Commonly, most pedigrees are formatted to display the dog’s grandparents farther to the right after the sire, then the great-grandparents, and so on.

The next step is to read over the sire’s history and see if there are repeated names. By doing this, you will be able to determine whether the dog has been inbred, line-bred, or outcrossed. Line breeding is a particularly favorable strategy among dog breeders to lock in desirable traits associated with the breed and the one that you should highly value.

Let’s take a look at the difference between the three methods.

  • Inbreeding is the mating of animals that are closely related, for example, a father and daughter, mother and son, or brother and sister.
  • Line breeding is the mating of more distantly related animals that have one common close ancestor, for example, half-brother to half-sister.
  • Outcrossing is the mating of animals that have no common ancestors in the first three to four generations.

Nowadays, inbreeding has become an obsolete practice due to the increased risk of suffering from an inherited disorder therefore, I would recommend sticking with a German shepherd that has been line bred with no outcrossing.

Step 4: Review the dam’s information.

The dam’s information is usually listed right below the sire’s information. The dam’s side of the pedigree usually consists of her name, registration number, and certain notes about the puppy’s littermates and any breeding or birthing issues in her past.

Step 5: Read over the other dogs in the dam’s history

The other dogs in the dam’s history, like her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, will follow her on the bottom half of the pedigree. Once again, pay attention to the names that come up several times and determine which breeding strategy the breeder adopts.

Do note that all dogs that appear on the pedigree must be of the same breed though they can have different colors, types, or sizes. This is what sets purebred German shepherd dogs apart from the average mutts on the streets.

Step 6: Check for the DNA Numbers

The AKC and other official breed registries have continuously included DNA testing in every pedigree as an attempt to ensure that the registered dog’s parents and their ancestors are indeed purebred. If these are available, the annotation DNA and its identifying numbers should be found next to the dog’s name.

Step 7: Take a peek at the studbook numbers

Studbook numbers serve two main purposes. One is to show you when a dog was bred, and two is to show you how old the dam was when she had the litter. For example, if the pedigree notes a studbook number of 10/2020, and the mother’s date of birth is 07/2017, this means she was 3 years old when she gave birth to the litter.

As mentioned in my previous post (How many puppies can a German shepherd have?), female GSDs should begin breeding no earlier than 2 years old and end at the age of 8. If they are bred before or after their retirement ages, the quality of the puppies that are produced will be compromised. 

Step 8: Evaluate all the titles and awards that might be listed on the dog’s pedigree.

When advertising an upcoming litter, reputable breeders will race to list all the parents’ titles and accomplishments because they know these are what sophisticated buyers like you want to see a lot. Ideally, you want to see them in recent generations, both on the sire’s and dam’s sides.

Here are some of the common titles shared by various kennel clubs.

  • If you want to raise a German shepherd for the show ring, you will want to see conformation titles like Ch. for the conformation championship.
  •  If you want to raise a German shepherd for a great companion, obedience titles like Companion Dog (CD), Companion Dog Excellent (CDX), and utility dog (UD) are what you’re looking for.
  •  If you want your dog to become a tremendous competitor in sports, you will want to see a dog that has earned working titles for obedience or for specific sports such as herding and hunting.

You can find more common titles and abbreviations on the AKC website here.

Step 9: Study any health information

Nowadays, thanks to DNA testing and detailed breeding records, many pedigrees will be able to give you information about any health issues on each dog in a dog’s three-generation pedigree. This information may also include whether or not a dog and their ancestors have been tested for diseases that are a concern for the breed, like hip dysplasia.

Related Questions

  1. Can I view my dog’s pedigree online? Yes, you can view your dog’s pedigree online. All online research pedigrees are available for any AKC registered dog and can be viewed online 24 hours a day.