Papers & Pedigree -Huh?
by Jay Bianco

©1998 All Rights Reserved

While many people are well informed as to what papers are and what a pedigree is, just as many are misinformed and don't quite understand or are misled as to exactly what is meant by these two terms. I hope this article clarifies it somewhat for those who fall into the later group.

Let's talk about a pedigree first. Quite simply, a pedigree is a record of the ancestors of your Maltese. This would include the father (sire), the mother (dam), grandsire, granddam, great-grandsire and so on. Every dog, purebred or not, has a pedigree. To most pet owners a pedigree is meaningless. To those that show in confirmation and have a rigid breeding program, an accurate pedigree becomes quite valuable to the information it can provide. The main function of the American Kennel Club and other similar registries is to do just that- keep track of a dogs ancestory in a reliable and accurate manner. For a registration fee, the AKC will record the name of your Maltese and pedigree information. The AKC registration certificate (papers) you received means that your Maltese's information is kept on file in the AKC's records. For another fee, around $25.00 at the time of this writing, the AKC can provide you with a pedigree. There is a myriad of other pedigree services that do the same thing for far less of a fee and they gather their information to prepare the pedigree from stud books sold by the AKC for that purpose.

The AKC records the name of your choice of the Maltese to be registered (25 characters or less and no duplicate names). This certificate will show the color, sex, parentage, date of birth, breeder and owner and any titles the dog has won in AKC-sanctioned shows. When applying for registration, AKC relies on breeders and owners to be honest. This is very important. If the breeder of your Maltese has given the AKC false information, the pedigree on your Maltese may not be correct. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible for the AKC to verify all this information individually, although the AKC is striving for better accuracy with the recent use of DNA testing. Unless you personally know and trust the breeder, you really have no way of knowing if your Maltese is really the one recorded on his registration papers.

Papers & Quality

Any dog that meets AKC's requirements for registration may be registered and receive "papers". The papers do not tell you if the Maltese is of good quality or if it really is or even looks like what a Maltese is supposed to be. All it can tell you is that your dog is registered with them as a Maltese and that its records are on file. Many people misunderstand this very important point. Many poor quality Maltese not bred to the standard are AKC registered. You can't judge the quality of your Maltese from looking only at his or her registration papers or pedigree. When puppies are whelped and the breeder registers the litter with the AKC, they in turn will send a blue slip(papers) for each puppy in the litter. When the time comes, the breeder will sign the puppy over to the buyer, who then can optionally register that individual puppy in his name for a fee of $8.00 and is sent a registration certificate back usually within 3 weeks with their name and their chosen name of the Maltese. Cost of litter registration to the breeder is now $18.00 at the time of this writing.

AKC registration means that the parents of the Maltese were registered as Maltese or it could also mean that an unethical breeder lied or was mistaken about the breeding that produced the litter. Registration itself is neither a guarantee nor even an indication of quality. No one examines the parents or the puppies to see if they really qualify to be registered as Maltese, and the AKC has to depend on breeders to be honest when applying for a litter registration. Some unethical breeders apply for registration forms for puppies that have died or were never born, and they then use these certificates on puppies of doubtful parentage. Others will buy unused registration papers at local flea markets for about double what they cost the breeder originally. To complicate matters further, a female Maltese can be impregnated by different male dogs during her fertile cycle and if the dogs are not watched closely some puppies in the litter may have different fathers than other puppies of the same litter. In kennels where males and females of different breeds typically run together, mixed breed puppies can and will be registered as purebred if they look close to what the breed should look like. This is not uncommon with puppymills or breeders who have several breeds, and has led these breeders to be investigated by the AKC and later to be DNA tested to prove parentage when the puppy has grown from looking like a Maltese into an adult looking like a Poodle, Bichon or a combination of all. At that point, the AKC, at their discretion, might investigate and might revoke the litter registration if the puppies or adult dogs do not have the appearance of a Maltese or do not pass the DNA testing done by their inspectors. With this in mind, you now know that a pedigree can only tell you what the breeder told the AKC as to who the ancestors were - it can't tell you if they were of good quality, bad quality, what they looked like or whether they had inherited health or temperament problems, had a history of heart disease or liver shunts. It won't tell you any of this.

If you purchased your Maltese for a companion pet, you probably aren't concerned about finding out more about his or her family. If you intend to breed or show your Maltese, however, getting accurate information about his or her background can be very important. You'll need to do much more than just look at the names on its pedigree. To find out more about the Maltese in a particular pedigree, you should visit the breeder to see the sire and dam. The breeder should be able to tell you where to find the grandparents as well. To get more information on the Maltese further back in the pedigree, you might try to find reliable books and magazines about the Maltese breed. You may even want to contact the American Maltese Association to find veteran breeders who can give the history on the Maltese in the pedigree now deceased. Pictures can only tell you part of the story. You need to talk to those people who have firsthand knowledge of what the ancestors of the Maltese in question were really like.

Is a Registered Champion Maltese of exceptional quality?

CH. is the abbreviation for champion. If you look at a pedigree these are the ones usually written in red. The more red, the better the Maltese-right? Not necessarily. An AKC Champion Maltese is one that has defeated enough other Maltese at their sanctioned shows to win the required number of points to achieve the title (at the time of this writing being 15). The required number of dogs and bitches to be defeated varies with each breed and district (which State the show is held in). It can be easier to become a champion in some breeds more than others. Is a Champion Maltese of exceptional quality? Sometimes but not necessarily. A Champion Maltese is only as good as the Maltese competition at the particular show that day when they won the points. In areas where the competition is poor, a Maltese may be just slightly above average for his or her breed. He or she may not be able to achieve its title in places where the competition is tougher. A Championship title also can't tell you if the Maltese was of good breeding or if he or she had inherited defects that were passed on to their offspring. Only firsthand knowledge from people who actually knew the Maltese can tell you that. Some exhibitors make Champions of their Maltese only by competing against others from its own kennel. The exhibitors in this category are clearly only fooling themselves and those that later do not check out the history behind that particular CH title.

In closing, a pedigree is a tool to help breeders produce better Maltese. It's just piece of information to be used as a starting point for research. A pedigree by itself really doesn't mean much unless one knows what the other Maltese in the pedigree were really like. To a pet owner, look at the Maltese. If its the look and temperament you're after and the Maltese is healthy and the breeder is reputable, go for it. If its a show potential Maltese you're after, the pedigree and papers should and will be much more meaningful to you.

Jay Bianco
1998 All Rights Reserved

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