australian shepherd

What Do Registration Papers Mean?

Working with dogs and their owners every day, I hear of many wonderful dog and owner relationships.

But, unfortunately, I also hear of the problems. One woman said, "I bought a purebred Labrador Retriever from a breeder and she supplied the registration papers. I expected him to be wonderful; after all he has papers!" Recently, however, her dog has been diagnosed with some serious health issues and she's facing large veterinary bills. She loves her dog but is disappointed because she felt her dog's registration papers implied quality, including good health. This Labrador Retriever's 'papers' is a registration certificate from the American Kennel Club (AKC), which is a well known dog registry, but is certainly not the only one with which dogs can be registered. In addition, there are registries for cats, birds, horses, cattle, and just about every other domesticated animal or wild ones kept in captivity.
golden retriever Golden Retriever | ©istockphoto/chendongshan

What is a Registry?

In the words of the AKC, from their website, "The American Kennel Club is a registry body, responsible for tracking the lineage of dogs of a variety of breeds." In simpler terms, the AKC receives from breeders litter applications which states, for example, that Champion Bob was bred to Champion Bess and they produced eight puppies. The AKC records that information and as the new owners of each of those puppies fills out their paperwork from the breeder and sends it to the AKC, each puppy is individually registered to her new owner. If, later, one of those puppies also produces puppies, the record keeping continues. Another large registry in the United States is the United Kennel Club (UKC). There are a variety of other registries, for all breeds as well as individual breed registries. The Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) registers Australian Shepherds and is one of the largest single breed registries in the country, if not the largest. Registries exist for many different types of animals and vary in the number of animals they record. Even small registries have their uses. For example, in the state of Alabama there is a small registry, Pineywoods Cattle Registry and Breeders Association. Dedicated to preserving this single breed of cattle, its mission is, "To operate a registry for maintaining accurate herd records." The Nigerian Goat Association is a registry for those personable goats and register only Nigerian goats. The primary goal of registries is to record and maintain breeding and ownership records of the purebred animals submitted to the registry. These record form the pedigree, or ancestry chart, of each animal.

Education and Activities

Registries also provide education information about the animals they register. Both the AKC and UKC websites contain a great deal of educational information, as do the websites for the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and ASCA. The website for the Pineywoods Cattle Registry states that the purpose of the organization, besides registering these bovines, is to promote the study of the cattle as well as conservation. The British Miniature Horse Society began as a registry for these small horses but expanded to provide more services, including education, as the need arose. The majority of registries today also sponsor, license, or hold activities for the animals and/or their owners. Not only do these activities provide a means for people with shared interests to get together, but they are also a way for interested people to learn more. In many cases, the animal and person can compete and earn titles or awards. The AKC and UKC offer competitions in many different sports, including conformation (dog shows), obedience, agility, tracking, herding and stockdog work, hunting and gun dog competitions, and more. Smaller or single breed registries may sponsor or hold activities in fewer or more limited sports. ASCA, for example, holds conformation, obedience, agility, and herding activities but does not offer gun dog sports.
vizsla Vizsla | ©istockphoto/Tomas Maracek

Why Registered Dogs?

People buy purebred animals for any number of reasons. The buyer of a purebred cow, for example, probably plans to breed her and so has bought this particular cow because her registration shows her parentage. This could tell him about her potential as a breeder as well as a milker. The buyer of a thoroughbred colt may wish to race him later and his pedigree will show his potential for that sport. The buyers of purebred dogs may buy a purebred (rather than adopt a mixed breed) for many different reasons. Those who participate in dog sports may want certain characteristics that will make the dog more competitive. Or perhaps only registered purebreds are able to compete in a particular sport. Once the new buyer registers the puppy with that registry (AKC, UKC, or other) then the puppy is able to compete in the applicable sports that pertain to that puppy's breed. Lots of people, however, have no wish to compete but instead enjoy a particular breed because of that breed's characteristics. The breed's body style, coat, intelligence, or athleticism may appeal to the buyer. Sometimes one particular breed has been in the family for generations. There are many reasons. Many people also enjoy researching a puppy's pedigree to see who his ancestors are. Just as researching our own roots is growing in popularity today, so is the activity of researching canine roots. It's fun to find photos of your puppy's grandfather or great-great grandmother in old books, or online.

What Registration Does Not Do

Registries, no matter for what animal, don't research information; the quality of their information depends on the information provided to them. If an individual breeder is honest, scrupulous, and cares about her breed, then the information provided is probably correct; “Sire A was bred to Dam B and both produced a litter of 8 puppies.” However, as with any human endeavor, unscrupulous people also breed animals, and so fraud is not unheard of. Registries do not ensure quality. A puppy sold with 'papers' is not guaranteed to be of high quality or even healthy. Many puppy mill puppies are sold with 'papers.' Registration papers also do not guarantee ability. While most Border Collies are good at herding sheep, just because a Border Collie is registered doesn't mean any one individual puppy is going to be awesome at it. The buyer of a registered thoroughbred colt also knows that although this colt may have ancestors who loved to run, this colt may prefer to just jog around and eat carrots. Therefore, the adage "buyer beware" applies here as it does for any purchase. If you wish to buy a purebred dog rather than to adopt one, do your research. Talk to people who already have your breed of choice. Where did they buy their dog? Was it a good experience? Were they happy? Would they recommend that breeder? Google that breeder online. What do you find? Contact the registry where the breeder's dogs are registered. Is she a breeder in good standing or have there been problems? What health tests does she do on her breeding dogs? Ask to see the results. Do your homework.
airedale terrier Airedale Terrier | ©istockphoto/Lunja

In Conclusion

By writing about the pros and cons of registering purebreds, I am not recommending buying purebreds over adopting a homeless pet. I know this is an emotionally charged issue and as one who has owned purebreds as well as rescues, I know those emotions well. In fact, I am fostering a litter of tiny motherless kittens as I write this article. The choice as to whether buy a purebred puppy or adopt a pet is a choice only you can make. Purebred animals produced by reputable, responsible breeders do have their place in the world; however, and these breeders will, and do, take back any of their animals' progeny should a home not work out. For those who wish to own a purebred animal, especially those who wish to train and compete with their pet, knowing more about what 'papers' are (and are not) is vital information.
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