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AKC Registered Puppies: Are AKC Papers Important?

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

At some point, if you're talking to an unknowledgeable breeder, you're likely to hear something like this: "My puppies come with AKC papers and a pedigree!"

They expect you to respond with an awed whistle.

Here's a better response: O yay.

Now, you might be surprised to hear this, because you probably thought "AKC registered puppies" meant good quality. That's what the AKC would like you to believe. But it's not true.

AKC registration is simply a chain of numbers

The truth about "AKC registered puppies" is this:

  • The AKC will register any puppy whose parents are registered.
  • The AKC registered those parents because their parents were registered.
  • And so on.

AKC registration is a mechanical process, a chain of numbers.

You send the AKC money. If the owners of your puppy's parents and grandparents were all good doobies who kept the chain intact by sending in their own money, the AKC will add your puppy to the chain, sending you a piece of paper with a number on it. Voila.... your puppy is registered.

As Dr. Herm David, Ph.D. says, "The AKC has an infinite supply of numbers. It's a good business to be in."

"What about a pedigree? Doesn't a pedigree mean good quality?"

'Fraid not. Send more money, and the AKC will access their database again and spit out the names of your puppy's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, as many generations as you're willing to pay for. Voila . . . your puppy's pedigree.

A pedigree is a bunch of names.

Registration papers and pedigrees don't tell you anything about a dog, other than its place in the chain of names.

To get registration papers or a pedigree, a dog doesn't need to meet any qualifications of health, temperament, behavior, or structure.

Fat purple dogNone whatsoever. A dog can be sickly, vicious, knees pointing every which way, EVEN PURPLE – and the AKC will issue the exact same kind of registration number they gave to the Best of Breed winner at the Westminster Kennel Club show.

"Good grief! I thought AKC registered meant good quality!"

Don't be fooled. Registration papers don't suggest quality in a dog any more than they suggest quality in a car. Does buying a car with registration papers mean it won't be a clunker? Of course not.

In fact, registration papers suggest quality in cars more than in dogs, because in most states a car can only be registered if it has at least passed a smog/pollution or mechanical safety check.

The AKC registers dogs with no health or safety checks at all.

So now you know that the existence of AKC papers or a pedigree doesn't mean a dog is good quality. AKC registered puppies with pedigrees is just not a big selling point, no matter how loudly a breeder trumpets it in his classified ad.

"But papers at least guarantee that a dog is purebred, right?"

Boy, I'm really beginning to feel like the bearer of bad news here!

Purebred dogsNo. Being purebred means a puppy has inherited the limited combination of genes that have been "fixed" in his breed's gene pool. These are genes for the particular size, type of coat, color pattern, shape of ears, and so on, that match his breed.

Inheriting the genes for his breed is what makes a dog purebred. Registration papers are a separate matter.

A dog can be purebred, yet have no registration papers. And.... a dog can have registration papers, yet still not be purebred.


It's true. A dog can have registration papers, yet not be purebred, because registration papers can be falsified. Most registries, such as the AKC, operate primarily on the honor system. They simply take the breeder's word for it that "King" and "Queen" were really the parents of Solomon.

But scams happen.

  1. Let's say Dishonest Dave has two purebred Boxers with registration papers.
  2. The female is accidentally bred by a stray dog of unknown ancestry.
  3. Dishonest Dave is unwilling to give up the $600 he could get for "AKC registered Boxer puppies" so when the litter arrives, he fills out the litter registration paperwork – claiming that his BOXER was actually the father.
  4. The AKC will dutifully mail him Boxer registration papers for each puppy, which he will happily pass along to the buyer of each puppy.... collecting his $600 as he does so.
  5. And no one will be the wiser until the puppies grow up and start to look suspiciously non-Boxerish.

Fortunately, the AKC also offers a program where participating breeders can submit DNA samples of one or both parents to conclusively prove parentage. If you want to be sure of who your puppy's parents are, look for breeders who participate in this program.

Do you have a puppy who came with AKC papers – or came WITHOUT papers – and now you're wondering if he really is purebred?

There's only one way to find out: have his DNA tested.

Embark DNA Testing

There's a veterinary company called Embark that will test your dog's DNA and tell you whether he's purebred. If it turns out that he's a crossbreed or mixed breed, they'll tell you that, too – and they'll tell you which breed(s) he is.

You can do this right from your own home. No vet visit. No blood tests.

Embark will mail you a little kit with cotton swabs, which you simply swirl inside your dog's cheek. His saliva contains his DNA. Mail the swabs back, and the company will tell you whether your dog is the purebred you think he is.... or whether he's actually a crossbred or mixed breed, and which breeds are in his genetic make-up.

If you acquired your dog from a backyard breeder, or pet shop, or somebody's ad in the newspaper or on the internet – it would probably be a good idea to find out whether he's truly purebred.

Always remember that GENES make a dog purebred. The presence or absence of registration papers doesn't change the genes (DNA) inside a dog. He can be purebred without having papers – and sadly, he can have papers without really being purebred. Only a DNA test can tell you whether he's really purebred.

"So are papers and pedigrees worth anything at all?"

Oh, yes – let me explain. Many purebred puppies are offered for sale without registration papers, or with registration papers but no pedigree. These sellers will tell you that you don't need papers/pedigree if you just want a pet. Papers and pedigrees, they might say, are only necessary if you want to show or breed your dog.

This is false.

Registration papers and pedigrees are the only way you can determine whether a puppy you're considering buying has been inbred too much.

Excessive inbreeding can result in serious health and temperament problems as a puppy matures. Excessive inbreeding is one reason that so many purebred dogs are unhealthy or mentally unstable.

So you really DO want papers and a pedigree with a purebred puppy – not because their presence indicates a good quality dog, but because their ABSENCE means you can't evaluate the puppy's level of inbreeding. Thus you won't know how much he is at risk for developing health or behavior problems as he grows up.

So now you know a little about registration papers and pedigrees and how they can be so helpful.

But you still need answers to these questions:

  • When you look at a pedigree, how can you tell if there's too much inbreeding? How much is too much?
  • What does a "good" pedigree look like, anyway? What about a "bad" pedigree?
  • If a puppy doesn't have AKC papers, but instead has papers from a different registry (like CKC, UKC, ACA, APRI) – is this okay?
  • If a puppy comes with something called Limited registration papers (rather than Full registration papers) – is this okay?

I answer all of those questions and many more in my book, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams.

  • How to read a pedigree
  • Examples of good pedigrees and bad pedigrees
  • How to determine whether a dog is too inbred
  • The different registries a puppy might be registered with
  • Pros and cons of Limited registration versus Full registration

Plus, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams....

  • Helps you sort out what kind of dog to get – purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed
  • Compares male and female dogs
  • Compares young puppies, older puppies, adolescent dogs, adult dogs
  • Compares animal shelters, rescue groups, performance breeders, show breeders, pet breeders, pet shops, and owners giving their dogs away
  • Tells you the exact questions you should ask, what answers you should expect, and which answers are "red flags" that mean you should stay away
  • Shows you how to evaluate the temperament of puppies and adult dogs to see whether they will make a good pet

Learn more about Dog Quest

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

Check out my other articles on finding a good dog

Pros and Cons of Owning a Dog

Do Dogs Need a Fenced Yard?

Should You Get a Dog If You Work All Day?

Puppies vs Adult Dogs

The Truth About Purebred Dogs

The Truth About Crossbred Dogs

The Truth About Mixed Breed Dogs

Which Dog Breed Characteristics Are Right For You?

Male Dogs vs Female Dogs: Which One Makes a Better Pet?

Adopting a Dog From The Animal Shelter

Adopting From a Dog Breed Rescue Group

How To Find a Good Dog Breeder

"AKC Registered Puppies" – Are AKC Papers Important?

How To Choose a Good Puppy

Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store

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