The term “purebred” much like the term “dog breed” is one that virtually every dog lover knows well, and would almost certainly give a definitive “yes” to if you asked them if they understood what it meant.
However, ask the average dog lover in the street to tell you the formal or correct definition of a dog breed, and most people would be able to list several breeds but often, not tell you exactly what the term itself means! The same is true for the term “purebred,” and many people would immediately say that it means a pedigree dog – but again, answers are apt to be variable in accuracy!
So, what is a purebred dog? Is a purebred dog the same thing as a pedigree dog, and are the terms interchangeable?
This article will explain what a purebred dog really is, and outline what makes a dog purebred, and how purebred status relates to pedigree status, and how it differs. Read on to learn more.
First up, let’s look at the general term “purebred.” A purebred or purebreed is a deliberately bred or developed species of animal, which is the result of selective breeding – not completely natural selection without human intervention.
When we talk about purebred dogs in the UK today and so, are working with the most widely understood usage of the term purebred, we are talking about dogs of recognised modern breeds that are bred from other parents of the same breed and not any others. Such dogs are generally pedigrees, and as such, they are entered into their relevant breed’s stud book or breed registry with the Kennel Club. Such dogs are by design only ever bred from two parents of the same breed with a traceable ancestry confirming this, but they need not be Kennel Club registered to be purebred as long as this applies.
However, this is not the only correct application of the term purebred dog!
The term “purebred dog” might also be used to refer to a number of naturally occurring dog types or landraces that were not deliberately developed by humans into distinct breeds that fulfilled a specific working function or were designed to look a certain way, but whose evolution was influenced by proximity to humans.
For a dog to be a purebred, it has to “breed true,” regardless of how the term purebred itself is applied. To “breed true” means that all dogs of that breed or type have to reliably and with very few exceptions, produce offspring that are highly similar to their own parents.
A degree of variation is permitted within the definition of “breeding true;” such as permitting different colours and coat styles in offspring, as well as potentially some other traits too. However, the range of colours any purebred might produce young in is limited and set, even if the offspring are another colour entirely from either parent.
This is due to the fact that a breed population’s traits can be stable across its whole due to the size of the genetically related population, even if those traits aren’t identical across any two individual parent dogs.
Furthermore, a dog could in one very unique and uncommon situation be the offspring of two purebred dogs even if they do not breed true themselves; and this situation is in the case of a naturally occurring genetic mutation.
Genetic mutations – both those that are obvious and cause physical anomalies, and those that show no outward indications at all – can and do happen in nature at any time. Whilst they’re uncommon across populations as a whole, genetic mutations do crop up in the canine species from time to time and in some cases, have been deliberately reinforced by selective breeding due to being considered desirable traits.
A dog that is born with a genetic mutation is not said to have bred true because it is anomalous from its parents, but it still fulfils the definition of purebred if you’re working with the definition of this being a dog that is bred from two parents of the same breed and so, that is eligible for pedigree registration.
That said, such dogs born with anomalous mutations are not generally considered to be good for the breed, and will generally be neutered to prevent their mutations being passed on to their own potential offspring. They may also be refused Kennel Club registration as a result of their mutation, and will generally be kept or sold as pets, not breeding stock.
Are purebred dogs always pedigree dogs? Are pedigree dog always purebreds? No and yes respectively!
Are purebred dogs always pedigree dogs? No. Why? Well, a purebred dog is one that is bred from two parents of the same known and recognised breed (if we’re working with the most common usage of the term purebred) and that breeds true.
Failing to register that dog with the appropriate authority (usually the Kennel Club in the UK) or if that purebred dog is refused pedigree registration due to a technicality or welfare concern does not negate their purebred credentials.
It does, however, mean that they’re not a pedigree dog, as the definition of a pedigree dog is one that is recorded in the relevant breed registry or stud book.
Are pedigree dog always purebreds? Yes, usually. Why? A pedigree dog must, by definition, be produced from registered pedigree parents, and eligibility for pedigree statues relies upon the dog in question being purebred.
There is just one small caveat to bear in mind here to further muddy the waters – occasionally if it is proven to be in the best interests of the relevant breed (usually for reasons such as improving very poor breed health, to save a breed on the edge of extinction, or for another very clear reason in a small and specific set of circumstances) the Kennel Club will permit outcrossing to another breed whilst still affording the offspring pedigree status.
This is very rare – but worth mentioning anyway, for the purposes of total accuracy!