When people talk about the good old days, I’m never convinced they were really as wonderful as they say. Distance adds a rosy luster to what was perhaps not so great in reality. Trust me, life 50 years ago may have been better in some ways for some people – but only if you belonged to the right class, race and gender, which automatically excluded an overwhelming majority of the world’s population.
Of the many things we didn’t have in those days, the Internet is probably the one that has changed our daily life the most. I’m definitely not a techno geek, but I wonder if anyone who grew up with the Internet can even imagine what life was like before we could keep in touch with the whole world, or find the answer to almost any question, by just touching a few buttons on a keyboard. I remember the days of electric typewriters, Wite-Out, rotary phones, encyclopedias on the bookshelf and exorbitant prices for overseas phone calls. I don’t miss those days at all.
For dog people, the Internet means instant show results, puppy pictures that arrive from the other side of the world the moment they are taken, and countless pedigrees via the Internet any time you want them. The pedigree websites are truly one of the most remarkable new features of the Internet. I don’t think any old-timer could have imagined that pedigrees would become a fascination for new fanciers in the 2000s. Today, of course, instead of actually writing the pedigrees themselves, as we did in the past, untold thousands of dog people study pedigrees on the Internet.
All this, of course, is thanks to the development of the pedigree databases that exist for most breeds and are easily accessible by anyone with an Internet connection. The best of them connect people across the borders and provide more knowledge than anyone could possibly have predicted just a decade or two ago. The advanced computer knowledge that’s required for setting up these databases will, at best, result in a product that you need no special knowledge at all to enjoy. And isn’t that the whole point with technology, that it’s supposed to make your life easier and give you access to something you really want to use?
The Whippet Archives
Let me give you an example. Whippets are my breed, and those of us who are interested in Whippets are lucky because we have one of the best pedigree databases anywhere freely available to us: The Whippet Archives. The fact that it includes records of about 180,000 Whippets, all with pedigrees, many with photos and a lot of other information as well, tells you something about how popular the site is. There are more than 6,600 registered users who help edit and check data, but anyone can visit without the need to log in. And a lot of people do: in the last four weeks for which figures are available (May 25 through June 24, 2013), there were 45,847 visits from 17,047 unique visitors. That boils down to an average of 1,528 visits per day, or more than one visit every minute, around the clock, every day – a remarkable figure for a breed-specific website.
That you don’t have to log in is important for a website that’s set up with the idea of disseminating knowledge. All the pedigree websites mentioned in this article are accessible for viewing by anyone. There are others that are open only to members, but since I can’t easily access them, they fall outside the scope of this article. Of course, even those of us who prefer “open” websites have to concede that while the positive aspects dominate, there’s always a risk for errors. The quality of a pedigree website depends on the people who enter, maintain and check the information submitted. As far as I have been able to see on the websites I’ve been visiting, there are remarkably few errors, and those that exist are fairly minor: a missing (or extra) champion title, some confusion about birthdates, etc. Hardly ever have I come across a case where the pedigree itself has been factually incorrect.
So what do you find once you get to TWA, as The Whippet Archives are commonly called? You may click on “Dogs” and “Browse” to get a feel for what’s featured. If you see a name that looks interesting, click on it, and a page will appear with the dog’s pertinent information: always a name, usually a photo of the dog (sometimes several), and as much information as the webmaster could collect and verify, such as breeder, owner, call name, land of birth/residence, birth (and sometimes death) date, height, weight, color, “Distinguishing Features,” titles, known offspring, and siblings whose names you can click on for further detail. There’s a space for “Notes” to list the dog’s achievements, an opportunity that’s much abused; like most other websites of this kind TWA accepts no advertising, but the line between self-promotion and advertising is pretty fine.
And of course there’s the pedigree itself, with names and usually photographs of the dog’s ancestors almost as far back as you want – anything from just the parents to as many as nine generations back (that adds up to 1,022 names, if I counted right) – all at the click of a couple of keys. If you’re a real pedigree and history buff, once you’ve studied an extended pedigree for as long as you need, you can then click on the oldest ancestor’s name and jump another few decades back into breed history.
You can also go to “Pedigree Analysis” for information about the dog’s COI (inbreeding coefficient), number of actual versus maximum ancestors in any given number of generations, etc. There are even easy-to-understand explanations of just what COI and “all these numbers” mean.
There’s the additional option of typing a dog’s name into the box that’s provided for that purpose. One single misspelled letter means you won’t get a result, but as long as you know how to spell at least part of the dog’s name, you can get a list of every dog with those letters in its name. I entered my own kennel name, Bohem, and got 334 results, more dogs than I ever bred, because in that total are included a number of dogs with the Bohemia suffix from the Czech Republic and a few other dogs whose names contain the same five-letter root. If you want to find, for example, a Sporting Fields dog you need to know exactly how that dog’s name should be spelled (Sportingfield’s, Sporting Fields, Spflds, or whatever) – or you can just enter “Sporting” and search through all of the 823 dogs who have that word as part of their name. Better still, go to “Search Persons” and enter the name of the kennel’s owner. If you type in Debbie Butt’s name, you get a list of all the Whippets she has owned or bred.
The “Testmating” Option
All of this is extremely impressive. There’s more information here than I managed to compile over several decades in my old scrapbooks. And there’s more. A “Testmating” option allows you to enter a potential stud dog next to your bitch’s pedigree, and within a few seconds you’ll be able to analyze the pedigree that the future puppies would have. Or you can go to “Whippet Standards” and compare the AKC breed standard with those in England, Canada and the FCI countries, even the old 1904 standard is included.
One of the most interesting sections is “Statistics.” Figures and charts show how the breed has developed, number-wise, through the decades – based not on registration figures but on the number of dogs submitted to TWA, which is not quite the same. Only 161 Whippets in TWA date from before 1900, but 6,348 are from 1900 to 1950 – the source from which all our later dogs descend – and 55,968 from the first decade of the 2000s. There are even totals listing country of birth for the dogs in the archives: 66,470 come from Great Britain (which registers more than twice as many Whippets as we do in the U.S.) and 33,862 from the USA. Several thousand come from, in descending order, France, Germany, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Finland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland, each with more than 2,000 dogs included. Among the 66 countries featured (plus 1,700 dogs from a “not specified” country), there are two dogs from Thailand, and one each from Malaysia, Peru and Saudi Arabia.
The registered users of The Whippet Archives also come mainly from Great Britain and U.S., but the figures are more evenly distributed: 1,018 from Great Britain, 906 from the U.S. The others are from more than 60 different countries, including at least 100 each from, in descending order, Germany, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Norway. A few countries had just one single registered user: Belarus, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. (Iraq, amazingly, has two registered users.) Those figures don’t impress you? Think about it for a while: isn’t it frankly amazing that there is anyone at all in some of these countries who cares enough about Whippet pedigrees to become a registered user? The thought of all these people around the world studying pedigrees on the same site is frankly mind-boggling, at least to me.
TWA offers data about how many dogs are in the archives from whichever area and time period you may want to check. For the most recent decade, for instance (2001-2010), a total of 25,515 Whippets from the United Kingdom were put on the site, followed by 9,162 from the U.S. Both figures mirror pretty closely the registration totals, I believe, which means that the overwhelming majority of Whippets in these countries end up in TWA. There’s even a world map which indicates breed population by density of color: in Great Britain Whippets are so popular the dark green base color is nearly black, while the U.S. is emerald green, and, for example, China is yellow, indicating “none recorded.” Move the cursor over the map and a balloon with the total figure for that country will pop up.
The pie charts showing color distribution in Whippets are equally interesting. It is clear, for instance, that there are fewer fawn Whippets in Great Britain in this century than there used to be. Whites have also dropped off, while brindles have increased in numbers, and there are more blacks and blues than there used to be. In the U.S. brindle is still by far the dominant color – more than 50 percent of all American Whippets are some variation thereof. Blacks are much more seldom seen in the U.S. than in Great Britain, blues even more so and becoming increasingly rare, while we have a lot more whites in the U.S. than there are in Great Britain. For the purposes of these statistics, for example, fawns and fawn-and-whites were all counted as fawns, brindles and brindle-and-whites as brindles; there are no separate figures, for example, for solid fawns or solid brindles.
The reason I’m devoting so much space to The Whippet Archives is not so much because this happens to be my own breed as that it’s also one of the best of all the pedigree websites, as far as I can tell. It was started in 2006 by a young computer science student in Austria, Karin Schellner, who has worked for IBM, at the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Vienna and for the Austrian Research Center. She got her first Whippet in 2005 and was frustrated trying to research far into his background without much success.
She remembers: “I was not particularly interested in pedigrees at the beginning, but digging into long pedigree lists sparked a new fascination in me. I was looking for the possibility to drill down into my dog’s pedigree, back to his ancient relatives – if possible, back to the very roots of the breed, more than a hundred years ago. I did find some sources on the Internet, but most of them … did not give much information on a single dog. What I really wanted was to get as much information as possible about my dog’s relatives. I wanted to see pictures, get some idea on what they looked like, get some notes on what character they had, etc. But who else other than the owners or breeders could deliver this information? In this way, the idea of The Whippet Archives was born. That was in August 2006. I knew that I had the technical qualifications for programming TWA and set it up in exactly the way I imagined, and I was counting on the big community of Whippet enthusiasts to fill the website with real data, to bring it to life!”
Karin worked on the initial version and technical implementation on weekends, during long winter nights and holidays. At that time it wasn’t clear if it would ever go online. By January 1, 2007, she had an alpha version ready, which she tested on her Austrian Whippet friends. After three more long months of testing and bug fixing, they came to the conclusion that TWA was ready to go online and to go public.
Since then, several people have been and still are involved. There are the users, a big community of Whippet lovers who understand the concept of community websites and are willing to share and exchange their information. Then Karin made contact with some enthusiastic TWA users who were willing to do data maintenance, in addition to their extensive contributions, and also cast an eye over the entries in TWA. These people, together with some old Austrian Whippet friends, form the group of TWA administrators. Karin says she is very happy to have their support – not only in data cleansing and organizational matters but also as moral support.
The above comes from an interview Karin did a few years ago with a sighthound publication in Norway. I also asked Karin how much time she spends on the website. “This varies a lot. Now, as the website and software are quite stable and most people understand and respect the rules, it is less time-consuming than it was at the beginning. The minimum is two hours a week for answering emails and doing backup, etc. Fortunately I have great assistance concerning pedigree questions: Lanny Morry in Canada and also Monique Post with their good connections to some U.K. breeders help remove ambiguities and erroneous data very fast and efficiently in a lot of cases.”
A Model for Other Breed Sites
Another reason I’ve devoted so much space to The Whippet Archives is that it served as a model for pedigree websites in other breeds. There are currently pedigree websites modeled directly on TWA for Borzoi, (41,453 dogs), Salukis, (38,247 dogs), English Setters, (112,858 dogs, more than 10,000 of them with photos), both Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers, (11,331 and 43,520 dogs, respectively), Cardigan Welsh Corgis, (23,400 dogs), Border Terriers, (72,431 dogs), Boxers, (27,970 dogs) and Boston Terriers, (12,507 dogs). All the numbers are as of June 26, by the way; most of them change daily.
These websites are all set up the same way as TWA, equally simple to use, but sometimes containing different information. The Borzoi Files, for instance, includes a list of stud dogs and allows you to browse dogs by kennel. The Saluki Archives lists a whole array of different title abbreviations; it also accepts advertising (a no-no on most other pedigree websites). The English Setter Pedigrees database – one of the largest for any breed – includes statistics of Top 10 Sires and Dams (based on numbers of offspring in the archives) and a longevity chart. The Cardigan Archives didn’t seem to have had a single new dog added for at least two weeks, which makes you wonder about contributor activity. The Fox Terrier pedigree archives are simultaneously used for a health survey, indicating a greater awareness of health as an important factor in breed history now than in the past. And the Boston Terrier Pedigrees website includes all wins and titles for each dog, which means many, many title listings for some winners at FCI shows.
Initially, when I was planning this article, I thought I’d analyze every pedigree database that exists on the Internet. That was an unrealistic prospect, as I soon found out, and would have taken weeks, if not months. Practically every breed has its own pedigree database; in some cases more than one. The one I’ve gone to most often besides TWA is probably the Afghan Hound International pedigree site, which is one of the oldest around and includes a staggering 209,348 Afghan Hound pedigrees. It started in 1996 and is much more than just a pedigree website, offering show results, club news, registrations, ads, etc. Some measure of the depth of information that the best pedigree websites provide can be gleaned from the fact that I found, in about 10 seconds, more records than I could remember from a couple of Afghan Hound litters I bred in the early 1960s. It’s all there, in black and white, and reminded me of some facts I had forgotten. (“Gosh, we bred that bitch to that dog… and I had forgotten those puppies.”) I have to send them a couple of old photos to make their records even more complete!
Golden Retrievers and Labradors…
The combined pedigree website for Golden and Labrador Retrievers, K9data.com, has a rather lopsided number of pedigrees, according to its own home page: 345,401 Golden Retrievers is a high figure, even for such a high-profile breed, but 55,391 Labradors is just a drop in the bucket for what’s now the world’s most popular breed. Still, I found pedigrees for all the Labs I was looking for, both current superstars and older, less well-known dogs.
There’s a Poodle website, Poodle Pedigree Database, that appears to be extensive but doesn’t list the number of dogs included. However, it proudly announces having had over 400,000 visitors (in how many years?), including some from Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Bangladesh, but very few of the pedigrees are illustrated. An Irish Water Spaniel database has 9,300 pedigrees.
I found quite a few others, and I could have spent weeks clicking, and learning, about any number of breeds.
There are, of course, all-breed pedigree websites as well. One of them, Pedigree Central, has sub-categories for different breeds of dogs, cats, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits and rats (yes, pedigree rats!), but seems not to have been updated for a while. There are others, some of them quite good, usually linked to some commercial product, but it makes sense that it’s the database that’s put up by a breed fancier that would be the most interesting for most people.
If you don’t find your own breed mentioned above, try just putting in the breed’s name and the words “pedigree database” in your favorite search engine. You may be surprised by what you will turn up, and I hope you will find it as interesting as I do.