What paperwork should I get when buying a dog?

dog with paperwork

Ask puppy owners about their new pet’s paperwork, and some will proudly pull out a gold embossed AKC pedigree while others will smile and point to the puppy pads on the floor. The difference between the two is less about the quality of their pet than the owners’ attitude and goals, and neither is wrong. Whether your heart is set on showing your dog or you simply want to add a healthy fuzzy friend to your household, there’s certain information every pet owner needs to know.  

Every puppy should come with his own “puppy pack” that includes information ranging from the dog’s ancestry and health records to his temperament and diet recommendations. The paperwork you receive will vary depending on the dog you get and where you get him from, so getting the information that’s aligned with your personal goals is crucial.


The Puppy Pack

Every aspiring dog owner wants to know that their pup has been loved and cared for in the days and weeks before they’re ready to come home. A thoughtfully assembled puppy pack that includes pedigree information (if applicable), health records, comfort items, and more is a promising indication that that’s the case, regardless of whether you’ve chosen an AKC breeder or a rescue organization. Without these materials, the pup you’re taking home is a black box that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Every breeder, rescue, and shelter has its own personality and individual take on the puppy pack. Some will simply provide a bare minimum — an envelope of papers — while others will put significant effort into your care package, provide reading materials on training, suggestions for nutrition and exercise, a comfort item that the dog has spent time with or that carries the smell of their littermates and mother, and a toy. 

At an absolute minimum, your puppy pack should include the paperwork you need to take the mystery out of your dog’s background.

An AKC-registered breeder will provide the pup’s pedigree and the registration information for the litter it was born into.
A rescue or shelter organization will explain where and under what circumstances the dog was found and what has been done to socialize the dog, secure its health, and ensure that it is appropriate for your home. 


No matter whether you’re purchasing or adopting, what kind of dog you’ve chosen, or where your dog comes from, your puppy pack should include detailed information about his health records, including vaccinations and deworming medication it has received and a schedule for future treatments. If the pup has been microchipped, that information should be included as well.


Does Every Dog Need Pedigree Papers?

Our literature and media are filled with classic and charming images of boxes marked “Free Puppies” and young children lugging dogs to their doorsteps and pleading, “He followed me home. Can I keep him??”  Though plenty of dogs have found homes in this hopeful and haphazard way, most people choose a more deliberate approach, whether identifying a reputable shelter or rescue and then relying on love at first sight or researching breed characteristics and then finding an AKC registered breeder, a breed-specific rescue, or an unregistered purebred breeder. Of all of these, only the AKC-registered breeder (and possibly the breed-specific rescue) will offer pedigree papers. Does it matter?

Not every dog needs Pedigree Papers. Though AKC papers lend an air of authenticity and an assumption of high quality, the only thing that they actually guarantee is a traceable genetic heritage (assuming that the papers are authentic). When a dog has AKC papers it means that you can show or potentially breed the dog, but more importantly, it means that you have valuable information about whether your purebred pup is the product of thoughtful, careful breeding. Breeding that avoids inbreeding and the genetic anomalies that can accompany it. It lets you know whether your dog comes from stock that has won show titles and even what colors its ancestors were.


Is a dog with papers a “better” dog than a dog without? 

No, but the biggest advantage of papers is that you have a clear record of your dog’s genetic and health history, and that can be important to understanding what their future needs or risks may be. Beyond that, saying that any one dog is “better” than another is venturing into emotional territory. Placing a value on a dog is a highly subjective thing. If you view your dog as an asset or a status symbol then its pedigree will be important to you. If you are bringing a dog into your home as a family member or companion, its ancestry will mean far less and its capacity to love and be loved will be worth far more than the pup’s weight in gold. Follow your own heart and priorities to find the right animal for you and your family – whether with papers or without.


Pedigrees, Purebreds, and Papers

Maybe you have a lifelong crush on a specific breed and you’re finally ready for ownership. Maybe you did hours of research to determine which breed is calm enough, or energetic enough, or protective enough, or smart enough for your household. Whatever your circumstance, you’ve decided on a particular breed that’s right for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the purebred dog you find is going to come with papers – at least not pedigree papers.


Pedigree papers are only available to a select few dogs with a traceable ancestry that dates back to the time when the breed’s standards were first established. In the United States there are only 196 dog breeds that have been fully recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to upholding breed standards. Each AKC-recognized breed has gone through a process that started with breeders who established what the most desirable traits were for their dogs, then identified and bred males and females who had those characteristics. After puppies were born, the ones who best matched the standard that they established were entered onto the breed’s registry with the AKC, and from that time on only pups born to dogs with two registered parents – and who possessed the same traits – were eligible to be entered onto the breed’s registry.

When you want a pedigreed dog, you need to seek a registered breeder who has pups sired from and born of pedigreed dogs, and the paperwork that you receive will reflect the pup’s lineage, often going back as far as four generations.

Puppies born to AKC-registered dogs are not automatically registered themselves. When a litter is born to an AKC-registered dam that was mated to an AKC-registered sire, the only way that the pups are eligible to be registered themselves is for the breeder to register the litter. This requires the breeder to submit the signatures of the parent dogs’ owners, both parent dogs’ registration numbers, and information about how many males and females were in the litter. The cost for litter registration is $25 plus $2 per puppy, and if the litter is not registered by six months after whelping, the litter owner is also required to pay a penalty fee when they do submit their paperwork. 

Once the litter has been registered, the new owner is able to register their pup. Basic registration that includes physical papers is good for the life of the dog, costs $37.99, and requires submission of an application that includes the dog’s name and required fee. Online registration without physical papers is less expensive at $33.00. There are also upgraded registration packages available that include official certificates worthy of framing, dog training information, subscriptions to AKC publications, and more.

The process of obtaining a registration generally takes a few weeks and ends with issuance of an official certificate that contains information on each dog in the pup’s lineage, including their name and registration number, colors and markings, and any competition titles that individual ancestors may have won

Owners who send in registration papers more than twelve months after a litter has been registered are subject to a $35.00 late fee, and there is a $65 late fee for applications submitted more than 24 months after the litter is registered. When ownership is transferred as a result of death, divorce, sale, or similar occurrences, specific legal transfer procedures are outlined by the organization, and processing is available for a nominal fee.


A purebred of any breed is a dog whose ancestry on both is made up of the same, recognized breed. However, while pedigreed dogs are all purebreds, not all purebred dogs have pedigrees.

Because only dogs whose lineage is entirely made up of registered dogs are AKC-registration eligible, a pup born to a pedigreed dam mated with a purebred but unpedigreed sire is automatically ineligible for a pedigree. The same will be true for any of that pup’s descendants. When both adult dogs are pedigreed, but no registration is sought for their pup or pups by owners of the litter, the pups’ eventual owners can attempt to register them, but doing so may be a challenge.

Purebred dogs whose sire and dam are not AKC registered may still be able to get alternative papers as long as they have been spayed or neutered.

Some of these limited privilege registrations allow dogs to participate in performance events and junior shows, obedience tests, and the like, but not to be shown or bred as pedigreed animals.

It is important to note that certain hybrid breeds are becoming increasingly popular. These are dogs who are purposeful mixes of different breeds, and their hybrid lineage may date back several generations. Even if the original purebred dogs were themselves pedigreed, their “designer” descendants cannot be considered purebreds and are not eligible for pedigree papers. The same is true of mixed-breed dogs of undetermined backgrounds.