Does a pedigree matter?

Grace and Raegan enjoyed another walk together this past Sunday. Raegan is a purebred silver lab and now we know Grace has a lot of chihuahua in her. They both love normal dog things, like carrying a stick, climbing over rocks, and exploring the smells in the woods. However, their different pedigrees make their training and learning systems unique.

When you’re looking for the perfect job candidate, do you take into account the person’s background or societal standing? Perhaps you require a college degree? Or a degree in a certain discipline? Or maybe you look for the candidate to have work experience that comes from a particular type or size of company? In short, does the pedigree of the candidate matter?

I think it helps you know what you have, but it doesn’t determine what the person is capable of achieving.

Yes, some schools are better than others. And certain work experiences yield greater opportunities for learning. The skills we’ve gained in the past will impact what we can do in the present and future.

But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that anyone who lacks a particular skill will necessarily fail.

Take Grace as an example. I know — she’s a dog and no matter how sensational I think she is, she won’t be filling out any job applications anytime soon. However, she offers us yet another important lesson.

For Christmas, one of the gifts from my husband was a DNA test for Grace. I thought this was a brilliant idea, not because I cared about her blood lines (I did adopt a street dog, after all). But because I’ve always been curious about who she really is, so to speak.

People ask us all the time, “What breed is she?” My response is, “A mutt.” I like mutts. I think they are interesting and they aren’t usually plagued with many of the breed-specific quirks and health issues.

I add to my response that I think she has whippet in her, because she’s so lean, agile, fast — things that seem like a whippet to me. Other people have said they think she might have some Italian greyhound, terrier, or dachshund in her. But of course, we didn’t know. These were guesses, based on our impressions and limited knowledge about each of these breeds.

With my DNA swab kit in hand, I was filled with curiosity about what we would find out. We fully expected to receive a report with “inconclusive results” as we were certain she had untold number of breeds that had been mixing it up on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Imagine our surprise when we found out that 50% of her ancestry was 100% chihuahua! “Is that the Taco Bell dog?” I asked my husband. (Yes.)

When I looked at the chart, which included a small graphic representation of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, I’ve never seen so many little chihuahuas in one place! It was comical to me; here I was thinking she had a deep mix of breeds in her; instead I began to speculate that if her one chihuahua parent had hooked up with another chihuahua, Grace would be a purebred!

Her other side was 50% dachshund and 50% mixed breed. Of that “mixed breed” portion, there were five options, ranked with probability of each: Golden Retriever (14.63%), Tibetan Spaniel (4.61%), Weimaraner (4.05%), Shetland Sheepdog (3.32%), and Labrador Retriever (3.12%).

They included descriptive lists of traits for the breeds and chihuahuas and dachshunds shared two in common. Interestingly, they couldn’t describe her any more accurately:
• Alert, active, and often playful.
• May be suspicious or fearful of strangers.

Seeing this, I realized that it’s possible that some of her ongoing fear issues are related to her genes versus her start on the streets. In addition, chihuahuas respond well to reward-based training using treats (totally true for Grace) and the dachshund has a hunting background and therefore prone to barking (yup).

Does any of this matter?

Whether Grace is half-chihuahua or not, it doesn’t preclude her from doing things that any normal dog would do, like taking up more than her share of the sofa or chasing the cats away from her bone.

But knowing more of who she is and what her experiences have been help us develop a higher level of success in the things we work with her on. It doesn’t mean she can’t accomplish success in things we ask her to do. Yet we have to keep in mind her needs if we want results. That’s an excellent thing to keep in mind when managing people, too.

So whether you are hiring or being a mentor to someone in their career, look for potential, rather than limitations.

Smart Tips Served Straight to Your Inbox

Want to build healthy, productive workplace relationships??? Join our community of Graceful Leaders/Managers and get access to tips, insights, and resources right in your inbox.

BONUS: Sign up now and receive a FREE animal-inspired gift: “3 Management Tips from Dog!"

Share with a friend using one of the buttons below. Then sign up so you can receive stories, tips, and guidance to help you develop healthy workplace relationships in your organization!


  1. Tammy Lenski on February 9, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Robin, I love hearing about the results of Grace’s DNA test! We’ve pondered Smudge’s beginnings on that Puerto Rican beach, too. People ask us all the time, “Is he a Jack Russell?” and I respond, “We think he’s an Italian Jack-uaua-hund.” Who knows? Maybe we’ll test him someday, too, though, like you, I’m a happy mutt owner (and a mutt myself).

  2. PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 9, 2012 at 6:27 am

    I think it’s great fun to think about anyone’s background. (Love your description of Smudge possible combinations!!!). Recently I was involved in an activity with a wonderful group of OD consultants [we came together to share best practices and we’re all become best buddies), anyhow, one person suggested we put together a short video where we talked about the origins of our name. Some thought it might be a boring assignment, but it wasn’t at all. It was fun to think about my own name, but the best part was learning things about other people that I didn’t know. I guess that’s part of this DNA test, too. It’s all about getting to know the other person better, which results in deeper, more meaningful relationships, one of the key aspects of being a good manager, isn’t it? As always, thanks for stopping by and commenting, Tammy!

  3. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide on February 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Pedigree is good, but experience is better. If you can gain it without a fancy pedigree all the better.

  4. LeeAnn on February 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Robin – very interesting post and another great tie-in to your sweet Grace. I was hiring partner for our law firm for a number of years, and I became a little cynical about pedigree (especially in the generations younger than me) – in the sense that if I knew someone had a “good” pedigree, I found myself thinking of it as a limitation. I would much rather have a “mutt” who had learned to work hard in order to achieve success. Not an entirely fair conclusion – and one that I have to catch myself on at times now. I really like the last line of your post – what a positive approach to take!

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      How interesting, LeeAnn, you’re right. Now that you mention it, I can definitely see how one could have the perspective that having a good pedigree is a negative, (e.g. a person expecting things on a silver platter without working to achieve them). Making those snap judgments can be bad from either angle. Thanks for bringing up both sides of that equation. Balance (just like in yoga!!!) is everything. So glad you are here.

  5. Laurie Bartolo on February 13, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Great post Robin! I’m very curious about both Daisy and Webster’s breed make-up – they are clearly mixed breeds and I love mutts, but it would just be fun to know more about them. Part of the challenge of rescued dogs is that so much mystery surrounds them – we don’t know much about their experiences before they made their way to us, and we certainly don’t know anything about their lineage. Of course, being dogs, they can’t fill us in, leaving us wondering about a lot of things.

    With people, there is less mystery, but we still have to do our research to make sure we understand what we are getting when hiring someone. Pedigree is no guarantee that you’re getting a good hire. I find myself less interested in pedigree (e.g., where someone went to school) and more interested in their attitude and what motivates them (e.g., why they went to school – or why they chose not to).

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 13, 2012 at 11:15 am

      Wouldn’t it be great if managers had the mindset about people that you mentioned about dogs [that it would be fun to learn more them]? If managers were truly interested in learning more about their team, everything else would flow from that, wouldn’t it? Solving that mystery of who a person is would be so rewarding for everyone — not to mention we could undercover more about how they applied any particular pedigree they come with as well as their attitude, too. Great comment, Laurie!

  6. Renee on February 14, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Robin, once again, a great post that provides much for reflection. The DNA test that you had performed provided insight into Grace’s background and yet still left room for curiosity. For me, that was a key insight. It’s good to remain open to our employees’ potential and strengths. If we remain in a space of curiosity — completely open to what might be or what might show up — that space of open-being may reveal so much more than an evaluation can tell us. Your post reminded me that people, just like dogs, are complex and multifaceted beings. We have accessible to us what we need to be successful — no matter what pedigree label a document may provide.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Renee, your observation is really cool. You captured the essence of this so perfectly. Having more insight into anyone’s background or style is very helpful, but it’s not the end of the journey. I so love your “key insight” — thank you for sharing it because it truly deepens the topic for me, and hopefully for others.

  7. didiwright on February 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Oh, so there’s no whippet in her at all…:( Never mind, George and I still love her 😀
    I think you’re making a good point about who one (dog, human, etc.) is supposed/expected to be based on their “pedigree” and who they really are …

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

      I know — no whippet! And George is so handsome, too. None of that goodness in Grace! 🙂

  8. spiderpaw on February 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I never knew you could test a dog for it’s breed. I would have never guessed that Grace had any chihuahua in her. Very nice post Robin. It reminds me of an old saying that says: ” It is not where you are from, but where you’re at.”

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on February 27, 2012 at 8:16 am

      I was shocked at chihuahua, too! I just love that quote you mention — makes you remember how important it is to always be in the present moment. Thanks, Lionel.

Leave a Comment