Was it love at first sight when you and your shelter pooch laid eyes on each other? According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs end up in U.S. animal rescue/control facilities every year, and 1.6 million get adopted. No doubt you’ve asked, “what breed is my dog?” According to a new DNA study published in PLOS ONE, the primary or secondary breed for shelter dogs is misidentified by shelter staff a full 67% of the time! So if you think you know your furry best friend’s breed, you may have it all wrong. Here’s a quick overview of the study and what its results mean.
FACT: 34% of dogs are purchased from breeders, while 23% are adopted from shelters.
How Do Shelter Dogs’ Breeds Get Misidentified?
As part of their own separate research into the widespread occurrences of misidentification, the National Canine Research Council noticed that—when trying to pinpoint one or more breeds through visual means alone—different observers seldom agree. This may be because “even first-generation crossbreeds” usually look different than either parent.”
If there are more breeds than two in a dog’s genetic makeup, visual identification gets even hairier, so to speak. Imagine mixing paint. If you add red paint to yellow, you get orange. But if you add in green, blue, purple, and brown, there is no way to even see the yellow paint anymore. It’s the same way with multi-generational crossbreed dogs. Unless a dog inherited a substantial amount of physical traits from a single breed in their ancestry, it’s nearly impossible to confirm its heritage just by looking at it.
So the bottom line is, shelter staff (and even vets) may take their best shot at “guessing” a dog’s breed visually, based on experience, but statistics say there’s a high chance of their getting it wrong.
Why Is Proper Breed Identification Important?
First of all, misidentification could cost a shelter dog its life. In her analysis for Popular Science, Sara Chodosh writes that a “label can have devastating consequences for dogs in shelters, who are perceived as less adoptable because of their purported heritage.” A dog labeled as a “pit bull mix,” for example, can stay at a shelter nearly twice as long as dog breed with a better reputation for family-friendly behavior.
For owners who have already brought a new friend home, knowing the breeds in their dog’s make-up has many benefits, including helping them to understand the pet better and more effectively meet its physical and emotional needs.
How Many Purebred Dogs Are There in Shelters Anyway?
If you’ve always wanted a purebred dog, a shelter may not be the place to look for one. A widely-circulated percentage for the number of purebred dogs available for adoption in shelters is 25%. But the new study tells a different story.
According to the researchers, the number of purebred dogs in shelters is around 5%.
So if you’re looking for a purebred pet, a reputable and experienced breeder is most likely going to be a better resource for you than a shelter.
The Tip of the Tail
So “What breed is my dog?” Well, all dogs deserve a loving home, whether they come from a shelter or a breeder. The takeaways from the new study are:
- If you have a shelter pet, take the shelter staff’s identification of its breed with a big ol’ grain of salt. Chances are 100% that they mean well, but 67% that they could be wrong
- A dog DNA test is the only foolproof and unbiased method for determining a dog’s genetic makeup