The toughest question to answer at an animal shelter is:  “What breed is that dog?”  Most dogs come in without any history about their birth, so it’s really just an educated guess on the part of staff. Adopters want to know the dog’s breed, but can anyone really tell just by looks?

In a study conducted by the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, 5,922 dog experts (veterinarians, breeders, trainers, groomers, veterinary technicians, animal shelter staff, etc) were shown pictures of 100 shelter dogs and asked to identify the likely breed of each dog.  DNA testing was then done to determine the dog’s genetic makeup.  The experts’ visual identification was considered correct if they had identified a breed representing at least 25% of a dog’s genetic makeup. For example, if the expert identified a dog as a pug, and the DNA showed the dog was at least 25% pug, it was considered a correct identification.

The astounding results showed that the dog experts correctly identified a prominent breed an average of only 27% of the time.  That meant that 83% of the time, the dogs were misidentified by people who know dogs the most!  It just shows that mixed breed dogs don’t always look like their parents.

Take a look at Riley, a delightful dog we adopted out in 2015. Riley was listed as a Labrador Retriever mix. Based solely on his looks, it was a pretty good guess.

When Riley was adopted, his adopter had his DNA tested. It turns out that Riley was 50% American Eskimo, 25% American Stafford Terrier, and 25% Pug/Rottweiler Cross. There was no Labrador Retriever in his history at all, but from looking at him, no one would have guessed he was actually 50% American Eskimo.

Generally what people really want to know when they ask about a dog’s breed, is more about the dog’s personality.  Is it a happy-go-lucky Lab, a serious shepherd, or a busy-bee Border Collie?  However, since mixed breed dogs may not look like the breeds they descended from, making guesses about their personality based on their looks is useless.

To truly understand a dog you need to look past the breed and see it as an individual.  Although shelters often make a “best guess” at the breed of a dog, it’s much more important to focus on the individual dog’s personality. In fact, some shelters have stopped labeling their dogs with breeds completely and focus more on identifying them by personality.

Next time you start to ask “What breed is that dog”, instead ask “What’s that dog’s personality?”