Study shows shelters often misidentify dog breeds in mystery mutts

What is the best way to guess a dog’s breed?

The majority of people looking to adopt a dog from a shelter are curious about their ancestry. According to statistics, the majority of pets looking for a furever home across shelters in the United States are mixed breed dogs, which can make things difficult for curious pet parents.

The good news is that shelter workers have gotten pretty good at guesstimating dog breeds, so you’ll be able to get a better idea of your pet’s appearance and behavior, especially if you’re adopting a puppy. Is that right? It’s wrong on so many levels. It has been proven time and time again that a dog’s breed doesn’t have much of an impact on their personality, and we now know that guesstimating breeds can lead to incorrect identification, as well.

An article published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One sheds light on the low accuracy rates of shelter breed guessing. Shelters are unable to afford genetic testing for dogs, so they rely on visual cues to identify a dog’s breed. In the first place, people do this simply because they want to know what breed (or breeds) are dominant in their pooch’s lineage, since they believe it will help them get to know them better. As with everything in life, don’t judge a book by its cover!

Over half of the shelter staff were successful in guessing one breed in over half of the cases, but their success rate dropped to about 10% once they tried to identify the second breed. That’s only fair, if we’re being honest. Here is one of my mysterious mutts, Zara, whose ancestry I can’t even guess and there are probably more than two breeds involved.

Interestingly, this was also one of the findings of the Arizona State University team. Genetically, the dogs they tested were composed of an average of three different breeds, while some had as many as five. The overall diversity of shelter dogs was also a bit of a surprise, with 125 different breeds identified in their genes, with American Staffordshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Poodles being the most common.

A dog with bully breed heritage had to wait longer for adoption (if they were adopted at all), as is to be expected. Figures show a number that’s close to double what other mixed breed dogs were waiting for. Socialization and training are more important than genetics, and we’ll see more adoptions and less prejudice as a result.

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