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Mysterious Mutts: Study Shows Shelters Often Misidentify Dog Breeds

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Most people that are looking to adopt a dog from a shelter are curious about their ancestry. However, according to statistics, the majority of pets looking for a furever home across shelters in the United States are mixed breed dogs, which can complicate things a bit for the inquisitive pet parent to be.

Thankfully, a lot of shelter workers have gotten pretty well versed in guesstimating dog breeds, so it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to get a clearer picture about how your pet will look like and behave, especially if you’re adopting a puppy. Right? Wrong, and on so many levels. Not only that it has been proven, time and time again, that a dog’s breed doesn’t have that big of an impact on their personality, but now we also know that guesstimating breeds often leads to misidentification.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One sheds a light on the low accuracy rates of breed guessing at shelters. Most shelters are not able to afford genetic tests for dogs, so they rely on visual cues to try and identify a dog’s breed. The reason why they do this in the first place is simply that people like knowing what breed (or breeds) is dominant in their mixed-breed pooch’s lineage, as they believe that it will help them know their new pet better. But, as it is true with all things in life, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

The research shows that, while the shelter staff was successful in guessing one breed in over half of the cases,  as soon as they tried to identify the second dog breed in the mix, their success rate dropped to about 10%.  I mean, that’s only to be expected, if we’re being fair. Exhibit A: this is one of my mysterious mutts, Zara, and I can’t even guess one of the breeds in her ancestry-  and it’s safe to assume there are probably more than two.

On average, mutts have 2 dog breeds in their genetics, and some even up to 5 distinct breeds.

Coincidentally, this was also one of the findings that the team from Arizona State University had.  On average, the dogs they tested had their genetics comprised of 3 different breeds, while some had up to five different breed signatures identified. There was also a bit of a surprise when it came to the overall diversity, as they were able to pinpoint 125 different breeds in the genes of shelter dogs, with the three most common being American Staffordshire Terrier, Chihuahua, and Poodle.

Sadly, as one might expect, in any case where bully breed heritage was suspected, the dog in question had to wait longer on adoption (if they were adopted at all)- figures show a number that’s close to double what other mixed breed dogs had to wait for. Hopefully, more people will realize that there’s greater importance in socialization and training, rather than genetics- and we’ll see more adoptions and less prejudice.


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