Identifying Dog Breeds

When I first started working in animal welfare, you could easily identify 99 percent of the dogs coming through your shelter with a good dog breed book.  Over the years dogs have been interbreeding to the point that I’ve been unable to identify the primary breed.  It is common to identify two distinct breeds, but eventually we began to see breed combinations that are no longer readily identifiable.

When I first stated in this business, I worked on an animal shelter management software tool.  The most common request that our users asked was to allow for them to distinguish the primary breed as unknown.  I recognized the problem of doing that when lazy shelter employees would identify all of the animals in the shelter as “unknown” breed.  It would have made record keeping impossible.

As time passes, I began to experience the same problem of identifying the various breeds contained in a dog.  For a long time, pitbull dogs were misidentified and many people took on the task of teaching staff how to correctly identify the breed.  Some shelters recognized the problem of calling a dog a pitbull and began calling them by other breeds, such as an “American Dog”.  I always believed in the integrity of my data.

The most common complaint from people was that most dogs were identified as a “pitbull mix.”  It wasn’t that we could not identify the breed, the fact was that pitpulls were being intentionally bred with other dogs.  My daughter just announced to me that she adopted a pitbull/poodle mix that was seized from a breeder in her community.  I don’t know if I should be critical of using a pitbull or using a poodle.

The fact that breed identification was so difficult, shelter staff is constantly asked to change a dog’s breed description so as to get the animal adopted.  I explained that it is pretty embarrassing for the owner of an adopted  pitbull puppy to be confronted by their landlord or veterinarian with the truth about their dog’s breed.  I have always insisted on the integrity of my organization.

I had a group of volunteers trying to convince me that a pitbull (American Staffordshire Terrier (I know, some people will claim that this isn’t a pitbull, but it falls into the group of dog breed groups that we call “pitbull”))  Under the pressure of this group, I started to see some Great Dane characterizes in the dog.  I could see myself caving on this issue.  My staff thought I was nuts.  I guess as you get older, you either try to compromise more or you begin to lose your vision.  I suggested that we send the dog’s DNA off for testing.  The dog came back 100 percent American Staffordshire Terrier.  I was proof that the longer that you stare at a pitbul the more it begins to look like another breed.

I recently read a news headline about forty new mixed breeds that people are crazy about… just what we need!  Animal Shelters are a constant battleground as to breed identification.  I fondly look back to the days when breeds would be readily identified.  When it came to animal identification, those were the good old days. Today,  it is okay to step back from a dog and shake your head and say, “I don’t know what it is.”