What kind of dog is that? – How DNA is Unlocking the Mystery of Dog Genetics


A study in 2012 done by the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program has left me with more questions than answers. I think most of us, when we encounter a dog, automatically attempt to categorize the breed or type of dog. This may be partially a reaction to make sure that we are safe with that dog in the same proximity as ourselves, our kids or our dogs, or just a natural instinct to categorize it into something known and familiar. But are we right? Even though we have studied dog breeds for decades, we need to ask, are we right in our assumption that what we see in front of us is definitely such and such a breed, or is it something different?

They asked over 5,000 dog experts, varying from veterinarians, breeders, trainers, shelter personnel, and groomers, to give their opinion on what breed(s) of dogs made up the dogs in the photos. In viewing the 119 dogs, they noted what breed(s) they thought made up that particular dog. The University of Florida Veterinary staff then did a DNA test of all of the 119 dogs, and matched up the tests with the guesses provided by the dog experts. The results are very interesting.

Take a few moments and look at what they came up with. http://sheltermedicine.vetmed.ufl.edu/library/research-studies/current-studies/dog-breeds/dna-results/#!prettyPhoto[4202]/73/ Do you agree with what the dog experts guessed? Or do you agree with what the DNA showed? (Notice most of the DNA does not add up to 100%, so it’s hard to say what is missing from the picture. There is no further explanation, that I could find, of the actual DNA tests and why they don’t add up to 100%, but, it is interesting nonetheless.)

The breeds that seem to be more obvious and ‘guessed’ correctly are the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and of course, the Basset Hound, but many of them do not look at all like what their DNA says. Doesn’t Dog #4 look like a Pyrenees Shepherd or Catalonian Sheepdog? How did the little puppy, Dog #93, get such a fuzzy looking coat, or Dog #25? All of the breeds in their DNA are smooth coated. Dog #114 doesn’t look like any one of the four breeds that make up what the DNA says he is. Dog #102 would be automatically classified as a Border Collie/Labrador Retriever mix without a second thought. Dog #94 doesn’t look a thing like any of his ancestors, none of which are smooth coated, and Dog #81 is just all mixed up. How did Dog # 79 come up with a smooth coat of the color pattern that he’s showing? And Dog #66 would be a Lab cross at any shelter. Where did Dog #33 pick up the black and white coloration, or Dog #18 get the coloration of an Australian Cattle Dog type? Dog #22 looks like it may be an Am Staff cross, but isn’t, so what of all of the breed specific legislation? He would be outlawed, but he isn’t a bully breed.

The result of the study opens up so many more questions than it answers. It definitely shows how unpredictable genetics are in the canine makeup, and how what one may think is obvious is not so obvious. This presents a challenge to shelter staff when placing the dogs, as the dog may look like a Lab cross, and they may think that it is going to be a fun-loving happy go lucky dog, but instead it’s a Cane Corso cross with high guarding instincts. Someone who wants a herding dog could end up with a bird dog.

What do you think of this study? How do you think the dogs may have inherited a fuzzy coat, or Irish markings, when their DNA shows no heritage of the breeds known for this? Or how did the dog grow large, or small, or have drop ears, or any number of things? How might this relate to our ‘pure’ bred dogs? We obviously can’t tell the personality or temperament from a photo, but judging a dog by its physical characteristics may be much more complicated than may first be considered. Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.