DNA Tests Make Shelter Dogs More Adoptable
The Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in California may be on to something.
Shelter personnel thought that prospective owners might be more willing to adopt mixed breed dogs who had undergone genetic testing to reveal their breed make-up. To test this hypothesis, they picked 12 dogs who looked likely to be Chihuahua crosses of some sort and sent off their DNA for testing. Some of the combinations that were revealed were surprising, but even better were the names they gave to those mixes:
- Chihuahua/Corgi… a Chorgi
- Chihuahua/Rat Terrier/Poodle… a Chiratoodle
- Chinese Crested/Miniature Schnauzer… a Far Eastern Chinzer
- Shetland Sheepdog/Chihuahua/Labrador… a Sheepish Chabrador
- Terrier/Miniature Poodle… a Terridoodle
- Yorkshire Terrier/Beagle… a Yorkle
- Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher/Yorkshire Terrier… a Chorkie
(My favorite dog of all time was a Dachshund/Beagle/Corgi mix. Why did I never think to declare him a perfect representative of the Corglehund breed?)
The shelter’s efforts appear to have been a success. In their Winter, 2015 newsletter, they report that “most of the initial group of tested dogs in our Who’s Your Daddy? program were adopted and we ordered tests for another group.”
The Peninsula Humane Society has focused their efforts on dogs who look like potential Chihuahua mixes since this is the type they are currently being overrun with. While some folks might have an anti-Chihuahua bias, I think genetic identification of breed make-up would be most beneficial for all those dogs out there who look like they might have some Pitbull in them.
Pitbulls have such a terrible reputation that they can be very difficult to adopt, and people have a tendency to call almost any short-haired, muscular dog with a somewhat blocky head a Pitbull or Pitbull mix. This despite the fact that even trained observers (veterinarians and shelter personnel included) are just awful at accurately identifying what breeds are behind a mutt’s unique look. One study found that “87.5% of the dogs identified by an adoption agency as having specific breeds in their ancestry did not have all of those breeds detected by DNA analysis.”
Want more proof of how bad people are at correctly identifying Pitbull mixes? Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program (a part of University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine) “conducted a national survey of dog experts to compare their best guesses for the breeds of dogs in a series of photographs.” They then compared these visual assessments to the results of DNA testing. The “dog experts” correctly identified 14 dogs as having some Pitbull in them (specifically American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier). However, they incorrectly identified 17 dogs as Pitbull mixes when genetic analysis revealed a complete absence of Pitbull heritage.
As unfair as it is, many people would be much more likely to adopt a dog knowing that it is 25% Labrador Retriever, 25% Manchester Terrier, 25% Belgian Sheepdog, and 12.5% Boston Terrier (dog number 36 in the survey) rather than the Pitbull mix they assumed it to be based on looks alone.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Comparison of adoption agency breed identification and DNA breed identification of dogs. Voith VL, Ingram E, Mitsouras K, Irizarry K. J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2009;12(3):253-62.
Image: Esteban Sanchez / Shutterstock