How to Determine Your Dog's Breed
There are many reasons you might want to know your dog's breed, from curiosity to insights into characteristics or learning about any health problems they may encounter in the future as a result of breed predispositions. You may find your rescue dog is purebred, or that your mutt or hybrid pup is a mix of many different breeds. Whether you use science or simply make a well-educated guess, you will be able to better answer that common question: "Oh! What kind of dog is that?"
Relying on Expertise and Science
1. Decide how much you want to know.
If you are just casually curious about your pup's breed makeup, you might be able to figure it out based on their appearance. If you want to know if your dog is predisposed to any health issues based on their breed, however, then you may need to go to the experts. If so, relying on documentary evidence, expert assistance, and/or scientific analysis will prove more helpful.
- For instance, if you find out your dog is part Doberman Pinscher, you will know that they are predisposed to heart disease and certain neck and spine issues. You can then inform your vet so they know to watch for any signs and symptoms as well as educating yourself on these health issues.
2. Check your purebred dog's pedigree.
Most purebred owners are well aware of their prized pup's pedigree, but sometimes records are lost or forgotten. If your dog is a purebred but that's all you know, you may still be able to find out more information.
- If you are confident your dog is not purebred, skip to the next step.
- If you acquired your purebred according to the regulations of the kennel club to which it belongs, you should be able to retrieve pedigree information either online or in hard copy by contacting the club with your dog's registration number.
- If you don't have this information, you may still be able to figure out which kennel club is likely to have the relevant records, and you may still be able to retrieve pedigree information through an online search of their records.
3. Ask your veterinarian about breed possibilities.
Your vet sees dogs all day, has a lot of experience with a wide variety of breeds, and can probably provide some valuable insights about your dog's background.
- Ask his or her opinion about what breed your dog might be. They may have a very good idea or they may give you some suggestions that you will have to further investigate.
- You could also ask a groomer or breeder and see what ideas they have about your dog’s breed. They see dogs all day as well, after all.
4. Consider DNA testing.
A quick online search will reveal that several companies now offer DNA testing kits for dogs, which can determine which breeds are present in your canine. Remember that not all home tests are created equal — the accuracy of the results depends on the size of their reference database. A less expensive test may save you money, but will likely have a smaller database, which will provide less accurate information.
- For instance, a test might be able to tell you that your mutt is 60% lab with 30% dachshund and 10% of "other" in the mix.
5. Order the DNA test.
If you decide to go this route, there are several options that vary by precision, complexity, and price (all of which tend to increase together).
- Tests ranging from $60 and up are available both online and in many pet supply stores. Most of the kits require a cheek swab sampling. Some more expensive ones may require a blood test from a veterinarian's office.
- To swab your dog's cheek, first check to make sure there is no food or debris stuck between their cheek and gums. Open the swab that comes with the kit (avoid touching the bristles) and lift your dog's lip. Place the swab against the inner surface of your dog's lip, then lower the lip. Twirl the swab and move it back and forth a little, gently holding your dog's mouth shut. Allow the swab to dry for about five minutes, then place it in the container provided.
- The results come in two to four weeks either by mail or email.
- Regardless of the limitations and costs associated with DNA testing, this is the most scientific, and likely most accurate, way to determine your mutt's breed profile.
Predicting Based on Physical Characteristics
1. Accept the limitations of visual identification.
While it is nice to think that an expert in particular should be able to identify a dog's breed makeup just by looking over the animal, this method is not the most accurate.
- One study on visual dog breed identification found that even self-described "dog experts" were only able to correctly identify a predominant breed in a mixed-breed dog about 27% of the time.
- Regardless of accuracy concerns, however, identification by visual appearance is the most likely method for use by the average mutt owner, and often sufficient to satisfy a general curiosity. Best of all, it's free.
2. Write down your dog's defining characteristics as you identify them.
Make a list that ranks your dog's distinguishing features from most to least prominent (such as large, pointy ears versus average build). This will help you narrow your search for likely breed(s).
3. Determine the dog's weight and height.
If you don't have a pet scale, weigh yourself and then weigh yourself holding your dog. The difference between the two weights is the weight of your dog. Of course, you can also get your pet’s weight at any veterinary office.
- Take measuring tape and measure your dog from front to back, top to bottom, and left to right.
- These general measurements will allow you to rule out breeds that are drastically different from your dog. For instance, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, you will know that you don't have a small toy breed.
- Toy dogs (5 – 10 pounds) may include Chihuahuas and Shi Tzus, for instance; dogs in the middle range (10 – 50 pounds), may perhaps be terriers or spaniels; large dogs (50 – 100 pounds) could be setters or retrievers; and dogs over 100 pounds likely have some element of Saint Bernard, Mastiff, or other giants in their breed mix.
- If your dog is a puppy, seek out an online calculator that will let you use puppy age and weight to estimate adult weight.
4. Assess the build of your dog.
Make note of any defining characteristics you notice. Do you have a large, medium or small-framed dog? Deep chested? Is your dog more muscular or slender in build?
- If you have a puppy, you may have to wait until it is fully mature for all characteristics to become apparent.
- Think about what the build of your dog might mean about its skills. This may help you narrow down the breed group. For instance, if your dog has long legs and is slender, your dog may be a herding dog.
5. Look at other physical characteristics.
Look at your dog's snout, skull, back, legs, and tail, and note any distinctive elements.
- Dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs have round skulls and very short snouts (brachycephalic), whereas Collies and Greyhounds have long snouts and narrow skulls (dolichocephalic). Mesocephalic dogs have skulls that most of us think are balanced (not exaggerated), like that of a Labrador or an Australian Shepherd.
- Visit How to Identify Your Adopted Mutt for several examples of physical characteristics that can often be tied to certain breeds or breed groups.
6. Evaluate the fur.
Is the fur long or short or heavy with undercoat? Is the texture coarse or soft? Some breeds, like Dachshunds, have long backs and short legs and three different types of fur-coat: long, short and wiry. Other breeds only have one type of fur, like the short semi-spiky velvet of the Chinese Shar-Pei breed or the white fluffy fur of the American Eskimo breed.
- There are a wide variety of types of dog fur. Rottweilers tend to only have short black and mahogany fur with specific markings on the head and chest. Many (not all) terriers have wiry coats with short, stocky bodies like that of the Cairn Terrier, the Miniature Schnauzer and the Jack Russell (aka Parsons) terrier. Poodles have the distinction of having curly coats of springy curls in a variety of sizes and colors.
7. Assess the color of your dog.
What color is the fur? Is there a pattern to the coat color? Some breeds typically come in only one or a few colors or patterns, which may help narrow the possibilities.
- For example, German Shorthair Pointer dogs usually come in liver and white and Vizslas are a solid copper color. There are breeds that also come in a merle pattern where diluted black or red colors are mixed in with white like the blue merle Australian Shepherd or Shetland Sheepdog.
8. Use the visual clues you have recorded to search for breeds and make your "best guess."
No matter how detailed your description is, you'll never be able to make a completely accurate determination of your dog's breed. However, with the help of one or more dog breed description guides, you can at very least eliminate many possibilities.
- There are numerous online options for dog breed searches, which use photos and brief character trait descriptions to help you find matches for your mutt. Some also break down the categories by dog size, from "toy" to XL.
- The American Kennel Club (AKC) breed search, for example, provides images and brief descriptions of characteristics common to each breed.
- Eliminate breed groups that don't fit your dog's characteristics. After that, go through pictures and descriptions of breed groups that are similar to your dog.
- Remember that your dog is quite possibly a mix of several different breeds. If your dog has some striking characteristics that match a breed, but it doesn't match completely, it may only partially be that breed.
- In some cases, knowing the breed(s) of your mutt may help with its health management. While some breeds have a genetic predisposition to certain illnesses, it does not preclude any dog from getting any illness, genetically driven or otherwise.
- In theory, mutts, being “hybrids” of at least two purebred dogs, should benefit from what is called “hybrid vigor,” meaning that the mixed breed offspring should be healthier than the parents. This is not always true in reality, of course.
- Many dog owners have mixed breed dogs and the uniqueness of their pet adds to the fun of owning that pet. Getting to the bottom of the breed mystery is a fun project, but not knowing the ancestry of your pet does not diminish the human-animal bond.
- Fun fact: the AKC (American Kennel Club) now registers mixed breed dogs so that they can compete in AKC shows that exhibit talent like agility, obedience, tracking and Rally classes.