Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 24, 2015

Who Is Your Daddy?

Posted at 08:44AM - Comments: (12)

Face it: Humans Love Labels


Did you see this news brief? A shelter in the San Francisco Bay Area is conducting some small studies regarding breed identification and adoption rates. Like many shelters, they are often overrun with dogs of a certain type: Chihuahua-mixes. Wondering whether potential adopters might be biased against Chihuahuas, or might be biased toward a dog who had other desirable breeds “in the mix,” they ran DNA tests on a dozen small dogs in their shelter, and advertised the results with the description of those dogs. And voila! The dogs who were promoted with the DNA test results got adopted more quickly than a control group of 12 other small, brown dogs in the shelter – TWICE as fast, in fact.

As a volunteer in my local shelter, I’ve heard it countless times: “We don’t want a Chihuahua. Too yappy.” But when you show them a sweet, funny, friendly small dog who knows a few cute tricks, and you emphasize the “mix” in “Chihuahua-mix,” they often soften.

The Peninsula Humane Society is calling this DNA test program “Who’s Your Daddy?” and calling out the dogs who have been DNA-tested with a banner over their photos on their website (see here: http://peninsulahumanesociety.org/adopt/dog.html). Staff members have been having some fun with the results, making up cute names for the “breed” of the mixed dogs, including “Mini Shihuahua” (for a Miniature Pinscher/Shih Tzu/Chihuahua DNA test result), “English Chaniel” (English Cocker Spaniel/Chihuahua), and “Frichese” (Bichon Frise/Maltese/Chihuahua). “Free cheese”? That’s just funny, clever marketing.

Otto, a German Shepherd/Chow Chow/Border Collie/Poodle/Basenji

As the owner of a mixed-breed dog who was DNA-tested and found to display genes from the German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Border Collie, Poodle, Basenji, and I can’t remember what else, I don’t put a lot of stock in the mixed-breed ID tests. But I know people who are super proud of their mixed-breed shelter dogs and tell everyone who asks that the dogs are definitely a certain mix, because the shelter they adopted the dogs from told them so . . . The main thing is, they adopted a dog from the shelter and they love it; who CARES what they say the breed is? Every time I hear one of these dubious pronouncements, I smile and nod and say nice things about the breeds mentioned. “Oh, that’s awesome! I can see that!”

Kudos to the Peninsula Humane Society for experimenting with anything that works to create greater enthusiasm for a population of dogs that are over-represented and underappreciated in shelters everywhere.

(Full disclosure: proud owner of a Chihuahua-mix, the mighty Tito.)






Comments (12)

My mom walked our little Freckles, (obvious part Pom, Chihuahua, and ?, size of a Pomeranian, white freckled with a huge mane) daily and people would always inquire to his breed. Without blinking an eye, she seriously answered, "why, he is an African Lion Fighter" and continue their walk!

Posted by: Xinav | May 13, 2015 8:15 AM    Report this comment

My dad always called our mutt a curbstone setter. Lots of people didn't get the joke!
I love the "wonder dog" answer. We have way too many people who think mixing a couple of breeds randomly for a cute name is a good idea.

Posted by: Margaret T | March 25, 2015 7:42 AM    Report this comment

This is a clever way to attract new 'parents' to the shelter. Our first family pup was a mix of Pom, Poodle, Chiuhuahua, Peke and ? She was adorable and people would often stop us to ask her breed. We called her a 'Mutskihund' and thought the moniker suited her well. Her name was Poochi. The first in a long line of wonderful dogs rescued and otherwise.

Posted by: jww | March 24, 2015 6:42 PM    Report this comment

Having a DNA test for a shelter dog is a brilliant way to help more dogs find homes. I grew up with purebreds but fell in love with mutts 36 years ago. It's fascinating to try to figure out what's in the mix and yes, of course I did DNA tests on two of my recent mutts. My vet says DNA test might not be definitive, although I can see traits of two of the breeds listed. Before DNA tests came out I had 3 littermates who had different fathers, according to my vet. They looked the same yet different. Regrettably, two of them died before I could get DNA test to find out the differences. Yes there is purebred snobbery in some people, but for mutt lovers it's fun to learn as much as you can about your dog.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | March 24, 2015 5:46 PM    Report this comment

My boy, Jack, has the markings of a tri-colored Aussie but is taller than a golden retriever. People always ask about breed since he "looks like a pure-breed". I thank them for the compliments and smile as I explain that we just tell Jack that his daddy was a traveling man. That usually puts the "breed obsession" in its place.

Posted by: JacksMom | March 24, 2015 4:22 PM    Report this comment

I used to tell people that Mikey, one of the best dogs ever, was a "mix of mixes." He looked like the pictures of the universal street dog that turns up all over the world with the same physical traits. This is a pretty good indication that there are still millions of dogs around who are not in any way descended from any of the "purebreds" we've created since the mid-1800's. According to Wikipedia, "Purebred dogs represent to many commentators the attitudes of the late Victorian era, when dog breeding first became popular and when most modern breeds originated. Purebred dogs were bred from a narrow set of ancestors, and an idea developed that this somehow made them superior in both appearance and in general goodness." Ha!
In any case, using DNA to help place shelter dogs is a brilliant ploy.

Posted by: Jessie | March 24, 2015 2:53 PM    Report this comment

My old boy Cinder was a handsome 50 lb. red-brindle shepherd-AmStaff mix (best guess) with a powerful prey drive, and initially I used to tell people that he was a "Bengal Squirrel Dog" -- but had too many people say, in all seriousness, that they'd "never heard of that breed." Which kind of spoiled the fun. So then he became a "Found Dog, a Pound Dog." And what a wonderful dog he was. RIP Cinder.

Posted by: Brindle Phoebe | March 24, 2015 12:44 PM    Report this comment

When we are asked about our little rescue pup, Spencer, I say that he is 100% pure bred cute! And then go on to say that I could do the DNA test, but it would still come back that he is a dog :) and I could do more with the $65 than find out that he is (somehow) a Chihuahua/beagle/Labrador/terrier mix (he has lab markings and features, talks like a beagle, energy of a terrier and small-ish like a chi (he is 22 lbs). Most people say he looks like a small lab. All I know, is he makes my husband (his person) laugh like nothing else does! What a blessing he is to our little family.

Posted by: Debra Lee | March 24, 2015 10:03 AM    Report this comment

We adopted the wonderful Bess from the SPCA at 6 weeks old, thinking she was a Golden Retriever mix. She certainly looked like one! But when grown, she weighed only 25 pounds and looked more like a Pomeranian mix -- curly tail, a bit of a ruff around her shoulders. But still, she had that beautiful Golden Retriever face and a GR's tendency to shed fur like crazy. When people asked "what she was," I always told them she was a Wonder Dog. We always "wondered" about her lineage! In truth, though, she was a purebred lover!

Posted by: bseale | March 24, 2015 10:02 AM    Report this comment

I appreciate the creative marketing and applaud the results, BUT I also hope the shelter delivers some relevant information along with the DNA "results" to adopters. To wit: that our understanding of inheritance of traits is in its infancy, and what we thought we knew for sure 5 years ago has just been complicated by the new science of epigenetics. I remember (OK, this reveals that I'm OLD!) when, in 1958 or '59, the AKC Gazette ran a series of articles, now classic, by Fuller and Scott, entitled "Science Has a New Look at Behavior." These guys conducted some cross-breedings to find out to what extent the genotype would match up with the phenotype, and which "type" behavior would follow. They selected a purebred Basenji and purebred cocker spaniel. A photo of one of these crosses was of a dog that looked exactly like a typical red and white cocker of the day but who behaved exactly like a Basenji. The traits they were examining were "sociability" and "aloofness" -- which shows what they thought they knew 60 years ago! I'm just cautioning against using DNA results to predict, confirm, excuse or otherwise explain the nature of any specific dog, because a lot of heartache and confusion can result.

Posted by: LaurieR | March 24, 2015 9:58 AM    Report this comment

I have succumbed to curiosity and paid for DNA tests on a couple of my five dogs: Except for one obvious Shiba Inu, they are all what I think of as "Party In the Woodpile" bred. Three are red, but distinctively different. I have begun answering the question, "What is she?" with "Red dog." Everyone offers sure opinions of their genesis. Which goes back hundreds of years, really. Does it matter? Perhaps, if you are bent on having a pure-something-dog and proving it. For mixed-bred dogs, I think DNA is no more helpful than a parlor trick.

Posted by: Kitsumama | March 24, 2015 9:14 AM    Report this comment

Kudos to the shelter for coming up with this idea. I constantly praise the value of getting a mix breed dog from a shelter. I don't understand why some people think they have to have a "breed dog" when a mix breed will give them as much happiness and loyalty.

Posted by: petlover | March 24, 2015 9:10 AM    Report this comment

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