Around 75% of dogs in shelters are mixed breed dogs, meaning they have many different genes that make up their personality, the way they look and everything in between. Here at Providence Animal Center, we’ve made the decision that we no longer want to speculate the dog’s breed. Why? Because visual breed identification has been proven to be extremely inaccurate. What we can tell you is the dog’s weight, approximate age and his or her personality traits. Many progressive shelters like ours are moving toward not adding a breed label – in an effort to be honest and transparent.
According to Best Friends Animal Society, the dog gene contains over 20,000 individual genes, and less than 1% of a dog’s gene determines their appearance. Think of it like your parents; they may not be all one nationality, and when they have a child, you, the child may inherit some of your mother’s traits and some of the father’s traits, but you can also have some of your own traits that you did not get from you parents, right? Well, this is similar to dogs. The vast majority of dogs in shelters are a mix of two or more breeds. Because of this, their behavior isn’t easily predicted by their breed type.
We're not denying that breeds and breed traits exist. They do. But unless we view a dog as an individual, we won't know which traits are actually there. How breed traits present themselves in dogs varies tremendously, particularly in mixed-breed dogs of unknown origins, which happen to be the majority of dogs found in shelter systems. That’s why a guess at how a breed trait may or may not manifest itself is not nearly as reliable as the information we gather by observing the dogs in our care.
Mixed-breed dogs are not any breed of dog at all. There are no “mixed breed traits.” Purebred dogs are bred from closed gene pools. Mixed-breed dogs are not from closed or coherent gene pools and cannot be considered a member of any breed. They have more in common genetically with ALL dogs than any one breed in particular.
Breed is just one part of any individual dog. Even purebred dogs are individuals. Breed traits don’t always present themselves in purebred dogs. You can’t discount their socialization, training, genetics, environment, etc. Traits related to breed are not the whole dog; breed traits are just one component of a dog's personality and behavior.
To truly understand a dog, you need to look past the breed and see the dog as an individual.