A new study that involved DNA testing of over 900 shelter dogs in Arizona and San Diego found that just 5% were actually purebred, and only 67% of the dogs had their breed correctly identified by shelter staff. Does this matter? It does to the pooches in need of new homes. Being labelled as the wrong breed can dramatically influence their chances of getting adopted. Dogs in the San Diego shelter with a pit bull-type ancestry waited more than three times as long as other dog breeds.
The Arizona State University (ASU) team genotyped the shelter dogs and compared the genetic information to the breed labels assigned in shelters. Of the 5% that were purebred, the three most common breeds were the American Staffordshire Terrier, Chihuahua and Poodle.
DNA testing in Arizona and California
The 900 shelter dogs that underwent the DNA tests were housed at the Arizona Animal Welfare League and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (AAWL) in Phoenix, AZ, and the San Diego Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SDHS) in San Diego, CA. The researchers used a small brush to collect cells from the dog’s cheeks and gums, and the samples were sent to a lab for processing. This involved extracting the DNA from the dog’s cells and comparing it to over 300 sites in the canine genome that have been matched to specific breeds.
“The level of genetic diversity in the shelter dogs exceeded our expectations: we found 125 distinct breeds”, said Lisa Gunter, who is a Maddie’s Research Fellow in the ASU Department of Psychology. “We also found that just 5% of the shelter dogs were purebred, even though it is commonly assumed that up to a quarter of dogs in shelters are purebred.”
Assigned breeds are often just guessed from their physical appearance, the researchers say. These assigned breeds are then used to predict how the dogs might behave and can also impact the length of time a dog waits to be adopted.
“Breed identification has quite an outsize role in people’s perceptions of dogs”, said Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory. “’What breed is he?’ is often the first question people ask about a dog, but the answer is often terribly inaccurate.”
The genetic testing gave the researchers information about three generations of ancestors for each dog.
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