Bark magazine has a great article on the benefit of not labeling a dog’s breed–or more likely, it’s supposed breed, on its cage in a shelter. A Shelter Dog’s Fate Can Rest on What Breed He is Labeled describes how breed labels are first, often wrong, and second, influence buyers of all dogs, and not in a good way.
There are so many reasons for this. First off, and critically in some cases, shelters and people who post about mixed breeds on Petfinder, are almost always guessing about a dog’s heritage. And are often wrong. I remember a study done a long time ago by Victoria Voith about that very issue. At an IFAAB meeting (Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior), she showed us slides of dogs in a shelter and asked us to identify them by breed. I was not proud that most of my answers were “I don’t know.” (I’ve never been good at looking at babies and seeing what other people see either–“he has his father’s nose!” they say, when the baby’s nose is a tiny little rosebud thing and dad has a honker the size of my barn.) You can see the photos and an interview with Victoria here.
Turns out I was better not knowing, because DNA studies, granted not always 100% accurate themselves, had lots to say about the background of the dogs we saw, and it was surprising, to say the least. Many if not most of the guesses were incorrect, which was confirmed by another study done more recently by Lisa Gunter that this mislabeling continues: 55/120 dogs were identified as being bully breeds, when only 43 were. This doesn’t effect just adoptions–think of all the insurance companies who will insure dog owners for all but X,Y,Z breeds. If a dog is identified as one of those breeds, even if it is incorrect, it is less likely to be adopted, or result in a lot of heartache for owners.
What was most surprising to me from the study, What’s in a Name?, by Lisa Gunter and colleagues at Arizona State University, was that eliminating breed labels increased the adoption rate for all dogs. Shelter workers were reportedly less surprised than the study’s authors. Apparently, many people searching for a dog in shelter look at the card on the kennel without even looking at the dog.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, there lots more from the National Canine Research Council. (What a great resource it is!)
That sounds very much like my experience, in that the most common question I get asked is “What breed should I get.” My answer always asks them what they value in a dog, what they need in a dog, and what they simple couldn’t handle. And then I might suggest they, the family with three kids under the age of five, stop looking at Border Collies because they are “smart,” and look for a mellow, kid-loving dog of any breed. Mellow is what they need, and last I looked, Mellow is not a breed.
I have some questions for you, in part based on my own predispositions. First, if you work in a shelter or rescue setting, does this research match your experience? Does your shelter still use breed ID’s? If so, how do you determine the breed? For the rest of us, what role does breed play in adopting a dog? I will say straight out that right now, if I wanted a new dog, I would look for a Border Collie, no exception. I’m still hooked on getting better at working dogs on sheep, and that means BC it is. However, when the time comes that I’m no longer doing that and I’m feeling my age more than I am now, I’ll be looking for small, mellow, and sweet. And oh, playful. And okay, sorry, cute. Not that I’d be asking a lot.
What about you? Are you breed conscious now, or not? What has been your experience? Did you get a dog labeled as a Lab who turned out to be a Pointer, Boxer, Newfoundland, & “Unknown” mix? (Reminding us that most people assume a dog is a mix of only two breeds, when most mixes have a multitude of breeds in their background.)
I can’t wait to engage in this conversation–it goes to the essence in so many ways of what we love about dogs, what we need and want from our dogs, and what we can provide for them.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. Well, it is absolutely balmy today, in the 20’s, but not long ago it was 18 below Fahrenheit, and that’s just too damn cold for me. Also for Maggie, who went outside, peed, and ran back to the porch dancing to keep her paws off the burning cold. (Such an irony that extreme cold feels like a burn!) Skip, on the other hand, the dog who should lead a sled dog team if he had a better heart, thought it was fantastic. He adores the cold; not surprising since he is so heat intolerant. I’ll never forget the first time (presumed) he saw snow, I wish I had a photo of his face. He was exuberantly, deliriously happy. Granted, last week, he did pick up a paw after not too long when it was so cold, so I brought him in, but he would’ve stayed outside until his paws froze. Not a good plan.
The photo below of the two of them won’t win any prizes, but I love the light and the movement. Skip also seems to have lost his head, something that happens with regularity.
Remember last week when I showed a photo of the sheep eyeing our Christmas tree? This is what it looks like today:
Yummy yummy! Bark and evergreen needles! (Lots of Vitamin C I hear.) (And no, I promise, our sheep are not starving. If anything they are a tad, uh, hefty.)
We had some interesting eating ourselves this week. A dear friend sent a box of exotic fruit from the Miami Fruit Company to ease the pain of below zero weather, day after day. Here’s one of my breakfasts last week, with my usual almond buttered toast, blueberries, and a half a banana. But what’s that in the upper left hand corner? Any guesses? (It was good, and I’ll fess up what it was in a few days!)
I’m behind on the “up the hill” training I talked about earlier in January (APDT’s Train Your Dog Month). Too cold. I’d say we are about halfway there though, after only 3-4 sessions. I’ll keep you posted now that I can get going on it again. But I am savoring the evenings now, loving that it’s still light when we walk the dogs after dinner:
Here’s hoping your week also including some interesting and fun things to keep you occupied during the winter. And let us know about your experience with breed labels on mixed-breed dogs. We’re all ears.