When you have a new dog and you go to sign him up for a training class, inquire about boarding, or call a dog walking company, your dog’s breed is almost always one of the first questions you will be asked. The big question is: why do we care so much?
There is an important reason that breeds are of such interest, especially to pet professionals. All dog breeds were created with a purpose in mind – terriers were meant to hunt and kill vermin, herding dogs are bred to control the movement of livestock, sporting dogs are supposed to flush and retrieve game for hunters, and scenthounds are supposed to be singularly focused on following their noses. These behavioral patterns have a very strong genetic component. As dog trainers, we aren’t so surprised to find out that a client’s pet terrier doesn’t do well with their pet gerbil, that a border collie chases the children running in the yard, that a lab is obnoxiously ball obsessed, or that a beagle is difficult to walk on leash because he’s always sniffing. These examples are simply dogs living out their genetic destiny. Knowing what a particular breed was created to do helps us to predict potential problem areas and focus our management and training on those areas. For example, backyard security is a top priority if you own a beagle because if a gate is left open, it’s likely that a beagle will follow a scent trail right out of your yard and not even notice where he is until he’s miles away. Of course, the corollary to this is that all dogs are individuals. There are golden retrievers who don’t give a hoot about playing fetch and couch potato herding dogs. As we get to know dogs, our assessment of them as individuals quickly replaces our assumptions based on breed.
We like to be able to identify even the most obscure dog. It’s a kind of professional trivia game. As for guessing mixed breeds, it’s like trying to piece together a puzzle – the coloring looks like breed X, but the ears make me think breed Y, and the body shape is classic breed Z.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts from The Hobo Chronicles, you know that my family recently adopted a rescue dog of a mysterious breed mix. I have to admit, I have been more than a bit obsessed with playing the guess-the-mix game on him. At the recent IKC dog show, I prowled the terrier aisles trying to look for similarities between these perfect breed examples and my scruffy little dog. I left there thinking that he must be a Cairn Terrier/Maltese mix. Dog trainer friends have offered guesses including Chihuahua, Scottish Terrier, Affenpinscher, Schnauzer, Schipperke, and on and on.
To satisfy my raging curiosity, I recently purchased and performed a Wisdom Panel mixed breed detection kit on Hobo. This test analyzes the DNA collected by a cheek swab to try to determine what breeds may be present in a dog’s lineage. We had a contest at CanineLink to see if anyone could correctly guess Hobo’s two predominant breeds; a lot of people got one of them right, but only one person got both of them right.
Head on over to the CanineLink blog and see the results for yourself.