How Can I Tell What Mix My Dog Is?

That all-too-cute pup you brought home from the shelter may be a mutt, but he's got purebred ancestors somewhere in his family tree. Determining what breeds your unique pooch hails from can help you understand what kind of activities and training will best suit him. It also helps you be on guard for any breed-oriented health conditions.

Very Friendly White and Red Mixed Breed Dog
Coloring, coat and facial characteristics are three clues to your dog's breed.
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Looks Can Be Deceiving

It's difficult to determine a dog's genetics just by looking at it. The University of Florida enlisted the help of more than 5,000 professional dog workers -- including veterinarians, shelter staff and groomers -- for a breed identification study. The experts took a survey to try to guess the breeding of 100 dogs just from looking at pictures. In more cases than not, the dog workers guessed breeds different from the dog's mixed genetic profile. For example, one dog that was a mix of German shepherd, rottweiler, Weimaraner and Irish terrier appeared to the experts to be a border collie, Boston terrier or pit bull mix.

Back in Black

Your dog's coat color and texture can help you determine what breeds his ancestors were. Black coloring gets carried on a dominant gene. Your dog only needs one black ancestor to inherit the color. Labrador retrievers -- the most popular dog breed, according to the AKC -- often contribute black genes to a mixed breed dog. Brown and yellow coloring are recessive genes and can be overlaid with a black saddle, mask, brindling or other markings handed down through specific breeds. Coat texture will give you further clues when combined with your dog's coloring. A wiry coat could signal a terrier, while a short, straight coat may hail from a Doberman, boxer or Dalmatian.

His Daddy's Ears

After you determine the most likely breeds from your dog's coat, checking his ears, tail and muzzle shape can offer further clues to his ancestry. Take a profile and head shot of your dog on your phone and compare his ears and profile to specific breeds on AKC's website. You'll be able to further define his breed based on whether he sports upright ears, pendant ears or some unique variation such as candle flame ears or bat ears. The shape, width and length of his muzzle is another tip off to ancestry. A short, wrinkled snout may show boxer, bulldog or other brachycephalic breeding. Long-nosed dogs may signal parentage from hunting dogs dogs such as the dachshund, collie or afghan.

How to Know For Sure

The only way to know your dog's lineage is to submit a genetic sample for DNA testing. The process involves swabbing skin cells from your dog's cheek and mailing them in to a pet DNA testing center. The center compares genetic markers in your dog's sample to those of hundreds of dog breeds. A computer analyzes the data and concludes which dog breeds came together to produce your unique dog. The tests take two to three weeks before results are available.