How to Tell If a Dog Is a Purebred

By Bridget Johnson

Knowing the breed of your dog is about more than determining which breed knickknacks and notepads to buy at the gift store. Breed identification can be important in mapping out wellness plans for your pooch and being prepared for potential genetic conditions. Visual cues, personality traits and DNA testing all can help point you to your pup's lineage.

Veterinarian Identification

An experienced canine veterinarian should be able to give you some clues about your pup's lineage. Not only have they seen all manner of breeds come through the door, but they treat breed-specific conditions and medical issues that are seen more frequently in some breeds than others. German shepherds, for example, can be prone to progressive paralysis and vision problems, while golden retrievers are particularly susceptible to cancer, notes Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian and author writing at VetStreet.

While a particular condition may provide clues about the breed or mix of your dog, learning the breed can help your vet know what to watch for during regular wellness exams.

Use the University of Cambridge Veterinary School database to search by dog breed, or by genetic anomaly. The system will tell you which breeds are associated with the selected condition.

Track Down the Source

If you know which dogs created your pup, you'll have a clue about the breed of your pet. It's much easier to track down parentage if you've adopted a dog from the family down the street whose pup wasn't spayed or if you purchased your dog through a breeder.

Rescue groups and shelters have seen so many dogs come through their doors, though, that they can identify at least some breed characteristics. Usually any breed labeling is their best guess and not a guarantee, and "mix" is added if they don't think the dog is purebred. The Humane Society of the United States, estimates that, of the dogs in shelters, about a quarter are purebred.

Ask a Breeder

The American Kennel Club recognizes 184 breeds of lovable pups. By looking through their standards, you may discover visual markers and personality traits that match your dog at least in part.

If you have a giant fluffy dog, browse through the descriptions for the Bernese mountain dog, Newfoundland or Saint Bernard. If you're not sure if you're looking at an Alaskan malamute or a Siberian husky, take a look at the photos, physical descriptions and personality attributes. The AKC guide can help you distinguish a papillon from a Pomeranian.

Take a clear, full-body photo of your pup to a dog show and do visual comparisons among the displayed breeds and ask questions of the breeders.

DNA Testing

Take the guesswork out of trying to determine your dog's breed by ordering a DNA test. Test kits have become widely available through pet stores and online retailers, and are geared toward untangling the mystery of a mutt's background or confirming the bloodlines of a purebred.

Just swab the inside of your dog's cheek as directed by the lab and send it in. DNA tests also can be ordered through your veterinarian's office, and involve taking a blood sample.

For the most bang for your buck, first check how many breeds are included in the database of the DNA company being utilized. Otherwise, you may be missing out on a good chunk of your pooch's family tree.