How Do I Figure Out What Breed My Dog Is?

Kelly Roper
group of mixed breed dogs

How do I figure out what breed my dog is? This has to be one of the most common questions asked by dog owners. While it may not always be possible to determine a particular dog's breed heritage, it is getting easier.

Ways to Identify Your Dog's Breed

Unless a dog is purchased directly from a breeder, it may be difficult to know exactly which breed that dog is. Shelters are filled with puppies and adult dogs waiting for adoption. Some are clearly purebred while others are obviously mixes of two or more breeds. While every dog is equally deserving of love and care regardless of their breed, it's still fun to figure out a dog's heritage. It can also be useful to know a dog's heritage for medical purposes since some breeds are prone to specific health issues.

Compare Breed Pictures

Although perhaps not the most accurate way to identify a dog's breed, sometimes it is possible to compare a dog to pictures of other dog breeds to determine what he or she is.

The American Kennel Club website is a great resource for pictures of all the currently recognized dog breeds as well as many rare breeds. By browsing through their dog breeds category, you may be able to find distinct similarities between your own pet and one or more breed images. This can give you a basic idea about which breed or breeds are behind your dog. Other websites that include dog breed charts are DogBreedChart and DogTime. These sites are helpful for identifying your dog's breed by characteristics by looking at your dog's physical attributes (fur length, muzzle size, ear shape, weight, etc.) and behavioral traits (barking, digging, pointing, etc.) and comparing them to those of existing breeds.

Ask Your Vet's Opinion

Vets see many breeds come through their clinics, and most develop a good eye for assessing which breed(s) might be involved in a particular dog's family line. When in doubt, ask your vet for an educated opinion about your dog's heritage. He or she may be able to tell you what breed your dog is, depending on a variety of factors.

Contact Your Local Kennel Club

Whether you think your dog is purebred or mixed, you'll find real dog experts at your local kennel club.

Find out when the club is holding the next meeting and plan to attend. Bring your dog along and ask if anyone can try to help you figure out his or her heritage after the meeting ends. You may get more opinions than you bargained for, but it could lead to a great discussion and consensus.

Online Breed Quiz

You can use a "What Breed is My Dog Quiz" on a website such as the one run by the Wisdom Panel DNA test. The test will ask you a series of questions about your dog's ears, muzzle, and tail and will provide you with three possible results. What's My Mutt? is a "what breed is my dog" app which works on iOS devices. The app quizzes you on your dog's physical features to give you an idea of what your dog may be mixed with.

Take a Picture

There are apps available for your mobile devices where you can upload a picture of your dog to receive information on what breed it might be. Examples of these apps are DogZam! (iOS/Android), Dog ID (iOS), What's My Mutt? (iOS) and What Dog/Fetch! (iOS, online). These apps are only useful if your dog is a purebred, and their accuracy is minimal.

Submit a DNA Sample

If you really feel you need to know which breed your dog is, submitting a DNA sample might be the most accurate way to figure it out.

DNA test kits are available from several companies:

  • Embark was voted the number one test for dog DNA testing by Canine Journal. Embark works with the Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine to keep up to date on research into dog DNA. In comparison to other tests on the market, it tests for 250 breeds but offers 100 times more genetic information. Unfortunately, it's the most expensive of the tests at $190, but the cost is worth it if you want the most accurate result.
  • Wisdom Panel sells a basic testing kit for $85 that will give you a result based on a database of over 250 breeds. Their Wisdom Panel Health test is $150 and includes more detailed information on screening for possible genetic health conditions.
  • HomeDNA provides two types of tests like Wisdom Panel. The DNA test for breed and the test for genetic disorders are both about $110. The company has a database of over 235 breeds and tests for 150 genetic conditions. The downside of the test is you need to order both if you want both pieces of information whereas the Wisdom Panel health test will include mixed breed information as well.

Collecting a DNA sample is as easy as swiping the inside of your dog's mouth with a cotton swab and sealing it inside the collection container provided with the kit. You can then insert the container in the return envelope that comes with the kit and mail it back to the lab. Once the sample has been analyzed, labs typically send a report on which breeds were identified in the sample. The labs look for genetic markers in the DNA that match up to markers among different dog breeds.

Be aware that dog DNA testing isn't foolproof and results may vary, but it may prove more accurate than a visual comparison to other dog breeds. If you can afford the cost of the test, this may be your best option. Research the testing company as they vary widely in the number of dog breeds in their database and the larger their database, the higher the potential for a more accurate result.

Is Knowing the Breed Really That Important?

"So, how do I figure out what breed my dog is?" As you may now understand, there is more than one answer to that question, and you may never receive an answer that is 100 percent accurate. In the long run, it may be best to just accept your dog for who he or she is and not worry about the breed heritage. After all, dogs love you no matter who their parents are, and that's a wonderful gift to receive.

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How Do I Figure Out What Breed My Dog Is?