How to Identify the Breeds in a Mixed-Breed Dog
What Breed Is My Dog?
Congratulations. You're the lucky caretaker of a beautiful canine companion—man and woman's best friend. Despite all this hype about designer dogs, the days of referring to mixed-breed dogs as mutts are over, and now we enjoy the pleasure of glorifying their uniqueness with complimentary terms like "blend" (because they deserve it).
Let's be honest. You are dying to know the ancestry of your dog and his/her genetic makeup. Now, before you rush ahead and blow big bucks on a canine DNA test, let's go over some key canine traits that are also identifiable in mixed-breed dogs. We'll be taking a look at muzzle shape, tail style, ear type, coat type (color and pattern), body type, and behavior. We will also discuss what classifies a purebred or a crossbred dog, such as the ever-so-popular Goldendoodle. Let's get started, so we can finally answer that burning question: "How do I know what breed my dog is?"
Is your dog an Aussiepoo? A Whoodle? A Golden Dox? A Corgle? Or a Chug?
Topics That We Will Cover
- How to Determine Dog's Ancestry
- Breed-Specific Behaviors
- Searching the Internet for Your Dog's Ancestry
- Stumped? More Resources
- Purebred vs. Crossbred Dogs
- Are Mixed-Breed Dogs Healthier Than Purebreds?
How to Determine Your Mixed-Breed Dog's Ancestry
First things first. Start by documenting your dog's physical traits. Once you've acquired a list, you can begin your internet search. Treat this like an investigative project. You should wind up with something like:
short muzzle + corkscrew tail + blunt ears + brindle + hates water
Grab a pen and a piece of paper, and note down these key characteristics as you go.
There are three types of canine head shapes, starting from shortest to longest muzzle: brachycephalics, mesocephalics, and dolichocephalics. Brachycephalics have notoriously short muzzles (think Pug); mesocephalics have your standard Labrador Retriever-shaped skull, and dolichocephalics have narrow eyes and elongated muzzles (Collies).
The shape, length, and thickness of a dog's tail offers quite a bit of information about its lineage. It is important to distinguish between a naturally bobbed tail and a docked tail. Some dogs such as Dobermans, Boxers, and English Pointers have their tails docked at an early age. It may be surprising to see one of these breeds without a docked tail, but progressive veterinary care is moving in that direction (especially for non-working dogs).
Several dozen dog breeds have a bobtail genetic mutation. These breeds include the Australian Shepherd, Brittany Spaniel, and the Jack Russell Terrier. Dog breeds that do not possess the mutation, but naturally have bobtails include: Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, King Charles Spaniels, Minature Schnauzers, and Rottweilers.
A ringtail is full, and arches over the back of the dog. A sickle tail, too, arches over the dog's back but points towards the head. A screw tail resembles a corkscrew (characteristic of Pugs), and an otter tail resembles exactly that—an otter tail. The otter tail is thick and full and works like a rudder in the water. These tails are characteristic of your water-loving dogs, the Labrador Retriever. A whip tail is long, thin, and straight.
Glossary of Canine Physical Traits
Is your dog's muzzle short, average, or long?
Brachycephalics (short), mesocephalics (medium), dolichocephalic (narrow eyes, long).
Is your dog's tail docked or naturally bobbed, a ring, a sickle, a screw, an otter, or a whip tail?
A bobtail is close to the body and short, a ring tail curves around the back, a sickle tail points towards the head, a screw tail represents a corkscrew, an otter tail resembles a thick rudder, a whip tail is thin and long.
Are your dog's ears erect or droopy, short or long?
Ear types: prick ears, cropped, blunt or round, bat-eared, hooded, candle flame, drop or pendant, folded, v-shaped, filbert-shaped, cocked or semi-pricked, button-eared, or rose-eared.
What type of coat does your dog have?
Smooth and short-coated, medium-coated, wire-coated, curly-coated, hairless.
Coat Color and Pattern
What is the dominant color and patterning of your dog's coat?
White, cream, gold, red, brown, blue, gray, black. Patterns: bicolor, tricolor, merle, harlequin, brindle, saddle, sable.
What is your dog's height and bone structure?
Thick and boxy or slender and long, tall and long-legged or short and short-legged, slender and deep-chested or muscular and athletic?
What unique traits are particular to your dog?
Ridgeback, webbed paws, spotted tongue, heterochromia, double dew claws, chondrodysplasia?
The are many types of dog ears. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. We won't describe all types, but a generalization of your dog's ear shape will do. Here are some common ear shapes:
- Pricked: An upright ear; very common in dogs. These ears are pointed and erect (Husky)
- Cropped: *Surgically erect ears. Not natural (Great Dane)
- Blunt or round: Sharply erect ears with a smooth curve (French Bulldog)
- Drop or pendant: Classic hanging ears (Basset Hound)
- V-shaped: V-shaped ear hanging down
- Cocked or semi-pricked: Neither fully erect or pendant (pit bull breeds)
Identifying your dog's coat type is fairly simple. Smooth or short-haired dogs have fur that is close to the body. Medium coats are often an inch long and require moderate grooming to prevent tangles and matting (Golden Retriever). Long-coated dogs often have hair or fur that hangs to the floor and require heavy grooming as part of their routine maintenance and care. Wire-coated dogs are bristly to the touch, and curly coated dogs have soft ringlets or waves much like human hair. Hairless dogs are hairless.
Coat Color and Pattern
Color: The most common dog coat is solid. A brown dog can be classified as liver or chocolate brown, and dogs with red coats can be classified as orange, rust, cinnamon, and ruby (think Irish Setter). Gold colorations include pale yellow, blonde, honey, and apricot, and cream coats are nearly white. Black and white coats are self-explanatory, although each can have underlying tones. Blue dog coats appear as an off-gray when compared to standard gray.
- Bicolor coats contain two colors and are otherwise known as patched or tuxedo. Common color combinations include black and tan or white and black (German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Border Collies).
- Tricolor coats include three colors. Tricolor coats are often contrasted with a standard white chest and underbelly, and surrounding coloration around the dog's dorsum, face, and down the limbs and tail.
- Merle coats include patches or marbling of color primarly around all parts of the dog but the stomach.
- Harlequin coats have uneven spotting across the body and are typically black and white (Great Danes) as opposed to standard spotting as seen on the Dalmatian.
- Brindle is your typical tiger stripe (black, brown, and gold).
- Saddle patterns are what you frequently see on German Shepherds, with black coloring on the back and a gradual fade.
- Sable is characterized by black-tipped hairs which standout against other lighter coloration.
Body type may be one of the most important clues to determining your mixed-breed's ancestry. Note these details:
- Average weight of your dog after one year of age?
- Short or tall?
- Thick and boxy or slender and long?
- Long-legged or short-legged?
- Slender and deep-chested or muscular and athletic?
- Ridgeback: One of the most telling traits of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is . . . the ridgeback, a ridge of hair along a dog's back running in the opposite direction of the coat. Mixed-breed dogs can possess this trait.
- Webbed Paws and Dewclaws: Inspect your dog's paws. Are the feet webbed? Does your dog have dewclaws, otherwise known as vestigial digits between the inner wrist and elbow or inner ankle and knee (human anatomy terms, if you will). Perhaps your dog even has double dewclaws (generally characteristic of prominent large breeds).
- Spotted Tongue: Look at your dog's tongue, is bubblegum pink or spotted? There is the common misconception that the Chow Chow is the only breed that possesses a spotted tongue, but nearly three dozen breeds display this trait.
- Heterochromia: How about your dog's eyes—is one blue and one brown? This condition, while rare, may be linked to Huskies, Australian Shepherds, and Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dogs.
- Chondrodysplasia: An intentionally bred trait of Bassett Hounds, Dachshunds, and Corgis. These breeds are often affectionately termed "low-riders" in veterinary medicine. Short legs, long bodies, and sometimes bowed legs, their body types give them an advantage in the field.
Your Dog's Behavior Says a Lot About Their Breed
This opens the floor to the big debate surrounding nature versus nurture, but in many circumstances, canines will act out on their natural instincts. Perhaps the two most classic dog behaviors involve herding breeds and pointers. These canines exhibit behaviors that are hard to miss.
Herding breeds tend to herd, as you could've guessed, and can often be seen stalking moving objects (people, small animals, or moving objects such as skateboards, bikes, etc.). All too often, they may nip at the rear of crawling babies, running children, and household critters. Sometimes, in addition to herding instincts, these breeds may possess a high prey drive and can go after small animals. Whether or not this high prey drive reveals what your dog is mixed with, it is wise to be aware of this tendency to keep everyone safe, including your dog.
The classic pointing stance is also a dead giveaway of a dog that may originate from a hunting breed. A dog who points will sniff out birds, freeze, and then "point" towards the prey. Some of these breeds also have what's called a "soft mouth," which allows a dog to retrieve prey without mangling it as opposed to terriers and ratters who can roughly shake prey (rats) in their mouth and kill them instantaneously.
It is usually apparent whether or not a dog loves water, or does well in water for that matter. Newfoundlands are known to adore water—you can't keep them away from it. There are some breeds (sometimes the boxier, bulkier, muscular types) that despite their best efforts, just can't compete with the naturals. Their strengths lie elsewhere. Let this be a clue.
Using the Internet to Determine Your Dog's DNA
Now that you have all of these clues, and yes, the list is exhausting, let's plug in our formula. My mixed-breed dog, for instance, possesses these traits:
black and white + medium-sized + pendant ear + curly hair + pointer
One of the results in Google images reveals an English Springer Spaniel. Although this is not identical to my mixed-breed dog, I can now research Spaniel breeds and further narrow down my search. My final results helped me to discover that my beautiful mixed-breed dog most closley resembles a Working Spaniel. Yes, the traits and personality match! You can cross-compare breed types on websites like the AKC's dog breed database.
Stumped? Consider a Dog DNA Kit
If all else fails, your veterinarian and veterinary team will have a good idea of what your dog is. Many individuals in the veterinary community see hundreds of dogs weekly, and it is likely that they will be able to narrow down your dog's breeds.
Still not satisfied? Opt for a dog DNA test. Embark DNA and Wisdom Panel are commonly recommended dog DNA test kits. They have been recommended to me by colleagues. As with all DNA tests, there is room for error and results aren't always conclusive.
What's the Difference Between Purebred and Crossbred Dogs?
This is an easy rule out. If you acquired your dog from a certified registry and source, such as an American Kennel Club breeder or a breed-specific rescue, you most likely have documentation of your dog's pedigree or a firm idea of what your dog is comprised of, and hooray, you scored 100%. Yes, your dog is a purebred. Your feathery Golden Retriever's parents are, you guessed it, Golden Retrievers.
What's in a Name?
Portmanteau Naming: A linguistic blending or the combination of multiple words and their sounds to create a new word.
Crossbred Dogs Get All the Cool Names
You're probably familiar with one ever-so-popular designer dog or hybrid canine, the Goldendoodle. In case you missed it, "golden" + "(d)oodle" = Golden Retriever and Poodle (standard or miniature). Two standardized purebred parents were bred to produce a 50/50 blend. If the genetic lottery plays out correctly, your Goldendoodle will be blessedly affectionate, intelligent, and sociable, and will have inherited the best traits of both parents.
Funny Crossbreed Dog Names
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
What Are the Best Crossbred Dogs?
This was a trick question. There is no such thing as a "best" dog breed. Certain crossbreds are, however, so well-established, that they are often informally identified as purebreds. Some of these crossbreeds include:
- American Bully (American Pit Bull Terrier + Staffordshire Bull Terrier)
- Black and Tan Coonhound (Bloodhound + Black and Tan Virginia Foxhound)
- Bull Terrier (Old English Bulldog + Old English Terrier)
- Eurasier (Chow Chow + Keeshond or Samoyed)
- Miniature Pinscher (German Pinscher + Italian Greyhound or Dachshund)
- Vizsla (Weimeriner + German Shorthaired Pointer)
Do keep in mind, however, that not all purebreds or crossbreeds will exhibit the desired traits or temperament of their parents. Breeding always incorporates the risk of inherited breed-specific health issues and similar negatives attached to concentrating a genetic pool. Traits like aggression and genetic malformations can be more common in intentionally bred dogs if not done responsibly.
Are Mixed-Breed Dogs Healthier Than Purebreds?
Your mixed-breed dog most likely won the genetic lottery. According to the Institute of Canine Biology, their study of 24 genetic disorders in mixed and purebred dogs from more than 27,000 UC Davis veterinary clinic medical records revealed:
- "The incidence of 10 genetic disorders (42%) was significantly greater in purebred dogs."
- "The incidence of 1 disorder (ruptured cranial cruciate ligament; 4%) was greater in mixed breed dogs."
The good news? Your mixed-breed dog is less likely to develop dilated cardiomyopathy, elbow dysplasia, cataracts, and hypothyroidism. The bad news? Mixed-breed dogs are more likely to rupture a cranial cruciate ligament.
All dogs deserve the best care possible. Let's get that straight. If you landed on this article, you love dogs! To ensure that your dog lives a happy, healthy life, always offer adequate exercise and proper nutrition. Keep your dog at a healthy weight, avoid synthetic foods, keep your dog current on vaccinations, and follow up with regular health checks.
If you are considering finding a purebred or crossbreed, seek out responsible, licensed breeders, and always consider adopting from a purebred rescue. If you are simply seeking out a loving companion, visit your local shelters. I have come across so many fantastic mixed-breed dogs (my own included) in my many years of working in veterinary medicine. There is a shelter dog out there waiting for their forever home that is sure to melt your heart.
What Breed(s) Is Your Best Friend?
- A Dog's Size and Head Shape Predicts Its Behavior | Psychology Today
New data suggests that the behavioral tendencies of dogs can be predicted by their height, weight, and whether they have long or short skulls.
- What Shape Is Your Dog's Ear? | Psychology Today
A pictorial glossary of the various shapes of dog's ears and the labels that dog breeders use to describe them.
- Natural Bobtail in Dogs: Wikipedia
- List of Dog Crossbreeds: Wikipedia
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ash Roves