Our friends over at the National Canine Research Council have been having some fun with DNA testing of late.
Last week I noted some new research from the AVMA is indicating that DNA testing may just be debunking any studies ever done on dog bite studies by breed. Basically, every dog bite by breed study out there is based on people's visual identification of the dog breed -- and we're finding out that people really aren't that good at identifying breeds of dogs by looks -- and in fact, it is more or less impossible.
But when you put images with it, it is really telling.
So last week, the NCRC published a "Find the Labrador Retriever mix" visual ID game. Similar to other version of the Find a "Pit bull" game, it turns out that a lot of mixed breed dogs that we assume to be mixed breeds that are predominently common breeds don't often contain any of those breeds at all.
Most people, including many who work in animal rescue, are not all that great at knowing the looks of all the different dog breeds. The AKC/UKC combined recognize over 150 different breeds of dogs....but at this point, there are over 400 recognized dog breeds. And often, when these breed intermingle, they don't carry with them looks of any of the breeds they represent.
However, because we are familiar with a few dog breeds, we have become pretty good at grouping dogs together in groups with other similar looking dogs. Is the dog about 80 lbs and black? "Lab Mix." Boxy head and muscly? "Pit bull". Long hair and snout? "Shepherd mix". Never mind that there are several breeds of "Shepherd" that don't look all that much alike -- and many of the "shepherd mixes" don't really look like any of those breeds.
We group them, because in our mind, it's easier to classify them. Besides, what does a Chesapeake Bay Retriever/Chihuahua mix look like? And what does that mean to a potential adopter? Mostly nothing. But it's a cute black dog that kind of looks like a Lab, so let's call it that.
So what do our classifications mean? It means we group a lot of mixed breed dogs of uncommon breeds into a grouping of more popular breeds. So go to PetFinder, your local shelter, or look at any bite study. Almost anywhere you look for classifications by breed, you see "labs", "shepherds" and "pit bulls" as the most common breeds. Most often it's not because these dogs share the same DNA -- but because the LOOK similar to each other and it they are more easily categorized that way.
I think this is a really important distinction. When communities say they are putting restrictions based on "breed" because they say they are "inherantly dangerous based on their DNA" -- we need to be honest about what that means. These communities are not making decisions based on DNA, or breed at all -- but on LOOKS. They are determining that a LOOK is aggressive - not genetics. Which is an even crazier notion than the genetics argument which doesn't hold up to science either.
It's turning out that the more we learn about dogs and breeds, we find out the less we ever knew in the first place. And that pretty much every study we have ever done about dogs and breeds is completely irrelevant now because we didn't identify the breeds right in the first place.