Watch Tip: Breed Identification

Posted on March 26th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

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Watch Tip for week of March 27:

Learn to recognize dog breeds. Misidentification of dog breeds is a common cause of lost dogs not being found in shelters. Learn the terms professionals use to describe dog appearance. Understand that mixed-breed dogs can vary widely even among litter mates.

Being a Good Samaritan for Animals includes Learning About Animals

Do you have a heart for mixed-breed dogs? So many of us love random-bred dogs for their unique appearance and their hybrid vigor. They are typically healthy.  But if your mixed-breed dog runs off, you’ll find out quickly that shelters might not identify your dog in the same terms at you would. You might not get your dog back as a result. Your dog can be euthanized because of misidentification after the minimum state-mandated stray hold period expires. It is a widespread problem.

At the small shelter where I am a volunteer, we had a stray dog who was listed as a black flat-coated retriever. She was built like a Labrador Retriever but had long curly fur like a Golden Retriever, except the fur was all black. The owner called and described her as a Golden Retriever mix so the shelter replied that the dog was not in the shelter. About a month later the owner brought a stray dog to the shelter and conversationally said she was looking for her long-time missing Golden Retriever mix with black fur. I said that we have a female dog in the shelter with hair like a Golden but was black. She said “Show me a picture. I can’t bear to go back and look at her and have it be the wrong dog. It will kill me to be misled.” So I showed her the Petfinder picture. She said, oh my God,  it’s her! It was a glorious, tearful reunion. It was immediately obvious that our stray was her missing dog; they joyously fell down to the cement together in the dog kennel area and held each other close. As we filled out her Return-To-Owner paperwork, the owner expressed frustration about her calling our shelter and getting the wrong message that her dog was not at our shelter. The descriptions did not match up.

One morning we found a very pregnant dachshund in our outdoor pen, black with brown points. Within days, she had given birth to 5 pups. As the weeks passed, it became apparent that none of the pups looked like much like her. One looked like a Husky. One looked like a Dalmation with short legs. One looked like a small Chocolate Labrador Retriever. It was amazing to see the variation in size, color, and coat. The mom had apparently been let run loose and several unneutered male dogs had mated with her. Her litter had at least 3 fathers.

Dogs can vary widely, even in the same litter by a single father. They are unparalleled in the domestic animal world in the varied expression of their genes. This capacity for variability in dogs creates a challenge for owners of lost and found dogs, as well as for shelter staff. This capacity causes so much pain.

Be a more effective animal advocate. Learn how to describe dogs. Use terms like age, weight, height, coat color and length, ear length and set, tail set, and distinguishing characteristics. Don’t limit your description by breed. Breed identification can be so easily misinterpreted.

Keep good quality, standing photos of your dogs so if they are lost, they can be more easily identified by shelter staff. Go see the dogs yourself; maybe your dog is waiting for you but identified differently.  Think about how a stranger would identify your dog.  If you have lost your dog and it appears to be at a shelter, go immediately to pick it up so it is not euthanized while waiting for you. Remember, most shelters have weekend hours.

3 Responses to “Watch Tip: Breed Identification”

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  2. ed's mom says:

    Awesome article! I found a Shepard roaming at 7 am one morning, and took him to our home and started to call the name on the tag. It was not until 7 pm that the owners arrived home to my multiple messages. They had only used one phone number on the tag, and that number was their home number. Remember that when making your dog’s tag. We now use all four cell numbers to all 4 members of our house on all our dog’s tags. We have them all micro chipped and we also put “please return to my mommy” with our cell # on the back of their collar just in case our tags fall off of the collar. After having that Shepard for so long, I could not imagine having one of my dogs missing that long, or even worse, in the pound!

  3. Anna Nirva says:

    You are thinking exactly what I am thinking. We need a post about what to put on dog tags. Multiple phone numbers are a great idea and I love your “Please return to mommy” too. Address is important of course. If it all doesn’t fit on one tag just buy two. Any other ideas? Thank you for writing!

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