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City Manager's Office
City Manager's Office
Press Contact: Matthai Chakko, (510) 981-7008

BERKELEY STUDY CONFIRMS: IDENTIFYING A DOG’S BREED IS HARDER THAN IT APPEARS

Berkeley, California (Wednesday, October 19, 2016) - What do you get when you cross a German Shepherd with a Cocker Spaniel? The answer, the City of Berkeley's shelter has discovered, is that it's really anyone's guess. And that's part of the reason the municipal shelter is changing the way it adopts out animals.

Caption Dog A grant from Maddie's Fund allowed Berkeley Animal Care Services, the City shelter, to test DNA from 46 of its available dogs. The DNA results were compared with the breed labels shelter staff members assigned to the dogs at intake - a guess based on the dogs' appearances.

The findings proved striking: Guesses by staff, a knowledgeable and practiced group, turned out to be accurate about 30% of the time. (In similar tests, the general population has shown to be correct about 25% of the time.) And when they looked at data from just the mixed breeds in the sample, guesses were correct less than 20% of the time. Mixed breeds make up the majority of dogs at Berkeley Animal Care Services, the only shelter in Berkeley that opens its doors to any dog in the city that might need a new home. Again, the finding aligns with similar studies in which experts were asked to identify breed based on appearance.

The dog in this photograph is part Cocker Spaniel. Who'd have guessed?

The findings matter. People enjoy having dogs because of how they affect their lives. They might want a cuddler, a runner, a pup who'll play at the beach or a senior who's calm with kids. But many get seduced or disenchanted by a perceived breed label, an identity that DNA science says doesn't predict behavior.

In short, the City of Berkeley shelter's results confirmed what scientific research has been showing for the last 50 years: Due to the way dogs' traits are inherited, it's incredibly difficult to determine breed based on how the animal looks, regardless of whether the individual guessing is an expert. So, with the aim of ensuring happier and long-lasting matches, the City of Berkeley shelter is changing the way it identifies its incoming animals: Rather than guessing at breed, staff will label dogs based on observations about their personalities and temperaments - the qualities people ultimately want in a furry companion.

The idea is to begin training potential adopters to think in terms of behavior and expectations of their pets, rather than a specific look. For example, an adopter might come in hoping to find a so-called Poodle or Doberman - and leave the building with an American Sofa Dog or a Sierra Stair Stepper. Whimsical, yes, but these new names will be rooted in observation, designed to conjure a distinct personality trait or two.

The shelter will use these labels on kennels. However, on online adoption sites or lost and found sites, we'll still make our best guess at a breed to help people looking for a lost dog.

We believe the new labels will translate into smoother and more successful pairings. Our goal is to not only help adopters picture how dogs will look in their homes, but how they'll fit into their lives.

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