For guard dogs, identifying mix and heritage can be a matter of life or death. This is especially true for the thousands of dogs that – depending on their appearance – are referred to as “pit bulls” by animal shelters. However, a recent study by Lisa Gunter at the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University found that shelters inaccurately portray the racial heritage of three-quarters of the dogs studied.
The study, the largest to date coverage of animal shelter breeds, included 919 dogs cared for by the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA (AAWL) and the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS).
Fortunately, the researchers say, “advances in canine genomics allowed the advent of commercial genetic breed tests that enabled the identification of component breeds in mixed breed dogs.” In addition to identifying the dogs’ breed heritage, the researchers also wanted to describe their predominant breeds and the effects of those breeds on length of stay at the shelter. Ultimately, they wanted to test how well the shelter staff can visually assess primary and secondary breeds.
DNA samples were collected from dogs admitted to AAWL and SDSH for a period of nine to twelve months. These samples – 919 in total – were then analyzed using the Mars WISDOM PANEL ™ test. The Mars DNA database, from which the dogs’ breed signatures were identified, was developed by genotyping more than 13,000 pure-bred dogs, according to the company. Every WISDOM PANEL DNA test report reveals racial signatures that go back three generations.