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Identity Crisis

He looks like a chow, barks like a beagle, and drools like a basset. Who is this mystery dog? Read on for tips on how to find out—and how to implement better breed identification procedures in your shelter.

He looks like a chow, barks like a beagle, and drools like a basset. Who is this mystery dog? Read on for tips on how to find out—and how to implement better breed identification procedures in your shelter.

Rose Lynn was surfing the Internet when she came across a little dog described on one rescue website as a Chihuahua with mange. “It was a Chinese crested,” says Lynn, canine education instructor at Sebastian County Humane Society in Fort Smith, Arkansas. “It frustrates me when a dog is misidentified, especially when its breed is so obvious.”

Clearly, breed identification can enhance or damage your shelter’s credibility—depending on your accuracy. But there’s another good reason to know the difference between a Chinese crested and a mangy Chihuahua: Precisely pegging a dog’s breed may help boost his adoptability. Shepherd mixes, for instance, are as common as three-leaf clovers, but long-haired German shepherds actually have a following and are more likely to attract interest. A dog you’ve decided is an emaciated Lab mix may actually be a perfectly healthy greyhound mix with ready takers in breed rescue.

Breed identification mistakes can be costly for dogs as well as their adopters: an American bulldog mix mislabeled as a pit bull may be unnecessarily euthanized. Or if the dog does get adopted, the pit bull tag could lead to an insurance company’s cancellation of the new adopter’s homeowner’s insurance.

Unless you’ve got a DNA analysis to back up your assessments, accurate breed identification will almost always involve at least a little guesswork. That said, here are some ways to hone your skills.

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