Breed specific Labels: Why It Can Hinder Dogs from Being Adopted in Shelters

by Lindsay Baker

 Photo: Susan Hawkins

Photo: Susan Hawkins

Take a look at the photo on the right of Lyta at the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control. What breed would you label her as? Based on her appearance, one might say she has Labrador Retriever and perhaps another American Staffordshire Terrier. And based on her appearance, those would be reasonable guesses. But they may also be entirely incorrect. Recent studies show that trying to determine breed based on appearance alone is highly inaccurate. This is because only a small portion of a dog’s DNA has to do with their physical appearance. 

When a stray or lost dog ends up at a shelter, they are impounded—a process that typically includes determining age and sex, administering vaccination(s), dewormer and other medical evaluations or procedures deemed necessary. Finally, they get labeled as the breed they most resemble (here in Northeast Georgia, “pit bull” type mixes and Labrador mixes tend to be common breed labels given at shelters). Assuming they are healthy and no owner steps forward within the hold time, the dog will be made available for adoption. The paper on their cage will reflect all the details that are currently known, including things like age, personality and assumed breed. 

A recent study showed that approximately half of all shelter dogs labeled as pit bulls did not have any pit type breeds (also sometimes called “bully breeds”) in them at all. This is a real problem because unfortunately some breeds, especially bully breeds, still have a negative stigma attached to them. When the only media coverage they get is negative and involves attacking another dog or a human, many people believe all pits must be vicious attack dogs that are most certainly not family dog material. I’m going to go out on a ledge here and say that any of us that have interacted with a pit-type dog know them to be extremely kind, loving and gentle dogs—there’s a reason they were formerly used as nanny dogs!—but if your only experience with them is hearing how horrible they are, of course you don’t want to adopt a “pit bull mix.” 

Our local animal shelters have made leaps and bounds of progress over the past several years, but we still have room to improve. If you’re looking to adopt a dog, I urge you to look beyond what the cage card says and view each dog as an individual. Judge them based on personality, not a breed label. It’s unfair to make generalizations about a shelter dog that is probably a blend of six, eight or even 10 different breeds anyway—at that point, breed-specific personality traits are often lost. Also, pits are some of the BEST dog models, as evidenced by Lyta here who is still looking for a forever home!