Part of an ongoing project, Darwin’s Dogs surveyed thousands of people for its MuttMix Project to see how well they could pick what breeds make up mutts. The results are in, and the news isn’t good.
The task was to choose the top three breeds for each of 31 mutts. Everyone tanked it. Even the experts failed to rise to the occasion.
Marjie Alonso, the Executive Director of IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), a partner in the project, was not surprised. “We were pretty sure everyone was as terrible at guessing breed mixes as we were,” she told This Dog’s Life.
For the MuttMix Project, 34,969 took the survey. Interesting results emerged from the 432,743 questions answered. The most common breeds guessed included Chow Chow, German Shepherd Dog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever.” The breeds that were least frequently guessed were French Bulldog, Bulldog, West Highland Terrier, Pekingese and Yorkshire Terrier. DNA results on their “most mixed-up mutts,” Ramy, Lucy, Esme, and Hershey, revealed more than 19 different breeds.
Of the total number of people taking the quiz, 4,804 listed some experience as dog professionals. The overall accuracy of all participants averaged at 25 percent correct for all guesses made, while the “experts” averaged 28 percent correct guesses. But can you blame them?
For instance, take Tonka. It is really hard to tell what kind of dog she is and with Dalmatian being one of the dominant breeds, many may be surprised.
Or Sandy, the dog that literally looks like the classic definition of a mutt. And with at least 14 breeds comprising her DNA, she is.
So what does this all mean?
“The most significant inference is the hardest to absorb: We need to stop thinking of dogs as ‘breeds,’ and start thinking of dogs as ‘dogs’ if we’re to really assess any one individual dog,” says Alonso. “Though individual breeds can be exactly the dog someone wants, getting a mixed breed because it ‘looks like a Labrador’ or whatever is evaluating by phenotype only — it’s so important to see the dog in front of us!”
The IAABC is busy raising money for another project that involves sequencing thousands of canine DNA samples they have collected. Their goal is to find correlates between various genes and various behaviors that owners have been posting on DarwinsDogs.org.
Another large-scale project is a study of what Alonso calls the “feedback loop of behavior”: we assume certain temperament and behavior traits based on breed, and then we react to that assumption with our own behavior, which the dog, in turn, reacts to. It’s another variation of the chicken and the egg question.