Thursday, August 2, 2012

Which Breeds Commonly Make up a Mutt?

By Langley Cornwell

Many of us have loved a mutt at one time or another. A special mixed-breed dog was my beloved companion for 17 years. She was stunningly beautiful and incredibly well behaved, with a sweet yet mischievous personality. My friends and family adored her too; she was an exceptional pet and people often asked what breed she was. I suspected she was part yellow Labrador but the other parts were a mystery at that time.

During her lifetime, countless people commented that they’d like to have a dog just like her. Heck, I’d like to have another dog just like her! Of course, I had no idea of her true heritage; a Good Samaritan found her alone, weak and malnourished, in an abandoned warehouse. Through a circuitous route involving several shelters, she finally found a forever home with me.

Then, when I wrote a breed profile about the Expressive Norwegian Lundehund, I came to believe that my mystery dog was part yellow Lab and part Lundehund. At the time when I had this dog, there were no tests to determine a mixed breed dog’s ancestry.

Within the last several years, however, DNA tests have been developed to genetically determine a dog’s breed composition. And if you don’t want to get all technical, there are other, less scientific methods to identify a dog’s heritage. Linda Cole recommends a practical approach to breed determination in How to Tell Which Breeds are in Your Mutt.

Because I am an animal rescuer, I’ve had many dogs come in and out of my life. Out of the all of them, only two have been purebred dogs. That’s been my choice; I take in the dogs that are hard to place, which usually means mutts. (As an aside, shelters usually have plenty of purebred animals if that’s what you’re looking for.) Interestingly, more than half of the dogs in the U.S. are mutts.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), there are approximately 75 million dogs in households in America, and at least 10% of those dogs were rescued from a shelter with little or no known background information.

Since mixed-breed dogs make up such a large part of our U.S. pet dog population, a veterinary clinic in Maryland conducted an online survey to determine the past and present trends in mutts. The study turned up some interesting findings, one of which is that the most common American Kennel Club (AKC) breeds are not necessarily the breeds that are prevalent in today’s mutts. In fact, many of today’s mixed-breed dogs are a combination of breeds that were popular in the past but have fallen out of favor.

Here are some interesting statistics from the study:

• Outbred dogs have no recent lineage from pedigree dog populations, so they are classified as true mixed breed dogs

• In many outbred dogs, all 8 grandparents were also mixed breed dog

• The Chow is the dog most commonly found at the grandparent or great-grandparent level

• German Shepherds are one of the top breeds found in mutts

• American Staffordshire Terrier type mixes are growing in popularity

• Large breeds (+ 80 lbs.) are less likely to appear in mixed-breed dogs

• Mixed breed dogs vary in size, shape and color; consequently, they are usually hard to classify physically

• The 10 most popular breeds found in mixed breed dogs are:

German Shepherd
Labrador Retriever
Chow Chow
American Staffordshire Terrier
Golden Retriever
Cocker Spaniel
Siberian Husky

Knowing what kind of breeds make up the special combination that is your dog can be useful. It helps you understand your dog’s tendencies and behaviors like barking, pointing, digging or herding. Once you understand your dog’s natural inclinations, it’s possible to tailor training, exercise and nutrition programs to fit your dog’s specific needs.

Photo by E. Drake

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Well I have had many mutts and they are just the best dogs. Not that pure breds are not good dogs, there is just something about a mutt that is special.

  2. Another way to judge is what kind of dogs seem to live in your area? We have a lot of hunters here, so very often you will see Labs of all colors, and various bird dogs. Also a number of farms nearby, so we find Border Collies, and other herders. A large number of Black Dogs reside in our shelters!


  3. We love mutts! This is so fascinating, Langley. I've always wondered which breeds most commonly show up in the lineage of mutts. :)

  4. We think every puppy and kitty is special and unique, no matter what or how many breeds they are :) Such a sweet woofie, and an excellent article!


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