How to Tell Which Breeds are in Your Mutt

August 13, 2010

By Linda Cole

It can be hard trying to determine the pedigree of some mixed breed dogs. Even dog experts have a hard time identifying some “Heinz 57” pups. A lot of times, it comes down to guesswork. But knowing which combination of dog breeds they might be can make a difference when you’re trying to decide if a mixed breed is one that would be suitable for your family.

Because mixed breed dogs have a variety of breeds in their lineage, it’s difficult to know all the dog breeds making up their DNA. Which breed temperament will be the strongest may be noticeable when they’re pups, but it can change as they grow.

Until 2007, there were no tests to determine the heritage of mixed breeds. Scientists have developed a DNA test for about 100 or so specific dogs breeds and have recently been testing mixed breeds for an average cost to dog owners of around $100. Since it doesn’t cover all known dog breeds, a complete evaluation for most mutts is still in the future. Each year, more breeds are added to the list, but until a complete list is compiled, that leaves most of us wondering which breeds are in our mixed breed dog.

A cross breed mixed dog comes from two different purebred dogs. A Labrador and Poodle bred together produce a Labradoodle. It’s considered a mixed breed dog, but there’s a difference between a dog with first generation parents and one whose mixed breed lineage goes back three or more generations.

Trying to figure out specific dog breeds in some mixed breeds becomes more difficult, if not impossible, because specific breeds become more jumbled with each generation that’s born. Even with DNA testing it can be a complicated question to answer the more mixed a dog’s lineage is.

True mixed breed dogs are more run of the mill types with a medium build and light or medium brown or black coats with white on their chest and possibly in other places on their coat. They’re usually of medium weight around 40 pounds. These are dogs with so many generations of mixed breed ancestry that any resemblance of specific dog breeds has been lost.

Not all mixed breed dogs are true Heinz 57’s. You can determine specific breeds in many mixed dogs. My Beagle/Terrier mix, Alex, looks like a Beagle in her face, with ears that resemble that part of her heritage, but the ears are shorter and not as wide as a purebred Beagle. She has a Terrier body, except in the chest which is more like a Beagle. Her disposition is more Beagle like, and she loves to bark. She’s stubborn and likes to do things when she’s ready, but she’s more laid back than a typical Terrier and not as snappy.

Check the shape of their head and muzzle. Does the dog have floppy ears or do they stand erect? Is their tail short or stubby, long and thin or bushy? You can get an idea of how big your puppy will be by looking at his feet. If he has small feet, he’ll remain small. If his feet seem to be oversized for his body, watch out if you aren’t looking for a big dog.

Coat color can give you some indications as well. A black and tan colored coat with a saddle type of pattern may tell you he has German Shepherd in him, especially if he shows other characteristics of a Shepherd like a long wedge-shaped nose and erect ears. If he has webbed feet, then you can assume he probably has some type of water dog in his DNA, like a Spaniel or even a Newfoundland.

If the structure of the dog’s face, ears, eyes and muzzle point toward a specific breed, you know at least one breed. If it looks like a Lab, that means it has Lab in its DNA. The body may be smaller or larger which then becomes another guessing game for other possible dog breeds.

Having a general idea what the genetic makeup of a mixed breed dog is helps you decide if it’s a dog that would fit in with your lifestyle. If you’re looking for an active dog but end up with a couch potato, you may not be happy with the dog. Being able to determine the main breeds in a mixed breed dog can give you an idea what temperament that dog might have. You can take some of the mystery out of adopting a mixed breed dog by doing a few careful, but simple observations before you adopt.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Emma says:

    My beagle mix has the coat of a German shepherd but has a face of a dochsund is that possible to be a beagle to????

  2. Colleen Hutchison says:

    Hi, Linda. I was wondering if you would be willing to post a picture of Alex. I have a 4 month old puppy named Mocha. We know the mother was a purebred beagle but I am hearing all kinds of guesses as to what else she might be including a terrier so I would just be curious as to what yours looks like. Of interest (at least to me) is she has webbed feet. Ears seem too short to be hound, and she seems to be developing the ability to make at least one of them stand up. Anyway, just curious.

  3. Jodi Nanny says:

    Yesterday, my mom picked up a 3 month old pup. He’s pretty large in size but he has a thin body. His feet are pretty decent in size & right above his front feet at the joint his bones are thick, like very thick. He has floppy ears, a long thin tail & his coat is weird. It seems to have a white base with light brown/cream/red spots & patches. On his shoulder there’s a marking that’s in the perfect shape of a heart with dark brown or black on the top right. His ears are dark brown or black. He has a white line down the center of his face. His muzzle is grey & he has white on the underside of his neck. I have no idea what type of mix he is at all. If any of you could help me identify him that would be spectacular. If I could post a picture of him on here I would so yall could see what he looks like.

  4. kathleen says:

    My dog has something I haven’t seen in one of her eyes there a Spot that’s drop from her pupil some say that’s cause she got a coyote or wolf of some sort of a wild dog bred in her she every playful likes playing ball and very attached to me but I s very loving and very obeying she enjoys riding in the car my guess of h error bred is Austria shepherd mix all I know is I’d be lost with out her

  5. My little Lola (8 months old) is coloured and built more like a jack russell terrier than her finnish spitz cross mother. She has fairly loose skin and has long toes with beautifully webbed feet. I wonder what is present in her genes. Whatever the breeds that are part of her make up…… I love this cheerful little dog, She loves to play and be around children and has a very feminine sweet face 🙂

  6. Marie Anne says:

    Looks aren’t everything.

    My Molly looks like a Golden Retriever, but her DNA came back with more GSD and St Bernard than Golden. I can see certain characteristics of the other two breeds (fairly loose skin of StB), but to look at her you’d never think of either of them.