How breed is determined at AHS and other animal shelters

We’ll be the first to admit it. From time to time, you’ll see dogs in our shelter whose breed description doesn’t seem to match their appearance. And we often hear from adopters that DNA test results revealed something totally different than the breed their new dog was assigned before adoption.

How could this happen at Animal Humane Society? After all, we’re the animal experts. The answer may surprise you.

Lee-lah came to AHS on a transport from the south.

Rabies certificates — your pup’s passport

When dogs arrive at AHS, they usually have a breed already assigned to them — either by a partner shelter or by their previous owner. In many cases, that breed is also listed on their current rabies vaccination certificate.

A rabies certificate is a legal document, similar to an I.D. or passport. It includes information about an individual animal such as date of birth, sex, breed, and fur color or markings. All of that information needs to match in order be valid.

Changing a dog’s designated breed on their shelter paperwork would invalidate their rabies certificate, and in order to get a new one, the dog would need to be revaccinated. At AHS, we use our resources as efficiently as possible and only vaccinate animals when necessary.

As an owner, you can update your dog’s breed when they receive their next rabies vaccine, along with any other information that’s changed. Rabies vaccines are generally required every three years, though some states require the vaccine is administered annually.

Puppy in dog habitat

What you see may not be what you get

We do our best to visually identify every dog’s breed when one isn’t already assigned to them, which happens most often with puppies. Our vet techs will look at weight, paw size, markings, ears, the shape of its head, and coat texture and coloring. With more than 200 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, it can be rather tough to assign the correct breeds in each dog we see.

The vast majority of the pups in our care are a mix of more than one breed. As puppies age, some breed characteristics become more apparent than when they were young. Coat texture, fur length, and even eye color can change after a pup leaves our shelter, making them look more like a different breed than they did before.

Wilma and Nemo

What’s in a name?

While a dog’s breed might tell you some things about their character and behavior, it’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle. Socialization, training, and quality of care all play a role in shaping our dogs development, temperament, and personality. Even within the same breed, dogs’ personalities can differ greatly.

That’s why it’s so important to adopt a dog that fits your lifestyle rather than your aesthetics. Luckily, we specialize in helping you find your new best friend. And whether your new BFF is a lab, a chihuahua, or some kind of wonderful, mystery, mix, the love you’ll share will be just as sweet.

Think you know your breed stuff? Visit our listing of adoptable dogs to see if your breed determination matches what’s listed in each animal profile.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline