We’ve been led to believe that you’re almost as likely to find purebred dogs in shelters as mutts. Organisations like the Humane Society for example claim that purebreds make up around 25% of shelter dogs. According to a recent US study that turns out to be a gross overestimate.
How could this be? Well it turns out to be due to simple human error. Assessment of the breed of dogs entering shelters normally relies solely on visual appraisal of the animal. If it looks vaguely like a purebred to the kennel staff, it’s noted as a purebred. Eyeballing though doesn’t turn out to be a very accurate method of determining breed, and has clearly steered animal welfare groups wrong.
Purebreds dramatically less at risk of ending up in a shelter
The study, conducted by Arizona State University, used genetic breed testing on nearly 1000 dogs. Through this 100% accurate method they found that less than 5% of shelter dogs were in fact purebreds. That’s only one in 20 dogs.
Given that purebreds make up around 50% of the dog population in countries like the US and Australia the implications are interesting.
It means that mutts are 10 times more likely to end up abandoned than purebreds.
Another fascinating finding out of the study was the breed genes most common in shelter dogs. At the great grandparent level, the most common breeds making up abandoned mutts were American Staffordshire Terriers, Chihuahuas and Poodles. So 42.5% of the shelter dogs studied had one or more of these three in their ancestry.
Why are mutts over-represented in shelters?
I believe it says more about owners than dogs. It seems obvious to me that people who don’t invest much to acquire their dog might also be less willing to invest much time, effort or money to keep them. A lot of dogs that end up in shelters haven’t even been sterilised. It’s easy come, easy go
If they can’t afford to sterilize their dog, this begs the question of why they acquired it in the first place! To make matters worse, the unplanned litters that inevitably result contribute about half of all puppies relinquished to shelters. Pups that immediately escape this fate are often given away or sold cheaply to get rid of them. And so the cycle repeats again and again.
It’s an owner problem
Unfortunately puppies so easily acquired tend to fall into the hands of owners acting on impulse who aren’t seriously committed financially or emotionally to their pet. The pup’s adoption is often short lived and their chances of winding up in a shelter down the track very high. Indeed, 65% of pets (dogs and cats) in US shelters were originally obtained at free or low cost.
Most dogs relinquished to shelters are due to behavioural issues, and these are usually the result of a bad start to life. Consider this scenario: An irresponsible person comes across cheap puppies. All puppies are cute and hard to resist, and the kids are excited so they take one home. Not much thought might have gone into rearing it by the backyard breeder involved, and the same is often the case with that impulsive kind of owner too. Will it be potty trained, properly socialized and taught basic manners? Probably not. Before long it has grown out of its cute puppy stage, the kids are bored, and its barking all day and chewing up the family Nikes. A shelter is often the next stop for the poor dog.
Some breeders need to lift their game
Backyard breeders do their bit to supply people with puppies they can afford. But there are too many breeders out there who aren’t doing a good job of getting their puppies owner-ready, nor their owners puppy-ready. And I’m not just talking about backyarders here – some of the more professional breeders are also guilty of not giving their puppies the best possible start for life as someone’s pet. If more breeders put the effort in to ensure their pups had a good chance of being healthy (e.g. by not inbreeding), handled them well, and gave their owners good guidance on socialization and potty training, they could not only charge more for the pups, those pups would have more chance of landing forever homes.
Puppyhood is where the future dog is shaped. When more breeders realize how important what they do is, and take appropriate action, there will be fewer dogs ending up in shelters.