My name is Allison and my dog, Puggles, is a Miniature Schnauzer. Or perhaps she’s a Shnoodle – a Schnauzer/Poodle mix. We aren’t completely sure because she was a one-year-old stray when we brought her home eight years ago.
In 2016, I started volunteering regularly at our local animal shelter. Out of the hundreds of dogs that come to the shelter each year, I would guess that at least 80% are picked up as strays and never reclaimed. When dogs are picked up as strays, we have no way of knowing their background. We can kind of determine their age based on their teeth. Beyond that, though, it’s all speculation.
When people come to the shelter looking to adopt a dog, they naturally want to know all the dog’s details. What kind of dog is it? How old is it? How big will it get (if it’s still a puppy)? Is the dog good with kids? How about cats? Is it potty trained?
These are all legitimate questions. The problem, however, is that these dogs are strays. Without knowing a dog’s history – including its breed – there’s just no way to know these things for sure. So the shelter does its best to guess. But it’s just that – a guess.
According to the BBC, around 100,000 stray dogs are picked up in the U.K. each year. (I’m from the U.S., where about 1.6 million dogs are adopted from shelters each year.) That means that a massive number of dogs are adopted each year without the owners knowing much about the dog’s history or breed.
Why Do I Need to Know my Dog’s Breed?
Knowing a dog’s breed is important, partially just because it’s fun to know, and partially because it can help you learn what types of health or behavior issues to watch out for.
Getting a sense of a dog’s breed can also help you determine whether a dog is going to be a good match for your lifestyle.
Some dogs were designed with specific tasks in mind, like helping hunters (on land or in the water), guarding homes, herding, or ridding houses and barns of rodents. Other dogs are simply meant to be companions. Some breeds require more exercise than others as well.
All that said, most dogs are a mishmash of several breeds – not just a 50/50 mix of two purebreds – which makes it even harder to determine your dog’s type.
So if you’ve ever adopted a stray – and let me just stop and say “thank you!” – or if you’ve ever owned any kind of non-AKC registered dog, there’s a good chance you’re not sure of your dog’s breed either.
The good news is there are some ways to at least help you make an educated guess.
Characteristics to Help Determine Your Dog’s Breed
No two dogs are completely alike, but dog breeds do share common physical characteristics. When trying to figure out what kind of dog you have, here are some things to consider:
Characteristic #1: Head Shape
Your dog’s head will fit into one of three primary groups.
Dolicchocephalics: Long-headed dogs with pointy snouts, like greyhounds, collies, etc. When measuring your dog’s head’s width and length, the length is longer than the width.
Brachycephalics: Wide-skulled dogs, such as boxers and pugs. If you measure your dog’s head’s width and length, the length will be shorter than the width.
Mesocephalic: Dogs whose head shape falls in between. When measuring your dog’s head’s with and length, the numbers will be about equal.
Here’s an interesting sidenote: A 2016 Psychology Today study found that correlations exist between a dog’s head shape and its behavior. For example, dogs with long pointy heads are designed as hunters, while dogs with wide skulls are better for guarding.
Additionally, short-faced dogs tend to be more interested in their owners and enjoy human directed play, but they are also more defensive in uncertain situations. Long-faced dogs, on the other hand, are less easily startled but also less interested in human-directed play.
Head shape is also important when it comes to your dog’s health. Those Brachycephalics – or short-snouted dogs – often have serious breathing problems known as “Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome.” This is something to consider before adopting a short-snouted dog.
Finally, let me also share a quick note about pitbulls. For clarification, a “pitbull” is not one specific breed, but a category of breeds. Pitbulls are known for their broad skulls and strong jaws. This is important because many areas ban pitbull ownership.
We had an instance at my local shelter where a dog that strongly resembled a black lab was not allowed to be adopted by someone in our neighboring town because his jaw resembled that of a pitbull.
Characteristic #2: Ear Shape
Dogs’ ears come in all sorts of shapes, but they generally fall into one of three categories.
Floppy or drop ears (Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, etc.): These are the ears that hang down next to the dog’s head.
Upright ears (German Shepherds, Huskies, Yorkies, etc.): These dogs’ ears stand erect and can be either rounded or pointed. It’s important to note that some of these dogs – such as Great Danes, Boxers, and Doberman Pincers, for example – are actually born with dropped ears and are surgically “cropped” to make them stand upright. So upright ears can be a little tricky.
Semi-pricked ears (collies, pitbulls, etc.): These dogs’ ears are fall somewhere in between the other two types. They usually are partially erect, but the tops of their ears bend forward.
Characteristic #3: Coat Texture
The texture your dog’s fur coat can big a big help in determining your dog’s breed(s). Coats fall into several categories.:
Smooth, or short-haired coat: these are your short-haired dogs and require the least amount of grooming. The hair lies close to the body and sheds. Examples include Beagles, Dachshunds (short-haired), and Labrador Retrievers.
Medium Coat: The fur on these types of dogs is usually about an inch long and requires some grooming. These dogs do shed. Their fur can be coarse or silky. Examples include golden retrievers, german shepherds, etc.
Long-Haired Coats: These dogs have fur that can grow to the floor. Examples include the Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier, Afghan Hounds, etc.
Wire-Haired Coats: Several types of terriers, along with Irish Wolfhounds, have wiry coats that can become tangled if not taken care of.
Curly-Haired Coats: These dogs have soft, thick curls. Examples include Poodles and Bichon Frises.
Double Coats: Some dogs have coats that consist of two layers: a dense, wooly short-haired undercoat, and a top coat of longer hairs. The undercoat protects the dog from both hot and cold temperatures, while the top coat helps repel dirt and moisture. Examples include Miniature Schnauzers, Pomeranians, Huskys, and Golden Retrievers.
Characteristic #4: Coat Color and Pattern
The most common type dog coat is a solid color, but that color can vary.
For example, a “brown” coat may be a dark brown, a light brown, or an orange or reddish brown. “Gold” coats include blonde, cream, pale yellow, honey, or apricot.
Then there’s also black, white, and gray – which include blue gray as well as your standard gray.
Some dogs also have multi-colored or patterned coats. Here are some examples:
Bicolorcoats, also known as patched or tuxedo coats, are two colors. Some common color combos include black and tan, white and tan, or black and white. Examples include Rottweilers, Doberman Pincers, German Shepherds, and Border Collies.
Tricolorcoats are made up of three colors. These dogs typically have a white chest then the rest of the body is made up of three colors, such as black, brown, and white. Examples of breeds that can be tricolored include Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Basenjis.
Merlecoats have patches of marbling of a primary color on all areas of the body except the belly. Examples of breeds that can have merle coats include Grate Danes, Border Collies, and Australian Shepherds, among others.
Spotted or speckled coats are common in some breeds, such as Dalmatians, English Setters, and English Springer Spaniels.
Brindle coats have a tiger stripe pattern (black, brown, and gold). Examples of dogs that can be brindled include Bull Terriers, Plot Hounds, and Greyhounds.
Saddlepatterns have a black coloring on the back that gradually fades. Examples include German Shepherds and Airedale Terriers.
Sable coats have lighter colored fur such as gold, grey, or tan but the tips of the fur are black. Dogs that can have sable tips include Shetland Sheepdogs, Pomeranians, and German Shepherds, among others.
Characteristic #5: Dog Size
Dogs, of course, come in all different sizes, and some breeds come in a variety of sizes as well. Your dog’s size can give you an idea of what your dog’s main breed is.
Here are the general dog sizes by weight:
- Toy: up to 12 pounds
- Small: 12 to 25 pounds
- Medium: 25 to 50 pounds
- Large: 50 to 100 pounds
- Extra Large: 100+ pounds
This can be a little confusing because it doesn’t take into account height and build. For example, miniature schnauzers stand about 12 to 14 inches and weigh anywhere from 11 to 18 pounds.
A miniature bull terrier, on the other hand, stands about 10 to 14 inches – about the same as the miniature schnauzer, but can weigh between 25 and 33 pounds. That’s almost twice as much the mini schnauzer.
Characteristic #6: Dog Tails
Your dog’s tail can also provide some insight into his or her breed. Here are some of the more common types of dog tails:
Docked Tails are breeds that generally have a portion of their tail cut off when they are puppies. A number of herding breed dogs originally had their tails docked so that the herd animals could not nip at the dogs’ tails. This can be a little tricky since it is not the dog’s natural tail length. Examples include Dobermans, Great Danes, and Schnauzers (except for mine!).
Curly Tails can curl up and all the way over into a ring shape, or they can curl in a corkscrew shape. Examples include the Pomeranian, Basenji, Pugs, Chow Chows.
Bobbed tailed dogs don’t have a tail at all. Examples are Corgis, Jack Russell Terriers, and Brittany Spaniels.
Where to Get Help Finding Your Dog’s Breed?
Taking all of the above information about characteristics to look for to determine your dog’s breed, you can Google the various physical traits and see what you get.
But there are also other websites, apps, and even DNA kits to make the process easier for you.
#1 What’s My Dog? Breed Game
Sponsored by Wisdom Panel, a leader in dog DNA testing kits, the What’s My Dog? website has a pretty comprehensive quiz featuring silhouetted thumbnails of a large variety of dog ears, tails, and muzzle types (132 of each) from which to choose. You go through and pick the closest silhouette to your dog for each category, and the game provides you with the breed type you selected for each image.
Is it accurate? Well, let me start by saying there are a lot of choices in this game – 132 for each category – and a lot of silhouettes are similar. So it’s kind of hard to determine which option is best.
That said, I just tried it with my dog, who is without a doubt primarily a miniature schnauzer, but my results came up Manchester Terrier, English Spaniel Terrier, and Irish Terrier. Granted, my dog never had her tail docked like most mini schnauzers, so that at least threw off the tail option. But it didn’t get the other two categories right either.
#2 The Dog Scanner App
There are several apps to help you identify your dog’s breed by sight, but the one I chose to try is called the dog scanner. For this app, you either use your phone’s camera to take a photo of your dog, or you can upload one already on your phone if you prefer.
Does it work? I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. I uploaded two different images of my dog. The first came back as 87% miniature schnauzer, 13% Maltese. This was a recent picture of my almost 10-year-old dog, and her fur is now a very light gray, which made it look almost white in the image. I think that’s where the Maltese came from. I uploaded another photo of Puggles from when she first came home and it came up with 100% Miniature Schnauzer.
Next I tried the app on some photos from dogs at the shelter, and while I have no idea if they were accurate, the results at least appeared to make sense. For each breed type that the app selects, it shows you an image of that breed of dog so you can compare.
Finally, for fun, I tried it on my 13-year-old daughter. Her results came up 75% human, 25% pitbull – so I’d say that was pretty accurate!
#3 Dog DNA Tests
If you really want to which what breeds your dog is comprised of, your best option is to use a dog DNA test, like the Wisdom Panel 3.0 Breed Identification Dog DNA Test Kit, available on Amazon.com.
Wisdom Panel is a leader in dog DNA testing and offers both basic breed tests as well as breed plus health indicator tests. (The breed plus health indicator tests cost about twice as much as the breed tests alone.)
Wisdom Panel uses a simple cheek swap, which you can do at home, then checks for breed-specific markers in your dog’s DNA. Wisdom tests your dog’s DNA against a database of 350 dog breeds, types, varieties. The tests look at how strong each genetic marker is to determine the percentage of each specific breed.
Some friends of mine recently used the Wisdom Panel 3.0 Breed Identification Dog DNA Kit to have their rescue dog, Eddie, tested. Eddie is a large, all white, fluffy dog with a medium snout, floppy ears, and a long fluffy tail. My friends thought he was a primarily Siberian Husky. According to the panel’s results, however, they were only 12.5% right.
According to the Wisdom Panel results, Eddie was the following:
12.5% American Staffordshire Terrier
12.5% Chow Chow
12.5% Siberian Husky
25% Breed Groups:
In other words, Eddie – like many dogs – is a true mutt.
Final Thoughts: Determining Your Dog’s Breed
From online searches, to dog DNA testing, it’s never been easier to determine your dog’s genetic makeup.
Whether your dog, like Eddie, is true mixture of breeds, or whether your dog is more like mine, who is primarily one specific breed, understanding your dog’s breed can make your role as a dog owner more satisfying and keep your dog happier as well.
Also, if you are looking to adopt a dog, researching the dog’s breed beforehand can help ensure that you choose a dog that will match your personality and lifestyle.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below!