Petfinder Dog Listings Show Just How Ridiculous Visual Breed Identification Is

Petfinder Dog Listings Show Just How Ridiculous Visual Breed Identification Is

Petfinder Listings Show Absurdity of Visual Breed Identification



This post was originally written in 2013. It has been updated with additional commentary.

We were elated last year when Petfinder added “mixed breed” as a primary identifier option for the dogs listed on their site. It was a big move toward science and a huge step away from inaccurate labels and inherent bias.

Subjective breed labeling still happens on the site because it’s still happening in shelters. Plus, the general public loves to play the “what is this dog?” guessing game – and we admit, the game can be fun! But animal welfare workers have a responsibility to be as accurate as possible. You can’t be accurate when you visually identify a dog.

The term “pit bull” dog has become a catchall term that doesn’t even apply to a standard of visual characteristics. Sometimes, the term seems to be applied at random. That’s why we put it in quotes.

Here’s a collection of dogs that we pulled from Petfinder in 2013. All dogs were given the label of “pit bull.”


From Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier

Is it just us or do these dogs look really different?


From Grateful Dogs Rescue, CA: Listed as American Staffordshire Terrier and Pit Bull Terrier Mix


From Homestretch Hounds, OH: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix


From Philadelphia SPCA, PA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and Plott Hound Mix

What is happening here?


From Villalobos Rescue, LA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix


From Rocket Dog Rescue, CA: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix.


From Saving Paws of WA: listed as Pit Bull Terrier


From Manchester Animal Care and Control CT: listed as Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog mix.


From Poughkeepsie Animal Care and Control, NY: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix


From Oregon Humane Society: Listed as Pit Bull Terrier Mix

We can’t go on! It’s too much! 

Do some of these dogs have similar characteristics? Sure. All dogs have similar characteristics! Inherent bias doesn’t only exist in what we think a label means, it also exists in the process of applying the label. We see what we expect to see – and what most people expect to see in shelters is a “pit bull” dog. (Here’s where we’d typically explain self-fulfilling prophecies, but you’re smart. You already get it.)

Some of the shelters listed here have removed breed labels since the original publication of this blog. It’s important to note that not all software gives people the option that Petfinder now gives, some animal welfare professionals have no choice but to guess at a dog’s breed due to the software system they use. So there’s absolutely no shade from us at the shelters listed here.

Here’s the important thing to remember

A dog’s label, right or wrong, doesn’t tell us who they are or how they will behave. This is true whether we are accurate or not in our labeling. This is true whether the dog is a pure breed or a mixed breed dog. The labels we assign to dogs don’t tell us what they need as an individual or whether or not they are safe to live in our communities. 

We cannot accurately predict a dog’s future behavior based on breed or breed label alone. Dogs are complex individuals whose behaviors are influenced by a number of external and internal factors.

You can call your dog whatever you want (we won’t judge you even if you call him a farty-butt), but when it comes to dogs in general, we owe it to them to see them as individuals, not as labels.

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Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really And Why Does It Matter?

Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really And Why Does It Matter?

Who Are The Dogs In Shelters Really and why does it matter?


November, 2018

One of the core questions we want everyone to ask themselves about a dog is “Who is this dog?” Not, “What breed is this dog?” or “What does this dog look like?” or “Where did this dog come from?” Those last three questions don’t necessarily tell you any relevant information about the dog. 

When you focus on guessing a dog’s breed or breed mix, you’re more than likely to be incorrect and, consequently, you’ll take away a lot of false assumptions about a dog’s potential behavior.  Not only that, assumptions based on appearance disregard the genetic complexity of dogs and all other influences that make up the individual dog.

A study by ASU’s Canine Science Collaboratory researchers Lisa Gunter and Clive Wynne showed that for the shelter dogs they studied most of the mixed breed dogs (95% of the sample) had, on average, three different breeds in their heritage. This means that they aren’t a member of any breed. They are simply a dog.

Going back to what we said earlier about genetics being complicated, Wynne puts it best:

“Genetics are not paint colors. If you take a few drops of labrador retreiver and a few drops of border collie, you do not get a dog that loves to jump into the water and herd fish.”

And we’re not even going to get into the fact that, in this study, people only guessed a dog’s breed mix correctly one in 20 times – We’ll let Wynne get into that.

Watch the short video below for information about the study and what it means for companion animals.

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A Dog Died On A United Flight. Here’s The Problem No One’s Talking About

A Dog Died On A United Flight. Here’s The Problem No One’s Talking About

A Dog Died On A United Flight. Here’s The Problem No One’s Talking About
March, 2018
The tragic story of a beloved family dog dying on a United Airlines flight went viral last week. There were lots of conversations about what the incident says about the way people treat dogs. That’s only the surface of what happened. In reality, this isn’t a dog-related incident at all. This is a people related-incident.

In fact, all canine discrimination and the disregarding of the human-canine bond boils down to us – to humans. There’s an underlying thread that connects this instance with breed-specific legislation, housing restrictions, discrimination against people with service dogs, and a myriad of other injustices that aren’t related to dogs at all.

These things happen because of the pervasive view that if something isn’t directly happening to you, it isn’t your problem. There’s no need for you to care for someone (human, canine, or otherwise) that you aren’t directly connected to. This is known as the bystander effect.

All canine discrimination and the disregarding of the human-canine bond boils down to us – to humans.

Were there people on the flight that have warm fuzzy feeling about dogs, sure. Were there people that felt uncomfortable about the situations, absolutely. The problem lies in that because it wasn’t their dog going into that overhead bin nothing was directly effecting them. Pair that with the fact that we, as humans, we have learned this behavior of conforming, no one took action.

Everyone fell into the trap of “otherness,” which leads to dehumanization and discrimination of people in general. We marginalize people who aren’t “like us” and ignore wrongdoing when it’s not happening to us personally. In many cases, we participate in it by following discriminatory social convention.

Due to the practice of othering, a flight attendant ignored a woman’s pleas that there was a living being in a carrier. Due to the normalization of silence in the face of adversity, no one stood up and said, “You will not disregard what this person is saying to you. You will not put her dog in an overhead bin.”

We’ll never change how people treat animals until we change how we treat each other.
Throughout our time working in animal welfare, we see the concept of otherness and the bystander effect play out so often.

One peek at a Facebook comment thread about the current United scandal and you’ll see a slew of posts from people bashing the family for bringing a dog on the plane, despite the fact that they paid the fee and followed regulations.

The discriminatory subtext of BSL and housing restrictions is that people who own dogs who look a certain way are inherently irresponsible. How many times have you heard “It’s always thugs who own “pit bull” dogs”? That’s a common statement, even among advocates. It’s immediate “othering” without taking any facts into consideration.

With regards to service dogs, the media coverage of people committing service dog related disability fraud has led people to assume that anyone with a service dog is lying about their disability. This is especially true if the dog doesn’t fit society’s arbitrary standard of what a service dog should look like. Now, the media’s focus is always on how to construct more barriers with regards to service dogs, rather than how to make the world more accessible to people with disabilities. This means more discrimination and less equality.

It’s true that all dogs and all people are individuals, we are still all connected. How we treat one another matters.
We all know these things happen. But most of us say very little. Typically, we say very little because these situations are so far removed from us, but as everyone on the United flight proved, even when injustice happens right in front of us we ignore it. While it’s true that all dogs and all people are individuals, we are still all connected. How we treat one another matters and it also matters whether or not we passively encourage wrongdoing by remaining silent.

We encourage everyone to stand up for what’s right. Stand up and speak up about how we treat one another. We say fuck our culture of politeness (yes, we’re swearing) and defend other people when you know they’re being dehumanized, marginalized, and othered. Speak out against discrimination in all forms. Don’t hand-wave racism or sexism. Remember and remind people that you can’t always tell if a person has a disability (and it also isn’t your business). Defend people’s right to fair and equal housing. And for goodness sake, don’t ever let anyone treat someone’s family member like luggage.

Featured image via aero_icarus/flickr.

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This Is One of the Most Important Educational Tools for Your Shelter Staff

This Is One of the Most Important Educational Tools for Your Shelter Staff

You’ve heard us say all dogs are individuals. You’ve heard us say looks don’t equal behavior. You may be on board with that, which is great, we love that, but you’re unsure of how to get your shelter staff and volunteers to accept the science that breed isn’t indicative of a dog’s personality.

We’ve got the best tool for that and it’s in a handy-dandy infographic! *All of the images in this post are outtakes from the infographic.

Here’s how you can use this as an education tool for your shelter staff and volunteers.

For one, we drop some science in the infographic, like the above information about how even dogs of the same breed all behave differently. And there’s also this gem:


It’s not easy to step away from convention. Habits are difficult to break. Asking “what breed is this dog?” comes naturally to all of us. It’s really weird to hear someone say “breeds don’t matter when picking the dog that’s right for your home.” People need solid reasons to break habits and make big changes, especially when they’re dealing with lives – both human and animals.

Science helps with that. Of course, science can be overwhelming. Our infographic breaks that down into bite-sized talking points upon which you can create deeper conversations with your staff – and even potential adopters.

which percent is it

The fact that there’s no way to know which part of a dog’s breed may influence their behavior is powerful. Even if a dog is purebred, you still don’t know what breed traits it possesses, there are too many factors at play.

The only thing you do know for sure is the behavior you observe from the dog – and that’s what really matters.

You’re in the business of placing great pets in great homes. You can’t do that if your descriptions of dogs are based entirely on guesswork. That doesn’t make for good adoption matches, but observing the dog in front of you does.

Simple Ideas that Will Make Shelter Dogs So Happy They’ll Shower You With Kisses

Simple Ideas that Will Make Shelter Dogs So Happy They’ll Shower You With Kisses

Shelter life is B-U-S-Y! We get it. It seems impossible to add another item to your daily to-do list. Take heart! Enrichment can be simple, fast, and inexpensive. Remember, even the smallest changes make a big difference.

marcia tiersky interns june 2017 1

Source: Marcia Tiersky for Animal Farm Foundation

Make the commitment to your dogs. Then reach out for support. You’ll find volunteers who want to do hands-on work, donors who will purchase items from your wish lists, and foster homes who will give dogs a temporary break.

But you don’t even need donors to purchase items for you. You have plenty of enrichment tools at your fingertips!

Here are three simple ideas for keeping the dogs in your care so happy they’ll want to cover you with kisses:


Fill an empty bucket or small pail with things to do, smell, and taste –  even the dog’s meal. Pack each item very tightly so that it will be challenging for the dog to remove them. Some ideas for bucket items: a stuffed Kong, a beef-broth soaked rag, a ball, a Nylabone, a water bottle or PVC pipe with a few treats, etc…


Collect empty toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, pasta boxes and other old boxes and layer them one inside the other. In between each box, place tasty treats and kibble. Some dogs really enjoy shredding items in their kennels.  Busy boxes are a cheap and easy enrichment tool that your volunteers can create and your dogs can enjoy.

ICE TREATS: You can make these in large buckets or old milk jugs that have been cut in half, cups, ice cube trays, Dixie cups, or other containers. Choose a size that suits your dogs’ needs. Depending on the size you choose, you can use this tool to feed an individual meal or even an entire day’s food, so keep portions in mind.

Need more tips? We’ve got ’em!

Tapping Into A Dog’s Senses Can Be the Most Powerful Tool to Keep Them Happy

Tapping Into A Dog’s Senses Can Be the Most Powerful Tool to Keep Them Happy

Just like humans, dogs have five basic senses. Ignoring their sensory needs may lead to stress and undesirable behaviors.

fred on couch

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Let’s Break This Down:

  • Who doesn’t love pizza? It’s awesome. But if you ate it every day, it would get really gross.
  • Staring at a computer all day starts to suck after a few hours. You don’t just want to look at something different, your body needs you to look at something different.
  • A 5-hour plane ride with a screaming baby is never fun and the radio gets really tiring when they play the same song over and over again.
  • Sniffing cleaner all day is really not a good idea and if you think about, sniffing the same flower all day is going to get overwhelming.
  • Does a massage sound like heaven right about now?

Now that you get the idea, let’s stop anthropomorphizing and get real world methods for dog enrichment:


Sound is a dog’s most highly developed sense. A dog can get agitated and nervous just from hearing other dogs bark.


Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Keep shelter dogs quiet with Click for Quiet games in which you reward quiet dogs with positive “YES!” (or clicker sound) and a treat. Don’t give barking dogs any attention. This is a great project for volunteers.

Soft or soothing music also helps keep dogs quiet. Try classical music, audio books, or music created specifically for dogs.


is how dogs greet the world. Shelters not only smell like other animals, but are often full of chemical odors.

Create fun things for dogs to do with their noses. Make “find it” puzzles by hiding treats in blankets, towels, or rags. Hide treats in a fenced yard for some fun outdoor time. Don’t forget to cheer them on as they sniff out the rewards.

aac easter 3

Source: Amalia Diaz for Austin Animal Center

Use interactive toys or make your own. Drill a few holes in PVC pipe elbows (big enough for treats to fit through) and then let your dog play with the toy to get the treats to fall out.

Another great trick is to fill a spray bottle with water and 10-20 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, vanilla, or almond. Spray a fine mist on their beds, blankets, or kennel walls. Rotate the scents to keep the dogs engaged.


Sight can be tricky because no matter how long the dog is in your shelter, the environment never becomes natural. Some dogs get stressed by dogs or humans simply passing by their kennels.

Moon (24)

Source: Animal Farm Foundation

For reactive dogs, place barriers at the front or sides of their kennel. This can be anything like poster board, sheets, shower curtains, etc… Have people toss treats as they pass by the dog. This will help him associate traffic flow with positive things.

It is important to give dogs an occasional change of scenery. Let them take a stroll around the parking lot, spend an afternoon at the front desk or in someone’s office, or let them go on a play date. Changing up which kennel they spend time in works well for some dogs, too.


is closely linked with smell. This may cause some dogs to ignore food due to the unfamiliar smells in a shelter environment. Poor health might also affect a dog’s sense of smell, causing them to ignore meals.

enrichment toys

Try adding broths, like chicken or beef, to food or serve alone. Soak rags or tug toys in broth. Freeze and give as a special treat. (These are especially good for teething puppies!)

For dogs who inhale their food, try feeding from Kongs, milk jugs, bottles, PVC pipes, and other feeding puzzles. These add an element of stimulation and help slow down the eating process.


Touch is important because shelter dogs often don’t get enough human contact. We rush to exercise and feed them but forget to sit and touch them. Patting and massaging dogs, especially in a quiet space, promotes a better mental and emotional state.


Source: Animal Farm Foundation

Enlist volunteers to work as “quiet time” companions for your dogs. Have them sit in the dog’s kennel for 10+ minutes to pet and massage them. They can bring a book and read to them! Not only does the massage feel good, it also teaches dogs how to stay calm when there are people around.

We know enrichment can be intimidating to some shelter workers, but once you take the leap, you’ll realize that it’s simple. Plus, it results in lots of smiling dogs, and there’s nothing better than that.