Evidence has mounted in recent years that guesses as to a dog’s breed or breeds usually do not correspond with breed identification using DNA technology. Different observers, even those engaged in dog-related professions, frequently disagree with each other when looking at the same dog.

Animal behavior and ethology studies have demonstrated that we cannot reliably predict the future behavior of a purebred dog on the basis of its breed or breed mix, whether or not we have documented the pedigree or employed DNA technology to obtain the mix of breeds.

Humans exert a profound influence on the personalities of the dogs in their care, an influence that trumps supposed breed-specific personality traits.

And, in a world where most dogs are either bred for looks or are not the result of planned breeding at all, and where dogs of so many different sizes and shapes succeed as loved family companions, there is little, if any, relevance of a dog’s presumed breed to its suitability for family life. How should the nation’s animal shelters respond to the accumulating science, in order reunite lost dogs with owners and make good adoption matches for the others?

Public agencies across the United States have addressed the first of these breed-label problems, reuniting lost dogs with owners. In some cases, the owner can query the agency database using the fields animal type, gender, age, size and main color grouping. However, no field asking for a  breed label is displayed. If the owner thinks of his dog as an X, but animal services entered it into their database as a Y, an entry in such a field could delay, or even prevent, a hoped-for reunion. Other agencies post a photo array of dogs that have been found, so that an owner can examine the photos to see if his/her dog is among them. The clear picture is worth a thousand words.

Orange County (Florida) Animal Services has taken the important next step. They have removed breed labels from all kennel cards and from the website. Prospective adopters read short descriptions often accompanied by full-body photographs of the available dogs, but unencumbered by a breed label that is inaccurate more often than not, and does not furnish the kind of information needed to decide if this might be the right dog to join their family. The website’s photo array includes lost dogs, as well, but never a breed label.

For anyone who has lost a dog, or anyone looking for a new best friend, the animal services website is a good place to start; but there is no substitute for visiting the shelter in person.

Orange County, population 1.2 million, includes Orlando and a dozen other incorporated communities. Animal Services is an open admission facility, taking in, according to its website, approximately 20,000 animals each year.

Those interested in reading about Orange County Animal Services new policy, and seeing how they display and describe their dogs, can do so here:

http://www.orangecountyfl.net/Portals/0/Library/Animals-Pets/docs/Breed%20Descriptions.pdf