It's such a common question. You ask it. I ask it. And yet, with so many people adopting dogs nowadays, it's a tough question to answer. "Some sort of mutt" is the most typical response I hear.
People ask me all the time what kind of dog Kono is. According to the Wisdom Panel test I did when I first brought him home, Kono is 25% American Staffordshire Terrier, 12.5% Mastiff, 12.5% Chow Chow, 12.5% GSD (German Shepherd), and 37.5% Supermutt (sporting or herding breeds).
I keep it simple—I like to say Kono is 100% Derp.
It's actually quite fascinating from a social norms standpoint. Why is that usually the first question we ask? Are we looking to gain more knowledge on that dog's personality or tendencies? Are we trying to categorize the dog in our minds? "Oh he's an Akita—must be stubborn. A border collie? Super smart." And then begs the question—do we genuinely care about genetics or is it "all about how you raise them"?
It's [NOT] All in How You Raise Them
As a bully breed owner, I used to be adamant about the fact that it's all in how you raise them. I thought that the best way to advocate for "pit bulls" (not a breed in the way the general public thinks it is, but that's another post for another day) was by ignoring genetics. But the reality is that there is a lot more to behavioral issues than doing everything "right"—and as first-time owners, we get a lot of shit wrong.
Imagine bringing an Australian Shepherd puppy home to a tiny apartment in New York City. You do everything you can to socialize it properly. You bring it to puppy training classes each week. You've researched the most appropriate puppy diet and the best training treats to use. But its day-to-day primarily looks like staying confined in the apartment while you go to work.
Soon, you start to notice behavioral issues in your puppy. Intense fixation on birds, to the point of obsession. Chasing small children. Barking incessantly at anyone who walks past your door. You did everything right in raising your puppy, so what went wrong?
While every behavioral case is different, in this hypothetical, made-up situation, it may simply be a matter of the puppy not being fulfilled. Australian Shepherds are bred to be herding dogs and are extremely intelligent. They're driven to work and to herd, and need a lot of mental stimulation. Without proper fulfillment, it's no wonder behavioral issues have shown up in your make-believe puppy.
I'm not saying that proper socialization and training aren't important. They definitely are, and to a certain extent, behaviors can be changed with training. My point is more that we can't mold every dog into the right dog for our lifestyle (nor is it fair to them). It's important to consider not necessarily the specific breed(s), which may be mislabeled, but the types of breeds your dog is.
What Breed Group is Your Dog?
It may be easier to understand your individual dog if you got it from a reputable breeder. You should be able to look into your puppy's bloodline, understand certain traits it may have gotten from its parents, and have the breeder choose a puppy that works for you and your lifestyle.
But what about that mutt you adopted from a shelter who was found as a stray? If you do choose to do a DNA test (Wisdom Panel and Embark are two popular tests), pay attention to the groups your dog's breeds are in. For example, here are Kono's groups, according to his DNA test:
American Staffordshire Terrier — Terrier Group
Mastiff — Working Group
Chow Chow — Non-Sporting Group
German Shepherd — Herding Group
Based on what I know of these groups, I can infer that Kono like to work and guard, which makes sense. He's keenly aware of his surroundings, up for anything, and is strongly bonded to his pack.
Understanding Kono's genetics also helps me to understand what fulfills him, which is why we spend so much time training together. He loves to learn and he's eager to please, so as long as I've given him a physical and mental outlet, he's also chill just hanging out next to me while I work. Is that because he's part Mastiff? Maybe. Does the fact that he's part German Shepherd explain why he's good with young children? Possibly.
I have a hunch that we know our dogs as individuals better than we know them as breeds. So maybe the next time you see a friend with their dog, you can say instead, "What are your dog's personality and quirks like?"
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