I spend my weekends looking at photos of dogs.
On rescue websites, I’ll filter for specific breeds like golden retrievers or beagles, in the hopes that I’ll find the so-called “perfect” dog to adopt who sheds little and sleeps at regular hours. But as I’ve learned, there are plenty of reasons to consider every dog when you’re looking to rescue an animal.
In a survey that asked nearly 6,000 dog experts — including shelter staff, vets, groomers, and behaviourists — to correctly identify the breed of a number of pooches, researchers at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that these dog pros were wrong more than two-thirds of time, which is why we shouldn’t always take adoption ads at face value.
You can’t always trust adoption labels
As the University of Florida writes, because dogs can be so easily misidentified, you can’t always trust dog breed labels when you’re at a rescue or on websites like the RSPCA.
And consider those pooches labelled pit bull or any other supposedly “aggressive” breed that can so easily sway prospective adopters; a 2018 study that followed one rescue found that dogs labelled “pit bull,” whether correctly identified as such or not, waited nearly twice as long to be adopted. You might very well skip over your dream dog because of misconceptions you may have about supposed breed behaviour because of a simple label.
Dogs’ personalities can vary
“All dogs are individuals,” Dr. Julie Levy, a vet and researcher who surveyed dog experts, told the University of Florida. “Siblings have very different personalities even though they have the exact same parents. It’s not like mixing paint where you have a predictable outcome.”
While research is sparse, there are a few studies which seem to link personality to breed. A 2008 study found that certain behaviours correlate with some dog breeds without any encouragement or training, which suggests that there must be some sort of genetic component responsible, io9 writes; according to the study, this is most apparent with hunting and working dogs.
A more recent study compared data of breeds to a survey of 50,000 owners who reported characteristics of their pets based on 14 primary characteristics; researchers found that certain qualities may be more heritable, like trainability, chasing, and aggression to strangers. But as one researcher noted in the study, there isn’t much research on within-breed variation when it comes to behaviour — not all golden retrievers or huskies are alike, after all.
I spend at least an hour a day scrolling through my Instagram feed, looking at pictures of cats. I send photos of cute rescue cats with names like ‘Moo’ and ‘Bathmat’ to my friends. I ask people about their cats a lot, too. “Does she shed a lot? Can you send me photos?”
Find a dog that’s been fostered
It’s not that breed shouldn’t be considered at all during the adoption process—especially if you’re considering a purebred dog.
Certain breeds, like huskies, require more exercise; other breeds, such as bulldogs, have known health issues, like cardiovascular issues and hip dysplasia. Still, if you’re looking for specific personality traits, your best bet is to find an organisation that’s spent some time with the dog you’re interested in.
The best way to do this is by looking for a dog that’s been fostered. You’ll get way more insight from a foster on a pooch’s personality traits and potential health issues than you will through an online ad.
There comes a point in your life when you reach the natural conclusion that the only thing missing is an animal. It often happens after you leave your childhood pets behind when moving out from the family home, have a stable job and living arrangements and a moderately healthy social life. While everything else seems to be going great, you're left with a dog-shaped hole in your heart.