Why Are All The Dog Breed Labels Unknown?


If you’ve looked at our list of available dogs, you might be wondering what happened to the breed labels. Why is each dog listed as unknown instead of an actual breed or breed mix?

The majority of the dogs entering NAHS are of mixed, unknown parentage, and no one can assign a breed label accurately based only on a dog’s appearance. When a dog of unknown breed comes into any shelter or rescue organization, even the animal welfare professionals will disagree about what breeds they see in the dog. The truth is, unless there’s a pedigree or a DNA test to review, no one can tell a dog’s breed or mix with 100 percent (or most times with even 50 percent) certainty. 

Fun Fact: Of the approximately 20,000 genes in a dog’s genome, only 50 of those genes (or less than 1 percent) determine physical appearance. All dogs are individuals and appearance does not determine how a dog will behave.

With this information, you might wonder why we ever applied breed labels. The shelter database software we use and our other processes have, in the past, required that we assign a breed or breed mix to every dog in our organization. And with no proof of breed, we're guessing. Guessing, though, places unfair expectations about size, behavior, and other personality traits of the dog. Because the breed is often wrong, then expectations are often incorrect as well.

When we’re asked, “What kind of dog is that?” our honest answer is “We don’t know. We prefer to focus on the dog’s personality traits.”

If we have a dog in our care for which we have proof of purebred lineage, we will certainly share that information with you. However, if a dog just looks purebred, we will not assign a breed because we don’t know for sure. What we do know for sure is that looks can be deceiving.

At NAHS we are always searching for ways to improve the organization and the lives of the animals we serve. Our staff conducts research around what’s new in the field in order to make educated decisions on what to implement at our organization. Being able to evolve makes us better and improves the lives of our animals.

If you’d like to learn more about removing breed labels in the shelter environment, please visit