Different Dog Breeds

What Breed is My Dog? 4 Ways to Identify a Dog’s Breed

Our veterinarians research and recommend the best products. Learn more about our process. We may receive a commission on purchases made from our links.

Many pet parents that have adopted their dog or have a mixed breed dog often wonder what breed or breeds the dog consists of. Others begin to wonder when they receive questions from friends or family members, and they don’t know the answer. As a result, many pet parents will research ways to identify a dog’s breed and try to identify the breed themselves.

Some dogs’ breeds can be easily guessed just by looking at their size and shape. General appearance, coloring, coat length, and other physical characteristics can lend strong clues as to your dog’s breed. This is especially true of purebred dogs.
However, genetics can be tricky and what the dog looks like is not always what they are. This applies to mixed breed dogs. Luckily, there are some ways to get a more accurate answer! We are going to cover 4 ways to identify your dog’s breed in this article.

The Basics

The first things to look at when attempting to identify your dog’s breed are their physical traits. This is especially helpful if the dog happens to be a purebred, as they are most likely to exhibit common traits for their breed.1
Characteristics of purebred dogs that should be considered include

  • size
  • body conformation
  • coat length
  • color
  • markings
  • head and ear shape
  • tail carriage

These characteristics can often be so strongly representative of a certain breed that the identification is easy. It is even more helpful if you have information or even pictures of the dog’s parents.

Unfortunately, simply looking at the physical traits of a dog is not a completely accurate nor reliable way to identify non-purebred dogs. People often expect the offspring to exhibit a combination of their parents’ looks. However, this is not always the case. Mixed breed dogs, also known as mutts, can definitely look like their parents, but the genetics may mix and result in physical characteristics that look nothing like the parents.2

Another Identifier: Behavior

Looking at how the dog in question behaves can also give clues to its breed. Some examples of this include Golden Retrievers with their notoriously goofy and loving personalities as well as herding breeds that will instinctively try to herd anything that moves, including other pets and children! Labrador Retrievers will do just that – they love to retrieve – and breeds such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds may be overly protective of their homes and families.

Paying close attention to the dog’s behavior can provide some clues about the dog’s breed. However, keep in mind that dogs are individuals and each one has a different personality. Behavior can be part of an overall larger picture of their breed, but it cannot accurately identify their genetics.3

Using Technology: Apps

There are many apps available on the internet that can assist you in identifying your dog’s breed. These apps require you to upload a photo or video of the dog in question. Then, the app uses artificial intelligence to compare your photo or video to other photos and videos in their database. In the end, the app will guess at your dog’s breed.4

These apps tend to be somewhat accurate, especially in dogs that are purebred or mostly one breed. However, the apps struggle to identify mixed breed dogs. These apps can be used only as a tool to narrow down the possibilities, but they cannot identify your dog’s genetics.

Using Science: DNA testing

The most accurate way to determine the genetic makeup of your dog is through DNA testing. These tests use your dog’s DNA to identify their genetic make-up. There are specific DNA sequences that are associated with certain breeds.

The scientists that developed these dog DNA tests first tested thousands of samples, from dogs of known breeds. This research allowed them to accurately identify particular genetic sequences that are associated with specific breeds. When the test is now performed on your dog’s DNA, the test will identify similarities to the known breed-specific DNA sequences.5

On a positive note, these tests are widely available and may be purchased over the counter. The tests are easy to administer by simply swabbing the inside of your dog’s mouth, and results are returned promptly. Also, with the increase in both popularity and competition, dog DNA testing is rather affordable.6

Makers of commercially available dog DNA tests claim they are over 95% accurate. Be aware, however, that although the technology has come a long way over the past few years, inaccurate results do occur.7 This is especially important when it comes to medical and disease susceptibility results, as they can be upsetting to owners. If your dog has results that worry you, you should speak to your veterinarian for advice.

There are many manufacturers of canine genetic DNA tests available, and they offer different things including disease susceptibility and more. It is a good idea to research the different brands and to speak to your veterinarian about which companies they trust for accurate information.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to accurately determine your dog’s breed, especially if they are a mixed breed. There are a number of ways to try to answer this question and using several of the strategies above may be your best bet. First, look at the dog’s physical characteristics and behavioral characteristics to narrow down your guesses. Then you may want to use the online apps to get an even better idea. If you still have questions or want more detailed and accurate genetic information, it may be prudent to purchase a DNA test kit.

Article Sources

Pets Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Knox C. What breed is my dog? (4 ways to find out). Wisdompanel.com. Published July 31, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  2. Hinsley K. Recombination explained: how littermates can look different. Embarkvet.com. Updated July 20, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  3. Pedigree. What breed is my dog? Pedigree.com. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  4. Shea E. New app uses artificial intelligence to identify dogs by breed. Akc.org. Published February 23, 2016. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  5. Burns K. Unlocking the genetic secrets of your dog. Avma.org. Published March 1, 2017. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  6. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance. How dog and cat DNA tests work. Aspcapetinsurance.com. Accessed August 5, 2022.
  7. Dunne J. Is dog DNA testing reliable? Vethelpdirect.com. Published October 19, 2021. Accessed August 5, 2022.
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg
Dr. Jamie Whittenburg is a graduate of Texas Tech University and Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine. A practicing veterinarian for 16 years, she works with cats, dogs, and small exotics. She has a special interest in feline medicine and surgery. In 2013, she opened her own practice, Kingsgate Animal Hospital. When not working, Dr. Whittenburg enjoys hiking and reading.