Home Page Forums Darwin’s Ark Mutt Project

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    dawn miller

    Wow, guessing the breeds in these dogs is humbling. I might have to google search some of these choices to remind myself of what they look, walk and act like. I haven’t been around many of them in real life.

    I haven’t gotten all the way through yet. Do we eventually get to see how closely we guessed?
    oops, went back to read the home page. We do find out after 2 months. Makes sense


    brittney logan

    Hi Car2ner,

    Thank you for participating in our Mutt Mix project! We are so excited to see what people guessed, and yes you are correct, by the end of the two months we will share with you the breed results for each dog.

    For other participants that may not have heard about it, check it out and guess away at these mixed dogs!



    I loved seeing some of the results you’ve shared so far on Twitter. Is the formatting on those a “sneak peek” of sorts at what the results eventually to be shared with those whose dogs were genotyped might look like?

    I regularly browse a subreddit where people post the results of their dogs’ breed ancestry DNA tests, so I wasn’t too surprised to see how complex some of the mixes shared so far seem to be, nor how little some of those dogs resemble much of anything detected in them. It’s unfortunate how marketing pressures tend to result in shelters feeling a need to ascribe a simple “A x B”-type mix guess to mutts put up for adoption–as in, “We think handsome Happy is a Lab/Border Collie mix!” Among other issues, that can tend to create a false expectation in people’s minds that if Happy looks kinda sorta like a Lab, well then he must be largely Lab, when in reality he might have no Lab in him at all. That in turn could lead to some pretty off-base expectations about what kind of energy level, interests, and social behavior your newly adopted mutt will turn out to have, especially if it hasn’t spent a good amount of time with a foster who’s had opportunities to observe some of those qualities in a variety of situations.

    Just out of curiosity, are you able to say at this point whether reported results might include any info about the dog’s genotype for various physical traits whose genetic bases are known? For example, whether a dog is merle, or whether it’s a dominant (Agouti locus) red vs. a recessive (Extension locus) red, etc.? I realize such findings are unlikely to be of much interest from your end, given the study’s emphases, but was just curious as to what range of “translated into plain English” genotype info you were thinking of providing.


    brittney logan

    Hi Jennifer, great questions. The answer to them is yes, the result format that you are seeing on our Mutt Mix project is the same format we will use for Darwin’s Dogs results. We plan to have the “breed call” information in the donut plot format with the percentages of each breed. We also plan to have much more detailed information about your dogs genetics, such as the genes responsible for fur color etc. Currently, we are working on Darwin’s Dogs (which will be rename Darwin’s Ark) new and improved look by recreating the webpage, which means improving how we will share your results. We are excited to launch the new webpage in the next few months!


    beth fabrizio

    I completed the “Mutt” survey and in many cases the main breed I would have guessed was not on the list. One of them looked identical to my friend’s registered purebred. It could be coincidental or because you don’t have that breed for comparison. But, how would you know if the breed isn’t included? Around 12 the purebred dogs owned by friends are not on the list. So, did you limit the list to only the breeds found in these dogs or are these the only breeds you (meaning your testing lab) have for comparison? How are the breeds selected for inclusion and exclusion? Several popular (top 50) breeds are not included. I believe there are around 400 dog breeds and I doubt any testing lab has DNA for all of them. And it seems doubtful any of the “types” (often pedigreed but not breed club registered working dogs) are included – although the American Kennel Club is adding many of these breeds. I ask because the accuracy of the survey depends on the accuracy of the comparison set of DNA. Is it really a mutt if it comes from a hundred plus year old breeding program but isn’t registered with a kennel club? If a dog’s breed isn’t on the list, the results will be nonsensical. From a scientific standpoint, how do you resolve this? Can you post both a short answer and a link to your methodology?

    How accurate are the breed tests even for a single breed like Labradors? Do the testing labs have samples from dogs bred in multiple locations and countries? How about show dog breeders versus backyard breeders? Border collies are primarily working bred – how do the testing labs select dogs to include as samples? If a shelter says Happy is a lab/border collie mix and the genetic test says poodle/dalmation/pug, is the shelter really wrong or the test?
    I have read that most shelter dogs are a complete hodge podge (more than 4 breeds.) I wonder if that is actually true of “most” shelter dogs or does it reflect the limits of DNA tests.



    That’s a lot of questions! ** 🙂 ** I don’t know whether you saw the MuttMix project’s [FAQs]( page–it actually does have answers to several of them, such as how were the reference panel breeds chosen and where did that data come from, how do the genotyping and low-coverage sequencing work, how accurate is the breed-calling algorithm and how was that determined, what happens if one of the breeds in a dog isn’t included in the reference panel, etc. Not as much detail as you’re looking for in some cases, but there are answers there.

    I know your post wasn’t in response to me, but I’m maybe a little puzzled as to what your intended line of questioning is? Those are good questions about the diversity of the reference panel, but at some points it almost comes across as if you’re making a kind of all-or-nothing argument, where either the reference panel must include all possible genetic signature variants across all regional strains and all recognized subtypes of every known breed, or else the results will be gibberish. But there’s an awful lot of middle ground between those things. If a test dog happens to be, say, 50/50 McNab/Dutch Shepherd (highly unlikely since both are rare, but just as an example), and neither breed were in the reference panel, then the results won’t be right-on-the-money accurate, but that doesn’t mean they could come out as any old random hodgepodge. The dog might for example get called as BC/GSD (very close relatives with extensive haplotype sharing), or as those two + some % “No Call,” or as those two + some % [other closely related breeds] + some % “No Call,” or simply as “No Call,” depending not only on the diversity of the reference panel, but also on the algorithm’s probabilistic modeling and the quantity and ancestry-informative value of the markers queried for the genotyping/sequencing. But the dog certainly wouldn’t get called as equal parts Poodle, Dal and Pug (no matter which currently available breed test you’re talking about); no way is there going to be sufficient matching for calls like that. If instead it were a megamutt, and Poodle, Dal and Pug were just calls on single-digit-percentages’ worth of its DNA, then in that case way-off-base false positives become significantly more possible, since with distant purebred ancestors like that you’re reduced to making inferences from tiny portions of DNA.

    With Embark and Wisdom Panel results, off the top of my head, I’ve seen ABCA Border Collies test as purebred Border Collies, NSDR-registered ACDs test as purebred ACDs (no NSDR dogs were in the reference panels), UKC-registered APBTs test as AmStaffs (both tests have since added APBT to their reference panels), and an FCI-registered Saluki from Bahrain test as high-content Saluki with some “mixed”/indeterminate. (Embark also has the nice feature of including village/pariah dogs from several international locations in their reference panel, which in some cases has enabled them to ID imported street dogs from Asia and Europe that had came back 100% “mixed”/indeterminate with Wisdom Panel.) These are all just anecdotes, but the point is, while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to “What would happen if…,” neither does any testing service’s algorithm default to eeny-meeny-miny-moe when slam-dunk matches are lacking.

    Regarding using BYB dogs in a reference panel, I’d imagine that would be highly inadvisable in most breeds’ cases, due to increased risk that some of your samples won’t really be purebred.

    Having been a shelter volunteer for 23 years, my own experience is that shelter mix guesses are more often than not based on the crudest, most seat-of-the-pants visual assessments–and we don’t, of course, make any attempt whatsoever to seriously consider the possibility that Happy might have 4+ breeds in him when formulating guesses; there’s no way the human brain can simultaneously evaluate the likelihood of that many theoretically possible combinations for producing a dog with the cumulative assortment of separately inherited physical and behavioral traits that you see in front of you. In reality, even just a basic knowledge of coat genetics alone will immediately make evident how many of the breed mixes you’ll see ascribed on e.g. Petfinder are at best incomplete, if even partially correct. (To turn your line of questioning around: Does the average shelter worker know what other patterns and colors BCs come in besides dominant black with Irish spotting–or even that those two are separately inherited traits, which are in turn masking other heritable colors? Does s/he know the difference between a field-bred Lab and a bench-bred Lab in conformation? Does s/he realize that 1st gen Lab mixes are almost always black regardless of the Lab parent’s color, that 1st-gen Poodle mixes usually have wire coats that can make them dead ringers for terrier mixes, that the unique Dalmatian spotting pattern is recessive so a 1st gen Dal mix can’t express it, that a 1st gen Pug mix can’t be black-and-tan? No to every one of those, at least in every shelter I’ve ever volunteered at–and if s/he doesn’t know those things, what are the odds that s/he has any meaningful idea at all what other potential mixes of “Top 50” breeds might produce a dog that looks like Happy?) I’d love to think that years of working with assorted shelter mutts and purebreds has made me an expert at ID’ing mixes by looks alone, but in reality it’s only driven home for me how hopeless that endeavor is, unless *maybe* we’re talking picking up on something with a really extreme phenotype being in the mix (sighthound, Chow, Pug, to some degree pit types)–and even then, at best that only tells me one breed or there. And mutts can only beget mutts, so yes, it’s entirely plausible that the statistically typical US shelter mutt would be a multimix, even when it does happen to have one purebred parent.

    IMO, one really cool thing about this study is the wealth of new ancestry-informative data the purebreds in it will contribute to future reference panels, due to the low-coverage sequencing.


    shayna sessler

    Hi! I am in the middle of the Mutt Project survey and it’s a little frustrating when the breeds I want to guess aren’t on the list. I don’t think there are any erect-eared, short/smooth coated terriers on the list (rat terrier, min pin), “corgi” doesn’t have breed distinctions and “poodle” doesn’t have size distinctions, the only large/tall hound is a bloodhound, and so on. So there are characteristics I see in these mixes that I think would best match a breed that’s not on the list. It makes it difficult to answer the survey. I know that breed guesses are often pretty inaccurate regardless, so maybe that’s the real lesson I need to take from this.


    brittney logan

    Hi everyone, first off thank you for participating in our Mutt Mix Project! I think many of your questions/concerns can be answered by the Mutt Mix FAQ.

    You will see that we had to use a reference panel to sequence the dogs and that is why there is a limited list of breeds to choose from.


    kristen johnson 2

    I just love this whole thing. I love that mutts are getting studied. I’m very partial to mutts!

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