A now-famous 2012 study conducted by the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida demonstrated just how inaccurate the average human – and most canine experts – are at identifying a dog’s breed mix by sight alone.
Now, a team of scientists from Darwin’s Dogs is searching for volunteers to help further their research on the same subject. They hope to gain insight into how superficial perceptions affect our lives with dogs.
Darwin’s Dogs is a project of the Broad Institute of Harvard & MIT and the U-Mass Medical School. They are dedicated to unlocking the genetic history of our canine companions by studying their DNA.
In conjunction with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the team will launch a “citizen science” effort called the Mutt Mix project on April 16.
Volunteers will be presented with approximately 40 mixed breed dogs and a few purebreds sprinkled in for good measure. They will then be asked to guess which three breeds have the largest percentage of DNA present in each dog’s mix.
The researchers plan to compare the guesses with the pooches’ actual genetic profiles in the hopes of learning more about how people react to dogs based on preconceived notions about breed characteristics.
According to the study’s web page:
“The data collected will tell us a lot about how people perceive breeds and mixes, how different breed mixes affect the appearance of a dog, how well people can guess their canine friends’ ancestries from looks alone, and how that might affect our lives with dogs.”
But the results may be far more valuable. Currently, superficial breed interpretations determine which dogs are adopted or overlooked at shelters and whether or not dog owners can rent apartments or buy homes in certain communities. Insurance companies also have breed-specific regulations, and entire cities have notoriously banned dogs based solely on perceived breed characteristics.
The data from the MuttMix project could help shift the focus from the outside of a dog to the wonderful traits that lie within.
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