February 23, 2016
Categories: Shelter Medicine

How well do you think shelter staffers and veterinarians do at identifying dogs who are — or aren’t — the type of dog known as a pit bull?

If you said “not too well,” a recent study funded by Maddie’s Fund® and conducted by researchers from the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida suggest you’re right. And in an environment where many dogs who are labeled as “pit bulls” face everything from difficulty in finding a home to death, pointing out that such identifications are unreliable may be their best chance at a good future.

From the study report on the UF website:

Different shelter staffers who evaluated the same dogs at the same time had only a moderate level of agreement. This lack of consistency renders their visual identification of a dog’s breed inherently unreliable.

Limitations in available DNA profiles make absolute breed identification problematic. However, when visual ID was compared with DNA test results, the assessors fared even worse. Dogs with pit bull heritage breed DNA were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which of the staff members was judging them. Conversely, dogs lacking any genetic evidence of relevant breeds were labelled as pit bull type dogs from 0 to 48 percent of the time, the researchers reported.

One in five dogs genetically identified with pit bull breeds were missed, and one in three dogs lacking DNA for pit bull breeds were labeled pit bulls by at least one staff member.

Veterinarians didn’t perform any better than other assessors when comparing DNA profiles to their visual identification of the dogs’ breeds.

Want to see the entire study? #ThanksToMaddie, it’s available free online: Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff

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