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When it comes to man’s best friend, purebreds aren’t as popular as you might think. In fact, more than half the dogs in American living rooms and backyards are mutts. The first-ever National Mutt Census lets pet owners trace the roots of their pooch’s family tree, revealing the most popular varieties in the nation’s mixed-breed dog population of 38 million.
Mars Veterinary, headquartered in Rockland, Md., invited mutt owners to participate in an online survey. Each respondent supplied info about their dog’s size, weight, place of origin, feeding and exercise habits, and health. That information, along with an additional 36,000 samples collected from mixed-breed dogs, underwent analysis to determine the breed history of each dog.
One key finding: The most common breeds registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are not necessarily the ones most often found in mixed-breed dogs. For example, while German shepherds are popular both as purebreds and mixes, the chow chow, a popular purebred in the 1980s, is now commonly found at the grandparent or great-grandparent level among mixed-breed dogs tested. And American Staffordshire terrier mixes appear to be growing in popularity despite a trend of declining AKC breed registrations.
“The results of this poll provide a vivid snapshot of past and present trends in mutts,” explained Angela Hughes, veterinary genetics research manager at Mars Veterinary. “The DNA of America’s mixed-breed dogs tells a story of which breeds were popular in past decades. If a breed was trendy in the past, but has fallen from popularity, it may still represent a large portion of the current mixed-breed population.”
According to the National Mutt Census, the top 10 most popular breeds found in the mixed-breed population are:
1. German shepherd (the second most popular AKC-registered breed)
2. Labrador retriever (most popular AKC breed)
3. Chow chow (63rd most popular AKC breed)
4. Boxer (sixth most popular AKC breed)
5. Rottweiler (13th most popular AKC breed)
6. Poodle (ninth most popular AKC breed)
7. American Staffordshire terrier (70th most popular AKC breed)
8. Golden retriever (fourth most popular AKC breed)
9. Cocker spaniel (23rd most popular AKC breed)
10. Siberian husky (22nd most popular AKC breed)
The poll also revealed the following trends among dog owners:
Shelter dogs rule: Shelters are the most frequently cited place (46 percent) where people obtain mixed-breed dogs, followed by a friend, neighbor or relative (18 percent).
Mutts nibble on kibble: Dry dog food is the most popular feeding choice (65 percent), surpassing mixed wet and dry food (21 percent), wet food (5 percent) and raw food and scraps (9 percent).
The dog is man’s best friend by night as well as day: Nearly half of owners (48 percent) reported that their dog slept with them.
Bigger isn’t necessarily better: Breeds weighing more than 80 pounds represent less than 11 percent of all mixed-breed dogs.
Bugs are a bugaboo: Flea and tick prevention is a core element to responsible pet care, but 69 percent of respondents reported that they don’t use flea and tick control medicines regularly.
Population control: Nearly nine out of 10 (89 percent) mixed-breed dogs are neutered.
This “mutt-makeup” poll follows on the heels of Mars Veterinary’s do-it-yourself cheek-swab dog DNA kits, which became available over the counter in 2007. The Insights analysis kit enables pet parents to test for about 185 breeds. Since it was released, more than 60,000 mixed-breed dogs in America now have their own individual “family trees” outlining their genetic makeup.
The subsequent ancestry report sent to those dog owners reveals genetic background that helps explain physical traits as well as behaviors like digging, herding and barking. Once pet parents understand their dog’s natural tendencies, it’s possible to tailor training, exercise and nutrition programs to fit their pooch’s one-of-a-kind needs.
Although the survey is officially over, the information gleaned state by state is still available to pet lovers at www.MuttCensus.com.