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Who's That Pup?

Elles Rijsdijk/EyeEm/Getty Images

About 3.3 million dogs wind up in shelters every year. Without a family tree, shelter staff have to guess the pups’ breeds based on their appearance. But a new study shows that this method, called visual breed identification, isn’t always correct.

To check the accuracy of visual breed identification, scientists at the University of Arizona collected DNA from more than 900 shelter dogs. After using the DNA to identify each pup’s breeds, they calculated that shelter staff had correctly guessed the dogs’ heritage less than 10 percent of the time.

“If shelters moved away from breed labels, adopters could focus on the dogs’ behavior—the stuff that really matters,” says psychology professor Lisa Gunter, who led the study.