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Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff

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Shelter staff and veterinarians routinely make subjective dog breed identification based on appearance, but their accuracy regarding pit bull-type breeds is unknown. The purpose of this study was to measure agreement among shelter staff in assigning pit bull-type breed designations to shelter dogs and to compare breed assignments with DNA breed signatures. In this prospective cross-sectional study, four staff members at each of four different shelters recorded their suspected breed(s) for 30 dogs; there was a total of 16 breed assessors and 120 dogs. The terms American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, pit bull, and their mixes were included in the study definition of 'pit bull-type breeds.' Using visual identification only, the median inter-observer agreements and kappa values in pair-wise comparisons of each of the staff breed assignments for pit bull-type breed vs. not pit bull-type breed ranged from 76% to 83% and from 0.44 to 0.52 (moderate agreement), respectively. Whole blood was submitted to a commercial DNA testing laboratory for breed identification. Whereas DNA breed signatures identified only 25 dogs (21%) as pit bull-type, shelter staff collectively identified 62 (52%) dogs as pit bull-type. Agreement between visual and DNA-based breed assignments varied among individuals, with sensitivity for pit bull-type identification ranging from 33% to 75% and specificity ranging from 52% to 100%. The median kappa value for inter-observer agreement with DNA results at each shelter ranged from 0.1 to 0.48 (poor to moderate). Lack of consistency among shelter staff indicated that visual identification of pit bull-type dogs was unreliable.
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Inconsistent identification of pit bull-type dogs by shelter staff
K.R. Olson
a
, J.K. Levy
a,
*, B. Norby
b
, M.M. Crandall
a
, J.E. Broadhurst
c
, S. Jacks
d
,
R.C. Barton
e
, M.S. Zimmerman
f
a
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
32610-0126, USA
b
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
c
Jacksonville Humane Society, Jacksonville, FL 32216, USA
d
Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, Jacksonville, FL 32204, USA
e
Tallahassee Animal Services, Tallahassee, FL 32311, USA
f
Marion County Animal Services, Ocala, FL 34480, USA
ARTICLE INFO
Article history:
Accepted 20 July 2015
Keywords:
Dog
Breed
DNA
Behavior
Aggression
ABSTRACT
Shelter staff and veterinarians routinely make subjective dog breed identification based on appearance,
but their accuracy regarding pit bull-type breeds is unknown. The purpose of this study was to measure
agreement among shelter staff in assigning pit bull-type breed designations to shelter dogs and to compare
breed assignments with DNA breed signatures. In this prospective cross-sectional study, four staff members
at each of four different shelters recorded their suspected breed(s) for 30 dogs; there was a total of 16
breed assessors and 120 dogs. The terms American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Stafford-
shire bull terrier, pit bull, and their mixes were included in the study definition of ‘pit bull-type breeds.’
Using visual identification only, the median inter-observer agreements and kappa values in pair-
wise comparisons of each of the staff breed assignments for pit bull-type breed vs. not pit bull-type breed
ranged from 76% to 83% and from 0.44 to 0.52 (moderate agreement), respectively. Whole blood was sub-
mitted to a commercial DNA testing laboratory for breed identification. Whereas DNA breed signatures
identified only 25 dogs (21%) as pit bull-type, shelter staff collectively identified 62 (52%) dogs as pit bull-
type. Agreement between visual and DNA-based breed assignments varied among individuals, with
sensitivity for pit bull-type identification ranging from 33% to 75% and specificity ranging from 52% to
100%. The median kappa value for inter-observer agreement with DNA results at each shelter ranged from
0.1 to 0.48 (poor to moderate). Lack of consistency among shelter staff indicated that visual identifica-
tion of pit bull-type dogs was unreliable.
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND
license (
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Introduction
As pet dog ownership in the United States passes 70 million,
mixed breed dogs have nearly overtaken purebreds in the propor-
tion of owned dogs (
American Veterinary Medical Association, 2012).
Even when purebred dogs are acquired, it is most commonly for
companionship and not for the working roles for which they were
historically developed. Despite the decreased focus on purpose-
bred dogs, breed assignment continues to influence how dogs are
viewed and managed (
Simpson et al., 2012). This is true even when
the actual breed of dog, if any, is unknown.
Guessed breed designations are often included in veterinary
records, dog licenses, animal shelter records, pet adoption web-
sites, lost-and-found notices, housing applications, and insurance
policies (
Voith et al., 2013). Visual breed assessments have been
shown to be erroneous more frequently than not
1
(Voith et al., 2009,
2013
). The past few decades have seen an increase in ownership
restrictions applied to certain breeds of dogs and dogs that resem-
ble them. The restrictions are based on the assumptions that certain
breeds are inherently dangerous, that those breeds can be reliably
identified, and that restricting these breeds would improve public
safety.
When dogs bite people and other animals, the suspected breed
of dog reported by witnesses is often listed in official bite reports
filed by hospitals or animal control facilities.
1
Media coverage of dog
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 352 273 8722.
E-mail address:
levyjk@ufl.edu (J.K. Levy).
1
Croy, K.C., Levy, J.K., Olson, K.R., Crandall, M., Tucker, S.J., 2012. What kind of dog
is that? Accuracy of dog breed assessment by canine stakeholders (Abstract). In: 5th
Annual Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference, Orlando, USA.
http://sheltermedicine
.vetmed.ufl.edu/education/research-studies/current-studies/dog-breeds/
(ac-
cessed 27 June 2015).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2015.07.019
1090-0233/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/
4.0/
).
The Veterinary Journal 206 (2015) 197–202
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
The Veterinary Journal
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tvjl
bite-related injuries has been shown to be more extensive and to
report the suspected breed more frequently when witnesses report
a pit bull or guard-line breed as involved.
2
The sources and relia-
bility of this breed reporting have been questioned (
Collier, 2006;
Patronek and Slavinski, 2009; Voith et al., 2009, 2013; Patronek et al.,
2010, 2013).
A study of all dog bite-related fatalities that occurred during the
10-year period 2000–2009 reported that 90% of the dogs involved
were described in at least one media account with a single breed
descriptor, potentially implying that the dog was purebred (
Patronek
et al., 2013
). However, approximately 46% of the dogs in the US are
mixed breed dogs (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2012),
and it seemed unlikely to the authors that purebred dogs would be
disproportionately represented among the dogs involved in these
incidents. Further, in only 18% of the cases were the authors able
to make a valid determination that the dog involved was a member
of a distinct, recognized breed (
Patronek et al., 2013). Neverthe-
less, unverified reports of the dog breeds involved in serious and
fatal incidents have been used to develop opinions regarding per-
ceived danger levels of different breeds
1
(Voith et al., 2009, 2013;
Patronek et al., 2013
).
These opinions have led to restrictions or outright bans on certain
breeds by municipalities, insurance companies, homeowner asso-
ciations, and animal shelters. It has been estimated that as of 2009,
restrictions regarding ownership of dozens of breeds were in place
in more than 300 jurisdictions in the US (
Berkey, 2009). Most re-
strictions name ‘pit bull’ as a regulated ‘breed,’ but many also include
Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German shepherd dogs, and Chow
Chows, among more than 30 others.
‘Pit bull’ is not a recognized breed, but a term applied to a het-
erogeneous group whose membership may include purebred dogs
of various breeds, along with dogs presumed to be mixes of those
breeds. Use of this descriptor varies according to the recognized
breeds included and the opinions of the observers (
Patronek et al.,
2013). Nevertheless, dog owners, animal shelters, insurance com-
panies, veterinarians, and the public frequently use the term ‘pit
bull’ casually and in official documents, as though it describes a
single, recognized breed. The lack of a universally accepted defi-
nition of ‘pit bull’ and reliance upon the opinion of observers
complicate identification of dogs targeted for regulatory control by
‘breed bans’ (
Hoffman et al., 2014). Most, but not all, breed-
specific ordinances in the US include with the term ‘pit bull’ the
American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and Stafford-
shire bull terrier, along with dogs that, based upon their appearance,
are deemed to resemble these breeds.
Since actual pedigree information is not usually available, de-
termining the likely breed of dogs that may fall under breed-
based restrictions requires a subjective assessment of the dog’s
appearance. Recently, DNA analysis has been used to investigate
the breed heritage of individual dogs targeted in breed restriction
cases. However, the largest testing service does not offer a DNA
test for identification of American pit bull terriers. Additionally, it
does not provide a test for ‘pit bulls’, since the term variously
refers to a loose collection of breeds and their mixes or to dogs
with similar morphology rather than a group of dogs with a con-
trolled gene pool.
Shelter staff members and veterinarians routinely make
subjective breed assessments as part of daily shelter operations.
They also may be tasked with providing expert opinions regard-
ing the likely breed of individual dogs involved in breed regulation
cases. Depending upon the regulatory environment and/or the
beliefs of shelter managers, the stakes may be high for dogs iden-
tified as pit bulls and for their owners
3
(Voith et al., 2009).
The primary objective of this study was to determine the level
of agreement among shelter workers in designating pit bull-type
breeds for shelter dogs. A secondary objective was to compare shelter
workers’ breed assignments with DNA breed signatures.
Materials and methods
Study sites
Four Florida animal shelters were recruited. These shelters admitted 2520–
10,154 dogs in the calendar year prior to the study. At each shelter, managers assigned
three staff members and one shelter veterinarian whose regular duties included as-
signment of breed designations to newly admitted dogs to participate in the study
as dog breed assessors. Each assessor completed a questionnaire regarding their shelter
experience and previous training in dog breed identification. In addition to the vet-
erinarians, assessor job titles included animal control officers, kennel staff, veterinary
assistants/technicians, and customer service staff. The assessors might or might not
have had previous knowledge of the dogs selected for the study.
Dogs
At each study site, 30 healthy dogs 2 months of age and older were selected by
the research team to phenotypically represent a variety of age, body size, body types,
coat length, and coat color. In the case of related dogs (dams and litters), only one
dog from each family was selected. Only dogs that staff considered safe to handle
were eligible for inclusion. The breed previously assigned to each dog at the time
of shelter admission was recorded for comparison. The cage card for each dog was
covered so that the breed previously assigned at intake was not visible to the dog
breed assessors. The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Animal Care
and Use Committee at the University of Florida on 7 March 2011.
Subjective breed assessment
At each shelter, the four dog breed assessors were given a list of the selected
dogs and asked to assign a primary breed for each dog based on its physical ap-
pearance. Assessors could assign a secondary breed if they felt that it was indicated
and could select ‘mixed breed’ if they felt there were no defining characteristics that
allowed a specific breed identification. Assessors were allowed to list any breed and
were not provided with a predetermined list of breeds to choose from. They were
escorted as a group by a research team member to the front of each dog’s kennel
and did not move to the next dog until all assessors had recorded their breed des-
ignations. The assessors were not allowed to confer with anyone or to view any intake
paperwork, cage cards, computer records, or references while the study was in
progress.
For the purposes of this study, the terms American pit bull terrier, American
Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, pit bull, and their mixes were in-
cluded in the study definition of ‘pit bull-type breeds’ because these terms are
frequently included in laws regulating dog ownership based on breed or pheno-
type. For each dog, the breed assigned by the shelter prior to the study and the breeds
assigned by each shelter staff member during the study were coded by the inves-
tigators as ‘pit bull-type’ if any of these breed terms were included as the primary
or secondary breed identification. The breed identification was coded as ‘not pit bull-
type’ if none of these breed terms was included.
Dog physical assessments
Following the shelter staff breed assessment, each dog was photographed,
weighed, measured from the floor to the top of the shoulder, and assessed by the
research veterinarian for body condition using three categories (underweight, ideal
weight, overweight). Physical characteristics including coat length, coat type, coat
color, ear type, tail type, age (juveniles 6 months, adults 6 months and older), sex,
and reproductive status were recorded.
DNA assessment of dog breeds
Three milliliters of whole blood was collected from each dog into EDTA tubes
for DNA analysis. Samples were shipped to a commercial DNA analysis laboratory
(Wisdom Panel Professional Canine Genetic Analysis, Mars Veterinary)
3
at room tem-
perature by overnight courier on the day of collection. DNA was extracted and typed
2
Delise, K., 2007. Pit bulls prohibited. In: The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths
and Politics of Canine Aggression. Animals. Anubis Publishing, Denver, pp. 8–55.
(Chapter 8)
http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/publications/
230603563_Pit%20Bull%20Placebo.pdf
(accessed 27 June 2015).
3
See: Mars Veterinary, 2014. Mars Wisdom Panel website. FAQs: I don’t think my
dog looks like the breeds detected in the Wisdom Panel analysis. Can you help me
understand this?
http://www.wisdompanel.com/why_test_your_dog/faqs/#35 (ac-
cessed 27 June 2015).
198 K.R. Olson et al./The Veterinary Journal 206 (2015) 197–202
at 321 different single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across the genome using
selective hybridization and PCR amplification, followed by a discriminatory single
base-pair primer extension reaction. The SNP genotypes were detected by mass spec-
trometry. The laboratory then used a Bayesian generative model to infer the family
tree of a dog from comparison of detected genotypes with 226 breed signatures de-
veloped previously from more than 9700 pure bred dogs. Inference was performed
on 11 different family tree models, and the best-fit model was selected using the
deviance information criterion (
Martin et al., 2010).
Results from the DNA analysis laboratory included major breed composition per-
centages in increments of 12.5%. If breed compositions were identified in amounts
<12.5%, these breeds were listed as ‘minor breeds.’ American pit bull terrier and pit
bull were not included in the 226 breed signatures. Dogs were coded as ‘pit bull-
type’ if the breed American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier was
identified to comprise at least 12.5% of the breed signature.
Statistical analysis
Agreement among shelter staff for identification of pit bull-type dogs and between
shelter staff and DNA breed signatures was assessed with the kappa statistic ac-
cording to the following criteria: κ < 0.01, poor agreement; 0.01–0.20, slight agreement;
0.21–0.40, fair agreement; 0.41–0.60, moderate agreement; 0.61–0.80, substantial
agreement; 0.81–1.00, almost perfect agreement (
Landis and Koch, 1977). Findings
were considered to be significant when P < 0.05. The 95% confidence intervals (CI)
for sensitivity and specificity estimates were calculated using the exact method. All
analyses were performed with statistical software (Stata, StataCorp).
Results
Staff members and dogs selected for the study
A total of 16 shelter staff members, including four shelter vet-
erinarians, participated in the study. All staff members had at least
3 years of shelter experience, but only one reported any formal train-
ing in dog breed identification (
Table 1). The 120 dogs selected for
the study comprised 20–25% of the dogs present in each of the four
shelters on the day of the study visit and represented a range of
ages, sexes, and phenotypes (
Table 2). Juveniles included two puppies
estimated to be 2 months of age, 12 estimated to be 3–4 months
of age, and 12 estimated to be 5–6 months of age, based on dentition.
Inter-observer agreement for visual breed identification
Using visual identification only, the median inter-observer agree-
ments and kappa values in pair-wise comparisons of each of the
five staff breed assignments (one admission breed and four asses-
sor breeds) for pit bull-type dog vs. not pit bull-type dog ranged
from 76 to 83% and from 0.44 to 0.52, respectively (
Table 3).
DNA breed signatures
Using DNA identification, of the 120 dogs chosen for participa-
tion in this study, 25 (21%) were identified with pit bull-type heritage
(comprising at least 12.5% American Staffordshire terrier or Stafford-
shire bull terrier) by DNA breed signatures. The breed signatures
in these dogs belonged to American Staffordshire terrier in 19 dogs,
Staffordshire bull terrier in four dogs, and both breeds in two dogs.
According to the breed signatures, none of these 25 dogs were pure-
bred or contained more than 50% contribution of either breed.
Agreement between visual and DNA-based breed assignments
The median inter-observer agreements and kappa values in pair-
wise comparisons of each of the five staff breed assignments (one
intake breed assignment and four breed assessor assignments) with
the DNA breed signature for pit bull-type or not pit bull-type ranged
from 67 to 78% and from 0.1 to 0.48, respectively (
Table 3). Se-
lected examples of breed identification by staff assessment and DNA
analysis are provided (
Table 4).
Of the 25 dogs identified as pit bull-type dogs by breed signa-
ture, 12 were identified by shelter staff as pit bull-type dogs at the
time of admission to the shelter (prior to the study visit), includ-
ing five labeled American Staffordshire terrier mix, four pit bull mix,
two pit bull, and one American Staffordshire terrier. During the study,
20/25 dogs were identified by at least one of the four staff asses-
sors as pit bull-type dogs, and five were not identified as pit bull-
type dogs by any of the assessors. Overall, the mean sensitivity of
visual identification of pit bull-type dogs was 50% (95% CI, 44–
56%). The breeds assigned to these dogs by the four staff assessors
included pit bull (67%), American pit bull terrier (8%), American
Staffordshire terrier (25%), and their mixes.
Of the 95 dogs (79%) that lacked breed signatures for pit bull her-
itage breeds, six (6%) were identified by shelter staff as pit bull-
type dogs at the time of shelter admission, and 36 (38%) were
identified as pit bull-type dogs by at least one shelter staff asses-
sor at the time of the study visit. Overall, the mean specificity of
visual identification of non-pit bull-type dogs was 83% (95% CI,
78–89%).
Table 1
Occupation and training of shelter staff members responsible for assigning breeds
of dogs in four Florida animal shelters.
n %
Current job title
Veterinarian 4 25
Veterinary technician 4 25
Animal control officer 2 13
Customer service 3 19
Animal care 3 19
Years of shelter experience
<300
3–5 9 56
6–10 4 25
11–15 2 13
>15 1 6
Breed identification training
a
Formal training 1 6
Mentored on the job 14 88
Studied breed book 5 31
Other dog experience 12 75
No training 4 25
a
Total responses >100% because respondents could select more than one item.
Table 2
Demographic features of 120 dogs selected for visual and DNA breed assignments
in four Florida animal shelters.
Characteristic n %
Age
Juveniles (6 months) 26 22
Adults (>6 months) 94 78
Sex
Females 52 43
Males 68 57
Body weight (kg)
<11 26 22
11–20 47 39
21–30 35 29
31–40 11 9
>40 1 1
Height (cm)
20 1 1
21–30 13 11
31–40 17 14
41–50 48 40
51–60 34 28
>60 7 6
Body condition
Underweight 8 7
Ideal weight 97 81
Overweight 15 12
199K.R. Olson et al./The Veterinary Journal 206 (2015) 197–202
Accuracy in breed assignment as determined by sensitivity and
specificity based on DNA breed signatures varied among individ-
ual staff assessors, with sensitivity for pit bull-type breed
identification ranging from 33 to 75% and specificity ranging from
52 to 100% (
Table 5). Veterinarians were not more likely than other
shelter staff members to assign breeds that were consistent with
the DNA breed signature.
Discussion
A key finding of this study was that agreement among differ-
ent shelter staff members evaluating the breeds of the same shelter
dogs at the same time was only moderate. Lack of consistency among
shelter staff in breed assignment confirmed that visual identifica-
tion of pit bull-type dogs was unreliable.
There is no standardized breed signature for the mixed breed
dog known as the ‘pit bull,’ and the surrogate DNA breed signa-
tures used in this study were for the American Staffordshire terrier
and the Staffordshire bull terrier. One in five dogs genetically iden-
tified with pit bull heritage breeds were missed by all shelter staff
at the time of the study. One in three dogs lacking DNA evidence
for pit bull heritage breeds were labeled pit bull-type dogs by at
least one shelter staff member.
These findings are consistent with previous reports of poor inter-
observer agreement among individuals attempting to identify the
predominant breeds of dogs. In a large Internet survey, a national
sample of 5922 self-identified ‘dog-experts,’ including breeders, ex-
hibitors, trainers, groomers, behaviorists, rescuers, shelter staff,
veterinarians, and veterinary technicians, was recruited to com-
plete an anonymous Internet survey in which they selected the most
likely breed for dogs depicted in photographs.
1
One hundred dogs
were included in the Internet survey, and each respondent was ran-
domly shown photographs (front facial and lateral whole body) of
20 of these dogs. Based on the photographs and information about
the height, weight, sex, and age of each dog, respondents selected
from a drop-down menu of 181 breed options, including ‘no pre-
dominate breed.’ An average of 53 different breeds was selected for
each dog, ranging from a low of 11 breeds selected for a purebred
Beagle to a high of 84 different breeds for a single mixed-breed dog.
In another study, 923 survey takers involved in dog-related pro-
fessions and activities watched 1 minute color videos of 20 different
dogs, and based on the images and information about age, weight,
and sex, recorded one or two predominant breeds or ‘mix’ (
Voith
et al., 2013). Agreement among survey participants was poor, with
at least half of respondents agreeing on the breed for only 7/20 dogs.
Our findings are also consistent with previous reports compar-
ing visual breed identification with results of DNA breed profiles.
In a study of 20 dogs adopted from 17 different agencies, the age-
ncy’s breed designation matched DNA breed profiles in only four
dogs (
Voith et al., 2009). In the subsequent study using videos of
the same dogs, visual breed identifications matched DNA results less
than half of the time in 14/20 dogs in the study (Voith et al., 2013).
Table 3
Inter-observer agreement for identification of pit bull-type dogs based on breed assignment by staff at the time of shelter admission, breed assignment made by four shelter
staff assessors, and DNA breed signature.
Median % agreement among staff members in visual
identification of pit bull-type dogs (range)
Median κ (range) Median % agreement between staff members and DNA breed
signature for identification of pit bull-type dogs (range)
Median κ (range)
Shelter 1 80 (70–93) 0.44 (0.13–0.79) 77 (73–80) 0.38 (0.26–0.44)
Shelter 2 76 (59–90) 0.44 (0.19–0.61) 67 (53–77) 0.10 (0.07–0.22)
Shelter 3 83 (77–90) 0.52 (0.23–0.67) 75 (67–87) 0.24 (0.07–0.52)
Shelter 4 77 (70–93) 0.46 (0.23–0.82) 78 (77–87) 0.48 (0.38–0.60)
Table 4
Examples of staff member breed assessments and DNA breed signatures for several study dogs.
Dog Photo Intake breed Staff 1 Staff 2 Staff 3 Veterinarian Prominent DNA
breeds (%)
Dog 7
Labrador retriever
mix
American
Staffordshire
Labrador retriever
American
Staffordshire
Labrador retriever
American
Staffordshire
Labrador retriever
Pit bull
Labrador retriever
Irish water spaniel (25)
Siberian Husky (25)
Boston terrier (25)
Dog 8
Boxer mix Boxer
Labrador retriever
American
Staffordshire
Chow Chow
Boxer
Labrador retriever
American
Staffordshire
Greyhound
Boxer (25)
Alaskan Malamute (25)
Dog 9
American
Staffordshire mix
American
Staffordshire
American
Staffordshire mix
Pit bull American pit bull
terrier
American bulldog (50)
American Staffordshire (50)
Dog 11
Australian cattle
dog mix
Australian cattle
dog
Border collie
Catahoula
Labrador retriever
Australian cattle
dog
Border collie
Australian cattle
dog
Border collie
Australian cattle dog (25)
American Staffordshire (25)
Dog 59
Pit bull Pit bull mix Pit bull American pit bull
terrier mix
Pit bull mix American bulldog (50)
American Staffordshire (50)
Dog 62
Terrier mix Jack Russell terrier
Hound
Basenji
Labrador retriever
Shar-Pei
Rat terrier
Chihuahua mix Chow Chow (25)
American Staffordshire (25)
Siberian Husky (25)
200 K.R. Olson et al./The Veterinary Journal 206 (2015) 197–202
Dogs were selected for the Internet survey if they were reported
to have at least one breed that comprised at least 25% of their DNA
profile.
1
Visual identifications were considered correct if at least one
named breed matched at least one breed in the DNA profile. On
average, visual breed identifications matched DNA breed signa-
tures for only 27% of dogs; 6% of dogs were never correctly identified.
Although these previous studies included dogs with pit bull-type
DNA breed signatures in 10% (
Voith et al., 2009, 2013) and 23%
1
of
the dogs tested, respectively, the topic of identification of pit bull-
type dogs was not specifically discussed.
Participants in two of the studies overestimated their ability to
correctly identify breeds visually. In the Internet survey, 68% of re-
spondents predicted they would correctly identify breeds at least
half of the time, but only 4% actually did.
1
In the study using videos,
after the survey was completed, respondents attended an educa-
tional session in which the heredity of phenotypic attributes was
discussed and images of breed crosses that looked nothing like their
parents were displayed (
Voith et al., 2013). Despite being pre-
sented with evidence of the poor correlation of physical appearance
with breed composition in mixed breed dogs, some respondents
clung to their opinions that the DNA results must be wrong; authors
of the study called for the completion of similar studies to confirm
the findings in additional dogs (
Voith et al., 2013).
The commercial DNA testing laboratory used in this study re-
ported an average accuracy of 84% in first-generation crossbred dogs
of known parentage.
3
The breed distribution tested represented 45%
of American Kennel Club registrations. The accuracy of the test in
dogs with more than two breeds and in dogs lacking any pure-
bred heritage is unknown.
Most shelter management software programs have pre-populated
drop-down menus of dog breeds that staff members select from
when dogs are admitted to the shelter. The two commercial shelter
software programs used in the study shelters listed 200–250 dog
breed terms, including pit bull terrier, pit bull mix, American pit bull
terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, and Staffordshire bull terrier.
Breed is a required field for the creation of new dog records, and
staff do not have the option of leaving it blank if they are uncer-
tain of the breed assignment.
As demonstrated in the current study, guessing breeds based on
visual appearance is fraught with error. In a previous study, the off-
spring of a cross between a purebred Basenji and a purebred Cocker
Spaniel did not physically resemble either parent (
Scott and Fuller,
1965). When those offspring were backcrossed to either of the pa-
rental breeds, even more variability in physical phenotype occurred.
This occurs because dog breeds contain a variety of genetic vari-
ants for specific traits and these are not reliably expressed in a 1:1
ratio when mixed with other breeds.
3
Breed designations have been used in attempts to predict future
behavior or personality, such as activity level, trainability, friend-
liness, or propensity for aggression, but recent studies have
demonstrated that the behavior of individual dogs varies widely both
within a breed and between breeds (
Svartberg, 2006; Martinez et al.,
2011; Casey et al., 2013, 2014). In addition, modern purebred dogs
often lack the behaviors that were historically selected for when
dogs were bred and used for specific functional tasks (
Svartberg,
2006). There have been no reports correlating the behavior of cross-
bred dogs with that expected of the parental breeds. A pair of large
studies examining patterns of aggression in dogs found no associ-
ation between aggression and specific breeds (
Casey et al., 2013,
2014). These reports found that aggression tended to occur in a single
context, such as a strange person entering the house or encoun-
tering an unfamiliar dog on a walk, rather than being generalized
over a wide variety of circumstances. There was a low association
between inter-dog aggression and human-directed aggression. To-
gether these findings suggest that dogs are more likely to show
aggression in response to situational perceived ‘threats’ rather than
to have a general trait of aggression.
The lack of a correlation between the appearance and behavior
of individual dogs with that of their crossbred parents highlights the
fact that inherited genes determine what could happen, and not nec-
essarily what will happen. Pedigree analysis can explain the degree
of relatedness but does not necessarily predict which morphologi-
cal or behavioral traits are expressed in mixed-breed dogs. This is an
important concept to consider when educating the public either in
the areas of law or adoption. Mixing breeds is not like mixing paint.
The regulation of certain dog breeds is controversial, with little
evidence that breed bans have resulted in decreased serious or fatal
dog bite-related injuries (
Klaassen et al., 1996; Rosado et al., 2007;
Overall, 2010; Patronek et al., 2010). Regulation of particular breeds
has been challenged in court, as has the breed identification of in-
dividual dogs
4
(Patronek and Slavinski, 2009). In 2011, the US
Department of Justice ruled that the Federal Americans with Dis-
abilities Act supersedes any local breed restrictions and allows disabled
persons to keep service dogs of restricted breeds (
VanKavage, 2011).
In many jurisdictions, animal shelter staff members and veteri-
narians are considered to be experts in breed identification and are
asked to visually assess dogs to determine whether they should be
categorized as pit bulls or other regulated ‘breeds’ based on their
physical features alone
4–6
(Simpson et al., 2012). As more cases of
4
See: Iowa State Legislature, 2006. State of Iowa Citizen’s Aide/Ombudsman. In-
vestigation of Maquoketa’s Pit Bull Ban Ordinance and Enforcement 2006.
https://
www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/CAO/Invstgtv_Reports/2007/CIWPA007.PDF
(accessed 27
June 2015).
5
See: Miami-Dade, 2014. Municipal Code Sec. 5–17, In: Chapter 5 Animals and
Fowl,
http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientID=10620&stateID=9&statename
=Florida
(accessed 27 June 2015).
6
See: Denver, 2015. Denver, Colorado Code of Ordinance-Tile II, InL Chapter 8,
Pit Bulls Prohibited,
https://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientID=10257&stateID
=6&statename=Colorado
(accessed 27 June 2015).
Table 5
Sensitivity for identification of 25 pit bull-type dogs and specificity for identifica-
tion of 95 non-pit bull-type dogs as determined by DNA breed signature at the time
of shelter admission and by four shelter staff members.
Number
identified
by staff as pit
bull-type
Sensitivity,
% (95% CI)
Specificity,
% (95% CI)
Shelter 1
Admission breed 5 5/8, 63 (25–91) 22/22, 100 (85–100
a
)
Assessor 1 8 4/8, 50 (16–84) 18/22, 82 (60–95)
Assessor 2 6 3/8, 38 (9–76) 19/22, 86 (65–97)
Assessor 3 6 4/8, 50 (16–84) 20/22, 91 (71–99)
Veterinarian 6 4/8, 50 (16–84) 20/22, 91 (71–99)
Shelter 2
Admission breed 3 1/3, 33 (1–91) 25/27, 93 (76–99)
Assessor 1 6 1/3, 33 (1–91) 22/27, 81 (62–94)
Assessor 2 15 2/3, 67 (9–99) 14/27, 52 (32–71)
Assessor 3 13 2/3, 67 (9–99) 16/27, 59 (39–78)
Veterinarian 9 2/3, 67 (9–99) 20/27, 74 (54–89)
Shelter 3
Admission breed 5 2/6, 33 (4–78) 21/24, 88 (68–97)
Assessor 1 4 3/6, 50 (12–88) 23/24, 96 (79–100
a
)
Assessor 2 7 3/6, 50 (12–88) 20/24, 83 (63–95)
Assessor 3 6 2/6, 33 (4–78) 20/24, 83 (63–95)
Veterinarian 8 2/6, 33 (4–78) 18/24, 75 (53–90)
Shelter 4
Admission breed 6 4/8, 50 (16–84) 20/22, 91 (71–99)
Assessor 1 4 4/8, 50 (16–84) 22/22, 100 (85–100
a
)
Assessor 2 7 4/8, 50 (16–84) 19/22, 86 (65–97)
Assessor 3 8 5/8, 62.5 (24–91) 19/22, 86 (65–97)
Veterinarian 11 6/8, 75 (35–97) 17/22, 77 (55–92)
CI, 95% confidence interval by exact method.
a
One-sided 97.5% confidence interval.
201K.R. Olson et al./The Veterinary Journal 206 (2015) 197–202
breed identification involve DNA analysis and are challenged in court,
veterinarians could be called to testify or even be held liable should
their breed identification opinions be found to be in error (
Berkey,
2009; Simpson et al., 2012
). The results of this study confirm that
shelter staff members, including veterinarians, frequently dis-
agree with each other on whether dogs fall into the pit bull-type
category, and their assessments of whether or not a dog was a pit
bull-type only moderately agree with DNA breed profiles.
Limitations of our study include unknown sensitivity and speci-
ficity of the DNA breed testing and lack of a DNA test for American
pit bull terrier. There is also no DNA test for ‘pit bull,’ since this term
refers to a phenotype, not a pedigree. The test for the Bayesian anal-
ysis used by providers of the DNA testing relied on breed signatures
of purebred dogs selected for the database and not a representa-
tive randomized sample of all dogs, which might be a source of
inaccuracy. In addition, relatively little information exists regard-
ing the accuracy of the DNA test for identifying the breed
composition of mixed breed dogs. Nonetheless, the key finding in
this study was that the poor agreement among staff members in
pit-bull type dog identification indicates that many errors in visual
breed identification were made, even if it was not possible to de-
termine with certainty which of those identifications were wrong.
Conclusions
The marked lack of agreement observed among shelter staff
members in categorizing the breeds of shelter dogs illustrates that
reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible,
even by experts. This has special significance to the topic of re-
strictive breed regulations, since such regulations are based on the
faulty assumptions that (1) certain breeds or phenotypes are in-
herently dangerous, and (2) that those breeds and their mixes can
be identified by observation. Since injuries from dogs have not de-
creased following bans on particular breeds, public safety is better
served by focusing on recognition and mitigation of risk factors for
dog bites, such as supervising children, recognizing canine body lan-
guage, avoiding approaching an unfamiliar dog in its territory,
neutering dogs, and providing adequate socialization and compan-
ionship for dogs and identification and management of individual
dangerous dogs and reckless dog owners.
Conflict of interest statement
None of the authors of this paper has a financial or personal re-
lationship with other people or organizations that could
inappropriately influence or bias the content of the paper.
Acknowledgements
This study was made possible by support from Maddie’s Fund
and the Merial Veterinary Scholars Program. Mars Veterinary con-
tributed DNA testing services for breed identification. The authors
thank the staff of the four animal shelters that participated in this
study and Sylvia Tucker, Niora Fabian, and Jaime Willson for tech-
nical assistance.
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Objective: To examine potentially preventable factors in human dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) on the basis of data from sources that were more complete, verifiable, and accurate than media reports used in previous studies. Design: Prospective case series. Sample: 56 DBRFs occurring in the United States from 2000 to 2009. Procedures: DBRFs were identified from media reports and detailed histories were compiled on the basis of reports from homicide detectives, animal control reports, and interviews with investigators for coding and descriptive analysis. Results: Major co-occurrent factors for the 256 DBRFs included absence of an able-bodied person to intervene (n = 223 [87.1%]), incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs (218 [85.2%]), owner failure to neuter dogs (216 [84.4%]), compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (198 [77.4%]), dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs (195 [76.2%]), owners' prior mismanagement of dogs (96 [37.5%]), and owners' history of abuse or neglect of dogs (54 [21.1%]). Four or more of these factors co-occurred in 206 (80.5%) deaths. For 401 dogs described in various media accounts, reported breed differed for 124 (30.9%); for 346 dogs with both media and animal control breed reports, breed differed for 139 (40.2%). Valid breed determination was possible for only 45 (17.6%) DBRFs; 20 breeds, including 2 known mixes, were identified. Conclusions and clinical relevance: Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these. Study results supported previous recommendations for multifactorial approaches, instead of single-factor solutions such as breed-specific legislation, for dog bite prevention.
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Dogs show considerable variation in morphology, genetics and behaviour caused by long periods of artificial selection. This is evident in the large number of breeds we have today. Behavioural differences among breeds have often been regarded as remnants from past selection during the breeds’ origin. However, the selection in many breeds has, during the last decades, gone through great changes, which could have influenced breed-typical behaviour. In order to investigate this, breed differences were studied using data from a standardized behavioural test from 13,097 dogs of 31 breeds from the Swedish dog population. Based on the test results, breed scores were calculated for four behavioural traits: playfulness, curiosity/fearlessness, sociability and aggressiveness. These traits have previously been found to be stable and valid, and hence regarded as personality traits in the dog. The present results suggested large differences between breeds in all of the investigated traits, even though there were within-breed variations. No relationships between breed-characteristic behaviour and function in the breeds’ origins were found. Instead, there were correlations between breed scores and current use of the breeding stocks, which suggest that selection in the recent past has affected breed-typical behaviour. The breeds’ use in dog shows, the dominating use in general, was negatively correlated with all investigated traits, both in sires and in dams. In contrast, use in Working dog trials was positively correlated with playfulness and aggressiveness in sires. Thus, these results suggest that selection for dog show use is positively correlated with social and non-social fearfulness, and negatively with playfulness, curiosity in potentially threatening situations and aggressiveness, whereas selection for Working dog use is positively correlated with playfulness and aggressiveness. Furthermore, correlation analyses show that popular breeds have higher sociability and playfulness scores than less popular breeds, suggesting that a positive attitude towards strangers is an important characteristic of a functional pet dog and desirable by dog owners. This indicates that selection towards use in dog shows may be in conflict with pet dog selection. Furthermore, these results suggest that basic dimensions of dog behaviour can be changed when selection pressure changes, and that the domestication of the dog still is in progress. A standardized behavioural test, like the one used in this study, is suggested to be highly useful as a tool in dog breeding programs.