CEO Blog: Your WHS is now dog breed-free | Winnipeg Humane Society
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Briggs didn't turn our quite as expected.

We need to stop trying to guess the breeds of our dogs. Let me tell you why.

Briggs was adopted from the WHS as a puppy because we had him listed as a Border Collie mix due to his colours (black & white) and slightly longer fur. He ended up being returned to us for getting “too big” and he truly was much taller and lankier than a typical border collie.

And to add more to our puzzlement, he also behaved nothing like a border collie (no herding instinct or ball drive apparent). He just got adopted again, for the third time, last week.

Briggs is Briggs. He is a dog. He is unique, amazing and we are very confident the third time will be the charm, because we are not labelling him and we will not be labelling our dogs going forward.

A group of your Winnipeg Humane Society staff attended the National Animal Welfare Conference, in Montreal. When they came back to Winnipeg, they reported on their findings and ideas to implement at the shelter. One of these ideas was ‘let’s stop trying to guess the breed of the dog’ or to focus on physical characteristics.

I am very proud to announce that effective Monday, June 3, all Winnipeg Humane Society adoptable dogs will be classified as follows:

  • Small breed
  • Medium breed
  • Large breed

Each dog is an individual. Behavioural and veterinary science, coupled with DNA studies, have proven without a doubt that the outside of a dog has very little to do with its expected behaviour. There is, in scientific terms, a very weak correlation between looks and actual behaviours. Even certified pure breeds don’t always conform with their breed expected behaviours.

We encourage adopters looking for a dog to come and meet our pets. Get to know them, learn about their history, the tricks they have learned, the amazing potential each and every dog we adopt out has. Change is always a bit difficult and we are used to thinking about dogs in terms of breed. Science has debunked that myth, so your Winnipeg Humane Society is joining a growing number of animal shelters doing away with guessing the breed of a dog.

They are all amazing. They are all looking for a forever home. And you will be thrilled to meet them and make them part of your lives.

I had my own experience with this at a National Conference in Ottawa where I met Johanne. Johanne is the CEO of CAACQ, a non-for-profit animal welfare organization, whose focus is to find live outcomes for dogs, and eliminate breed biases.

Johanne conducted DNA tests of over 30 shelter dogs to identify their most predominant breeds in them. Her mission at the conference was to challenge people to look at the pictures and guess the right answer.

So how do you think I did?

If you thought “very poorly” you are right. As it turns out, I failed miserably at identifying most of the dogs. While the exterior of the dog may have looked like, say, a Pitbull, the DNA showed that the dog was actually a Border-Collie Jack Russell mix.

“See”, Johanne told me. “Every dog in your shelter should be labelled ‘Canadian Shelter Dog’ and stop telling adopters the wrong information”

So that’s what we’re doing.

If you want to play a similar game and try your hand at guessing a dog breed, the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants have develop the Mutt Dog Pop Quiz. This could be your chance to realize that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Good luck!

In service,
Javier Schwersensky