Science & Technology

Can You Guess Which Dog Breeds Make Up a Mutt?

Do you want to sign up to be a part of a science experiment? This isn't the beginning of a B-movie that ends with you destroying the city with your mutant lobster claw. We swear this is something you'll have a lot of fun doing. All you need to do is look at a bunch of cute puppers and doggos and guess what kind they are.

Meet the Mutts

Ready to get started? We don't blame you. Here's the link. And here's how it works. You'll be shown about 40 dogs with hybrid backgrounds — in other words, mutts. Your task will be to guess the three breeds that make up the largest percentage of that mutt's background. You'll get a couple of training pages where you can find out right away if you were right or not, but for most of your answers, you'll have to wait. After the study has run for 60 days, you'll receive a certificate of thanks and the correct answers. Yes, it's bound to be an agonizing wait, but that's the price of making sure your samples aren't contaminated.

So who is behind this research, and what are they trying to figure out? The MuttMix Project is a collaboration between the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Darwin's Dogs, a multi-university project cataloging the evolution of doggy DNA. Basically, the study wants to find out how good the average dog lover is at guessing the ancestry of various mutts. The idea is that people associate different breeds with different behaviors (while border collies are widely accepted as particularly smart dogs, other breeds have less enviable reputations). If they can't even accurately guess what kinds of breeds go into a mutt, then all of those assumptions about behavior go flying out the window. After this study, the IAABC intends to set its sights on the second part of the problem: does the breed ancestry of a mutt actually influence its behavior? But that is a question for another day.

Barking Up the Family Tree

Speaking of other questions, the group contributing valuable genetic data to this particular study is also involved in a number of other fascinating dog-based research projects. Darwin's Dogs arose from a collaboration between U-Mass Medical School and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Their mission? Mapping the evolution of our canine companions, from the very first wolves to brave a human's campfire to your Pekinese who's scared of brooms (and who is also a shoo-in for their Dog of the Month club). All you have to do is enroll, then send a hair, saliva, blood, or stool sample in with a photo and description of your pup. Voila — both you and your dog furthered the cause of science today.

Learning about your dog's DNA might make you curious about your own genetic makeup. 23andMe will send you an easy-to-use DNA sample kit that you can mail in for a complete analysis of your health and ancestry. If you make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Origin of Dogs

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 4, 2018

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