Figuring out what breeds of dog went into creating your precious "Heinz 57" takes a little detective work and your best deductive reasoning skills. It also helps if you have a dog encyclopedia or poster displaying all the recognized AKC breeds.
Coat Type and Colors
Tri-color Australian Shepherd Standing. image by Valentine from Fotolia.com
Look closely at your dog's coat and feel its texture. Terms referring to coat texture are: wiry, long-haired, short-haired and curly. Note the predominant color. Colors range from white and off-white to black and everything in between. Color terms include merle, blue, red, brindle, pied (spotted) and roan, among many others. Once you have determined what your dog's coat color and texture are, make a list of the purebred dogs with those same coat colors and textures. For example, if your dog has a short, brindle coat, there are a handful of breeds he could be a partial member of including boxer, mastiff, American staffordshire and greyhound. Narrow down your list by visiting the AKC website and searching under "brindle-coated dogs." Note there are different colors of brindle including black, red and brown.
Ear and Tail Types
German Shepherd Dog standing in water image by bright from Fotolia.com
The terms for ear types are pretty straightforward. Bat ears look like, well, the ears of a bat. Long, pendulous ears are just that, erect ears are straight up and round-tipped ears stand up and are rounded at the tip. It gets a little more complicated from here. Rose ears are folded backwards, button ears stand up and then curve down at the tips. There are other descriptions: filbert, v-shaped, hooded and candle-flame. Take a look at your dog and determine what kind of ears best match his.
The same goes for tail types. In tails, there is the curly-q, bobtail, flagpole, rat, saber, natural and sickle. Looking at your dog's tail. Is it a natural bobtail -- a tiny stump of a tail? Or does it look plush and long, like that of a wolf? Figuring out ear and tail type will help you narrow down even further the breeds of dog that may have gone into your little angel. Look for purebreds with a tail and ears similar to yours.
Bulldog anglais image by Olivier from Fotolia.com
If your dog is a puppy, you may have to wait until he has reached his adult weight and his body type is set before you attempt to deduce his breed using this method. Taking into consideration your dog's weight and height, look for breeds that match his size or is close to it. At this point, you may have several breeds narrowed down. Naturally, since your dog is a mixed breed, it is possible you may have a big variety of ancestral dogs, or just two.
Head types are blocky, apple, domed, snippy, down, broken-up and dish. There are plenty of websites that offer diagrams and samples of these heads such as Caninest.com and Dog.com. Determine what type of head your dog has, then try to match it with one of the head types. Once you have done that, you can check the AKC website to see which dogs have that type of head. By this time, you should have narrowed down your dog's lineage to a few breeds of dog.
DNA Testing Kit
If you want to be absolutely sure of your dog's heritage and don't want to go through the trouble of figuring it out on your own, there are canine DNA testing kits available where ever pet supplies are sold. The kit includes instructions and a swab for gathering saliva from the inside of your dog's mouth. The most prominent breeds will be detected through this testing method. You may be surprised at what you find out because your dog may look nothing like the breeds he came from. The test results can be back in as little as five days. These kits sell for about $50 to $100 as of this publication.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.