Citizen science project diagnoses dog DNA: The MuttMix project

Are you something of a dog connoisseur? Can you tell a Brittany from a German Shorthaired Pointer? A new citizen science project that’s just been launched to the public is testing whether we can identify dog DNA just by looks; cat people need not apply.

The survey ‘MuttMix’ is an initiative of Darwin’s Dogs; a project of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, and U-Mass Medical School; and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

The MuttMix project is collecting data from citizen scientists through a survey that presents two photos and a video of a mixed-breed dog. With no information other than its physical appearance, you are asked to identify the top three breed contributors to the dog’s DNA. Sounds easy, right?

What is MuttMix investigating?

The measured effect of the citizen science projects is twofold: this survey asks, can we identify mixed breeds by looks? A separate analysis of dogs and their owners will determine if our preconceptions and treatment of certain breeds can affect their behaviours.

The importance of dog breeds weighs heavier than we realise. How many times have you heard a dog owner say, “I’ve got a Labrador” rather than “I’ve got a dog”? If the breed isn’t clear when meeting a new dog, the first question asked is often, “what breed is he?”

Understanding the effect of our relationships with certain breeds is important when you consider the stigma around certain dogs like Pit Bulls.

In explaining this, MuttMix states: “What we expect about a dog’s personality based on breed could affect their behavior. What if, when we think a dog will be great with kids, it means we treat him in such a way that he is relaxed and comfortable around them, rather than tense and wary?”

Try your hand at citizen science

You can pit your guessing abilities against the survey until 16th June 2018. Enter the MuttMix project here.


Pro tip: We’d definitely recommend attempting only if you’re familiar with a lot of different dog breeds. There is a list of dog breeds to choose from with no picture identification. If you’re not familiar with dogs, prepare to do a lot of googling!


– Eliza Brockwell

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