In a recent article in the Washington Post, Karen Brulliard tells about Hubble, the pet of a University of Massachusetts Medical School professor. To some observers, Hubble looks like a Wheaten terrier, and as such, likely to be an enthusiastic hunter of underground vermin, like our badger-hunting Kerries.
In fact, DNA tests show that Hubble is in fact mostly Goldendoodle, all fluff and fun, with a low prey drive. So researchers are interested in how well ordinary people can guess dog’s breed when their bloodlines are in fact mixed. That’s because our beliefs about what kind of dog it is will influence the way we treat the animal.
To find out about this connection, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT have created an online quiz called “Mutt Mix.”
Data from this “citizen science” survey (created by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), will tell us a lot about how people perceive breeds and mixes, how different breed mixes affect the appearance of a dog, how well people can guess their canine friends’ ancestries from looks alone, and how that might affect our lives with dogs. This information is vital to many future projects throughout the scientific world.
To take the quiz, go to iaabcprojects.org and read the instructions for taking the quiz. Be forewarned: you will view 31 dogs and from dropdown menus showing the breeds identified in their actual DNA, you’ll pick which breeds you think are the most predominant in their makeup. There are some practice items first, and for those you’ll be able to find out immediately whether you’ve guessed right or wrong. But you won’t be able to find out your answers to the real questions, since obviously the researchers don’t want those to become known to other people who might take the test. The expected date for publication of the study’s results is mid-June.
The larger study of which the Mutt Mix project is a part is called “Darwin’s Dogs.” It’s led by Elinor Karlsson, a professor of bioinformatics and integrative biology. It involves collection of saliva samples from thousands of dog owners, who have also been asked to complete a questionnaire about the pets. The researchers hope to see whether well-established mental disorders are associated with behaviors that have been selected by humans, such as retrieving, and also on quirks that seem unlikely to have been either learned or taught (for example, crossing paws, tilting heads or eating grass.
The information gained from this larger project could help owners dealing with a challenging pet (i.e., why the rescue you thought was a Goldendoogle behaves like a Kerry Blue!). It may also help us understand human psychiatric ills (see an article by Heidi Ledford in Nature for January 26, 2016: 9
Link to the Mutt Mix project: http://iaabcprojects.org/