Happy Rescue with New OwnerYou’ve just brought your newest best friend back from the shelter. It was mutual love at first sight, even though other people may not think he’s much to look at.

You’re thrilled, he’s thrilled, and the rest of the family is thrilled.

But, in your quiet moments, while you sit on the porch with your feet tucked under his dozing body, you may wonder exactly what breed of dog he is. The folks at the shelter said, “Well, we think he has some yellow Lab.”

Now, you can get a dog DNA test to find out your dog breed, which may surprise some people. Don’t all dogs have wolf DNA?

The good news is that the breeds are separate enough to be able to tell them apart.

In the meantime, here are some clues that can narrow your dog’s breed.


Size is what really tells the breeds apart. Dogs are either small, like chihuahuas, medium like labs or large like Great Danes.

They are measured not from the top of their head but from the highest point of their shoulders, or withers.

Shape of the Head

Head shape has also been divided into three categories. The dog has a round head, a long head or a square head.

A long-headed dog is a borzoi, a round-headed dog is a beagle, and a square-headed dog is a mastiff. Round-headed breeds tend to have short noses while long-headed breeds have long noses that may elegantly taper.

Square-headed breeds often have powerful jaws and squashed-in faces, because many of them were bred to fight.

Shape and Length of Ear

The shape and the size of the ears are some of the most variable characteristics in a dog. Some dogs have long, floppy ears such as hounds, while others have erect ears such as the miniature pinschers.

Other dogs have short ears, like the Italian greyhound. The one caveat is that a dog’s ears can be changed by cropping them, which is a bit cruel but is still done in places.

Ask if you think your dog’s ears were cropped and what his natural ear shape should be.


Dog’s tails are also varied, but they’re not the most reliable marker of the breed. Again, the tails of some dogs are traditionally and unfortunately docked, as can be seen with the Doberman pinscher. Otherwise tails are:

  • Curly. This is usually seen with spitz breeds such as the malamute.
  • Long. Lots of breeds have long tails.
  • Feathered. Feathered tails have long, lush fur on the lower surface of the tail and are seen in gun dogs.
  • Docked. If the dog’s tail is docked, it is small and usually erect.


Like the size of the dog, coats are sometimes diagnostic when it comes to the dog’s breed even if some breeds can have more than one type of coat. The coats are:

  • Short. This coat is smooth and sleek, and the hair lies snugly against the dog’s skin.
  • Long hair. A dog with long hair, like a collie, usually has a dense undercoat. These dogs need a lot of grooming.
  • Wire hair. This is a dense, harsh coat that’s seen on dogs that are bred to work in the undergrowth or in the water.


The personality of a dog is often dependent on what they were bred for, though that’s not always the case. The bulldog, for example, was bred to bait bulls back in England, but now it’s a very biddable companion.

Basically, the personalities of types of dogs are this:

Companion Dogs

Companion dogs tend to be very affectionate, good with children and eager to please their humans. But the small size can fool you.

Terriers may be small but many don’t do well in apartments. They love wide open spaces and lots of exercise.


Many hounds have short coats that are easy to groom.

They are lively and intelligent, but scent hounds can be challenging. If they pick up an irresistible scent on a walk in the woods, it may be hard to call them back.


Spaniels were bred to be gun dogs, and they need both room to exercise and a lot of grooming, especially when it comes to their floppy, furry ears.

Guard Dogs

These dogs tend to be big and muscular and are devoted to their families. Because they tend to be dominant, they need firm and loving obedience training.

They also need a lot of provender. Be prepared for large food bills.

So you have medium sized dog with a round head, short ears, a longish, wheat colored coat and a long, feathered tail. Maybe he’s part spaniel? Part wheaten terrier?

Take the dog DNA test and find out for sure.