What Is A Mutt Dog?

mongrel, mutt dog in the autumn time

You are familiar with dog breeds like Border Collies, Pomeranians, Schnauzers, and most other 197 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Each dog breed is easily recognizable with its unique physical traits and behavioral characteristics that make it easy to differentiate them from other breeds.

In a way, a dog breed’s distinctive trait is the trademark that distinguishes it from other breeds in its species. However, a separate group of dogs defies this logic with their absence of unique traits that make it easy to place them in a dog breed. These dogs are known as ‘Mutts”.

To many, mutts are a blend of different breeds that yield a dog with watered-down and mostly unattractive physical traits. After all, what good is a dog without specific characteristics unique to dogs with pure-bred ancestry? If you choose to abide by this logic, you would have a myopic view of the fact that all dogs are dogs, wagging tails and all.

Thanks to the lousy rep surrounding their “breed’- or lack of- mutts are rarely understood. However, each mutt is unique and getting to know one is like unveiling a beautiful kaleidoscope of traits and features unique to that dog. Below, we have provided all you need to know about Mutts to help you truly understand them.

happy old grey mixed breed dog portrait outdoors in summer

View Table of Contents

What Is A Mutt?

Dalmatians have their unique spotty appearance. Chihuahuas are popularly known for their tiny bodies and big but sassy personalities. These physical and personality traits are what make each of the dogs unique. But what makes a mutt, well… a mutt?

To truly understand mutts and see through the fog that often clouds their bright personalities, it is essential to understand what mutts are. Simply looking around will help you see different types of dogs, some that are easy to recognize and those you probably never knew existed.

From purebred dogs like Akitas to cross breeds/designer dogs like Labradoodles, there are various dogs with various physiological traits that you can often trace back to a specific heritage. However, you will probably come across dogs with distinctly unfamiliar traits that will stop you in your tracks.

Perhaps you might even ask their owner what the breed of the strange pooch is and hear them reply, ‘he’s a mutt’. This reply will undoubtedly leave you in confusion as you ponder what a mutt is and if it is one of the many breeds you simply haven’t heard about.

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘mutt’ is not just a name for another dog breed. However, it is an umbrella term used to describe a group of dogs. Mutts, also called mongrels or mixed breeds, are dogs that do not belong to a particular recognized breed because they have different breeds mixed into their heritage.

In other words, a mutt is a dog made of smatterings of more than three dog breeds, making it difficult to be placed in one breed. Mutts are often a result of breeding without human intervention. Where many human-controlled breeding environments choose to retain a pure-breed heritage by only breeding dogs within the same pedigree or hand-picking two breeds to create designer dogs that fit into the socially-acceptable construct of what dogs should look like, mutts are made without human interference. 

Because mutts can have any breed in their heritage, there is no standard image or definition of what a mutt should look like. This is why mutts come in different color combinations and sizes, and with varying physical traits.

Do Mutts Have An Origin?

While many dogs often have an ‘origin story’, there is no exciting backstory that explains how mutts came around. This is probably the only difference between mutts and dogs that fit into breeds. Mutts have been around for a long time, probably even longer than we know.

Before dog mating and breeding in controlled environments became a way to breed dogs with traits that the breeders find preferable, dogs were out and about and left to mate without differentiation. Without man ingraining their preferences in the canine gene pool, dogs unknowingly explored different breeds, creating a long line of pups that have a little bit of everything in them. 

Although the dogs produced through this process had traits people considered significantly different from the more ‘acceptable’ dog breeds, they were dogs at heart. While these dogs may have been called mutts to insinuate they are inferior as they do not have traits that people prefer, there is nothing inferior about mutts. They are as cute, lovable, affectionate, and trainable as any other dog.

It can be extremely challenging to figure out a mutt’s heritage, especially since it can be a mixture of anything, from purebred to crossbred dogs. However, you might be able to identify several traits of specific breeds. Thus, your dog might have the long body and short legs of a Dachshund and bear a unique Dalmatian fur color.

While you will probably not be anywhere near discovering your mutt’s true personality by trying to identify its breed gene-pool makeup, you will at least enjoy a sense of security knowing some parts of your mutt’s genetic disposition.

How Do You Know A Mutt When You See One?

Although people think that mutts are a small percentage of the entire dog population, mutts are more popular than we think. In fact, there are an estimated 150 million mongrels worldwide, although the number could be much higher. According to a research study, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates the percentage of mixed-breed dogs or mutts out of all the dogs living in households in the USA to be around 53 percent.

In comparison, the American Pet Products Association estimates approximately 44 percent. Regardless of what statistic is accurate, we know that mongrels are common worldwide, and you have probably come across one without knowing it to be a mutt. Since every mutt is unique, with various traits that are usually a combination of the breeds in their ancestry, it can be challenging to know a mutt when you see one.

Although mutts don’t have a uniform physical characteristic, it is often easy to tell a mutt when you see one. Why? Other dogs are either pure-breed dogs or cross-bred, or hybrid dogs. Are there differences between all three that sets them apart? 
The short answer is yes.

As you can tell from the name, a purebred dog is a dog with a ‘pure’ ancestry. This means its parents are of the same breed. These dogs only have a single breed in their origin and have evident traits that make them easy to spot. Since breeders put so much effort into retaining these dogs’ genetics, purebred dogs are often the more expensive.

When it comes to cross-bred, designer, or hybrid dogs (like Shih Tzu mixes, Poodle mixes, and the likes), it is easy to want to lump dogs that fall under this category together with mutts. After all, cross-bred dogs have two breeds in their ancestry, they are bred to be this way on purpose and are usually a product of two different purebred dogs.

Because of conscious breeding efforts, they have an ancestry that can be traced back and often bears the traits of their parents. A mutt, on the other hand, is not a product of conscious breeding efforts, neither is it a dog with just two breeds in its ancestry.

Mutts often have a mixture of three or more breeds in their genetic pool and can be formed by the breeding of a hybrid dog with another hybrid dog or a purebred with a hybrid dog of different species.

How Do You Figure Out Your Mutt’s Breeds?

While many people are happy with just knowing their mutt exists and is part of their home, other people are curious and want to figure out the concoction that is their pet’s genes. Tracing out your mutt’s ancestry is like trying to unknot a thread. It is not entirely impossible, especially with today’s technology, but it will require time, patience, and knowing what to look for. 

With other dogs, their physical traits and personalities are often tell-tale signs that let people easily place them in a breed. However, there are several ways you can try to get to know your mutt better. While these methods do not guarantee success, they will at least point you in the right direction.

1. Physical traits

Mutts display a wide range of physical characteristics, so it will be impossible to state what mutts should or shouldn’t look like. Your friend’s mutt will be very different from yours because the genetic makeup is different due to a different ancestry breed.

Your mutt might be short and stout or tall and lanky, have perky ears or floppy ones, or have a short tail or a screw-like one. Instead of comparing your mutt with another, try to see your mutt as itself. How your mutt looks can help you make a guesstimate of its genetic makeup. To do this, note your mutt’s traits.

  • Body: is it tall or short? Does it pack a lot of muscles? What is its bone structure?
  • Tail: is its tail long, medium, or short? Is it straight, screw-like, carrot-shaped, taper, whip-like, brush-like, sickle-shaped, or tuft?
  • Ears: how long are the ears? What shape is it?
  • Coat: is it short or long? Smooth or coarse? Double? Is it straight or fleece-like? What is the dominant color? Are there any other colors and styles/markings?
  • Muzzle: is it short and flat, medium, or long?
  • Other traits: does your dog have a spotted tongue? Does it have webbed paws? Is it heterochromia? 

By filling in the gaps, you can draw up a list of most likely breeds your dog may be made of based on appearance and see if it fits.

2. Characters

Many purebreds or crossbreed dogs are not only bred for their looks but also to retain certain behavioral traits or characters. Because mutts are made up of different breeds, it can be difficult to classify them based on temperament. Coupled with environment, training, and socialization often influencing a dog’s character, you will quickly find that a mutt’s behavior doesn’t truly mirror who it is.

However, your mutt’s behavior can help identify its lineage. Given their long line of ancestors of different breeds, mutts often exhibit various personalities paired with a considerably milder temperament. However, they may- or may not- displays bits of their ancestors’ traits. Your dog might be sassy, vocal, shy, aloof, loud, or extremely smart, and this can be used as a compass- albeit a not-so-accurate one- to find out what your dog’s genetic makeup is.

3. Take a Test

If your guesses don’t look promising or you cannot arrive at a conclusion, you should order a dog DNA test instead. They are easy to take and offer near-accurate results. With this DNA test, you can get a satisfactory answer to the life-long question of what your mutt is made of.

Young woman with worker choosing which dog to adopt from a shelter.

Why You Should Adopt A Mutt

Mutts have spent their lives in the shadows of the more aesthetically pleasing and acceptable dog breeds due to a false construct that classifies them as an inferior dog breed. Although human preference has segregated these dogs, they are as loyal, loving, and affectionate as any other pure-bred or crossbred dogs. 

Some great reasons you should adopt a mutt include:

  • They are very affordable: While purebred dogs often cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, you can adopt a mutt without breaking the bank. Some shelters even give these cute pups away for free!
  • You’ll save a dog: Mutts are easy to find, but unfortunately, they live in a society where they do not fit in a certain breeding standard. This means they are often left behind in shelters or unfairly euthanized. By adopting a mutt, you can do some good by giving it the love that it will most likely be deprived of and feeling good knowing you just saved a life. 
  • They offer the best of both worlds: Why settle for one trait when you can enjoy a pup with almost limitless possibilities? Your mutt will keep you guessing with its bright mix-and-match personalities that make them unpredictable in a significant way. They will keep you on your toes with exciting personalities and entertain you in a way many dog breeds cannot.
  • They are beautiful: No, mutts are not Frankenstein. They are stunning and often combine the best physical traits of their ancestral breeds. More importantly, you get your very own unique dog with its cool, amazing looks!
  • Mutts are healthy dogs: Although it is still up for debate and research, mutts are undoubtedly healthier because they have a broader ancestry. With purebred dogs, the same breed is mated repeatedly, increasing the risks of genetic diseases. However, a mutt’s unique genetic mixture will make them less likely to be predisposed to specific health problems, causing them to have a longer lifespan. However, it is essential to know that less health risk doesn’t explicitly mean no health risk. Mutts still suffer from common health concerns like allergies, hip dysplasia, cancer, and ear infections.
  • They are adaptable: Without being restricted to certain traits, mutts adapt to different lifestyles easily. With proper training, you should be able to get your mutts to acclimate to specific conditions and routines.
  • They are no different than other dogs: Your mutt does not fall under a specific breed, so what? With a mutt, you won’t get any less of a dog than with a purebred or hybrid dog. Your mutt can do everything other dogs can do and more!

Mutts Deserve All The Love

What many people know about mutts today is restricted to the fact that they do not belong in a breed because they are flawed. However, mutts are like any other dog with a genetic makeup that makes them even more unique. Mutts are one-of-a-kind dogs with unpredictable personalities that will constantly surprise you. Are you looking for a service dog, companion, or family pet? Mutts can be any dog you need and more!

See more:

Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.