Can an App Really Identify a Dog’s Breed?

If you got your dog from a shelter, there's a good chance your dog's breed will be listed as cross or mixed.

I have two dogs. Rufus is a purebred Doberman. I know this categorically because I met his parents and you couldn't wish for more agreeable parents 🙂

My other dog, however, was from a shelter. Pepper's papers have him listed as an Australian Cattle Dog/Cross. But crossed with what?

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When I tell people I have an Aussie Cattle Dog they instinctively ask Red or Blue since Cattle Dogs have distinct colouring.

Pepper's definitely not red, so I tend to say blue, but there is only maybe a hint of blue in his coat.  To add to my confusion, a dog-walking friend is convinced Pepper isn't crossed with anything and is a true 'Blue Heeler' - a blue Australian Cattle Dog.

Never to let an opportunity for an article pass me up, this got me thinking...

Is there an app that can identify dog breeds? There are several dog identification apps available. In my test, the most accurate is the free app called What Dog, created by Microsoft. However, if your dog is a mixed breed, a home DNA testing kit may offer the best results. 

Best App for Identifying a Dog Breed - 
What Dog

What Dog correctly identified my two dogs as being a Doberman and Australian Cattle Dog, although it didn't mention Pepper being a mix. The app uses a photo for identification, either taken using the phone's camera or from the phone's photo library.

There are three features to the app. The identification component, a Scrap Book for all previous identifications and a wiki of all types of dog and information on them.

Screenshot from What Dog app correctly identifying my Doberman.

Screenshot of What Dog app by Microsoft correctly identifying my Cattle Dog.

What Dog

Pros

  • Accurate identification of dog breeds.
  • Useful additional information on each breed.
  • Separate wiki of different breeds with helpful information.
  • Share results on Facebook or via messaging apps.
  • Free.
  • Accompanying website with similar features.

Cons

  • No mention of Pepper (Cattle Dog) being mixed breed.
  • No app for Android.

How We Tested...

For this experiment, I tested five different dog identification apps from the IOS app store.

Dog ID

Dog Book

Dog Identifier

Dog Breed ID

What Dog

All the apps I tested are free. There are several paid apps but, based on the reviews, I'm not convinced the paid apps are any more accurate than the free ones. Nor do they appear to offer anything extra to warrant paying.

Anyway, for the sake of a few ads, how often are you likely to use this type of app that it's worth paying for? Especially when you can't guarantee the accuracy of the apps.

Dog Identification

All the apps in the test have the same basic functionality.

To Identify a dog, you either use your phone's camera or upload a photo you've taken earlier from your library.  

Dog Identifier and Dog Breed ID are the only two apps that include Live Scan. You simply point your phone's camera at your dog, and it tries to identify the breed on the fly. However, Dog Identifier is the only app where you can't upload a photo from your photo library, so you need to be in front of the dog to use the app. 

All the apps give a percentage score with each identification. The closer to 100 percent, the more confident the app is of a correct identification.

Screenshot from Dog Identifier app for iPhone - A Cattle Dog crossed with a Bluetick?

Accuracy

The biggest challenge with all the apps was getting my two dogs to sit still long enough for a photo! I tried treats, sneaking up on them while asleep, and plain old pleading; nothing really worked.

The 'Live Scan' feature, while impressive from a technology view, is really not practical when trying to identify an energetic dog. I found the Live Scan could not process the ever-changing image on screen fast enough to provide an accurate result.

A screenshot from Dog ID app incorrectly identifying my Doberman as a Terrier

Social & Sharing

Dog Breed Identification is the only app to include a social page, where you can post and share photos of your dog. On first observation, it looks to be quite popular, but each time I scrolled through the different posts, the app crashed. 

Dog ID and What Dog both had the ability to share identifications via messaging apps.

Information on the Breed

Dog Book, Dog Breed ID and What Dog all provided additional information on the different breeds they identified. Of these, Dog Book and What Dog were the most informative, giving a history of the dogs' breed, characteristics and temperament. 


Other Ways To Identify Your Dog's Breed

If the results of using an app are inconclusive, and you're still unsure of your dog's breed, what other options are there?

Well, you can consult your local vet for their opinion. Dog breeds have distinct characteristics that set them apart. The American Kennel Club group dogs into seven categories based on the dogs' features and the work the dogs were originally bred to carry out. The seven groups are Sporting, Hounds, Working, Terriers, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding.

American Kennel Club's Seven Dog Groups

Sporting Dogs are used to retrieve game birds and other fowl shot by shooting parties and gamekeepers. The group include Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels.

Hounds are bred for speed and have an excellent sense of smell which they used to track their prey. Hounds were bred as hunting dogs.

Working Dogs are generally large dogs bred for protection and rescue work. Dobermans and Rottweilers are considered working dogs, as are Saint Bernards, Great Danes and Huskies. They are strong breeds designed to pull a sledge or cart and cope with harsh climates.

In contrast, Terriers are smaller dogs. They were designed to fit down a burrow or warren in pursuit of rodents and varmints.

The strangely phrased Toy group were designed precisely for the reason their name suggests. As toys for their owners. They were bred to offer companionship to their owners and are often small enough to fit in their owner's lap or, more commonly these days, handbags.

The Non-Sporting group can also be thought of as the Miscellaneous group, since it includes breeds that, for many reasons, don't fit into any other category. The assortment of breeds include poodles, dalmatians and bulldogs.

Finally, Herding dogs are categorised by their intelligence, aptitude and shepherding instincts. Herding dogs are common in rural, farming communities where they are used to round up cattle and sheep. Pepper, my Australian Cattle Dog, is part of the Herding group. His breed has been used by farmers in Australia for over a century.

While there are hundreds of dogs breeds, groups of dogs have common characteristics. You can manually reduce the number of possible breeds your dog could belong to by looking at the size of its body and tail, the shape of its head, ears, whether it's long or short haired and the colour of the coat.

There are three common head shapes for dogs.  Dogs with squashed noses such as the Pug and Bulldog are characteristic of the non-sporting and toy groups. In contrast, working dogs will have longer snouts, especially those bred for sniffing out their prey, such as Hounds. The eyes of collies tend to be closer together and their head narrower.

Dogs belonging to the Working group tend to be larger in size, compared to the smaller Terriers, for example. Retrievers make for good swimmers. While herding dogs, who often live outdoors guarding livestock, have longer coats.


When all else fails, you can have your dog's DNA tested. DNA testing kits can be bought online, conducted at home and sent back to the lab in a pre-paid envelope for testing. 

The test usually requires taking a sample of your dog's saliva. Simply swap the cheek using an over-sized cotton bud and pop it in the sterilised container provided in the kit.

The price of DNA kits vary and are usually increase in price based on the number of different breeds the testing company have on their database and the type of test being carried out. This is one situation where it's worth paying more since it's better to spend more on a positive result than to spend less and come back with an unclear result, or no outcome at all.

A good DNA test will not only identify a dog's breed but also provide information on the dog's heritage, such as where in the world the breed originated. It may also provide information on whether your dog's breed is susceptible to a particular disease, or whether your dog is carrying a specific gene or genetic mutation.

If you request this type of test, choose a DNA Testing company, which include a follow-up discussion, to alleviate any concerns the test results may cause. This is another reason to spend your money wisely.

The recommended DNA Kit on Amazon is the most expensive. It has the largest database of dog breeds but also includes tests for common conditions in adult dogs, such as glaucoma, which will allow you to prepare in advance, should such an event occur. It is worth noting that while this DNA testing company has a database of over 250 different dog breeds, the Kennel Club of America recognises over 350 breeds, which goes to show that a DNA test might not prove conclusive.