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Purebred dog behind a cage in a shelter

Mutts And Purebred Dogs In Shelters: NAIA Animal Shelter Survey

The National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) Shelter Project recently released the results of their study of the types of dogs in the U.S. animal shelter population. The aim of the study was to determine the actual number of purebred dogs in animal shelters. The findings are both interesting and a little surprising.

The percentage of purebred dogs in shelters is commonly reported to be around 25%, a number that shelter professionals with firsthand experience think is very high. The NAIA believes that an accurate accounting of this number is important to understand the scope of the problem and also to give potential adopters realistic information about finding a dog at their local animal shelter.

Past studies of shelters were often based on incorrect assessments by workers who were not breed experts, i.e., “This dog looks like a Collie.” Another problem with previous studies was in counting the number of shelter admissions vs. the actual shelter population. This is important because purebreds tend to have very short stays in shelters.

Mutt And Purebred Dog Misidentification

The new NAIA study took special care to make sure that admissions, as well as populations over time, were studied. The researchers also made sure to examine the dogs labeled as pure or mixed breeds for accuracy. They found that, in many cases, breeds were completely misidentified and mislabeled.

The results of the NAIA study show that the actual percentage of unmixed breeds in shelters is 5.04%, a number much closer to shelter staff estimates than the 25% often cited in the media. Interestingly, the number would have been closer to 3.3% if it weren't for the overrepresentation of Chihuahuas and dogs described as 'Pit Bulls'. These two types make up 35% of the thoroughbred shelter population.

It should also be noted that the term Pit Bull has mostly been used to identify dogs that are stocky, short-coated, and brown. However, there is actually no specific pit bull breed, but rather an umbrella term for some mutts as well as specific dog breeds.

While the general public is aware that Pit Bulls are overrepresented in shelters, they may be surprised to find out that Chihuahuas are in fact, the most numerous in U.S. shelters. Because Chihuahuas are very desirable to adopters, their numbers are particularly high in shelters that import adoptable dogs.

Reasons Why Dogs End Up In Shelters

Homeless dog lying on the sidewalk

Have you ever wondered why dogs end up in shelters? These are some of the reasons:


Some people surrender purebreds due to financial hardship or other life circumstances changes.

Human Error

Purebreds can suffer from negligent breeders or owners who don’t understand the breed and its unique needs.

Unrealistic Expectations

Dogs can sometimes be bought without owners considering their breed's size, energy level, and behavior. When they don’t meet expectations, owners may give up on them.

Lack of Training

Many people underestimate the importance of training for all breeds, but it's essential for purebreds with their specific needs and behaviors. It’s crucial to understand why dogs merge to become homeless so that we can work together to prevent it from happening in the future.

Rescue Favorites

No matter the survey, one thing seems to be true: when it comes to dogs, certain breeds are more readily adopted than others. From the NAIA study, these are the three types of purebred pups that got claimed in droves:

Labrador Retrievers

Labradors are well known for being loyal and intelligent. Their excellent skills as guard dogs also make them very attractive to prospective owners. Plus, their eager-to-please attitude is hard to resist!


Not far behind the Labradors were Chihuahuas. It’s no surprise—these little guys are cute as a button and very devoted to their humans. Plus, their size makes them perfect apartment companions.

American Bulldogs

It might be due to their gentle yet powerful nature or maybe because they make great family pets—either way, these fur babies got snapped up quickly! While this breed might have gotten a bad reputation, it's not enough to turn away the fans of these cute fur balls.

This just goes to show that if you ever find yourself looking for a furry family member at an animal shelter, you better grab one quickly before someone else does—especially if you have your eye on any of these three breeds!

Dog Parent Demographics

Did you know that the NAIA survey revealed some interesting stats about the demographics of those adopting purebreds from shelters?


The majority of respondents were female, at 81%.


The survey also showed that most people who claimed a purebred from a shelter were in the 35-49 age range, accounting for 35%. It's clear that people in this age range are likely looking for an older dog that is already trained and ready to settle into their home.

Location & Household Size

Most of the respondents resided in suburban areas (around 36%). Meanwhile, those who lived in urban settings accounted for 28%, and rural dwellers accounted for 22%. Regarding household size, most were single-person households (30%), followed closely by two-person households (29%). It makes sense—small households may be looking for a companion to join them!

Limited Rehoming Programs

Purebred dogs and mutts in an animal shelter representing NAIA survey

The NAIA survey revealed that limited rehoming programs might be one of the factors that contribute to purebred dogs being in shelters. Rehoming programs are services through which purebred rescue groups, shelters, and other organizations place dogs into suitable homes.

Unfortunately, these rehoming programs don’t always meet the needs of all the people who want to get a purebred dog. Most are often limited to one type of dog breed and size, while others have waiting lists for prospective adoptive families. Potential adopters must contend with long paperwork and meet stringent requirements before they can take a purebred dog.

Moreover, some organizations prefer not to work with people who are facing financial hardship or those who don’t want a purebred puppy. You see, it’s easier for certain organizations to provide purebred puppies since they have access to breeders who can supply them with puppies for adoption.

All these factors combine to create an environment that makes it hard for some people to get a purebred dog from those rehoming programs — leading more of them to turn up in shelters instead.

You can provide support to these organizations by checking out our collection of cute dog rescue tshirts. A fourth of the proceeds are to donated to no-kill animal shelters!


Are shelters bad for dogs?

Shelters are not necessarily bad for dogs, but they can be difficult and stressful for them. When placed in a shelter, they can become anxious and scared. They may also develop behavioral problems, such as aggression or excessive barking. Moreover, shelters typically lack resources to give each dog individual attention, leading to inadequate exercise, socialization, and medical care.

What happens to dogs in shelters?

When dogs are brought to shelters, they are initially evaluated for any medical or behavioral issues. They may receive vaccinations, flea and tick treatments, and worming medication if needed, and they are then placed in a separate living area from other dogs to prevent outbreaks of illness. Staff members work with the dogs to help socialize them and teach them basic obedience commands.

What are the most common dog breeds in shelters?

The most common dog breeds found in shelters are mixed breeds, followed by Chihuahuas and Pit Bulls. It is important to know that some breeds may get misidentified by shelters due to a lack of DNA testing funds, so the exact numbers remain unclear.

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Rosemary Hoffman - March 2, 2020

When I taught obedience classes in Mississippi, there was an elderly couple with their Cocker Spaniel mix from the local shelter. The problem was that the Mix part was most likely Rottweiler.

Elsa Minjares - March 1, 2020

All the ignorance around “pitbulls” 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️ just…. wow

rd - February 29, 2020

" Another problem with previous studies was in counting the number of purebred shelter admissions vs. the actual purebred shelter population."

Still another problem is the practice of a dog taken in by one shelter TRANSFERRING the dog to another shelter where they are counted a second time, the result is the statisc show TWO dogs were taken in for every one. The shelter where I worked did this

S Haye - February 29, 2020

Yvonne Moore, the ADBA is 111 years old and it’s focus is the purebred American Pit Bull Terrier. They sanction conformation shows, athletic events, and have an annual national.

Linda Jacob APBTs are not mutts. You’re perhaps thinking of the usage of the name “pit bull” (it’s two words) as an umbrella term for tight-coated, muscular, square-headed dogs. Other umbrella terms commonly synonymous are “blocky dogs” or “bull breed” or “bullies”, etc.

Yvonne Moore - February 29, 2020

I have never heard of the American Dog Breeders Association.

Yvonne Moore - February 29, 2020

I have never heard of the American Dog Breeders Association.

Colleen Douglas - February 28, 2020

Going along with the purebred VZ mix breed = the labeling of the breed Pit Bull is very inaccurate. Pit Bull is short for the American Pit Bull Terrier and yet any dog entering the system with a big head and muscle is labeled a Pit Bull so this number should be reanalyze.
AS mention in a comment above, the vast majority of dogs that people call “pit bulls” are not purebred, registered American Pit Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers. If they don’t have a pedigree and registration papers, you can assume that the dog is not a purebred, but that doesn’t mean the breed doesn’t exist.

Carla Freestep - February 28, 2020

Not all “pit bulls” are mutts.

Fact: the American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed, registered by UKC and ADBA. The American Staffordshire Terrier is a purebred registered by the AKC. Both breeds have the same ancestry, and some dogs are dual-registered is both APBTs in UKC, and AST in AKC.

Granted, the vast majority of dogs that people call “pit bulls” are not purebred, registered American Pit Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers. If they don’t have a pedigree and registration papers, you can assume that the dog is not a purebred, but that doesn’t mean the breed doesn’t exist.

Stella Louisa Matheos - February 28, 2020

And yet the American Kennel Club (the oldest and most popular kennel club in America) still maintains that Pit-Bulls are mutts because they don’t breed true (too many variations). It does however recognise the American Staffordshire Terrier because it breeds true to a very specific breed standard.

Imo other kennel clubs may just want to attract more registrations, so they are willing to look passed the huge differences in size, weight and general appearance (and temperament) re Pit-Bulls. That still doesn’t make them a breed yet. Maybe someday. Like when more good breeders start breeding them than crackheads.

jennifer vanhook - February 28, 2020

The American Pit Bull Terrier is recognized by the American Dog Breeders Association and the United Kennel Club.

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