5 Tips to Help You Drop Breed Labels and Focus on Dogs as Individuals

So many of you are on board with the idea of dropping breed labels at your shelter. You know you understand the importance of focusing on each dog’s individual personality. We also know that it’s a big change and change can be overwhelming.

That’s why we’re here. We’re here to help you overcome that hurdle and take the leap into marketing without breed labels.


Here’s how:

1. Drop Breed Labels from Your Kennel Cards and Dog Bios

We know dropping breed labels involves reprogramming your brain a bit. We’re all used to playing the breed id game. It’s a hard habit to break. Start by changing the written language you use.

If you don’t know a dog’s pedigree, don’t put your guesses on your kennel cards or in your dog bios. We know it’s easy to say something like “Marigold looks like a husky and probably has some labrador in her, too,” but that guess doesn’t actually tell potential adopters anything about the dog’s personality. So, focus on the concrete information you do know about the dog. Write that into your dog bios and on your kennel cards.

AFF Kennel Card Example

 2. Drop Breed Labels from Social Media Posts

This is an extension of the above, but it’s really important. This step not only changes the way shelter staff and volunteers look at dogs, it also helps the community look at each dog as an individual. That means potential adopters are more inclined to choose a dog based on how that dog will fit into their family vs based on stereotypes about a breed.

Plus, focusing on a dog’s personality is really what social media is for.

3. Ask Your Shelter Software Provider to Remove Breed Labels

Some shelter software systems require a predominate breed identifier, regardless of whether or not you actually know what a particular dog’s breed or breed mix is. That can be frustrating, but you do have options.


Source: Austin Animal Center


Start with adding an addendum to your listings:

“This shelter software system requires that we choose a predominant breed or breed mix for our dogs. Visual breed identification is unreliable, so for most of the dogs we are only guessing at predominant breed or breed mix. We get to know each dog as an individual and will do our best to describe each of our dogs based on personality, not by breed label.”

The next step is to contact your shelter software provider and ask them to add an “unknown” or “mixed breed” primary identifier. We have a sample letter to give you some ideas on how to approach this issue.

4. Make a Game Out of It

The breed id guessing game is fun, but it’s also really entertaining to come up with non-breed specific descriptions of a dog. Get ridiculous with it, especially on social media. It’s basic (and not very engaging) to say “Fiona likes to snuggle and have naps.” It’s even better to say “Fiona likes to beg for popcorn and have Netflix marathons.”


AFF available dog Brando


(Pro Tip: Ditch the name “Fiona” and name the dog “Netflix.”)

Get your staff and volunteers together and make a game out of it. See who can come up with the most engaging description. Again, don’t be afraid to be silly and a little “out there.” That makes your dogs sound interesting. It endears them to the public, and that’s what you want. The clever you are with your descriptions, the more people will want to know about the dogs in your care.

5. Get Your Staff and Volunteers on Board

Also, run through the various questions potential adopters might have when they want to know about a dog’s breed. Set your shelter works up for success by giving them all of the tools they need.

Make sure they know that honesty is the best policy. We don’t want to give potential adopters guesses about a dog. We want to give them accurate information. Make sure your shelter workers communicate that to potential adopters so that they understand the reasoning behind removing breed labels.

Interested in learning more? Check out our eBook.

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