What is a Supermutt? Understanding the Mix of Breeds

So, you’ve invested the money in running a DNA test on your beloved rescued dog - only to yield the confusing result of “supermutt.” What does this mean?

Feb 24, 2024By Chelsea Pinkham
what is a supermutt

Dog DNA tests are skyrocketing in popularity. The idea is revolutionary: simply swab your dog’s saliva, and his full genetic history will be revealed. Years ago, mixed-breed dogs were simply “mutts,” and that was that.

But learning your dog’s genetic makeup can help you best prepare to care for them, both physically and behaviorally. While many unreputable platforms run misleading tests, reputable companies like Embark and Wisdom Panel are far more likely to produce accurate results. Still, these results are not always 100% conclusive.

Dog DNA Tests Coined the Term “Supermutt”

cute mutt puppy tricks
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“Mutts are my favorite breed” is a popular slogan amongst the rescue community. There are so many reasons to love mutts. For one, your mixed-breed dog is entirely unique to any other dog on Earth. That’s pretty special! But “mutts,” or mixed-breed dogs, are not a breed in themselves. Mixed-breed dogs are a combination of their many ancestors. Those ancestors had breed-specific traits that determined their behavior, health, temperament, and structure.

For thousands of years, dogs have been selectively bred to excel at taking on specific tasks for their caregivers. Today, the majority of owned domestic dogs are companions rather than working animals. But their roots as working dogs can still impact everyday life. For example, terriers bred to kill small animals would make poor candidates to live in a home with free-ranging pet rabbits or guinea pigs.

Border Collies, bred to herd sheep and other animals, may nip at the ankles of children in an attempt to “herd” them. Bloodhounds, bred for tracking, benefit greatly from scent work and other scent-related enrichment and activities.

tired mixed breed long line
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While every dog is an individual, understanding your dog’s genetic roots can help you in caring for them, understanding the motivation behind their behavior, and providing an enriching life. It can also help you prepare for potential health problems; Golden Retrievers, prone to cancer, should have frequent health screening appointments. German Shepherds, prone to hip dysplasia, can benefit from low-impact physical activities and joint supplements from a young age.

Understanding your canine friend’s genetic history is a major step toward providing the best possible life for them.

“Supermutt” Is a Combination of Many Breeds

two mixed breeds on walk
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“Supermutt” is a genetic term developed by dog DNA testing companies. It means that some particular segments of a dog’s DNA are indistinguishable as having any purebred lineage at all. If traces of a specific breed do exist, they are too small to confidently detect. Generally, “supermutt” genes have input from three or more breeds.

When you receive your dog’s DNA test results, “supermutt” may make up a portion. In some extreme cases, often with dogs who descend from generations of strays, “supermutt” may comprise the entirety of the test results. These dogs’ lineages are so far removed from purebred dogs that the information is undetectable.

Other breeds may still be detected in the test, but those non-detectable DNA segments will be listed as “supermutt.”

Supermutts Are Common Among Street Dogs

roaming street dogs
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Fascinatingly enough, regions with large populations of free-roaming dogs often develop their own typical characteristics. Natural selection begins to take place, creating physical and behavioral traits that allow survival in a specific region.

For example, many strays found in mountain ranges across the Middle East have thick, dense fur and behavioral traits similar to livestock guardian breed. Many Caribbean strays (sometimes called “potcakes”) tend to have short hair and a medium-sized build. These “supermutts” adapt to their home regions just like wild animals do. Street dogs in these regions tend to be hardy and well-adapted to their environment.

Why Adopt a Mixed-Breed Dog?

happy terrier mix
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Millions of healthy and behaviorally sound dogs are awaiting loving homes in the shelter and rescue system. While it’s a common misconception that all rescued dogs have severe behavioral or health issues, this is not the case.

A study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy found that the most common reasons for pet surrender include moving, financial problems, landlord disagreements, divorce, allergies, pregnancy, career changes, and more. It’s simply untrue that most rescued dogs have been abused or harmed in some way by humans. Most simply ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Choosing a Lifelong Companion: The Rescued Dog Advantage

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Adopting a dog who has been housed in a foster home from a reputable rescue group increases the likelihood of finding the perfect match. While buying a puppy from an ethical breeder is certainly an adoption, this places the burden of breeder selection on the buyer. For the average pet owner, navigating this world can be deeply confusing and difficult. Selecting a puppy from a less-than-reputable breeder means supporting puppy mills or backyard breeders and can lead to serious genetic health issues.

For those who don’t need a purpose-bred purebred dog, a rescued dog can become a wonderful family pet, dog sport prospect, or even a working dog. Adopting a rescued dog means saving a life from the shelter system and enabling reputable rescues to continue their life-saving work. Rescued dogs are incredibly diverse, and adopting a rescued mutt means that your dog is a one-of-a-kind gem.

cute elderly mutt
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Dogs can be incredibly resilient as a species, and through positive reinforcement-based training, dogs lacking life skills can build their canine confidence. Adoption saves lives!

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!