Who’s Your Doggy? Canine DNA Testing

Are you considering having your dog’s DNA tested? These genetic tests, which identify the  breed composition of your dog, are becoming increasingly popular and more widely available. You can walk into almost any large pet store and walk out with a DNA test kit; kits are also available online.

In most cases, you simply swab the inside of your pet’s cheek and send it off through the mail. Two or three weeks later, the test results arrive in the mail or your inbox.

Of course, just as dogs come in a range of sizes, shapes, colors, and coat types, so do DNA tests. Make sure that the test results you are paying for are the kind you expect.

The following is a list of the most common types of canine DNA tests and why you might choose each one:

Breed Profile

Some tests try to identify the breeds that went into creating your adorable ‘what is it?’ A DNA test can help you to answer that question. With DNA test results in hand, you can proudly answer: “She’s a wolfhound/basenji/cocker spaniel cross!”

DNA tests are also very popular with owners of mixed breeds who want to know why their dog insists on carrying a ball around the house or seems compelled to dig up the garden. Once you know which breeds are part of your dog’s genetic make-up, you may be able to redirect their instincts in a new direction. For example, try to train your dog that has the retriever genes to fetch the paper. Or give your terrier a sandbox of his own – complete with buried bones to dig up! (A natural digger, the name “terrier” comes from the French “chien terrier” literally, “earth dog”.)

A DNA test can also give you an idea of just how big that adorable little puppy is going to get. There’s no sense in purchasing a bed or crate sized for a border collie when your pet carries the genes of a St. Bernard! Wisdom Panel, who offers canine DNA testing, has even developed a proprietary algorithm that predicts your new puppy’s grown-up weight.

Breed Bans

Some apartment complexes, communities, or even states don’t allow certain breeds or breed mixes. A concerned landlord, homeowner’s association, or government entity may require DNA testing to prove your dog doesn’t carry any of the so-called “bad breed” genes.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) typically targets the “bully” breeds like pit bulls and mastiffs or protective breeds like German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, although many other breeds show up on one “bad breed” list or another. Visual identification is notoriously unreliable: boxer and bulldog mixes are often accused of carrying genes from a “pit bull” when actually they do not. (There is actually no breed called pit bull.) DNA testing might even keep your beloved pet from being forced out of town.

Some companies include fox, coyote, and wolf genes in their test results, although tests for those genes may be optional. Dog/wolf hybrids are prohibited by many states, so a test just might keep you out of trouble with the law.

DNA Identification Profile

Other tests can be used to identify a specific dog. Certain residential communities require DNA testing so that they can fine owners who aren’t diligent about cleaning up after their pets. This is also a popular option among owners because it provides additional permanent, reliable identification of their individual dog.

Parentage Verification

This test verifies the parentage of an expensive purebred dog. Some popular breed registries depend a great deal on a breeder filling out a puppy’s registration application accurately. Mistakes can occur, so this test can prove that the puppy someone is paying thousands of dollars for actually is the progeny of those International Champions on his pedigree.

Inherited Diseases

Certain breeds are susceptible to inherited diseases. Golden retrievers and boxers are both prone to cancer. Scottish terriers and Dobermans sometimes have Von Willebrands(vWD) disease – a hemophiliac-like bleeding disorder. Australian shepherds are allergic to the common wormer Ivermectin. An informed owner can discuss the DNA test results with their dog’s vet and work together to keep the dog healthy.

Breed tests can also help breeders screen their dogs for carriers of inherited diseases or other problems. Based on the results, breeding programs can be adjusted so that health problems are not perpetuated. This is a boon for those working hard to improve their favorite breed.

Inherited Breed Characteristics

This is another test that can help breeders enhance their breeding programs. It identifies certain breed-specific traits like coat color, coat type, or a natural bobtail.

For example, terriers with longer eyebrow and mustache hair (‘furnishings‘) will only pass on those desirable facial features to all of their offspring if they carry two copies of the gene. If they have just one copy, then only about half of their progeny will inherit their facial hair. This is an important factor in the breeding program of dogs where the lack of furnishings is a disqualification in the show ring.

Breeding two dogs that carry the recessive gene for natural bobtails can produce a litter where approximately 25% of the puppies die before they’re even born! In this case, it’s vital for breeders to know whether their dogs carry that gene or not.

Upcoming Tests

Mars Veterinary is considering using results from their Wisdom DNA tests to create specialized dog foods for particular breeds. For instance, a breed that is susceptible to arthritis might benefit from food that includes joint supplements.

Labrador retrievers and Newfoundlands often suffer from cystinuria. This metabolic diseases causes urinary stones to form. A diet low in the amino acids that contribute to the stones might help prevent them.

Understanding Your Dog’s Inherent Personality

Knowing your dog’s genetic makeup could influence how you train him. Some breeds are extremely stubborn and willful, while others are especially sensitive and never need more than a displeased glance to mind their manners.

Other breeds may require intense socialization in order to fit in well with your family and friends. Knowing your dog’s likely temperament and behavior can help you to develop a deeper understanding of your best friend so that you will end up with a dog you can live with for a lifetime.

DNA testing might even give you a clue to how much exercise your new pup will need. A dog with husky DNA is probably going to need more exercise than one with English bulldog genes!

Choosing a DNA Testing Company

Whatever the reason for having your dog’s DNA tested, it’s important to choose a reliable company with a comprehensive breed database. The more breeds in the database, the more likely your dog’s test results will be accurate. Of course, that accuracy comes at a cost. Tests done by a company with a more comprehensive database tend to cost more.

The number of different breeds in your dog’s background can also influence how accurate the test results are. According to Dr. Nathan Sutter, Assistant Professor of Medical Genetics at Cornell University, “…if a dog is mixed breed and comes from a great many breeds, each with just a small contribution to the total, then the breed test may be unable to identify most or all of the breeds contributing to the dog.”

He goes on to explain that the results are highly accurate if your dog has at least one purebred parent or grandparent. It seems that those “Heinz 57” mutts are likely to remain their own unique, and very lovable, breed of one!

Extra Features

Some companies offer additional options or perks along with their DNA test results, including personal consultations to help you interpret the results.

The results from DNA My Dog include a certificate with your dog’s unique DNA profile and a photo of your dog. It’s suitable for framing so you will always have a reminder of your unique pet.

Having your dog’s DNA tested can help you train your dog and keep him healthy, but the biggest reason most pet owners have it done is curiosity. Not only will a DNA test answer your curiosity about your pet, but it lets you answer other people when they ask “What kind of dog is that?”


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