“What kind of dog is that?” is one of the most common questions dog owners are asked. If you have a rescue dog, you’ve probably spent countless hours debating the breeds in her lineage. Maybe you’re sure your dog is a boxer/Labrador cross, while your spouse insists there’s collie in there somewhere, too. And then there’s that distinctive beagle howl…
To find out for sure, you could pay around $80 to have your dog’s DNA analyzed. These home- testing kits are very easy to use: you just swab the inside of your dog’s cheek and send the swab to a lab. The test company will compare your dog’s genetic markers with the samples in its database (the popular Wisdom Panel test has over 12,000 samples!), and provide you with an analysis of your dog’s genetic makeup. The results are generally more precise for dogs with purebred parents or grandparents; some dogs have more breeds in their family tree than the test can pinpoint.
Obviously, knowing your dog’s genetic background won’t make you love her any more. But besides satisfying your own curiosity (or settling family arguments), a canine DNA test can have some practical uses:
- If your dog is a puppy, DNA may provide more accurate clues about her adult size than her appearance as a puppy or an adoption counselor’s guess. (You’d want to know if your tiny ball of fur is actually 50% Newfoundland, wouldn’t you?)
- A DNA test can also alert owners to potential health problems to watch for, as certain breeds are more susceptible to particular conditions. This information should be taken with a grain of salt, though--the test cannot diagnose any actual diseases!
- DNA testing can be helpful for pedigreed dogs as well. Breeders may use it to confirm lineage or even parentage, assuming the genetic profiles of both the dam and the sire are in the AKC registry.
- In some areas, people get DNA tests to prove to a town official or a prospective landlord that their dog is not on a list of restricted breeds. This issue is fraught with controversy and misunderstanding, though. While “pitbulls” usually appear on such lists, there is no single breed of dog called a pitbull—such dogs are likely one or more types of terrier, mastiff, or bulldog.
What if the DNA report identifies your dog as a mix of breeds that don’t look much like her at all? It doesn’t mean the test was flawed. Like a human being, an individual dog carries genes for a huge variety of traits that she does not physically express. Put another way, a dog’s most visible characteristics, such as coat color, represent only a tiny fraction of the dog’s actual genetic code. If you do have doubts about the results, you can try a test with a larger database and compare the answers.
Have you had your dog’s DNA tested? If so, were you surprised by the results? We’d love to hear about your experience!