As dog lovers, we love our dogs regardless of the breeds that make them who they are, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t wish we knew who “Molly’s” mom and dad were. With the advent of DNA testing for dogs, finding out your pup’s lineage is now a possibility. Below we will take a look at what DNA testing for dogs actually does, how you can do it and the benefits of DNA testing for your pup. This could be a great gift for your dog-loving, dog-owning friend.
What is DNA Testing for Dogs?
The concept of DNA testing for dogs might seem foreign but it’s actually pretty simple and very much like human DNA testing. Just as humans have their own DNA, so do dogs, and each pure breed has a distinctive set of markers. The companies that sell and perform the DNA testing for dogs maintain a database of breed-related genetic markers and, after receiving your dog’s DNA sample, they run it against these profiles. By observing which breed-specific markers are present in your dog’s DNA profile, these companies can give you an idea of the different breeds that make up your dogs ancestry.
The Problems with DNA Testing Dogs at Home
It is important to recognize that the home DNA testing process is not entirely accurate. While many of the companies that provide these tests have databases of several hundred breed-specific genetic profiles, there is more than twice that number of recognized dog breeds in the world. What does this mean? This means that while your dogs DNA profile could be similar to that of two breeds within the database, it may be more comparable to one breed from within the database and one breed that is not in the database. There is a degree of error that should be accepted when it comes to home DNA testing for dogs.
Is Home DNA Testing for Dogs Useless?
If the companies that provide these dog DNA tests have a margin of error due to a limited database, just how helpful can this testing be? Assuming that most of these companies maintain a relatively large breed profile database, there is still value to conducting an at-home canine DNA test.
The primary reason is that a somewhat-limited database should not be a concern; the majority of mixed-breed dogs in developed countries are of specific, well-known breed ancestry. What this means is that it is unlikely that a mixed-breed dog from the United States is going to have the DNA profile of a Tibetan Mastiff and a Lagotto Romagnolo (an Italian retriever). Now, if a canine DNA testing company has a database of ten breed-specific profiles then yes, this will present severely inaccurate results for canine DNA tests that they run.
Secondly, running a DNA profile on your dog can narrow down the breed category that your dog represents. This means that while the DNA testing center may not have a specific breed on file, they will likely have a similar breed from the same class of dog. To give a simple (albeit unlikely) example: a testing center that has a Jack Russell terrier breed profile, but does not have a Parson Russell terrier on file may classify your dog as being of Jack Russell ancestry. While this information is not entirely correct, it still indicates a specific group of traits that are common to this class of terrier. The reason for this is the nature of breed-specific DNA profiles: For example, the Parson Russell terrier and the Jack Russell terrier may each show a greater number of category A alleles in their DNA profile, whereas a Newfoundland may have no category A alleles in its DNA profile. This means that while the DNA testing center did not have a breed-specific profile for the Parson Russell terrier, it did have a breed profile that closely matched to it due to the number of representative alleles. While this test result may not be 100% accurate, it is able to tell the dog owner more information about their dog’s genetic makeup.
What Can We Learn From DNA Testing for Dogs?
While some people write off at home DNA testing for dogs as a scam and a “money making scheme” there are a number of things that we can take away from these tests. Obviously, since there is a margin of error in testing and each dog is an individual, what we can learn is limited, but it can still be an informative process.
Perhaps the single biggest reason that dog owners submit DNA tests of their mixed-breed dogs is to satisfy curiosity of where their dog came from. Most mixed breed dog owners were not around at the time of their dog’s conception and this can lead to questions about just what their dog’s parents looked like. Running a canine DNA test for a mixed-breed dog helps to satisfy that curiosity. It should be mentioned here though that the curiosity that spurs dog owners to submit these tests is rarely satisfied with only knowing test results. Most often after receiving DNA test results back, you will find yourself researching each breed in your dog’s lineage to discover what they could have contributed to your beloved dog.
Another reason that some dog owners submit their dog’s DNA sample to testing is to confirm their dog’s pedigree. In some cases dog owners purchase or rescue dogs that are allegedly purebred; however, again, they were not present at the time of their dog’s conception. Submitting an at home DNA test can help these owners confirm that their dog does indeed come from purebred genetic line.
Some mixed-breed dog owners submit DNA testing for their dogs so that they can anticipate their dog’s appearance when it becomes fully grown. Many dog owners know that while a mixed-breed puppy may have the appearance of one breed that can change as the dog ages. Having a DNA profile of a mixed-breed dog can help owners to plan for what their dog may eventually look like. For example, a puppy that is particularly small may just be the runt of the litter and if its genetic makeup is that of a mastiff and a Great Dane, then the owner will know to expect their small puppy to grow in to a much larger dog.
This is a somewhat questionable answer to what we can learn from our dogs DNA testing because the exercise needs of most dogs is determined by the individual dog. While certain breeds may be known for requiring plenty of exercise (think Border collie) there are always exceptions to the rule. Knowing a dog’s breed can give a general idea of its exercise requirements. For example, a dog that has whippet and greyhound genetic profile markers will more than likely have higher exercise requirements than a dog that has French bulldog and Chihuahua genetic profile markers.
Another benefit to running a DNA test on a mixed-breed dog is to get a general idea of health problems that your dog may face in the future. For example, a breed that has the genetic markers of two very sturdy breeds, say for example, a Bolognese and a Jindo versus a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Labrador retriever has less potential for genetically derived illness. With that said, this assumption is not always correct. In general mixed-breed dogs are much healthier than purebred dogs, but due to the random nature of combining multiple genetic profiles, it can be difficult to predict how prone a dog may be to a certain health concern. Still, as a pet owner it is always helpful to know if, for example, your dog comes from two breeds that are prone to bone cancer. Having this information allows you to be a little more watchful of your dog’s health.
What You Should Know About Dog DNA Testing
Aside from understanding that the information garnered from dog DNA testing may not be a 100% accurate or reliable method of predicting potential health concerns, it is important to know a little more about these tests.
The first step in DNA testing for dogs is to purchase a dog DNA kit. There are a number of companies that sell this product with Wisdom Panel and Mars Veterinary being the most popular. Most often these tests are purchased online either directly through the manufacturer’s website or via Amazon. After receiving this kit you will want to read the instructions that are particular to the type of kit you purchased. Most of these dog DNA testing kits will ask you to wait a period after your dog has last eaten and, using the swabs contained in the package, swab the inside of your dog’s cheek. The swabs which now contain saliva samples should be packed neatly in the small container provided with your kit and should be mailed back to the lab as soon as possible. Depending upon the company and the lab that they use, the process generally takes around three weeks. After this period you will receive an e-mail or direct mail from the lab that did your testing with your dog’s DNA results.
The cost of dog DNA testing is still fairly high; however, for many dog owners the cost is worth it to find out more about their beloved pet. The cost of an at-home dog DNA test depends upon the brand and type of testing that you select. Below are a few examples of popular dog DNA tests and their pricing through Amazon.com:
- Wisdom Panel Mixed Breed DNA Test Kit – $64.95
- Wisdom Panel Purebred DNA Test Kit – $64.99
- Wisdom Panel Designer Dog DNA Test Kit – $64.99
- Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel Insights Dog DNA Test – $64.99
While there are a few cheaper varieties of dog DNA tests on the market currently, few of them are recommended due to poor customer feedback and poor reliability.
Is DNA Testing for Dogs Right for You?
If you are looking for firm answers and solid medical advice then an at-home DNA test for your dog is certainly not where you want to begin your search. If, however, you are looking for some basic information about your dog, like where they could possibly have got that up-curved bushy tail, then dog DNA testing may be just what you are looking for. In short, dog owners are advised not to take the dog DNA testing option too seriously; rather, think of it as a fun activity that can give you a few clues about the genetic lines of your furry best friend.