DNA Testing For Dogs: What You Can Learn, Cost, Accuracy, How They Work, & More

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We love our dogs regardless of the breed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to know who Fido’s mom and dad were (and what breed your pup is). With the advent of DNA testing for dogs, finding out your pup’s lineage and breed(s) is now a reality. World DNA Day takes place on April 25 and National DNA Day is an official proclamation in the United States since 2003. A dog DNA test is a fun way to celebrate the holiday while helping to understand your pet better.

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What Is DNA Testing For Dogs?

Dog with DNA (caption: 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 DNA, so do dogs, and each breed has a distinctive set of markers.

The companies that sell and perform dog genetic testing maintain a database of breed-related genetic markers. 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 dog’s ancestry.

What Can I Learn From A Dog DNA Test?

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Some dog DNA tests can tell you more than ever before, thanks to recent scientific advances. Here are some of the things you can learn from an at-home test and why you should consider getting one for your pup.

  • Mixed-Breed Percentage – As a mixed-breed dog parent, you likely weren’t present at your dog’s conception or birth, so you have no clue what breeds your dog’s parents were. Running a canine DNA test for a mixed-breed dog helps to satisfy that curiosity. Most dog DNA test kits on the market today give you a report of your dog’s breed percentage (e.g., 50% Cocker Spaniel, 25% Pug, and so on).
  • Confirm If Purebread Or Not – Wondering if your rescue dog or purchased pup is, in fact, purebred (as promised)? Some dog DNA kits can confirm that your dog does indeed come from a purebred genetic line. The same holds true for designer dogs like Labradoodles, Cockapoos, and Puggles.
  • Ancestry – Many companies also give you a detailed description of each breed in your dog’s lineage, so you get a better understanding of each breed’s general physical and personality traits. With Embark, our #1 pick, you may be able to find actual family members too. If your dog’s relatives’ family members also took the test and are in the database, it may be able to identify your pup’s relatives, possibly locating siblings or parents. Embark is the only company to offer this family tree matching.
  • Determine A Pup’s Full Size – A dog breed DNA test can help you get a better idea of your dog’s physical traits once it’s 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. For example, a puppy that is 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 into a much larger dog.
  • Is My Dog Prone To Certain Diseases? Very recent scientific advances allow you to get genetic testing for dogs to isolate certain genetic mutations found in their DNA. These identified genetic markers tell scientists that your dog could be more prone to developing identified hereditary canine diseases. This information doesn’t mean your dog will develop the disease. It just has a better chance than other dogs. Knowing that your dog is predisposed to one or several hereditary health conditions can help you keep a watchful eye on early symptoms. Only a few dog DNA kits, however, offer this specific genetic health screening analysis.
  • Fun For The Whole Family – Dog DNA test kits are a fun way to learn more about your pup — and they make a great gift for your dog-loving friends. They may also be a special bonding treat for you with your family pet.

How Does Dog DNA Testing Work?

Microscope (caption: Dog DNA Tests Reviwes)

Not all DNA tests for dogs work the same way, which gives a lot of wiggle room for dog DNA test accuracy. As with most products, some at-home dog DNA kits are much better than others. Read our dog DNA testing reviews to learn more about specific tests we recommend.

Despite the discrepancies, most kits follow the same process that includes a cheek swab (not a dog DNA blood test). Here are the typical steps you take for an at-home DNA test for dogs:

  1. Purchase an at-home dog DNA kit online.
  2. Once you receive your kit in the mail, be sure to read all instructions carefully. Most dog DNA test kits ask you to wait a while after your dog’s last meal.
  3. Swab the inside of your dog’s cheek using the swab(s) contained in the package.
  4. Pack the saliva-covered swabs in the small container provided in your kit and use the postage-paid envelope to mail your sample back to the company’s lab as soon as possible. Each lab processes your dog’s DNA and compares it to its existing database of dog breeds.
  5. You’ll receive email or direct mail results from the lab with your dog’s DNA results.

How Much Does A Dog DNA Test Cost?

The best dog DNA tests for home use will run you anywhere from $79 to $199. There are a few slightly cheaper varieties of dog DNA tests on the market, but most have poor customer feedback and poor reliability. When it comes to dog DNA tests, you pretty much pay for what you get (the higher the price, the more accurate and detailed the results will be).

How Accurate Are DNA Dog Tests?

It depends on the canine DNA testing company. Some companies have a larger margin of error due to a limited breed profile database. Even with a somewhat limited database, canine DNA testing can still be helpful because the results can narrow down your dog’s breed category (if not the specific breed itself). 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.

For 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. While this test result may not be 100% accurate, the results still give you more information about your dog’s genetic makeup.

The majority of mixed-breed dogs in developed countries are of well-known breed ancestry. So it’s unlikely that a mixed-breed dog from the United States is going to have the DNA profile of rare breeds like a Tibetan Mastiff or a Lagotto Romagnolo (an Italian retriever). The best DNA dog testing companies include a majority of the 180 American Kennel Club-recognized breeds.

Dog DNA Test Infographic

Learn more about how dog DNA tests work in this infographic:

Infographic: Dog DNA tests

Pups Separated At Birth Reunited Thanks To Dog DNA Test

Two dog siblings standing next to each other, looking identical and meeting for the first time in a field

In the hit documentary and critically acclaimed film Three Identical Strangers, three brothers are adopted by different families from the same agency in New York. As teenagers they randomly find out (and prove) they’re triplets, unknowingly separated at birth, and then go on a quest to uncover what happened. A rare circumstance for children to be split; however, litters of puppies are rarely kept together as a family, begging pet parents to wonder: what is their dog’s history and who is their kin?

In Spring 2019, Mimi Concannon made such a discovery with her dog. Two years prior, she fostered a puppy named Hadley (who she later adopted) from Last Chance Animal Rescue in Waldorf, MD. At the time, Concannon wasn’t aware that Hadley had any siblings. It wasn’t until she did an Embark Dog DNA test on Hadley in early 2019 that she discovered a close genetic match through Embark’s DNA family tree (note: Embark is the only pet DNA company that offers family tree matching currently).

With the help of Embark’s user community platform, Conconnan was able to connect with the pet parents of Hadley’s match — she had a sister, Ingrid, who also lived in the Metro DC area! Ingrid’s pet parents had previously done an Embark DNA test, so they were able to make the connection.

They arranged for the siblings (pictured) to reunite at a park in Maryland City, MD, and Hadley’s mom describes their emotional meeting. “It was amazing to see Hadley and Ingrid together — they got along so well and look so alike, which is crazy to see because Hadley has such a unique look.”

Sadie and DC's Let's Talk Live host Julie Wright chatting with Hadley the rescue pup on TV

As it turns out, Ingrid’s parents also fostered another pup, Iris, who came from the same litter transported from a kill shelter in Mississippi. Concannon is hoping Iris’ forever home comes across this story so the three Foxhound American Bulldog mixes can all be together again one day.

If you’re inspired by Hadley’s story (also featured on WJLA’s Let’s Talk Live) and interested in the possibility of finding your dog’s DNA match, keep reading to learn how it works and see the various at-home kit options. Or if you are ready to order a kit that includes family tree matching for your dog, place your order for Embark today.

Is DNA Testing For Dogs Right For Me?

If you’re looking for some basic information about your dog, like where he could have gotten that up-curved bushy tail, then dog DNA testing may be just the ticket. Also, if you want to know if your dog is more prone to developing certain hereditary health conditions, you have a few options now. Check out our best dog DNA test article for some specific at-home testing recommendations.

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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