DNA Testing: Solving the Mystery of Your Mystery-Mix Dog

Why does my dog love to dig?  

Why does she try to "herd" the kids when they play outside?  

Where does he get those ears?  


These are just some of the questions owners of mixed breed dogs may ask themselves.  Now, thanks to DNA testing (yes - for dogs!!), those answers may be a cheek swab away, and they may settle debates as to what kind of mix your dog actually is and why s/he looks or acts a certain way!  

Of course, some of the results of your dog's DNA test may surprise you, but a lot of that has to do with which genes are dominant and which are recessive.  For a fun refresher course on genetics, of dogs in particular, check out this video. For example, dogs with the same parents are only 50% genetically the same, on average.  That can create a lot of variation in even one litter!

In addition to ancestry and appearance, your dog's DNA test may give you information about his/her behavior. While both genetics and environment influence behavior, studies have found that a limited list of behaviors such as territorial defense, playfulness, and excitability, have a strong genetic component.  Knowing your dog's pedigree may help to anticipate and manage these kind of behaviors and develop a training program that takes these tendencies into account.

If your dog is still a puppy, DNA testing can possibly provide information on how big s/he might get.  And, if there are terrier breeds in your puppy's background, for example, it would suggest that your pup will most likely have a lot of energy and need lots of exercise!

Even more important than appearance and behavior, your DNA test results may give information about Fido's future health possibilities. While most diseases aren't directly caused by genetics, some diseases have been connected to specific genetic mutations. A DNA test can identify whether or not your dog has any of these deleterious mutations, which can help you better plan for your furry friend's future.

The testing process is very simple - you can have it done here at the hospital or you can order a kit online and do it at home!  One popular brand, Wisdom Panel, from Mars Veterinary, requires samples from your dog's cheek (gathered with a pain-free cheek swab). The results are emailed to you, generally, within 3 weeks.

It's important to keep in mind that any test's accuracy depends on how many breed-related genetic markers are in its database. Wisdom Panel claims that it has the largest database, allowing it to identify 250+ breeds.  The report breaks down a dog’s lineage in the form of an ancestry tree. This allows you to see which breeds are present at the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent levels. A parent contributes 50% of their DNA to a puppy, while a grandparent contributes about 25% and great-grandparent approximately 12.5%.

If you'd like to come in and get your dog's DNA tested, click here to make an appointment!


The blog originally appeared on North Elm Animal Hospital and has been adapted with permission for reposting. 


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