Breed Tests for Dogs: Fact or Fiction?
November 15, 2017
Mixed breed dogs are easy to love but can be hard to figure out. Where did they come from? What breeds are they? We commonly get questions about whether DNA breed tests for dogs are accurate. I’ll go into more detail below, but my short answer is: Sometimes.
For breed results that make up less than 10-15% of a dog’s ancestry, I think accuracy for that particular breed is questionable. So for dogs who are a mix of just a few breeds the tests are generally reliable but are less so for dogs who are mixes of numerous breeds. The tests I have used personally are the Wisdom 4.0 (www.wisdompanel.com) and the Embark (www.embarkvet.com), with the results of each test performed on the same dogs coming out the same. The Embark includes many more health checks than the Wisdom panel, but the Wisdom panel has the most useful tests included (MDR1 and EIC).
Genetics can be weird. The genes that control appearance, coat color and type in dogs can mix in a number of different ways, some of which hide each other, so puppies may not look like their parents. For example, it is very common for golden retriever mixes to be black, brindle, or black and tan because their golden color genetically tends to “hide” those colors. You can find much more information about dog coat color genetics at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk/ or http://www.animalgenetics.us/Canine/Canine-color/Color_Index.asp.
To illustrate this, a famous study done in 1965 by Scott and Fuller (published in their book, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog) involved crossing a basenji and a cocker spaniel. The resulting puppies did not look at all like either parent (parents on the left, puppies on the right):
So just keep this in mind when interpreting DNA test results.
So how and why did I end up breed testing my dogs? In 2010, a friend of mine and I both took puppies from this “oops” litter. This is their mother, an Alaskan husky (a type of mixed breed racing sled dog), with the puppies.
As they grew, it became apparent that the father was not another Alaskan husky as assumed but we didn’t know what he was (the picture at the top of this post are three of the puppies as adults, they don’t look like their mother!). Then last year my friend received a Wisdom 4.0 as a holiday present and tested her dog Shambles. I told her if his results came back at all believable, I would test my dog Squash.
This year, a third brother from the litter, Aspen, joined my household and I decided to go ahead and test him as well.
As you can see, their results are very consistent except for the low percentage breeds (Alaskan Malamute for Aspen and Newfoundland for Squash, both at 12.5%). If these were results for dogs I didn’t know, I would say they are American bulldog mixed with a husky mix, rather than “husky-malamute-American bulldog” or “husky-newfoundland-American bulldog.”
After testing Squash, I decided to test my dog Maisy simply out of curiosity; she is a complete unknown and many people have guessed many things over the years (usually hound).
These are her test results, which at first glance seem ridiculous but on further reflection of her personality, where she came from, and coat color genetics do make sense (remember what I said about golden retriever mixes above?):
So if you’re curious and want to spend the money, I think for the most part these tests are pretty accurate above a certain percentage. If your dog’s results come back with something that seems wildly implausible but all breeds are below that 10-15% range, s/he is probably a true “Heinz 57” or mixture of many different breeds.
If you’ve done a DNA test on your dog, feel free to share your results in the comments section on Facebook!
-Karen Christopherson DVM CVA