Dog DNA Testing

Every owner of a mixed breed wonders which breeds have come together to create his or her best friend, and finding out may now be possible with dog DNA testing. However, there are still some problems with these tests, and not all owners are pleased with the results.

Why DNA Test

In addition to resolving curiosity about which breed is responsible for your dog's floppy ears or brown spots, DNA testing can provide breed information that may be useful in answering training and health questions. Since many breeds are prone to certain illnesses, a breed test may alert you to which breed-specific illnesses your dog may experience.

Some breeds also have specific behavioral quirks that may affect which training programs will be most effective. It may also lead you toward certain activities to which your dog may excel. For example, if you find that your dog is half herding dog, you may be more likely to try herding than you would otherwise.

While there are blood tests that can be done by your veterinarian and sent to a laboratory, most canine DNA tests now advertise a convenient test kit that can be sent to the owner and sent back without consulting a veterinarian.

Once owners pay for the test, which are now offered by several different companies, they receive a test kit consisting of a cheek swab and a sanitary bag to return the swab. Owners can simply swab the inside of their dog's cheek to gather cells that are then reproduced for a large study sample to be compared with known DNA markers of specific breeds.

After four to six weeks, owners will receive the results, which are generally broken down into three categories. The top category includes any breeds with which your dog has a strong match, with some companies as high as 50 percent. These matches will have a strong influence in your dog's health and behavioral characteristics. Then, there are intermediate matches, which aren't as strong but definitely contribute to your dog's genetic makeup. The final category represents minor matches, which have genetic markers that match genes in your dog's DNA but do not make up a large portion of your dog's traits.

Cost of these tests ranges from $49 to $79. These tests are not effective in determining if your dog is a purebred and not approved for legal use at this time.

Problems with DNA Tests

Many owners express disapproval with the tests because the results can be misleading. Since only 100 breeds have been identified for the test, many dogs show no "strong matches" and only show breeds that make up very little of their actual genetic makeup, such as a golden lab-looking mix whose strongest match was pug.

In addition, if your dog is a mixed breed who is a product of generations of mixed breeds, the tests may be very little help since, again, there will be no strong matches, just a list of minor matches that may not help you understand your dog at all.

However, if you are curious about the genetic makeup of your mixed breed, these tests are the only current method for identifying which breeds may be involved in his appearance and behavioral characteristics.