Updated on: September 20, 2020

As any dog owner knows, your pet is a valued member of your family. And like any other family member, you want what’s best or them. One way to ensure you’re giving your friend the best possible care is to figure out what your dog’s needs are. But seeing how your pet can’t exactly tell you its needs, you’re somewhat limited. That’s where dog DNA testing can play an important role.

Whether from knowing it’s exact breed identification, potential health risks, or the importance of its genetic traits, the more you know about your pet, the better you can care for it. But what dog DNA test is best? How accurate are they? And are the results even useful?

In our Embark review, we’ll cover what I learned about the company when testing my dog Max. So before you put the wellbeing of your dog in the hands of an at-home DNA testing company, read our Embark review and see if this doggy genetic testing kit is right for you and your furry friend.

Embark:

  • Biotechnology and genomics company for dogs
  • Offers canine DNA testing services to breeders, consumers, and veterinarians
  • Based out of Boston, Massachusetts 
  • Founded by Ryan Boyko, Adam Boyko, Spencer Wells, and Matt Salzberg
  • The company’s stated goals are to help dog owners to better understand the health of their pets and to advance the field of canine DNA research 

Quick facts:


Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 1
Sample Collection: Saliva swab
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 2
DNA Testing Type: Analyzes over 200,000 genetic markers
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 3
Speed: 3-5 weeks
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 4
Privacy Protection: Decent

How much does an Embark DNA kit cost?

Currently, Embark has two different tests to choose from. The costs of each are as follows:

  • Breed Identification Test Kit — $129
    • Looks at over 200,000 genetic markers
    • Covers more than 350 dog breeds
    • Includes a family tree
    • Learn about your pet’s relatives
  • Breed + Health Test Kit — $199
    • Includes everything you get with the Breed Identification Kit
    • Covers more than 190 health conditions
    • Learn about 20+ physical traits

What’s in the box

Your DNA testing kit includes:

  • DNA sample collection swab
  • Stabilizing fluid
  • Instructions
  • Prepaid return envelope

Send in steps

With Embark, DNA testing your dog is quick and easy. Once you’ve received your doggy genetic testing kit, you’ll simply need to do take the following steps:

  1. Navigate to embarkvet.com and click the ‘Activate Kit’ button found in the top right corner of the screen. When prompted, input your 7 digit activation code (your activation code will appear as follows — ‘EM-1234567’).
  1. Open your kit and remove the DNA sample collecting swab. 
  1. Make sure the swab doesn’t touch anything other than the inside of your pet’s mouth and do not let your dog eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before collecting the DNA sample.
  1. For 30 to 60 seconds, mop the collection swab’s sponge in your dog’s cheep pouch and under its tongue. Make sure the sponge is fully saturated with saliva. If you’re having difficulty collecting enough saliva, show your pet a treat to cause it to salivate. Do not let it eat the treat.
  1. While holding the swab upright, unscrew the cap from the collection tube. Turn the cap upside down and place the sponge into the stabilizing fluid. Fully rotate the cap until it can no longer turn to ensure that it is sealed.
  1. Invert the tube and vigorously shake it for 10 seconds.
  1. Return the DNA sample to Embark using the included prepaid envelope. You should receive your results within 3 to 5 weeks.

How is my privacy protected with Embark?

According to Embark’s privacy policy, your personal information will be used in a few different ways. First, any information you provide to the company may be shared with third parties employed by Embark in order to render the necessary services. This includes outside laboratories and research organizations. Sharing your data with these third-parties is necessary for Embark to provide their products and services and shouldn’t be of too much concern. 

They may also use your information to investigate any potential violations of the company’s terms of service and when they’re legally obligated to do so. This also shouldn’t be a problem as long as you’re not trying to do anything illegal through them.

The main concern is that they may use your data and that which they collect through their website for advertising and research purposes. While it’s possible to opt-out of having your dog’s genetic data used for research, the fact that this is done at all has raised some privacy concerns among users.

The competition

Other than Embark, there are a few other notable companies that offer similar services. These other doggy genetic testing companies include:

  • Wisdom Panel ($99.99-$159.99) — Test for over 350 different breed types, up to 200+ genetic conditions, and more than 35 traits. The premium kit also includes a free call with one of Wisdom Panel’s licensed veterinarians to discuss any health findings that arise.
  • DNA My Dog ($68.99-$188.99) — With 7 test kits to choose from, DNA My Dog offers a wide array of services. From doggy allergy tests, breed identification tests, and genetic and health screenings, what you get all depends on the kit you end up ordering.

The test results

Embark’s dog DNA test results cover four different aspects of your dog’s genetic makeup. This may vary depending on the kit you order, with the health portion of your test results being exclusive to their Breed + Health Test Kit customers. We’ll look at each of the things covered in the test results in greater detail below.

Breed 

One of the first sections you’ll likely look at in your dog’s test results is its breed identification. By looking at your pet’s genes, Embark will delve into its paternal and maternal line. With this information, Embark will create a ‘family tree’ for your pet, laying out its genetic makeup and breed. The company is able to test for over 350 different dog breeds in total.

In my doggo’s breed identification results, I learned Max is about half labrador (49.8%) and half poodle (50.2%). On his paternal line, which looks at the Y-chromosome, my buddy has haplogroup A1a. This is the most common haplogroup found in dogs bred in the United States and Europe and is found in many village dogs (non-purebred, free-roaming wild dogs found across the world) from these regions.

Max’s maternal line, which Embark discovers by looking at his mitochondrial DNA, shows that his haplotype is B1. This is also common in American and European dogs. I learned breeds with the B1 gene were likely brought to the Americas by Europeans during the early colonization of the new world. 

Health 

As all pet owners know, your dog’s health is of the utmost importance. In the health screening portion of the test results, you can get a better idea of the issues you may need to watch out for. Embark looks for over 190 different possible genetic health conditions that are common among animals that share your dog’s genetic makeup. 

In my best friend Max’s results, I learned that he may develop degenerative myelopathy and glaucoma later on in his life. Not only this, but my results included actionable results to help me stay on top of these potential future genetic conditions. This included vet-actionable health information, which is what vets use to interpret a dog’s clinical data.

Physical traits

From your dog’s coat color to the shape of its snout and the length of its tail, in this portion of your test results, you’ll learn about the physical traits that make your pet unique.

For Max, who is still a puppy, I learned that he’ll one day grow to be relatively large. This has helped me determine how much exercise he should get and the amount of food I should be shoveling into his bowl, all useful information to keep Max as healthy as possible.

Relatives

This is one of my favorite parts about Embark’s test results — discovering if any of your doggy’s distant relatives have also taken the company’s DNA tests. By combing through their database of DNA results, Embark knows if your pet has any long lost relatives whose parents were also curious enough to genetically test their furry friend.

Here, I found out that Max shares 15% of his DNA with a Labradoodle named Kat (weird name for a dog, I know) who is currently living in Richmond, Virginia. While this information isn’t all that useful, it’s fun to know that one of my dog’s relatives also has some inquisitive parents who spent time collecting their companion’s saliva. 

Embark even allows you to contact their owners in case you’re interested in arranging a future playdate (I’m still waiting to hear back from Kat’s parents).

Embark review of accuracy 

While your Embark test results are pretty reliable, they’re no replacement for regular checkups with the vet. This is especially true for the health portion of the DNA results. While you may learn about your dog’s potential to develop certain genetic health conditions, this is by no means a diagnosis.

Some vets have even expressed concern about the accuracy of these health results. A missed genetic condition could lead to you overlooking a potentially serious issue that your dog may have. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may receive results that state your dog is prone to a condition it never develops, leading to unnecessary medical treatments that could hurt your pooch in the long run.

So use these results as a fun way to learn a bit more about your pet, but don’t take anything they say as a concrete diagnosis.

Overall review of Embark: A fun way to learn about your pet

Pros

  • Includes 350+ breeds
  • 190+ health conditions
  • Painless and easy sample collection
  • Find your dog’s living relatives
  • Competitively priced
  • Return shipping is included for US-based customers

Cons

  • Health results aren’t a concrete diagnosis
  • Doesn’t give a thorough breakdown of all mixed-breed dogs
  • Free shipping only covers customers within the United States

While I thought Embark’s genetic testing was a fun way to learn a little bit more about my four-legged friend, they’re not much more than that. While they do include some interesting and actionable results in the traits and health portions, everything here has to be taken with a grain of salt. 

These results aren’t necessarily 100% accurate. Treating them like they are could even lead to unnecessary treatments or taking actions that aren’t beneficial, or worse, could be harmful.

Regardless of this, I had a great time reading about everything Max’s DNA had to tell me. So use this test as a fun way to get to know your pet better. Don’t use it as a replacement for regular checkups and visits to the vet.

FAQ

How does dog DNA testing work?

Through the use of a small saliva sample, Embark analyzes over 200,000 genetic markers and compares them to the latest research to deliver a wealth of information about your pet.

Can dog DNA tests help with obedience training?

Yes and no. The breed and traits portion of your test can tell you about certain behaviors that are common among dogs with a similar genetic makeup. This can help you to determine what sort of training could be beneficial to your pet. But as every dog’s personality can vary greatly, regardless of genetics, the things you learn here aren’t necessarily 100% applicable to your specific animal’s behaviors.

What can dog DNA tests tell you about your dog's health?

Your DNA results can tell you about the health conditions common among dogs with similar genetics to yours. However, this is by no means a diagnosis, and your results can’t tell you, with 100% accuracy, anything solid about your dog’s genetic health. Only a vet will be able to do that.

What did we discover with our dog's Embark DNA test?

I learned that I’m the proud owner of a labradoodle, who may be prone to degenerative myelopathy and glaucoma in his older age. I also learned he will likely grow large and that he has a long lost relative living in Virginia.

Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.

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