Dogs have only been domesticated and bred for about 15,000 years; humans, on the other hand, left Africa to populate the rest of the world over 200,000 years ago. This makes their ancestry much more clearly defined, with a high level of accuracy to correctly assess breed.
Like children, analyzing the DNA of your domestic companion can help you make educated lifestyle and health decisions on their behalf. Thankfully, many of the privacy- and ethics-related concerns are waived when dealing with your pet; a full genetic profiling is only ever in their best interest.
What a dog DNA test can tell you
“Most people can guess just one breed present in a mixed-breed dog less than 25 percent of the time.”
-Veterinary geneticist Angela Hughes, D.V.M., Ph.D.
For the proud owners of rescued dogs, the genetic makeup of their pooch may be a complete mystery. When a breed is assigned at the receiving SPCA or rescue operation, it’s usually based solely on visuals alone. As Dr. Hughes says above, this is not a very reliable system to determine breed, especially among younger dogs.
While many of these tests may not be adequate to confirm a pure-breed status – this usually requires familial documentation – it is generally more than enough to access local kennel or breed clubs. Akin to human services, one of these tests even facilitates meetings between genetic relatives: Embark can connect you with the guardians of your dog’s kin.
Each test can provide you with a breakdown of the genetic makeup of your favorite friend. You may be surprised to find that your mutt is a purebred, or your 1:1 mix is a combination of a dozen different breeds.
Many of these tests provide you with details on the percentage of wild DNA that exists within your domestic companion. This isn’t the ancestral history or origin of your dog; it assesses more recent incursions from nature. This kind of test is more applicable to large, ambiguous mutts than small terrier mixes. However, the results may be surprising if they’re included in the kit you choose.
Like 23andMe, many dog DNA tests provide insight on potentially inherited health risks. For some tests, this is included in the base price; for others, it’s an optional add-on. Embark takes this to another level, providing details that rival human counterparts.
Some diseases and illnesses are more likely among certain breeds, underlying many of the health-related results these tests provide. However, some take it a step farther by scanning for specific disease-causing variants outside of breed analysis. These insights may allow you to take proactive measures to prevent the onset of illness; they may also help you prepare for unpreventable outcomes, like blindness or deafness.
Details on dog DNA tests
Like human DNA tests, there is always a margin for error in the estimates they provide, especially for health-related markers. However, the recent nature of dog evolution has made tracking their ancestry much more reliable than that of humans. For most breeds that aren’t thoroughly exotic, their genetic nature can be reliably uncovered.
Many of these tests are primarily based and focused on American breeds. Rare breeds and dogs from other countries may not be included in their databases. If you’re the lucky guardian of a suspected rare breed or international companion, Wisdom Panel may be your best bet to uncover the full nature of your friend.
Top 5 Dog DNA Tests
The only comparable metric between tests is the size of their breed database; this is primarily relevant if you suspect your dog may have a rare or international ancestry. Each test is quite different, with specific goals, options, and strengths. Therefore they’re not listed in any particular order, choose the best one for you and your dog.
All of these tests take a few weeks to a few months to receive and process. Most will arrive within six weeks, but they all abide by the processing times listed on their respective websites.
A final word on dog DNA tests
There are many reasons to give your dog the same attention that a family member would deserve. You can avoid surprises when it comes to illness that may manifest. You can also get confirmation on the components of your mutt’s mix. A test like these can give you a new appreciation for the heritage of your furry friend.