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Can a Dog Breed Test Tell You What Mix Your Mutt Is?

Tiffany R. Jansen
June 13, 2017

It's fun to find out what breeds make up your dog, and this information could also help you to keep him happy and healthy. Here's everything you need to know about dog breed tests!

When you adopted your furry friend from the shelter, you weren't quite sure what mix of breeds he was. Now, thanks to new technology and testing, you can find out! You may even find out you're the proud parent of a rare dog breed! Here's everything you need to know about dog breed tests and how you can use the information they provide to your advantage.

What Is a Dog Breed Test?
A dog breed test is "a DNA test that will determine the make-up of the breeds that are most prominent in a mixed-breed dog," says Dr. Rodney Page, a veterinarian who serves as the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. The test is often done alongside an MDR1 test, which is used to check a dog's DNA for mutations in the MDR1 gene.

All dogs carry this gene, but some breeds, like shepherds and collies, are more prone to a mutation, which can affect their ability to metabolize certain drugs. As such, this mutation can lead to medical complications, so it's good to get this test done at the same time as the DNA test to know if your dog has this mutation.

And by knowing what breeds are found in your dog, it may be easier for your veterinarian or pet care provider to provide proper care, says Dr. Steve Thompson, a veterinarian who serves as the director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

How Does It Work?
A dog breed test involves an analysis of your dog's skin cell samples, which can be collected by rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of his cheek. These samples are then sent off to the lab, where technicians will extract your dog's DNA and look at it against more than 300 markers used in the test. Then, these technicians will use a computer algorithm to analyze the breeds in their database and select the best fits for your dog.

Two to three weeks after you send in your dog's samples, you'll receive a report detailing your pet's ancestry. The test goes back to the great-grandparent level, which means that you'll get to find out the pedigree of both your dog's parents, all four of his grandparents and all eight of his great-grandparents. If a pedigree can't be found for one of these relatives, your report will show a mixed-breed marker.

In these cases, the report will identify the genetic grouping of breed -- such as hound, toy, terrier or guard -- detected in the non-pedigree family member.

Is It Reliable?
As Dr. Page points out, these tests have been around for the better part of a decade, so there's been lots of time to work out most of the kinks. However, reliability often depends on the quality of the sample. In an effort to improve the accuracy of these tests, you should wait at least an hour after your dog has eaten before you take a swab and make sure that she doesn't share toys with other dogs prior to testing.

How Much Does It Cost?
Dog breed tests start at about $50 and go up in price from there, depending on what's included in them. The more breeds, types and varieties a test offers, the more costly it will be. The addition of the MDR1 test, which can cost up to $70 on its own, also increases the overall price. In general, prices seem to top out at about $90.

What Can You Learn From a Dog Breed Test?
Here are two things you can learn from the results of your dog's test:

  • Your Dog's Risk Factor For Developing Certain Diseases
    Some breeds are more likely to suffer from certain diseases or conditions than others, so it may be helpful to know what your mutt is made up of. For example, Dobermans are known to suffer from heart failure, so ask your vet about performing heart screenings early on if your dog is partly made up of this breed. If your pet has the MDR1 mutation, your vet will know to use an alternative drug for certain medical situations.
  • What to Expect in Terms of Your Dog's Behavior and Physical Appearance
    Dogs were bred to perform specific jobs, and they are happiest when they are doing those intended jobs. If your pet is part terrier, you can expect lots of holes in your yard, while a mutt with shepherd ancestry may nip at children's heels in an attempt to herd them. Thankfully, these behaviors can be modified by finding constructive ways for your dog to use his talents. Dog breed tests can also give you an idea of how big your dog will get and how much you'll need to feed her.

Even once you know the makeup of your mutt, it's still anyone's guess as to how those traits will play out in your dog. It all depends on which of those genes are dominant and which are recessive, says Dr. Thompson. But, then again, that's what makes your mutt unique!

Tiffany R. Jansen is a freelance writer who specializes in health, parenting, business and design. She plays mom to a mutt who, depending on who you ask, is part Great Pyrenees, part retriever, part Shar Pei, part Boxer, part Spinone Italiano and part Springer Spaniel.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither
Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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