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Dog DNA Tests - Do They Really Work?

Dog DNA testing has become popular lately among owners of mixed-breed dogs. Exactly how accurate are the tests?

Since moving to Atlanta, we’ve spent a lot of time taking our dog, Penny Lane, to local dog parks to let her socialize and get some much needed energy out. I’ve noticed that a lot of the dogs that we come across are mixed breeds and the majority of the time when I ask what kind of dog they have, the most common answer starts off with “He’s a rescue dog and I think he’s a (insert dog breed here).” Several people have expressed interest in wanting to do a dog DNA test, which sparked my decision to share our experience.

When we adopted Penny from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, we had no doubt that she was part basenji. She had the markings, signature curly tail and the biggest basenji trait of them all - no bark. We saw her on the local news as the “Pet of the Week” and just had to have her. When we went to pick her up, her paperwork said that she was a basenji/beagle mix. Truth be told, we didn’t see any beagle in her at all. Her legs were short and her body was long, so my immediate thought was that she was mixed with dachshund. At only five months old, it was hard to determine what she really was since she still had some growing to do. As she got older, people said that she resembled a Jack Russell terrier. We even came across a basenji group at a local dog park, and they were convinced that she was a full-breed “dwarf” basenji. We actually considered that, since her basenji traits were so strong, until a few months later when she let out her first bark. We knew then and there that we could cross the idea of her being full-breed off the list.

Around the same time that we adopted Penny, a friend of ours found a stray dog wandering the street and decided to take him in. Since she had no clue what the dog’s background was, she decided to do a DNA test out of curiosity. She picked up a Wisdom Panel Insights dog DNA kit at the local pet store, and three weeks later, she received a detailed family tree that dated back to the dog’s great-grandparents on both sides, indicating which breed they were, as well as a detailed report about each breed’s background. After seeing her results, we decided to put the whole dachshund/Jack Russell argument to rest, and we bought a DNA kit as well.

Before doing the test, I had heard mixed reviews about dog DNA kits. Some tests requested descriptions or pictures of your dog and supposedly based the DNA off of what they looked like, rather than actual lab work. I really liked Wisdom Panel Insights since the kit was simple and asked for no details about your dog, other than their name, sex, and birthday. The kit contained two large cotton swabs with a pre-addressed envelope to send them back in. We swabbed the inside of Penny’s cheeks with both swabs, sent them back, and about a week later, received an email with a designated pin number so that we could log in and check the status of her results. A few weeks after that, we got her results back and were quite surprised.

The majority of both her parents’ sides were basenjis, which was no-brainer. However, we were shocked to learn that she had a great-grandparent who was a Newfoundland mix on one side, and on the other, a great-grandparent who was a German short-haired pointer mix. Who would have thought our little 20 pound ball of energy had Newfoundland blood in her? Guess that explains her giant appetite.

One thing that Wisdom Panel does stress, is the fact that the more breeds detected in your dog, the harder it may be to get an exact match. That doesn't mean that what they send back to you will be bogus, though. If there are pure breeds detected, those are the easiset to decipher. If there are mutts detected with more than one breed, they will break down all the breeds whose DNA they were able to best determine, but there also might be DNA that was so minor, it didn't come up at all. In addition to the Newfoundland, German short-haired pointer and basenji, it also detected a couple of mutts in Penny's background, which were broken down as mixes of dachshund, Clumber spaniel, black and tan coonhound, petit basset griffon vendeen, and Pyrenean shepherd. Honestly, we had no idea what half of those breeds were, but it was definitely interesting to learn about them. 

For us, doing the DNA test was more of curiosity killer than anything else. It had no factor on how we feel about Penny and overall, I think it was a positive experience. We were able to learn about her background and discover certain traits and health related issues that each of the breeds are prone to, which may come in handy down the road in case she ever has any health problems or changes in temperament. Most vet offices these days will do blood tests to detect the DNA, and the Wisdom Panel Insights kit can be found in most major pet stores and online. I would definitely recommend the test to any other dog owners who are curious about their dog’s background. What you find out might surprise you, but it also gives you a chance to get to know your dog a little better. Even though we now know Penny's background, if you ever see us out and about, I’ll most likely still tell you that Penny’s a basenji/dachshund mix, because basenji/Newfoundland/German short-haired pointer/Clumber spaniel/dachshund/coonhound/petit basset griffon vendeen/Pyrenean shepherd mix just doesn’t have as nice of a ring to it.

FYI – I am in no way affiliated or endorsed by Wisdom Panel Insights. It happens to be the test that we used and were very pleased with. It’s solely a personal recommendation. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Scott B February 12, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Penny is famous! This is awesome.
RD February 12, 2013 at 09:50 PM
We recently tried out the same Wisdom Panel Insights test and were completely shocked, and satisfied, with the results. The rescue shelter said she was a spaniel mix, and most people suggested dachshund, corgi or Pomeranian. The test indicated not one bit of any of those breeds and came back predominantly with breeds we had never heard of. The test gets this anonymous Internet poster's endorsement. One caveat though... I'm not sure I believe the "Family Tree" results. I think they can just tell a percentage of the DNA is a certain breed, but I'm skeptical they can trace it back up through the generations as they present it. (I could be wrong.)
Brie Gorecki February 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM
I'm glad you had a good experience with the test! I agree with the family tree - I'm not sure if they do that for show (since they don't indicate which one is the mother's side and which one is the father's) or if it's legit. As you can see from the pictures, Penny resembles the basenji VERY strongly, so had her results come back with either very little or no basenjis, I would have been skeptical. However, since it came back with them being the primary breed, I was more confident.
Brie Gorecki February 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Thanks, Scott!

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