If your dog could talk, you’d probably have a few things you want to ask them. Do they like the tartan coat you make them wear on winter walks, and how would they feel about welcoming a cat into the family? Though most questions will always remain unanswered, pet DNA testing could get to the bottom of some of your most pressing canine concerns.
A growing number of companies are offering dog DNA tests, and over 20 of these services have been listed and reviewed on DNA Testing Choice. So what exactly can you learn from doggie genetics? Here are are just three of the things a DNA test could teach you about your four-legged friend.
Your dog’s breed
How well do you really know your dogs? Often it’s easy to name dog breeds based on the telltale physical characteristics that separate one type from another. For example, we all know that Dalmatians have spots, beagles have large floppy ears, and pugs have wrinkly, short-muzzled faces. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to decipher which category your pet falls into if it’s a mixed breed—also known as a mutt. These differ from crossbreeds, such as Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniels and poodles) and puggles (pugs and Beagles), which are intentionally bred from recognised dog breeds. Mixed breeds often have no known purebred ancestors, and are likely to possess various physical characteristics inherited from many different types, so you may struggle to identify your dog’s breed simply by looking at it.
But why sit there wondering whether your pooch is part terrier or part spaniel when a dog DNA test could give you all the answers…?
Companies will typically compare your dog’s genes to DNA markers associated with over 200 breeds recognised by the Kennel Club and/or the American Kennel Club. By matching your pet’s DNA to traits present in specific varieties of dog, scientists are able to estimate your dog’s breed composition. In addition to figuring out the lineage of a mixed breed dog, owners of purebreds may also be interested in a dog DNA test to see if their pet is exclusively one breed after all.
Knowing your dog’s breed can be useful for several reasons. It can help you make informed choices when it comes to things like healthcare and training, or give you a sense of how big your dog is likely to be once it’s fully grown. Unlike the many micro pig owners, who aren’t prepared for the eventual size of their pet, you’ll know to buy a bigger basket if your pup turns out to be more Great Dane than Basset hound.
The likelihood of your dog becoming ill
The death of a pet can be agonising. A survey conducted by Cats Protection found that 73% of pet owners feel it can be as difficult and upsetting grieving for a pet as it is grieving for the loss of a person. A DNA test could prompt you to take action before it’s too late. By giving you insight into any diseases or conditions to which your dog is particularly susceptible, you have the opportunity to either prevent or prepare for the illness.
DNA tests will look out for conditions your dog is predisposed to according to its breed(s). For example, Bulldogs can suffer from breathing issues due to their small nostrils, elongated soft palate, and narrow trachea, while labrador retrievers are more likely to experience centronuclear myopathy—muscle weakness thought to be caused by a defect in the formation of muscle tissue. Some companies may also test for conditions common across all breeds.
Once the results have established the genetic propensity of your dog to a given disease, you can seek appropriate advice to help reduce any potential health risks that emerge, or even stop the condition from developing altogether. Though your dog’s health is top priority, testing your pet for possible diseases could also save you money on vet visits further down the line.
Additionally, dog DNA tests can often establish whether your canine is a carrier, affected by, or clear of the disease in question. This is especially important if you’d like your pet to have puppies in the future. Dogs affected by or carrying the gene for a nasty health condition should not breed, as this sabotages what should be a healthy gene pool.
Whether you’re responsible for your dog’s behaviour
Just like humans, dogs also have their own distinctive quirks and personality traits. We know that some of our characteristics are inherited and others stem from our external environment, so you may wonder whether you’re personally responsible for your dog’s yappy bark and insatiable appetite, or whether they were simply born that way.
This is something that’s captured the attention of scientists. Led by Evan MacLean, a comparative psychologist at the University of Arizona, and Noah Snyder-Mackler at the University of Washington, researchers recently identified 131 places in a dog’s DNA that may help shape 14 key personality traits. The team studied over 17,000 dogs from 101 breeds and found that differences in behaviours—like trainability and a tendency to be aggressive toward strangers—are “highly heritable.”
These findings don’t necessarily confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between breeds and behaviour, and dog DNA tests are not currently able to identify specific genetic links to specific character traits. However, DNA tests can still be used to predict certain personality traits in your pooch based on their breed composition.
This is because individual dog breeds often exhibit predictable traits. For example, Poodles are likely to be highly intelligent, alert, loyal, instinctual, and trainable. Thanks to the responsible choices made by human breeders, certain characteristics tend to be inherent in the DNA of particular breeds. Though it’s important to remember that behaviour can be affected by the external environment, if a DNA test finds that your dog is 60% Poodle, you can predict that they will express the personality traits associated with the breed.
One Amazon reviewer decided to conduct a DNA test on their ‘Border Collie mix’ rescue dog after noticing they behaved nothing like a Border Collie—a breed renowned for its agility, stamina, and obedience. The test results cleared up the confusion by revealing the pup was in fact a Shih Tzu-pitbull mix.
So, if you’re wondering why your dog’s personality doesn’t match up to their supposed breed, genetic analysis could answer all your questions.