If you're curious about your mixed-breed dog's genetic heritage, a DNA test can provide the information -- and you might be quite surprised. The National Canine Research Council notes that visual breed identification, as practiced by animal shelters and rescue groups, is often flawed. While DNA identification of mixed breeds doesn't offer 100 percent accuracy, it can give you a much better idea of your dog's ancestry than an educated guess based on simply observing his physical appearance.
Physical traits don't offer the only clue to a mongrel's ancestry. Behavioral traits also come into play. Terriers love to dig and hunt vermin, hounds are ruled by their noses, certain breeds tend to bark a lot -- these are clues about your dog's lineage.
Preparing the Sample
Ask your vet to recommend a company for testing canine DNA. You want to use a company that has both a reputation for accuracy and a large database for testing of different breeds. Your vet can either take a blood sample from your dog or a cheek swab for testing. You can perform the cheek swab yourself and return the test kit. You should get the results back within a month.
- It's unlikely your dog will have a purebred parent, and these are the animals contributing the most to your pet's physical appearance. Each parent makes up 50 percent of your animal's DNA.
- You're more likely to see specific breed DNA at the grandparent level, or 25 percent of your pet's DNA.Your dog may show traits from his grandparents, either in terms of appearance or behavior. Still, many dogs will not have any specific breed represented in DNA testing at the grandparent level.
- Great-grandparents are 12.5 percent of a dog's DNA. While you may receive breed-specific results from this level, only dominant traits are likely to show up in your dog.
Other than satisfying your curiosity, discovering your dog's breed makeup also alerts you to potential health concerns. Once you know your dog's ancestry, you can research health issues common in the breed. The testing company may provide that information.
You can also be proactive -- if you know a particular breed is prone to arthritis, for example, ask your vet about supplements that might help stave off these aches and pains. You can better design a diet and exercise program for your pet if you know who he came from.
If a dog has a purebred parent or grandparent, it's a lot easier for tests to identify genetic traits than a dog whose entire line consists of randomly bred canines.