Once upon a time, if you wanted to figure out what kind of dog breeds composed your All-American mutt, you simply compared his body parts with those of purebred dogs to extrapolate an idea of what kinds of dogs were in his ancestry. With the discovery of DNA, however, you can be sure of his ancestry in most cases with just a swab of his saliva.
Canine DNA tests are available for purchase online, in pet stores and at veterinary clinics. A number of companies offer DNA testing to dog owners with dogs of indeterminable breeding curious about what breeds of dog came together over the generations to make the four-legged furry friend that now sleeps at their feet. The process is as easy as swabbing the inside of your dog's cheek, putting the sample in the kit container and mailing it to the company. Most companies offer online tracking so you can monitor the progress.
When you send a sample of saliva to the testing company the scientists at MARS subject the saliva to tests that differentiate the cellular structure to to determine what breeds of dog are in your dog's DNA. Mars Veterinary Customer Service Department explains about the company's Wisdom Panel DNA test, "Our computer algorithm's raw data output actually provide a complex numerical score for each breed detected and a prediction of the relative amount of each breed detected." Personnel use that information to come up with a list of breeds that share the same DNA and the level of DNA detected so as to confirm which breeds match your dog's DNA the best.
The test results include percentages of breed and the likelihood of which breeds are parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. A breed that represents approximately 50 percent of the dog’s DNA is a parent. The dog will probably most resemble this breed. Next is a grandparent, the breed that represents approximately 25 percent of the dog’s DNA. The great-grandparent represents approximately 12.5 percent of the dog's DNA. The remaining percentages to get to 100 percent are other possible breeds that may be included, but the percentage of DNA that matches those breeds is much lower than that of the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
When a dog's DNA sample is sent in, it is compared with more than 7 million DNA sequences using a sophisticated statistical algorithm. The algorithm scans 321 genetic sequences and looks for matches to breed signatures. Says Mars Veterinary, "What we are looking for when testing a mixed-breed dog is the presence of purebred dogs within the past three generations, though there may have been mixed-breeds present in those generations as well." The stronger the breed detected, the more accurate the results.
By Michelle A. Rivera
About the Author
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.