DNA test your mixed-breed dog?
Quite a few of us dog owners have rescue dogs that are mixed breeds. I often wonder what my pup Oscar is comprised of. I know it’s part Chow Chow (blue/black tongue), but can’t determine for the life of me what else he may be!
Hoboken411 reader Leslie took the plunge to find out what her dog Trinity’s roots really were. The results surprised her!
DNA testing: is it worth it?
Despite spending two years surfing petfinder.com, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I decided to rescue a shelter dog a year ago. All I knew was that I wanted a dog that was large enough to hug, but small enough to lift. Then I found a dog at the Jersey City Hudson County SPCA who seemed noticeably quiet amongst 30 or so kennels of barking maniacs.
The kennel tag said it was a female lab mix, about 10 months old as of October 2006 (two months prior) when the shelter took her in. I paid the adoption fee and made arrangements to pick her up several days later, the Friday before Christmas 2006.
My sister, who has more experience with dogs than do I, was in town for the holidays. She came with me to pick up the dog to take her home. While I signed the final paperwork, from behind me I hear, “Uh oh. She’s a chow.” I turn to my sister, “How do you know?” She said, “She just yawned. Her tongue is black. Chows have black tongues.” Thoughts raced through my head recounting all of the dog gear I had purchased during the week, how much I had been looking forward to taking a dog home that day, how chows are known to be aggressive … Oh well, she’s mine now. In that moment of panic, I forgot to ask about her background and how she came to be in the shelter. I named her “Trinity” as in hope, faith, and charity.
See the results after the jump!
So I researched online chow-chow characteristics (just as I thought, antisocial and aggressive behavior, strong temperament, legal liabilities), if any other breeds have black tongues (just shar peis), other breeds that have her markings of gold colored medium length fur with white shoulder blade stripes, big ears, curly tail. None of my research was very satisfying.
Thankfully, during the past year Trinity has been an excellent companion, mostly displaying only the good side of chow-chow traits. She likes to stay close to me (even in the apartment she follows me around), gets a bit separation-anxiety-hyper when I return home, is becoming territorial about her apartment, but has never snapped at a person, including my friend’s then three-year old boy who gave Trinity a hit in the ribs that would sway a punching bag. She has also been the genesis of the oft asked question, “What a pretty dog, what breed is she?” I never have a good answer except, “Part chow, part pretty. You tell me what you think she is.”
But I too wanted a better answer because she doesn’t look like a chow, nor a shar pei for that matter. I had taken her to a vet directly from the shelter for shots, exam, etc. I asked the vet if it was possible to get a DNA test to uncover her breed mix. The vet said, “Are you kidding? We can barely tell the difference between a wolf and a domesticated dog.” Feeling stupid, I dismissed the idea of trying to learn more about Trinity’s heritage. That is until someone at the dog run told me about a DNA test they had see on “The Today Show.” I looked up the segment on YouTube.com, found the company’s Web site (http://www.mmigenomics.com), and ordered up a kit for about $80 on October 22nd. About a week later, a cheek swab kit and instructions arrived. Feeling very CSI, I swabbed Trin’s inner cheek then returned the kit to the company for analysis which would take four to six weeks to process. They provided an option to upload to their site a photo of the dog to attach to the results. I forewent that option because I didn’t want to give the lab any “tips,” not that I know they even refer to the photos.
During the waiting period, I told a number of dog-run people what I was doing. Some thought I was crazy, some were interested. Most asked what I would do with the information. The company, MMI Genomics, offers several DNA testing services for dogs and bovine (cows). The intent is to document lineage of breeds for pure breeds as well as discovery of unknown breeds. For dogs, they have can identify 38 breeds. They seem to have the trainable dangerous (chow, german shepard, rottweiler, doberman pinscher, etc.) and the common friendlies (beagle, boxer, english setter, labrador retriever, golden retriever, etc.). So if I were able to discover more about my dog’s DNA heritage, after having her for a year, what would I do differently? Well, I guess that depends on what the test results say. If nothing else, I’d have a better answer to, “What is she?”
Five weeks later, my results have arrived. The Canine Heritage Breed Test categorizes three types of findings:
- Primary: 50% or more of DNA is a match to one of their 38 breeds.
- Secondary: “Significant” levels of match to one of their 38 breeds.
- In the Mix: Breeds that appear in your pet’s DNA, but only in small amounts. If your results only identify breeds in this category, there is a good chance your pet is composed of one or more additional breeds that are not part of the 38 validated breeds and/or your pet is comprised of so many different breeds, only low amounts of identifiable breeds can be detected.
My little 50 lb girl’s results came back with no german shepard, no yellow lab, no retriever any/all of which I expected. The results did indicate the following which is neither satisfying nor surprising, except …
- Primary: Nothing. She is not at least 50% anything.
- Secondary: Nothing. She does not have a significant level of any breed.
- In the Mix: Chow Chow, Chinese Shar-Pei, Akita, Mastiff (?!).
Mastiff?! A few more Google searches tell me that chow-chows are an ancient Asian breed that has the same origin as shar-peis (China) and akitas (Japan). Then I learned that there are European mastiffs and Tibetan mastiffs, which do not look like each other. Of all the “in the mix” breeds, I guess Trinity looks most like a Tibetan mastiff, though without quite as long a coat.
So there you go. $80 and five weeks later, not much concrete information to go on. If you don’t know the origin of your dog, and it does not display any obvious traits from a particular breed, you too may get inconclusive results. Yet if you’re curious and can swing the $80, DNA testing was interesting and I’d say it’s worth it to put science to the test.
As for Trinity, she is a mix-of-mix, mutt-of-mutt dog that cannot be replicated. She is still a pretty dog. So I’ll stick with my answer, “Part chow, part pretty.”