Whole Dog Journal's Blog June 28, 2018

DNA Tests for Dogs: Fun, Interesting, but Probably Not Worth the Money

Posted at 09:40AM - Comments: (22)

In the July issue of Whole Dog Journal, we have an article (“Dog DNA Tests: Mixed Results”) about the mixed-breed dog DNA tests that are available to dog owners for a fairly hefty price.

I have ordered a few of these tests over the years, gathering information about how they work and whether they appear to be all that helpful in identifying the breeds that have gone into a given mixed-breed dog.

In the above-referenced article, I shared the results from the tests I have ordered for my 10-year-old mixed-breed dog, Otto, over the years. All I can say about the results from the two most respected companies is that they mostly jibe with each other – and that both companies explain that dogs may not look anything like the breeds whose genes they contain!

whole dog journal woody

At 24 inches at the withers and 70 pounds, Woody is taller than most of the bully breeds and while chiseled and muscular, he's also leaner than many of them.

We didn’t have room in the article to share the results of the tests I’ve had done on Woody, my younger dog. One can see that Woody clearly has some sort of bully breed or breeds in his lineage. In my experience, none of the companies are all that good about sussing out one bully breed from another. I can’t say I blame them; neither am I. 

Here are Woody’s results from the two most reputable companies that provide these tests:

Wisdom Panel results (2016)

50.0% American Staffordshire Terrier

50.0% Labrador Retriever

whole dog journal woody

Woody is a fetchaholic, never far from a ball, a trait I associate with Labs. No news, there.

This is interesting: Both Wisdom Panel and Embark say they will occasionally update your results, so you should log in to their site from time to time. When we most recently checked Woody’s Wisdom Panel profile, we saw his results had been changed. Now Wisdom Panel says he is:

62.5% American Staffordshire Terrier

25.0% Labrador Retriever

12.5% (mixed)

Woody! Where has all your Labrador gone?

Embark results (2018)

40.8% American Pit Bull Terrier

30.3% Labrador Retriever

19.9% American Staffordshire Terrier

9.0% Olde English Bulldogge

Are there any bully breed experts who care to explain the possible differences between these results, as well as the mix of breeds reported by Embark?

The funniest results came from a much smaller company – one that returned some very silly results on Otto, too.

whole dog journal woody

He will also stay in any body of water until he is shivering and and practically turning blue; he does NOT have the Lab's nice thick coat nor adipose tissue to keep him warm in the water.

DNA My Dog results (2016)

Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Level 2, i.e., between 37%-74%)

America Staffordshire Terrier (Level 3, i.e., between 20%-36%)

Pembroke Welsh Corgi (Level 4, i.e., between 10%-20%)

Pug (Level 4)

Given both his looks and the fact that Woody stands 24 inches at the withers and weighs 70 pounds soaking wet…I am not sure I can find any room in my heart to buy the idea that he has ANY Corgi or Pug genes.

Want my honest take on these tests? The results from the larger, more reputable companies are fun and interesting, but tend to either confirm that a dog is mostly what he looks like he is, or bring up a breed that one hadn’t considered before because the dog doesn’t look anything like that (like Otto containing either 12.5% % American Staffordshire Terrier [according to Wisdom  Panel] or 21.3% American Pit Bull Terrier  [according to Embark]– REALLY?).  I can’t honestly say the answers are all that satisfying, either way.

whole dog journal otto

Does Otto look like he contains any bully breed? At all??

Comments (22)

I've had multiple clients tell me they knew the sire or dam and that their DNA test results did not accurately reflect the known breed, so I remain skeptical as to their validity.

Posted by: DogSavvyLosAngeles | July 1, 2018 12:15 PM    Report this comment

Having owned bot APBTs and Am Staffs: my current dog is dual registered as both. (One is UKC the other is AKC. So obviously they can be the same dog. Also there are many "pits" that don't come anywhere near the breed standard. Lookiing at Woody I would have said pit/Am Staff. Mine is 19.5" and 55 lbs. "Lean and (not) mean". If I had the money to waste I wold check Cyf ( my current Am Staff/APBT) but since I have a 7 generation pedegree, I doubt it would tell me anything I don't already know!

Posted by: Kitti | July 1, 2018 8:26 AM    Report this comment

A few years ago we adopted a 90 pound mixed breed from Animal Care and Control in Brooklyn. He was about 8 years old, and looked like a black lab/pit bull mix. We sent for a DNA test. Results that came back made us chuckle: our 90 pound black dog was a chihuahua!

Posted by: maryheller | June 29, 2018 9:39 PM    Report this comment

As a trainer and Judge for Obedience and Rally, I haven't ever suggested owners to DNA test their dogs for Breed information - largely because the results haven't been particularly useful to the owners. HOWEVER, genetic tests for certain conditions, can and DO return potentially life-saving information. Case in point is the Multi Drug Resistance 1 (mdr1) gene that can appear in herding dogs and herding dog mixes. If your dog has even one copy of the mutant version of the gene, it seriously affects three vital choices in medications for your dog: do not use a heartworm preventative with Ivermectin, do not ever use Loperamide (Imodium) to stop diarrhea, and make sure your vet knows of the mdr1 status if your dog ever needs anesthesia or cancer treatments, because there are several common medications for those situations, that could be fatal. The mdr1 gene is part of the gatekeeper mechanism in your dog's blood-brain barrier. Dogs with 2 normal genes, have the pump work properly and there's no problems. But if your dog has even 1 copy, the pump is greatly slowed, allowing medications to build up in your dog's brain, which can result in depresssed behavior, disorientation, seizures, and even death. Should your dog have 2 copies of the mutant gene, the problems are even greater. Having owned 4 Australian Shepherds, 2 being normal/normal for the mdr1 genes, one being mutant/normal, and one being mutant/mutant, I have always been careful preventing the affected dogs from ever being given medications on the "causes problems" list available from the Washington State University list that came with our test results.

Absolutely every Aussie mix, Shellie mix, Collie mix, Border Collie mix, and German Shepherd mix, should be tested for the mdr1 gene. The last thing an owner desires, is to have the medicine they give their beloved dog to prevent the horrors of a heart worm infection, be responsible for their dog's death because the medicine built up in their dog's brain couldn't be correctly managed by the genetically affected pump. Several testing labs now perform the mdr1 test. Forget the bogus Breed background stuff - test for something that truly affects your dog's long term health!

Posted by: mamafirebird | June 29, 2018 10:06 AM    Report this comment

When I adopted my girl, who was picked up as a stray in the next county, our local Humane Society listed her as a German Shepherd/ Labrador mix. She was around 50-55 pounds, double coated, all black (with a few very faint brown spots on her back), and softly pointed ears. But she had short legs for one of those breeds, so we were very curious. We suspected she had some Chow, as she had dark spots on her tongue, and Wisdom Panel confirmed she was 25% Chow. They also said 25% Fox Terrier, 12.5% Shar-Pei, 12.5% Viszla, and 25% Mixed. Not sure about all of those, but definitely no Shepherd or Lab! From what I read on the AKC site, she definitely had a Chow personality!

Posted by: Rainy's Mom | June 28, 2018 7:58 PM    Report this comment

I'm not particularly interested in dog breeds, but would do DNA testing for known diseases or illnesses.

Posted by: Holly 1 | June 28, 2018 6:27 PM    Report this comment

Like with human DNA companies like Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23 and Me, My Heritage, etc., they are only as good (accurate) as their sample pool and each company is different. As more testing is ordered, the results change.

Posted by: ddemeester | June 28, 2018 6:13 PM    Report this comment

I have gotten the Wisdom Panel DNA done on 10 of my rescue dogs and I do believe it is quite accurate, especially when there are fewer breeds in the gene pool. I submitted a sample for a dog that I knew exactly what mix she was and the results were 100% accurate.
I questioned the results on 2 dogs and one of the vets who oversees the testing called me up and upon finding that I was in vet tech school and worked at a clinic, spoke to me for over 45 minutes and explained how the computer model works and did the test manually herself and was very informative and helpful. in both cases, the result was about 50/50 between two different paths and that was why I questioned the results. Her results were on point. They never had pictures to go on, just the DNA sample and I believe they asked for a weight.
I had a couple of dogs who only had a small number of breeds in them and I'm sure the results were accurate.
It is mostly for entertainment purposes though can give you a head's up about possible breed specific illnesses/issues but I think Wisdom Panel at least is accurate

Posted by: fur-choice pet supply | June 28, 2018 5:24 PM    Report this comment

I confess I'm not a fan of pit bulls, but I must say your Woody is an absolutely gorgeous boy. He looks like an athlete in prime condition. I'm no expert, but I suspect the higher Lab percentage is right, because while his eyes are pit-like, his muzzle tapers in and is fairly long, and his facial features and expression are softer than a pit's and more like a Lab's.

I have a tiny little guy I adopted who was advertised at the shelter as part Chihuahua, but I didn't really see it. I thought there was Maltese or terrier in there. I did the Wisdom Panel on him 5 years ago, and it turns out his parents were a Chihuahua mix and a Pomeranian mix. It is also "statistically likely" he's also part Bichon, Whippet, MinPin, Havanese, and Australian Cattle Dog, according to his results!

Posted by: JanC1955 | June 28, 2018 3:07 PM    Report this comment

I understand your article was about the use of the DNA tests for breed type for mixes & whether it is worth the cost. However, your article misses the pet parents who spend the money specifically to determine whether their dog(s) has the possibility of having a genetic medical condition in the future. I believe this was at least worth mentioning, since you were discussing the monetary angle. I already knew my rescue Aussie was all Aussie, as the original owners provided her paperwork. After using the Embark test, I know she is MDR1 negative & negative for many other genetic diseases, but at risk for Degenerative Myelopathy. With the DM info, I know what to look for, should it occur. My new rescue Old English Sheepdog puppy was abandoned, so it was fun to find out he was indeed 100% OES. However, my main purpose for spending the $ was the genetic testing. Thankfully, he too is negative for MDR1, several common Sheepdog genetic diseases, and all the others they test for. Certainly there are many other diseases that can cause significant health problems not genetic in nature, but I was happy to spend the $ for some peace of mind. (Though more expensive than Wisdom, I chose Embark because of their association with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine).

Posted by: SophHam | June 28, 2018 2:28 PM    Report this comment

vboisen: "Bully breed" does not infer that the dog is misbehaving; it's a phrase that people use to mean any of the breeds that descended from bulldogs: American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, etc. There is no prejudice!

RGBird: Agreed, the tests for the genetic health conditions are very valuable, especially if your dog appears to be part or mostly a breed that is prone to certain genetic diseases.

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | June 28, 2018 1:14 PM    Report this comment

When I adopted my dog I was told he was a Great Pyrenees mix. I had a DNA test done through my veterinarian (blood, not saliva). The results came back 50% Great Pyrenees, 38% American Staffordshire Terrier and 12 % unknown mix. He is 80 pounds and he has a beard, mustache, log hair hanging from his ears and a bushy mane on his upper back. The rest of his body is smooth brindle with fluffy feet (I call them grinch feet) with back and front dewclaws. He has eyes and facial markings similar to your Woody. I was satisfied with the results - he looks like a perfect mix of the two main breeds named.

Posted by: J. Kohl | June 28, 2018 1:00 PM    Report this comment

I ordered the Wisdom Panel for my rescue Jaden. She has the eyes and chin and forehead and the black and white coloring of a boston terrier (my favorite breed) but has long fur and a long whispy tail. She actually looks exactly like a miniature border collie at 18 pounds but sadly there is no such thing. The original panel came back and said she was 100% boston terrier. I called and disputed the results. They explained that they use a computer but re-ran her results without the use of a computer and I got a very detailed response of 9 breeds and their percentages. The second primary breed is cocker spaniel and yup, hindsight being 20/20, I can clearly see it now. And personality wise - oh yes - all cocker. I found it very helpful but would recommend asking for a manual screen.

Posted by: RescueMe2 | June 28, 2018 12:39 PM    Report this comment

I did an enormous amount of research before ordering Wisdom Panel 4.0. I did both of my dogs solely because I have rescues and no idea what either dog's breed might be. More importantly, I tested for genetic drug resistance to certain medication and genetic markers for exercise induced cardiac collapse. I had absolutely no idea what mix of breeds there were nor did three different pet clinics. I thought it was worth the money as long as I did not have to take funding from the monthly heartworm preventative or flea/tick treatment. I loved getting the results and sharing with my vet hospital.

Posted by: Justjack | June 28, 2018 11:53 AM    Report this comment

I agree with your conclusion about doing DNA testing on mixed-breed dogs just to identify their breed breakdown as not being worth the money. However, I DO think DNA testing for breed-specific genetic problems - especially if one is considering breeding a specific dog - is a MUST. For instance, when I discovered my female miniature American Shepherd carries a recessive gene for degenerative myelopathy, it caused me to rethink ever having her bred....or at the very least I would need to see DNA results of any potential mate to verify that he does not carry the same recessive trait (I used Paw Print Genetics and had my vet do the sample collection so she could verify my sample was from this specific dog...no owner hanky-panky allowed!). Thanks for sharing your dogs' results...it IS rather entertaining while at the same time making me go "hmmmmm" at the differing company interpretations!

Posted by: RGBird | June 28, 2018 11:43 AM    Report this comment

I had my Yorkie look-alike tested. She is mainly Yorkie with Maltese at the grandmother level. But Labrador Retriever at the Great Grandmother level. Yorkie and Lab. Trying to picture that.

Posted by: JeffWander | June 28, 2018 11:42 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for this article. I've often had a twinge to get a DNA test but didn't trust the results and thought the money would be better spent on other doggie necessities, now I know for sure.

Posted by: mjkoranda@gmail.com | June 28, 2018 11:33 AM    Report this comment

I used Wisdom and got only a 33% result - they said the rest was too diluted to tell. I was really disappointed since everyone else seems to get a pretty full result.

Posted by: Patricia | June 28, 2018 11:33 AM    Report this comment

Bully breed?

(I would suggest stop perpetuating canine racism! Euphemistically called “breed prejudice”)

Posted by: vboisen | June 28, 2018 11:28 AM    Report this comment

I used BioPet back in 2010 and the results were, um, surprising. My dog looked a bit like Otto in general body size, shape and coat length, was about 65 pounds, black with brown markings, often listed at the vet's office as Rottie/Lab. His DNA came back as Maltese (20-36%), Papillon (20-36%), Beagle (10-19%), Collie(10-19%), German Shorthaired Pointer (10-19%), and Yorkshire Terrier (10-19%). I honestly couldn't see even one of those breeds in him. It was a fun way to waste $65, but I wouldn't do it again.

Posted by: lmh | June 28, 2018 11:24 AM    Report this comment

Czerny, do you see any trace in Otto? I adore my Woody, but I am just not seeing it in Otto.

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | June 28, 2018 11:24 AM    Report this comment

I have a fierce love of pitbulls; I will have no other dog but a pit. If I detect any observable feature of the pitbull in a dog, especially in the eyes and head, that's all I need to fall head over heels.

Posted by: Czerny | June 28, 2018 11:20 AM    Report this comment

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