It never fails: Every time I take my senior dog Otto into public, people ask what breed he is. And I have to smile and shrug. My standard answers:
“He’s a Disney dog!”
“He’s an Oroville Chickenhound!” (He was found as a stray pup, about four months old, in someone’s chicken coop, and brought to my local animal shelter. When I adopted him at the estimated age of 7 months, I couldn’t believe that such a cute pup had been languishing there for three months. It may have had something to do with the fact that his cage card indicated that he killed chickens.)
Mostly what I say is, “He’s very mixed.”
However, this tend to make people ask “Why don’t you get one of those DNA tests that tell you what he is?”
And I have to say, “I have! Five times! And the results are mixed!”
Otto’s DNA Journey
In 2009, I sent Otto’s DNA to the two companies that seemed to be the most reputable at the time, Wisdom Panel and Petco’s Canine Heritage. The technology was new and the results were a sketchy on details, but both companies detected Chow Chow and Border Collie. Wisdom Panel thought there was also German Shepherd and Basenji; Canine Heritage thought there was also some Poodle. I thought any of that was possible, with the exception of Basenji.
In 2016, I planned to write an updated article about DNA tests, and I again sent Otto’s DNA off to two companies that offered mixed-breed identification, just to see what they had to say.
One of the companies was DNA My Dog. Its results agreed with my “very mixed” assessment, but the breeds they suggested that might be present bordered on ludicrous: Collie, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, English Setter, and Norwegian Elkhound. Given the rural and economically depressed area in which Otto was found, I think it’s unlikely that any of those four breeds have ever set foot in the area—or at least not in the same generation!
The other company I sent a sample to in 2016 was Wisdom Panel. Shortly after the company received the sample, I received a message indicating that they recognized that they had tested the same dog previously, and that they would test the new sample anyway. Cool! That lent the endeavor credibility.
Wisdom Panel’s 2016 results offered a lot more detail than in 2009. “Basenji” had disappeared (it had been pretty unlikely), and the previously detected Border Collie, Chow Chow, and German Shepherd were still present. However, topping the list were two breeds that had not been reported by any of the companies previously: American Staffordshire Terrier and Australian Cattle Dog. At that time, the company didn’t offer estimates of the contributions of potential ancestors by percentage; instead, it offered a theoretical family tree. Otto’s showed no possible purebred ancestors until at least the great-grandparent level.
I think I might have written a blog post about the results, but I know I didn’t get around to writing a feature article about DNA that year.
Some New Information
In 2018, I asked one of our contributors to write an updated article, instead. I revisited the Wisdom Panel website, knowing that they promised to occasionally “refresh” their results as their technology improved. I also sent a sample of Otto’s DNA to a new player on the mixed-breed identification block, Embark.
In 2018, Wisdom Panel was expressing the contributions of various breeds in the dogs’ DNA as percentages. All of the results in Otto’s 2016 report were the same, but percentages had been added. They indicated that there were about equal amounts of Am Staff, Cattle Dog, Border Collie, Chow, and German Shepherd in Otto.
This was very interesting in light of the results I received from Embark’s 2018 test of Otto’s DNA. Its results were very similar—with a notable exception. Embark identified Otto’s bully breed ancestor as American Pit Bull Terrier, and also indicated that he was more APBT than anything else, as much as 21.2%! This company also found Cattle Dog, German Shepherd, Chow, and Border Collie in Otto, but added some Labrador.
While I have to admit that I’m looking forward to any future testing or updates available, I’m going to stick with calling Otto “very mixed.”
Has anyone else had your dog tested by different companies? How did your results vary?