On March 4, CBC News (Canada’s publicly owned news and information service) ran a television and online report about an investigation of four companies that offer dog DNA tests that purport to identify the breeds in mixed-breed dogs. Within a day, practically everyone I know was posting links to the online report with comments like, “I knew those tests were bunk!”
In the past 15-plus years that they’ve been available, I’ve been skeptical of the ability of these commercial testing products myself. However, I will say that, in my experience – and that of the CBC report – two companies in particular seem to provide results that are at least in the ballpark of possibility for the most common dog breeds found in North America. And one company seems to have a pretty good handle on identifying the origin of mixed breed dogs from other parts of the world. My response to the report, though, takes in a few details that many commenters seemed to miss.
The CBC sent DNA samples for four individuals to four different companies that offer mixed-breed dog DNA tests: Accu-Metrics, DNA My Dog, Embark, and Wisdom Panel. But they picked odd (in my opinion) candidates to use for the tests: A human, a purebred Great Dane, a mixed-breed dog from Turkey, and a mixed-breed dog from Kuwait.
As far as the human sample was concerned: I was pleased to learn that Embark and Wisdom Panel immediately sussed out that no dog DNA was present in the sample. And was not terrifically surprised when Accu-Metrics and DNA My Dog returned various dog-breed mixes in their results for the human sample. (Before seeing this report, I had never heard of Accu-Metrics before, and, a long time ago, received similarly incredible results of a test from DNA My Dog.)
The latter two companies also failed to accurately identify the purebred Great Dane. Results from DNA MY Dog suggested the dog was mostly Great Dane, but also 10% -25% Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Accu-Metrics returned the breed that the CBC suggested on its submission form that the dog most resembled: a Chihuahua! I don’t see any need to further discuss any results – or ever recommend the services from – either of those two companies.
Both Embark and Wisdom Panel correctly identified the Great Dane as 100% Great Dane.
Mixed-Breed Dogs from Other Continents
I so wish that CBC had used mixed-breed dogs from North America as their last two “test dogs,” because there are likely to be very few representatives of the most common purebreds dogs on other continents in Embark’s and Wisdom Panel’s databases. The most common (or likely) mixed-breed dogs on the streets in Turkey and Kuwait are not likely to be the breeds that are most common (or likely candidates) mixed-breed dogs found in Canada or the U.S.
Wisdom Panel identified the breed mix for the Turkish dog as Segugio Italiano, Chihuahua, Anatolian Shepherd, German Shepherd, and Estrela Mountain Dog. Without information as to how common those dog breeds are found in Turkey, it’s impossible to know how accurate this might be. To its credit, Embark identified the breed mix of the same dog as 100% West Asian Village Dog – meaning they were able to pinpoint the mixed-breed dog’s geographical origins. I’d call that a home run!
Similarly, Embark identified the dog from Kuwait as 100% Arabian Village Dog – again, at least accurately identifying the dog’s geographical place of origin. (Kuwait is also located in West Asia, but also at the northern edge of Eastern Arabia.) Wisdom Panel identified the dog as being a mix of American Pit Bull Terrier, Chihuahua, German Shepherd, Segugio Italiano, and Xoloitzcuintle.
Comparing Embark and Wisdom Panel, the two leaders
I’m a little dubious about the idea that these two foreign-born dogs could share three breeds in their Wisdom Panel results (Chihuahua, German Shepherd, Segugio Italiano), so I’m rather more impressed with Embark’s performance here. However, I’d want to compare the results from these two companies on more prosaic mixed breed dogs from this continent before dismissing Wisdom Panel altogether. In our past comparisons, using my two mixed-breed dogs Otto and Woody, the results were pretty darn close.
Otto’s DNA Test Results:
Woody’s DNA Test Results:
Back when I was still fostering Boone, my 1-year-old adolescent dog, I ordered a DNA test kit from Wisdom Panel, and these were the results:
But I think I am going to go ahead and order a test kit from Embark, to compare these results. I have a feeling, based on the CBC report, that I might invest a little more confidence in Embark’s results, but I’ll let you know!