The ultimate guide to dog DNA tests: Benefits and the best test kit

The ultimate guide to dog DNA tests: Benefits and the best test kit

We’ve all been on either one side or the other of the ever common question: “what kind of dog is that?”

The desire to know the breed of a dog, particularly your own dog, is common and understandable. It may be time to seek out concrete answers if you find yourself often answering questions about your dogs breed with:

“Probably a Cocker-Poodle-Pointer-Malamute-Saint Bernard.”

Or something along the lines of, “definitely a Husky…mixed with a Lab, a German Shepard, and maybe some Jack Russell Terrier…probably,”

Or

“I have no idea, what’s your best guess?”

DNA testing isn’t just for humans anymore, and with the ever-advancement of technology there are great benefits to learning the exact breed of a dog; such as potential health issues, behavioral habits, recommended foods and more.

Don’t worry, it isn’t going to cost you an arm-and-a-leg to get one of these tests done. We’ve done the research for you in order to ensure that you get the best value for your money, the best results for your dog, and the greatest overall satisfaction with your DNA testing experience.

For those of here for our top DNA test kit recommendation, then Wisdom Panel Identification Test 3.0 on Amazon is the one for you. If you want to know more about how to find out the breed of your dog through DNA testing, then read on!

DNA testing basics

When the human genome project first launched and the gargantuan undertaking of mapping human DNA got underway, people began to wonder what else we could do with such technology. DNA testing kits came soon after, and these first kits were only for humans and offered a unique opportunity to learn extensive details about your ancestry.

DNA is essentially the genetic coding of all living things. As the technology progressed and inherently became less expensive, many companies saw an opportunity to expand the DNA testing opportunities into various markets - primarily that of pets.

No matter how the DNA is collected, DNA tests work by comparing the genetic material of the animal in question against an established database containing information on various breeds - the larger the database the more accurate the DNA test tends to be. Given that this breed database is the key to any DNA identifying operation, different companies create their own databases and use different labs for their operations.

But what exactly can these databases tell us about our dogs?

DNA test benefits

The first and most obvious benefit of using a DNA test is that you finally get to learn exactly what type of canine you have. That means you can stop making stuff up whenever a stranger stops you on the street and asks you.

But knowing your dog’s breed isn’t just about appearance, no matter how cute they are, but instead offers you powerful insight that can help increase the quality of your best friend’s life. It’s easy to know a few characteristics of a few breeds, particularly those breeds we are most familiar with, but there are very few of us who know the traits and habits of all breeds.

Your dog, unless they’re a purebred (and you’ve got the paperwork to verify it), probably has a few breeds in their bloodline, some of which are hidden to you since they aren’t showing physical traits. Learning what those breeds are gives you a starting place to learn about the breeds that make up your best friend.

Here are some of the key benefits to completing a DNA test. Remember, these are items you’ll want to research concerning the specific breed of your dog:

Health

Your dog’s health is key to their happiness, and unlike their two-legged friends, dogs are masters of masking pain and discomfort, some believe this is because of their pack instincts. Because of this trait, it may be far too late for your dog by the time you discover they are suffering.

Diet

Just as humans differ in their dietary needs based on their genetics, so do dogs. Their genetic makeup plays a key factor in the nutrients they need to be healthy.

For example, some dogs, particularly those with lush coats according to PetMD, need more vitamins to sustain their hair, while others may need specific eating conditions to remain healthy. A lot of these factors are obvious, for instance when a flat faced dog struggles to eat out of a round bowl, but other traits like those of Labradors and their insatiable appetites are harder to spot on the surface.

Exercise

Did you know that Saint Bernards, despite their large size, need far less exercise than a Jack Russell Terrier? Or perhaps that Weimaraners need hours of exercise every day to remain healthy, but are often appear content to lie around if their owners don’t encourage them?

Different breeds need different exercise regimens, some will be great for hiking while others are perfect for lounging on the sofa with - the bottom line is that there is a difference between them. Knowing the genetic makeup of a dog can help cater to their exercise not only to their energy level and temperament but also to help prevent possible ailments and diseases that are prone to their lineage.

Potential health problems

There isn’t much scarier than taking your canine to the vet for a routine checkup and learn that they are being attacked by a malicious disease. Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do but change your lifestyle, and that of your dog, in a way to make them most comfortable. Other hereditary diseases, however, can be prevented or more easily managed if you know of them ahead of time.

Behavior

We all know that Rottweilers are more aggressive than Poodles, and Boxers love to use their arms when fighting, right? Or that Dalmatians can smell a fire from across the city, while Rough Collies are particularly keen at getting kids out of wells. These beliefs are, of course, wrongly perpetuated myths and stereotypes, but they do offer us a grain of knowledge on the greater situation.

Some dog breeds are more prone to certain behaviors, such as being kid friendly, being alone, being energetic, and more. Your dog may have many strains in their genetic heritage, and because of this it’s easy to learn specific behaviors they’re prone to exhibit once you know their ancestry. 

Top DNA testing kits

Taking into account the huge variety of benefits to knowing your dog’s breed, the next logical step is to find an accurate way to determine it’s ancestry. There are two leading DNA tests on the market, both of which we’ve covered with our in-depth research to give you more puppy play time.

It should be noted, however, that if your dog is a heavily mixed breed (generations and generations of mixed breeds) your results will reflect this alongside whatever else the genetics can clarify. This isn’t the fault of any specific test, but rather a limitation of genetic testing in general.

Wisdom Panel 3.0 DNA Test Kit

The Wisdom Panel 3.0 Breed Identification DNA Test Kit is our number one recommendation, without a doubt. They’ve tested over 1,000,000 canines, and if you any questions or concerns they have a full staff of dedicated genetic specialists and veterinarians standing by to help you.

They’ve thought ahead to make the process as easy as possible for you, even down to the detail of sending you two cheek swabs to ensure your DNA collection goes smoothly. On top of that, Wisdom has other key features:

Industry leading database - comparing your dog’s DNA to others on the largest database available, Wisdom Panel tests for over 250 breed, types, and varieties that cover over 99% of the AKC registry.

Precision ancestry testing - Wisdom Panel’s algorithm runs more than 17,000,000 calculations on your dog’s DNA to provide three generations of information.

Speed without lowered quality - in as as little as two weeks after receiving your dog’s DNA, you’ll be able to view your results on an in depth user friendly website provided by Wisdom Panel.

MDR1 testing - As we mentioned before, some conditions and diseases can be discovered through DNA tests, and Wisdom Panel provides information on whether your dog suffers from the MRD1 mutation. This information can save your dog’s life by putting you on a path of awareness and your dog on a course of treatment before they suffer symptoms.

Basically, Wisdom Panel provides everything you could want from a dog DNA test without the high cost other tests charge. They have a great website for you to view the results on that is user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. Their customer service is prompt and friendly, and the only downfall is the one that all DNA tests share - the inability to provide great results if your dog has too many generations of mixed breeding.

Pros:

  • Competitively priced while still providing excellent results
  • Prompt customer service and access to veterinarians and specialists
  • One of the fastest turnaround times on the market

Cons:

  • In rare cases some users report their test coming back with a % of “other”

You can learn more and purchase the Wisdom Panel 3.0 DNA Test Kit on Amazon.

Embark Dog DNA Test Kit

Embark Dog DNA Test is partnered with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which automatically gives this product a sense of legitimacy and high quality. Given that they are established with a nationally recognized university you don’t have to worry about the quality of their lab work, which gives customers a piece of mind that the results they receive are accurate and uncompromised.

Embark has a selection of key traits that helps set them apart from the competition, the highlights of those include:

Database size - Embark tests for over 175 dog breeds, which includes 98% of canines in America and even covers wolf, coyote, and village dog varieties.

Ancestry accuracy - Tracing back both the maternal and paternal groups in your dog’s ancestry is possible with this test, accurate as far as your dogs great grandparents. Not only will your dog’s DNA be analyzed, but it will be compared to other Embark dogs with similar genetic composition even if their breed mix varies. This gives you information on possible extended ancestry by comparing with similar dogs.

Disease scan - over 160 diseases are checked for when the genetic testing takes place, covering everything from potential genetic diseases to drug sensitivities. This information will give you piece of mind (or the information needed to act accordingly) and help you increase the quality of your best friends life.

Testing intensity - Embark uses over 200,000 genetic markers to identify your dog’s breed. This is an industry leading number, and when you couple the high degree of testing with the fact that Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine helps cater the results, you’ve got a winning hand.

On top of all of these wonderful traits, Embark also gives you access to an interactive and informative interface on their website after your dog’s test results come in. This interface is easy to use, packed full of information, and makes sharing your findings on social media a breeze.

Pros:

  • Extremely comprehensive DNA test with 98%+ accuracy
  • Easy to use (swab and send)
  • Great online resources to view the results
  • Contribute to greater genetic research by sharing data with Cornell

Cons:

  • Expensive (nearly double its closest competitor)
  • Processing time is long (3 - 6 weeks average)

You can get more information and buy the Embark Dog DNA Test Kit on Amazon.

Can you determine dog breed without a DNA test?

The short answer, yes. The real answer, to an extent. You’ll be able to pick out major contributing breeds that your dog shares, but if they don’t exhibit a physical characteristic then you’ll be left in the dark.

To make an educated guess at your dogs breed, you’ll need to look at the shape of its head, the shape and carriage of its ears, the type, texture, and color of their coat, and their character traits. Once you’ve got those figured out, check out this super helpful illustrated guide that Perfect Fit produced.

What to do with the test results

After you’ve received your DNA testing results the next step is to apply the results for your canines benefit. Knowing what to research is important but in an effort to save you time an energy we’ve gone ahead and compiled answers to the above questions based on the five most common dog breeds in the United States

Because these are the five most common breeds in the United States, chances are high that your mutt probably has a percentage of one of these breeds in them.

beautiful labrador canine

Knowing your dog’s breed is half the battle; next is research. Image: m01229

Labrador Retriever

One amazing resource for Labrador Retriever’s is thelabradorsite.com, a comprehensive website dedicated entirely to this loyal breed.

  • Diet - Labs eat, eat, and eat. You need to make sure to set their food amounts, no matter what type of food you decide on.
  • Exercise - Typically 45 minutes  - 1.5 hours, depending on your specific dogs age and preference.
  • Potential health problems - Joint problems, obesity related conditions, and cancer.
  • Behavior - Known as being energetic people pleasers who tend to love the outdoors and don’t mind making a mess.

German Shepherd

Shepped.com is a go-to resource for German Shepherds, discussing everything from diet to exercise routines, habits, history and more.

  • Diet - German Shepherds need at least 22% protein in their diet since they are high activity, high energy dogs.
  • Exercise - Aim for 2+ hours of exercise a day, particularly high energy burning activities like frisbee, running, and fast play.
  • Potential health problems - Hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, epilepsy, hemophilia, diabetes, cataracts, and degenerative disc disease are all problems to look out for with German Shepherds.
  • Behavior - Although a negative stigma surrounding this breed is their aggressive nature (typically because they are used as guard and police dogs), German Shepherds are also known for their curiosity, obedience, loyalty, and courage.

Golden Retriever

With resources from potential food allergies to management and training recommendations, officialgoldenretriever.com is a great resources for owners of the breed.

  • Diet - Needing between 800 and 1,500 calories per day, Golden Retrievers should have their food restricted so that they don’t suffer from gastric dilation and bloating. Make sure your dog gets plenty of water to maintain their health and digestive tract.
  • Exercise - An under exercised Golden Retriever is a destructive one, so make sure your Golden is getting at least 2 hours of exercise every day.
  • Potential health problems - Lymphoma, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), hemangiosarcoma, and skin problems.
  • Behavior - Stereotypes are fairly true for this breed, and goldens tend to be kind, trustworthy, intelligent, reliable, confident, and friendly.

Bulldog (English/French)

Bulldogsworld.com has been online since 1999, and is an even better resource today than it was when it was founded.

  • Diet - Since they are prone to flatulence and indigestion, feeding your bulldog many small meals over the day is better than feeding them one big meal.
  • Exercise - Smaller legs means less exercise for this breed, 20 - 40 minutes daily recommended will do the job.
  • Potential health problems - Having been bred for their looks over many years, bulldogs suffer from many health problems, including major respiratory problems, overeating, severe skin allergies, and degenerative spine disease.
  • Behavior - Known as a “go with the flow” breed, bulldogs are docile, willful, friendly, and gregarious.

Beagle

All the information you could ever want on these floppy eared friends can be found at beaglepro.com.

  • Diet - Beagles will eat just about any food you offer, but benefit most when enjoying vegetables and fruits with their regular food.
  • Exercise - 20 through 40 minutes will suffice for your beagle’s daily needs, and once a week a bit of heavy cardio (20 minutes) is ideal.
  • Potential health problems - Although beagles are typically pretty healthy, watch out for epilepsy, allergies, cherry eyes, hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia and back problems.
  • Behavior - These small hounds are easy to be around, typically exhibiting even temperedness, a sense of excitement, intelligence, gentleness, and amiability.

Still need more information?

Feel free to email us if you have any further questions about DNA testing, other testing products, or if you just want to send us adorable photos of your dog and ask “what kind of pup do you think this is?” We’re always happy to help as much as we can, even if the best we can do is respond with “That looks like a good boy, give them lots of pats.”

Of course, we would highly recommend that you make the small effort of getting a DNA test done for your dog because not only does it give you bragging rights if you guess the breed right, but the knowledge gained through such a test can help prevent so many problems down the line.

But no matter what you choose to do, maybe you’ll still send us some cute puppy photos?

-Zak Killerman

You know the friend that pets every dog they see, even if they have to cross 5 lanes of busy traffic just so they can conveniently be walking past that husky puppy on the other side of the street? That’s Zak, and when he’s not petting dogs he is writing about them - life is good!

Feature image: Sean McMenemy