Meet my dog Dobby.
Dobby was rescued from a Connecticut animal shelter in the United States by my partner in 2018, and his breed has always been a source of baffled entertainment to us. His big ears made us think of Corgis and Pharaoh Hounds, but his physique was small and his long, skinny legs seemed out of place with the breeds we suspected.
In 2020, my partner finally gave in and bought Dobby a DNA test to try – partly out of curiosity caused by months of boredom, and partly because some breeds can be more prone to certain diseases and health problems and it can be helpful to get around know if there is any way we can improve our puppy’s health.
Here’s another photo of Dobby – let’s see if you can guess what races he might be made of … you might be as surprised as we were to see the results!
(Image: Emily Chao)
It turns out that our little 11kg dog is a German Shepherd.
That’s right – one of the larger and heavier dog breeds has turned into such a small frame. Not only that, but there’s Labrador Retriever and Weimaraner DNA in the mix – the sturdy Lab ancestors surprised us the most – although we had some correct guesses with Rat Terriers and Toy Fox Terriers in the results.
The test also came back with high levels of “super mutt,” where the DNA is so mixed up that science cannot fully identify the tiny strains of potential dog breeds that make up our dobby.
The wide variety of mixed breeds did not surprise us as Dobby was found on a Georgia street by a US animal shelter and not bought from a litter, but it was a shock that his ancestors were such large dogs. However, with further research, we began to notice the impact German Shepherd DNA had on him – this particular breed can have separation anxiety issues, which Dobby also struggles with.
(Image: Screenshot by Embark)
How do you do a canine DNA test?
“I wanted the test because Dobby was listed as a Corgi / Basenji mix, and after having him for two years I didn’t believe it at all,” my partner told me.
“I wanted to see what it is made of and what characteristics come from which breed.”
Dobby took an owner-managed Breed ID test from US online service Embark Vet. They ship their kits to the UK, but waiting for results can take several weeks due to the additional shipping time.
Price is $ 129 (about $ 92) for a Race ID kit and $ 199 (about £ 142 for a Race and Health kit, but watch out for specials and discounts – it there is now one on the website that offers $ 40 off) health kit.
“To get the test, I just ordered it online and sent me the saliva kit, but I had to wipe Dobby’s mouth for 30-60 seconds and he didn’t like it,” said my partner.
After taking the cheek swab, put it in a tube and the liquid inside will stabilize the saliva and keep your dog’s DNA ready for analysis for many months.
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There is a video on their website on how to do this and advises not to let your dog chew or bite on the sponge applicator.
What to Expect
For Dobby, it took about two to three weeks for the test to be returned after the saliva stick was shipped.
(Image: Emily Chao)
“It’s very simple,” she said, “but you have to dab the inside of your dog’s mouth for more than he is happy to allow you. So if you have a big, mouthful dog, I’d be forewarned.
“I’m just glad that this DNA test was done, because it gave me a lot of pleasure.”
A canine DNA test may not be for everyone because it is expensive and more basic forms of the test don’t test for health concerns that your dog may be prone to.
The DNA comparisons from the Embark kit are also based on common US breeds, so the UK results may not be as extensive. Embark says it tests for more than 350 breeds, including the lineages of wolves, coyotes, dingoes and village dogs. Together, these cover more than 98% of the dogs in America
These home kits work similarly to commercial human DNA testing like 23AndMe, however, breed testing is a little less accurate as companies compare your dog’s genetic information to that of other dogs in their databases.
It’s best not to take dog DNA test results as a gospel, but learning a little more about Dobby’s genetic makeup was fun, and for an adopted dog, it can be a little useful glimpse a shelter can give you could not possibly give.