The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

What mix is your mutt? DNA test can yield surprises, explain behaviour

  • Print

ARVADA, Colo. - When Will Colosimo adopted his dog Allie in 2003, he knew he was getting a mutt. She looked like a Basenji, but the Colorado Basenji Rescue group in Denver, from where he retrieved her, said they didn't think she had any of that small, short-haired breed in her.

Curiosity got the better of him.

"We always knew she was beautiful, but we didn't know what all came together to make her," he said.

There are several types of DNA tests available for determining a mixed-breed dog's ancestry. Colosimo sent away for one that required swabbing the inside of his dog's cheek and mailing the sample to a lab. He learned that Allie, who is eight or nine years old, had both German shepherd and dachshund blood.

"It was hilarious," said Colosimo, 45. "So, the German shepherd I can totally see, but dachshund? That's crazy."

And not uncommon. Veterinarians advise owners that what they see in their dog is not always what they have.

"We're really bad guessers at what dogs are," said Martha Smith, Director of Veterinary Medical Services at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

The rescue league began using mixed-breed DNA blood testing when it appeared about four years ago, testing a few of its shelter dogs. "We found out from the handful of tests that we ran that we were way off base" in guessing breeds, Smith said. The test "proves dogs are individuals."

Karin Hendersin, 52, a market researcher in Denver, can speak to that. Her dog, Splash, resembles a pit bull, a breed banned in the Denver city limits. Hendersin recently learned that Splash, with her brown-brindled coat, is Chinese Shar-Pei, Labrador retriever and Dalmatian - and no pit bull.

Hendersin thinks the DNA test also helped explain some of the dog's behaviour.

"It explains why she's such a runner," Hendersin said, noting the Dalmatian genes. "We take her to the dog park and a whole herd of dogs will chase her."

There are two kinds of mixed-breed DNA testing: the inner-cheek swab method, which is a kit that can be bought at stores or online, and a blood-drawn test, which is performed in a veterinarian's office.

The cheek-swab method, created by MetaMorphix Inc., a biotechnology company, is offered at two levels: The standard breed test (about US$70) can identify from a range of about 50 dog breeds, while the "XL" breed test (about $120) identifies from about 100 breeds.

The blood test identifies genes from a base of 157 breeds, according to the website of Mars Inc., the company that offers the test through vets' offices.

Smith advocates for the blood-work test not only because it accesses more breeds but because, depending on the DNA results, some dog owners may need follow-up counselling.

"Some people might've been happy with what they thought they had, then something like 'Rottweiler' shows up," said Smith. "All of a sudden, they're looking at their dog through a completely different pair of eyes."

A veterinarian can reassure owners that "the dog you now have more information about is the dog you still love," she said.

Theresa Brady, a MetaMorphix marketing representative in Calverton, Md., said the two DNA tests are equally effective, even though her company's cheek-swab method tests for fewer breeds.

"DNA is DNA," she said. "The sampling method doesn't make a difference."

Smith and other vets caution that the DNA tests are "for fun and entertainment" - not for diagnostic purposes.

"It's just a test for owners," said vet Kelly Best of Arvada Flats Veterinary Hospital in Colorado. "I don't know that it has any medical benefits at all."

Even for purebreds predisposed to certain diseases, their genetic dilution in a mutt makes concern about the diseases negligible, she said.

And no one has come knocking on her door asking for the test.

Smith, however, has run the blood test on many dogs.

"It's like Christmas Day when (clients) get to open their results," she said. "A lot of times people are right, and a lot of times they're wrong."

Either way, "people are really, really excited," Smith said.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart: Fifty Ways To Punt Your Premier

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.
  • A one day old piglet glances up from his morning feeding at Cedar Lane Farm near Altona.    Standup photo Ruth Bonneville Winnipeg Free Press

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your favourite Halloween treat to hand out?

View Results

Ads by Google