Ever since I brought Gus home from the West Los Angeles animal shelter eight years ago, I’ve wondered what mix of breeds it took to make his 20-pound redhead perfection. According to his admission papers, the owner who returned him claimed he was a cocker spaniel and dachshund mix – which was entirely believable given his long hair and short stature. For a while I convinced myself that he was a ‘goldie dox’, which is a mix of golden retriever and dachshund, although anatomically I’m not even sure that’s possible – but it did. looks cute.
Because he has an unusual appearance, passers-by often ask about his race, and I used to say, “We’re not really sure. But I had always hoped for a more concrete answer. I had heard of people using canine DNA testing, but had always been somewhat skeptical of them. They’re not cheap, I imagine the swabs get mixed up and the results mixed up, and I’m not even sure I’m able to collect oral cells properly. But we thought, if nothing else, doing a DNA test might be fun. I have now tried free samples of some of the DNA tests on the market, including the Embark Breed and Health Kit ($135 at Amazon)which is Wirecutter’s Choice for Best Dog DNA Kit, and Premium Wisdom Board ($75 at Petco)both of which tend to be highly rated and have solid dog breed databases.
Embark Dog DNA Test Kit
$135 on Amazon
- 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon with over 10,600 reviews
- Wirecutter’s Choice for Best Dog DNA Kit
- Tests for over 210 health risks and is in partnership with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
Wisdom Panel Identification of Breeds and Health Conditions DNA Test for Dogs
$125 on Chewy
- A Wirecutter pick, with the site noting that it “identifies more AKC-registered breeds than any kit we’ve tested” and has a faster turnaround, though it also notes that this may be slightly less accurate
- Detects over 350 breeds and over 200 genetic disease tests
For each of these tests, I dabbed the space between Gus’s cheek and gums for several seconds while my husband held Gus’ trembling body. Then I sealed the cotton swab in the included envelope and mailed it in a pre-addressed package to the lab. Gus wasn’t thrilled with the swab, but it wasn’t horrible, and it was actually easier to do than I expected. Each test took a few weeks to come back.
The results showed me that Gus is clearly a pooch (there are Cocker Spaniel and Poodle, and even Pomeranian, among other breeds). Alas, with an official-looking certificate, a lab reference number, and an explanation of the different levels of race determination, Gus’s possible ancestry was now within reach.
What I like about DNA testing for dogs:
I have an answer (albeit a complicated one) for people when they ask me what kind of dog Gus is.
It’s a fairly painless process, and it doesn’t feel too invasive for the dog.
What to consider about DNA testing for dogs:
It is quite difficult for me to be certain of the accuracy of the results.
It may not be so easy to get a DNA sample from your dog’s mouth. You have to dab the space between their gumline and cheek for several seconds, and Gus wasn’t thrilled – it might be useful to have an extra pair of hands to help with the picking.
It may take some time to get results.
At the end of the line :
I like to know what part of Gus’ DNA makeup might be so I can research common personality traits and characteristics and learn about how dogs like him age and what to expect in terms of breed-specific ailments. You can try the Embark Breed and Health Kit ($135 at Amazon)who was Wirecutter’s choice for best DNA kit, or Premium Wisdom Panel ($125 on Chewy).
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the author has now tried several dog DNA tests.