black mixed breed dog with a bandana and collar

How Accurate Are Dog DNA Tests?

If you have a mixed breed dog or rescue pup, you might be interested in an at-home dog DNA test to find out their breed make-up. But just how accurate are dog DNA tests?

First, the Basics of Dog DNA Testing

Lots of people have spit in a tube and sent it off to a company like Ancestry® or 23andMe® to learn more about their origins. Human DNA testing is pretty similar to those for dogs. But don’t worry, you won’t need to get your pup to spit in a tube. A simple cheek swab is all that is needed for DNA tests for dogs.

A dog DNA test will tell you about your dog’s breed composition, which can help explain why they look the way they do or have certain quirky behaviors. For instance, you might discover your dog is part Terrier. These dogs were bred to dig out small prey, which can help explain why your pup insists on digging up the carpet.

Or maybe your dog has a bit of Spaniel in them. Spaniels were bred to flush birds out of the bush for hunters. This might be why your dog goes crazy at the sight of anything feathered.

Quick Tip

If your dog is a digger, you can satisfy their urge to dig by filling a kiddie pool with sand and burying a few treasures for them to find.

Easy as 1-2-3

You can buy a dog DNA test kit online or at a pet store. Kits will include at least one swab and a test tube or similar container. From there, it’s a pretty straightforward 3-step process:

  1. Swab your dog’s cheek for around 20 seconds to a minute.
  2. Place the swab in the tube or container.
  3. Ship it off to the lab in the packaging provided by the service.

Of course, step two can be a tad tricky. Not all dogs are going to be happy about having their cheek swabbed. And some might think it’s an invitation to play tug-of-war with the swab. It’s probably best to wait until your dog is chilling quietly or worn out after a long walk to give it a go. A promise of a few treats for complying can also be a big help.

Be sure to read and follow any instructions included with your dog DNA test. For instance, you may need to keep your dog away from other dogs for a certain amount of time, so there’s no cross-contamination. You may also need to make sure your dog hasn’t had anything to eat or drink for a while before the test.

What Next?

Once the lab gets the swab, their technicians will extract and process the DNA. The chromosomal patterns of your dog’s DNA will be matched to a breed database using a computer algorithm. It can take up to six weeks or more to get the results back, depending on the service.

How Much Does a Dog DNA Test Cost?

The cost of dog DNA test kits vary. They can range anywhere from $70 to up to $200 or more. Usually, the more expensive kits include added features, such as health screenings or breed insights. If these extras don’t interest you, you might want to go with a basic kit, which will typically be more affordable.

tan mixed breed dog being cuddled outside by a man

So, How Accurate Are Dog DNA Tests?

It can be fun to get your dog’s DNA test results and share them with your friends at the dog park. They can also provide you with information about your dog’s behavior to help you better understand their needs. But some veterinary experts say you should take your dog’s DNA test results with a grain of salt.

While dog DNA services may boast a high percentage of accuracy, those claims are based on evaluations done by the companies themselves. Their claims may be correct, but they haven’t been validated by an outside party. In addition, services use different methodologies, which aren’t available to the public for comparison.

If you get results that concern you, such as a breed you’ve heard negative things about or the potential for a hereditary condition that sounds scary, you should talk to your veterinarian. Remember dogs are individuals with unique personalities. You can’t predict a dog’s behavior or future health conditions based solely on breed.

Health Screenings

If your dog’s DNA test includes health screening, there are some things you should keep in mind. Hopefully, your results will show that your pup isn’t predisposed to any hereditary diseases. However, that doesn’t guarantee your dog doesn’t have one. It only means that they don’t have one that can be tested for today. The list of diseases they can screen for gets longer every year as dog DNA testing evolves.

Additionally, there are other factors that play a role when it comes to disease. For instance, a dog’s environment, lifestyle, and diet all contribute to a dog’s health. It’s not all about genetics.

Don’t be shy about telling your veterinarian about your dog’s DNA test results. Of course, health care decisions shouldn’t be made solely on what they might show. But they can give your veterinarian one more piece in the puzzle as they help you care for your pooch.

Fun Fact

Wondering if you can register a dog with a DNA test? In the US, the American Kennel Club has an entire resource center dedicated to the topic.

How to Choose a Dog DNA Test

If you’d like to test your dog’s DNA, keep these questions in mind as you shop around for a service:

  • What’s the cost? Be sure to balance price with the quality of the service and the features they offer.
  • How many breeds are included in their database? A larger number of breeds can help improve accuracy. If your dog has a rare breed that isn’t in their collection, it won’t show up in your test results.
  • What features do you want included? Think about whether you just want to know your dog’s breed make-up or if you’d like additional features, like health screenings or family trees.
  • How long does it take to get the results back? Depending on the service, it can take anywhere from a week to a month or more to get your dog’s results. It may not make much difference to you, but it’s good to know what to expect.

If you decide to purchase a dog DNA test, have fun with it! But avoid using it to make any lifestyle or health decisions without talking them over with your veterinarian.