Luna Lovebug Dog Blog Pages

Friday, 25 October 2013

What Breed is My Dog: DNA Tests for Mixed-Breed Dogs

We often get asked what breed of dog Luna is. After many guesses from friends and interested strangers, we finally gave in and bought a DNA test, which came back with surprising results!

Luna Lovebug from all angles
Luna Lovebug: Ancestry Unknown

The Guessing Game
Luna was adopted from a shelter. As such, we'll never know her actual background and she isn't an obvious individual breed. The shelter described her as a Chihuahua mix and another rescue charity pegged her as a Corgi mix on their website. By the time we finally picked her up, she had been re-labeled by the shelter vet as a Basenji. We could see all of these as theoretically possible, but we had her pegged for a Border Collie/Chihuahua mix on account of her looking like a small Border Collie (the terms 'Collie-huahua' and 'Chih-huollie' were being played around with). However, we still hadn't really accounted for her very distinctive curled tail, or fully explained her disproportionately large pointy ears.

First guesses

Guessing Luna's breed is an activity that has been enjoyed by many people who have met her – both people we know and people we don't. Some of the suggestions that we've had along the way for breeds that might be in the mix have included Akita, Shiba Inu, Keeshond and Canaan dog. The suggestion of Canaan dog came from our dog trainer (Janine at J9's K9s) and was a breed we'd never heard about and had to look up. The picture is so close to Luna that for a while we were convinced we'd got a pure-bred rare-breed dog. That is, until we actually saw one – and it was about twice the size of little Luna. So what then, a Canaan-huahua with only the size gene inherited from the Mexican side of the family? The desire to know ultimately became too great and we sent off for a Breed Identification DNA test kit from Wisdom Panel.

The Science Bit
A few words to the science behind such a kit: The Wisdom Panel test kit is pretty simplistic – you receive an unnecessarily large box (perhaps to make you feel happier about the $70 price tag) which contains two mini brushes-on-sticks (to be used as swabs) and some simple instructions. The kit can be used for testing mixed breed, purebred or 'designer' hybrids of two purebreds (Puggles, Labradoodles, Maltipoos, etc.) All that you are required to do is twirl the brushes in your dog's gums (to pick up some cells) and then let them dry out before packaging them back up in the box and mailing it back.

DNA MarkersIn a rare opportunity to put my science degree to use, I can tell you that back in the lab they will be using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) process to multiply up the doggie DNA and then, most likely, electrophoresis to produce the kind of DNA bands you may be familiar with from Biology at school, or from watching a lot of CSI. A computer will then be used to compare the sample against the company's database of genetic 'markers', which determine individual breed characteristics found on the canine genome. The computer will produce a report which gives the likely percentage of the markers that match to various breeds. Based upon this, the company constructs a picture of how the dog is likely to be made up genetically. As the general public is not that keen on statistical reports filled with percentages, probabilities and standard deviations, the company is smart enough to then produce a theoretical family tree based on this information, which is based on the results, but could still be inaccurate from a genealogical standpoint (i.e. 25% of markers matching a breed could mean that one grandparent was that breed – but equally, two great-grandparents on different branches may actually have been that breed, producing the same result.) With all this in mind, we sent off the swabs and awaited the result.

The Results
The test results arrived by e-mail – slightly sooner than expected. Excitement and tension combined to create more drama than there should have been when simply opening a PDF on my phone. Loading… loading…'Congratulations! Luna Lovebug is a Pomeranian, German Shepherd Dog, Miniature Schnauzer Mix'.

Excitement was quickly replaced by scepticism as I suddenly became filled with the knowledge that I knew much more about Luna's genetics from just looking at her than some lab-coated chaps in New Jersey. We hadn't guessed any of those breeds in our extensive pre-work of trawling dog pictures and videos on the internet and our unscientific survey of other dog walkers on the street, not to mention the mechanics of achieving that sort of mix being somewhat mind-boggling!

Pomernauzer Shepherd
A Pomernauzer Shepherd?

Further delving into the report revealed that Luna was slated to be 50% Pomeranian, with the other parent a mixed breed, incorporating a German Shepherd great-grandparent and a Miniature Schnauzer grandparent. According to the report, there is also a reasonable possibility that a Black Russian Terrier may have also been involved in one of the mixes at some point.

The Sceptical Recipient
Confident in the knowledge that I am always right, I wrote to Wisdom Panel to inform them of my scepticism. They replied pretty quickly to ask for some photos of Luna and confirming the quality of our sample (97% of the markers were visible – I paused to congratulated myself on my excellent lab technique during our bedroom gum swabbing session).

I sent back a collection of photos and gave them some of my own suggestions for breed mixes. This time, I had a reply from someone from the veterinary science team'.  They ignored all my suggestions, instead buttering me up from the start by again referring to the excellent sample quality that I had provided, which was good enough to be comparable to a blood sample. They re-affirmed their belief in the results, as well as adding that there is 'additional evidence of the herding group' present in Luna's background.

Then it got a bit more sciency.

They pointed out that Luna has a short coat with black pigment, both of which are dominant traits (no need to reach for your old Biology textbook – it basically means that she only needed one of her parents to possess the short-coat or black gene to inherit and exhibit it). They point out that all three of the breeds identified can carry black colouration, whilst the short coat is likely to have come from the German Shepherd, or possibly somewhere from the mix. They went on to explain a little about white colouration and that Luna is, in essence, a black dog genetically, but as the colour-producing pigment cells start development from the spinal cord and spread out from there during foetal growth. As such, the areas furthest away can be without pigment (therefore, white belly, feet, tail-end and nose are all pretty explainable). Her upright (pricked) ears are a recessive trait (this time, requiring both parents to carry it). The Pomeranian and the German Shepherd both have these traits, so again – no problem explaining that, or needing to rely on the mix. They describe her facial features as her ancestry 'working towards the average'. Finally, her tail curl can be inherited from the Pomeranian (though clearly a larger version) or the Miniature Schnauzer (which apparently has a curled tail before docking).

That summary was the light version, but I was very happy with the amount of science they crammed into the reply e-mail and was pretty much convinced by it. But then, just to make sure I bought it all and didn't complain any further, they saved the best for last, 'Thus, as you can see, Luna is the unique result of the various genes that she has inherited from her diverse genetic ancestry which have all come together to make her one-of-a kind'. These guys really know what they're doing. How could any dog-owner not want to read that!

The Family Tree
The Family Tree

The Conclusion
So is it worth forking out the money for a doggie DNA test? All things considered, I would recommend getting the breed identification test if your dog is mixed-breed and you want to know more about their ancestry, either because you want to monitor potential health issues, or because you just want to know! Even though I was sceptical of the test results, I was ultimately convinced by the excellent after-sales service (and the smooth-talking) from Wisdom Panel. The only downside is that I would have wanted to see more of the explanation and data behind the report upfront, but since I'm probably in the minority here, I can understand why that's not the standard. If you want to test your own dog, you can buy the Wisdom Panel test from Amazon here.

People still merrily wade in with their own suggestions of what breed(s) she might be when they meet Luna and it's still a fun game to play. But now we have some real insight into what makes her her, and the all-important stamp of approval that she really is a one-of-a-kind.


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