The origins of Ollie’s traits became clearer when his DNA was tested. photo by Jodi Schneider
The origins of Ollie’s traits became clearer when his DNA was tested. photo by Jodi Schneider
Doggie looks can be deceiving. More and more people are turning to DNA tests to learn more about the breed, behavior, and health of their dogs and cats. If your furry friend’s parentage is perplexing, a dog DNA test could reveal its ancestry.

DNA testing or profiling came to fame in the 1980s when it was first used to help solve crimes.

While DNA testing as we know it was refined between the 1950s and 1980s, there were forms of genetic testing done as early as 1886. As recently as 2017, there was a boom in personalized DNA testing, where it has been used to uncover the ancestry of humans, dogs, and cats.

Nine years ago I adopted a 9-month-old white-and-tan puppy, Ollie, from Brightside Animal Center and when I take him out walking or for a visit to Sisters Feed, some people would say he looked like a Jack Russell or maybe he was part bulldog, or he looked like a large Chihuahua.

I decided to try to find out more about Ollie’s ancestry. I went online, ordered a DNA kit, swabbed his mouth for saliva, put it in a tube, and mailed it off. A couple of weeks later I received the results. I found out that Ollie is 50 percent rat terrier and that on one side of his family were pure rat terriers and the other side was 25 percent Chihuahua mixed in with another type of large water dog.

It all made perfect sense — why he had that “terrier” personality and why he was always chasing the squirrels off the property!

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who owns a rescue dog, you may be curious about what breed your best furry friend is. Pet parents across the nation are buying DNA-testing kits to try to figure out their dog’s ancestry.

The appeal of these tests is finding out more about the breed that could give owners insights into how to handle their dog’s quirks. It’s about understanding your dog’s behavior: “What makes them tick? Why do they look the way they do? Why do they act the way they do?”

The Wisdom Panel, the DNA test made by Mars Petcare, tests for over 350 breeds going back to the great-grandparent level. It examines the DNA from the dog’s cells for thousands of genetic markers and compares it to the company’s large breed database to calculate the “best match” in terms of breed.

The test can analyze over 20 genetic traits, and as evidence of its accuracy it can often precisely predict coat color patterns and body traits like ear erectness, leg length and weight. Though it makes a great conversation-starter in the dog park, some experts warn these tests should be taken with a grain of salt, because it’s hard to know how accurate they are.

However, the Wisdom Panel claims a 93 percent accuracy rate. They also test for 152 different genetic diseases.

Just like with DNA tests for people, you can learn from what region of the world your pet’s ancestors evolved. Many of the DNA tests offer to provide information about genetic risks for potential health problems. This could be helpful for dog owners because some breeds are more susceptible to certain conditions. They might have an increased risk of a bleeding disorder, hip dysplasia, a heart condition or cancer.