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Friday, June 11, 2010

ASK THE DOG TRAINER: Why Test My Mixed-Breed Dog's DNA?

by Carrie Boyko
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© reader BH copyright on file, all rights reserved
Churchill's Mix is
English Springer Spaniel/English Setter
Dear Trainer:

I've been hearing about tests that can tell the owners of mixed-breed dogs what their dog's mix is. I don't know exactly how much these tests cost, but I am interested to know what benefit there might be, from a training standpoint, in learning what my mixed breed dog's parents (and perhaps grandparents) were. My particular dog is a truly a Heinz 57. So undistinguishable are his characteristics that my vet has not wished to venture any guess. My curiosity is peaked. What can you tell me might be the benefit of testing my dog?

Thank you for any help you can give,

Mr. Creighton
Dear Mr. C:

Own a mixed breed dog?  He’s a good looking guy but you have no idea what kind of dog he is.  And, wouldn’t you like to know why he chases butterflies, or exhibits specific instinctive behaviors like digging and herding your children.  He doesn’t look like a terrier or a sheep dog.   He drools too.  Where’s that coming from?  

Well, now you can learn your dog’s breed ancestry with DNA testing.   Sold in kits, these tests can be purchased online.  Blood, saliva or other swab samples from your dog are mailed to a laboratory with results within a few weeks.  There are many kits to choose from with prices ranging from $30.00 to over $100.00 per test

Is this something you should consider doing?  What are the benefits gained from testing?  Knowing your dog’s breed ancestry can help explain certain behaviors, howling, herding, retrieving, chasing birds, as all of these can be attributed to particular breed groups.  Your pup’s approximate size and weight at maturity can be determined, allowing you to provide a diet appropriate for his early physical development and growth.  Exercise requirements can be fulfilled - important as he could be a couch potato, or long distance runner.  For training, realistic expectations can be established knowing specific traits and instinctive behaviors characteristic of his breed makeup, and allow the use of techniques that best motivate him to perform:  sight, smell, sound, touch or taste.  One of the most important benefits is health related, as genetic diseases (blindness, deafness, hip dysplasia, cancer, and epilepsy) are more common in some breeds than others.

The question of whether testing is necessary and/or worth the cost can only be answered by you, his owner.   Using his breed makeup to provide him an appropriate “job” or to expand his activities, i.e. providing swimming and retrieving opportunities to your Labrador mix, could prove beneficial to his overall well being.

Do you really need to know his ancestry?  No, of course you don’t.  You love him whatever he is.  Do you want to know his ancestry?  Yes, of course you do.  What mixed breed owner doesn’t?  Remember, breed mixtures can yield any combination of multiple behavioral, physical and personality characteristics, so if you decide to go ahead with DNA testing, make sure to get your dog breed reference books ready, as the results just may surprise you.

Here are a few you can purchase here, if you like:  

Good luck,

Judith Joseph, DOI
For more information on Judith Joseph and her training, you may find her at TCDOA Dog Training. A personal appointment will likely provide more specific information on your dog's issues and your questions.

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Thanks to Churchill for being our model today. He is a perfect example of how handsome a mix can be. Thanks BH!


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