A lot of us subscribe to an anthropomorphized view of our canine buddies, in the sense that we see them as individuals, not necessarily as the result of natural selection, their strings pulled by genetic influence as if they were marionettes.
But it’s human nature to feel compelled to define things, to put a name to them. It’s that same impulse that made you name your pet in the first place. People feel uncomfortable with the unknown, and to better comprehend things, they like to know what they are in relation to them. Man to woman, human to animal, bartender to pug.
Luckily, modern science has gifted us a way of finding out more about our dogs via commercially available DNA tests. Whether you’re just curious, bored or interested in being more proactive about your pet’s future health concerns, dog owners now have the opportunity to order a kit that’ll help them learn more about that lovable butt-sniffing critter on the sofa. You may just discover that your boring-sounding “Lab mix” is actually a “Labra-desian-triever-errier.” If you’re going to be picking up their poop, you might as well get to know them better, right?
Why does Rex dig holes? Why does Tawonda hide things? What’s up with Sha-nay-nay’s curly tail? Supposedly, the answers to some of those questions may depend on the breed (or breed mix) of your dog. You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like total speciesism (or breedism) – “Are you saying that my dog isn’t an individual?”
Well, faithful reader, that is what we’re saying. Sort of. Let’s discuss! In the land of animal-behavioral science, it’s totally cool to label things like that. For instance, English mastiffs are known to be “loyal and stubborn,” which for some translates to “dumb as fuck but fun to cuddle with.” Greyhounds are super-lean and have short coats so they don’t tolerate cold well, and some breeds really like to eat so they can get fat. Try saying that about some of your co-workers and you’ll get sued.
The pet DNA experts tell us that if you know what breed your pet is, you can tailor your feeding and training to better suit their needs. If Bella and Max are mutts, they say a quick take-home test or visit to the vet may be all you need to find out more about their genetic makeup. The results aren’t always as accurate as the companies that make the tests (primarily, Wisdom Panel, which dominates the market) claim – in 2012, the Veterinary Information Network News Service tried out some of the tests on the market and found that, while sometimes the tests are spot-on, the results for some dogs can be inconclusive at best, absurd at worst. But that doesn’t stop pet owners from giving them a shot.
We chatted with Cat Schaff, an Orlando resident, who got a kit for Christmas one year and ran it on her species-neutral rescue dog. At first she thought of it as a novelty, but over time she saw how it aligned with her dog’s behavior. The breeds assigned to her dog in the test are both prone to hip dysplasia, so she’s started taking preventative measures while he’s young to help alleviate problems when he’s older.
Prices for DIY kits range anywhere from $60 to $200, and some are as easy to use as running a cotton swab along your doggie’s mouth and sending it to the lab. Results are usually emailed to you within a month.