Getting a dog DNA test sounds like an incredibly frivolous thing to do. You might want to verify the lineage of your prize pedigree, or work out what weird amalgam your oopsy-daisy-litter mutt is, but other than that you're probably wondering what the point is.
That is until you take a look at all the reasons why it could massively improve your relationship with your pooch, pre-empt potential health issues and even stop them destroying your home (speaking of which, these ways to clean up after dogs might be of use).
DNA testing for humans is now widely available and, thanks to competition, increasingly more affordable. And, for most of us, curiosity about our origins is enough to drop the £50 to £200 most DNA kits cost. There is also medical testing to see if you carry genes for certain diseases. All very important stuff which definitely makes it worth the cost.
But what if I was to tell you that for just £75 you can find out exactly what breed your dog is? 'Why does that matter?' you ask. Well actually it really does, and as someone who had a bit of a mystery breed on her hands, I am going to tell you five reasons why getting your dog DNA tested is more than a bit of fun.
- If you do want to test your own DNA, our friends at T3 have done some testing of their own to find the real deal. See their pick of the best DNA tests.
1. Doing a dog DNA test is surprisingly easy
Swab, activate, wait. It really is as easy as that – although we recommend making sure you have a very sleepy and amenable hound on your hands before trying the cheek swab.
I used the Wisdom Panel test on my dog Finn and all I had to do was rub a swab in his mouth for a minute to collect as many cheek cells as possible, package in the provided container and labelled envelope, then send off. Before doing so, you register the pack online so that they can match your dog's sample to your account. The information is then sent to you via this account.
2. Knowing your dog's breed is the key to successful training
Dogs have been bred by humans over time to meet certain requirements. Some are naturally more territorial making them perfectly suited for guarding your home; others are the perfect lap dogs who live for your company. Others are sight and scent driven: perfect for hunting but easily distracted on a walk.
Wisdom Panel can identify over 350 dog breeds. They use the DNA to match your dog's genes to known breeds, giving you a breakdown of your dog's breed. This shows what percentage of each breed your dog is, expected weight when fully grown and describes the behavioural traits the dog is known for.
This last bit is particularly useful for creating a training program for your pet. If you know what biologically motivates your pet – food, approval, other dogs, toys or chasing things – you can work to these desires and use them as rewards in training.
My rescue dog Finn's results came back and his behaviour suddenly made much more sense. He is 50 per cent fox hound (pack driven, loves to hunt), 37.5 per cent greyhound (fast, loyal, loves to hunt) and 12.5 per cent harrier (stubborn, playful, loves to hunt). You get the picture. A recipe of long walks, lots of fetch games and a side helping of dog agility are what is needed to prevent Finn from being a whirlwind of destruction in the house.
3. DNA tests are essential if you plan to breed your dog
While the uninitiated should think very carefully about breeding from their dog, if you do, the most responsible thing is to be sure of their genetic make-up. Not only does this mean you can advertise their puppies as the correct breed, but it helps you decide what the best breed to pair your dog with is to get the healthiest and happiest puppies.
Mixed-breed dogs like the cockapoo are incredibly popular as they take the best traits of known breeds and combine them into the perfect pup. DNA knowledge allows breeders to make the best decisions about picking a puppy-mama or puppy-daddy for their pet.
4. A dog DNA test can pick up drug sensitivities and potential medical issues
Wisdom Panel's latest DNA test (Wisdom Panel 3.0) also tests for drug sensitivities which is very important to prevent reactions to anything they might be prescribed. What's more, certain breeds are susceptible to certain medical problems, so knowing what is in your dog's genes can help pre-empt or maybe even prevent health problems. As said before, it certainly helps you make a measured decision about breeding from your dog.
5. Understanding your dog leads to a harmonious home
Knowing everything you can about your dog is the best way to keep them happy. Not only does understanding their genetic traits help with training, it can also help you find ways to enrich their life in other ways too. If your dog is a low energy breed that loves a good snooze while you are out, you can feel more comfortable leaving it for a bit than a high-energy dog that needs lots of stimulation. If your dog is a breed known for loving water, regular trips to the beach or safe places to swim are essential.
And on a more practical note, it is rather handy knowing how big your dog is likely to be when it grows up. If you find you have a Newfoundland on your hands, you're going to want to buy the biggest dog bed you can get your hands on – you might want a bigger house too...