A new DNA test for dogs
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
If you own a mixed-breed dog, you probably have the following conversation every time you take your dog for a walk:
Canine Heritage Breed Test
- What: A test that that determines a dog's genetic makeup
- How: Dog owners send away for the test, swab their dog's cheek, and send it back to the company's lab. In four to six weeks, they receive a certificate with a list of breeds
- Number of breeds the test can identify: 38
- Cost: $79.95 (A new test that can identify 115 breeds will be available for $119.95 in February)
- Available: at mmigenomics.com or call 800-DNA-DOGG
Interested bystander: Oh, what a cute dog! What kind is it?
You: Well, I'm not sure, but I think he's part lab/corgi/poodle/greyhound/retriever. But he might have a little bulldog/shepherd/beagle/collie/terrier in him. And some people think he might be a mastiff/Chihuahua/dachshund/setter/Doberman . . .
What you need to fend off these probing doggie questions is a definitive answer. Thankfully, there's now a product on the market that gets dog owners pretty close to providing that answer.
Last year, California-based MMI Genomics, Inc., released The Canine Heritage Breed Test. The test examines the DNA from a dog's saliva, and determines genetically which breeds are contained in the DNA, and to what degree.
All dog owners have to do is swab their dog's cheek and send the swab off to the company's lab for evaluation. Within four to six weeks, they learn their dog's primary breed (if there is one), secondary breeds, and all other breeds that are determined to be represented, or "in the mix."
The test has been tremendously popular to date, and coverage on national television programs - "The Today Show" and CBS's "Good Morning," numerous local TV markets and in People magazine - has increased demand for the product before the company has even begun to market it significantly, said company spokesperson Theresa Brady.
"I think the No. 1 reason for the popularity is curiosity," Brady said. "People feel it's fun to find out, and it's a talking piece. Beyond that, people are interested in how large their puppy will grow, how they will behave, and it helps them to develop a training program."
The test can also be extremely useful for shelters, which are in the business of placing the mixed-breed dogs with the right home, and often do so with limited knowledge. Potential pet owners are more likely to adopt, and keep, dogs if they know how big they will become and how they will behave.
At $79.95 per dog, however, the test is cost-prohibitive for most shelters.
Caitlin Horwood's dog Lacey was a prime candidate for the breed test.
Horwood is a recent graduate from University of Florida's Animal Science program who works with both Town & Country Veterinarians and Gainesville Pet Rescue.
"Everyone always asks me what breed she is, because she's so pretty and so unique. But I never had any idea," Horwood said.
In 2005, she adopted Lacey, a well-behaved, laid-back puppy who gets skittish around men and hates having her feet touched, from the Broward County Human Society. When she adopted her, Humane Society workers told Horwood the dog was a shepherd mix. Because of Lacey's coloring, people often told Horwood they thought the dog was a Rottweiler. Horwood herself believed Lacey was a border collie.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
An ad in a magazine for canine breeders at the vet's office piqued her interest, and she sent off for the breed test last summer.
According to her official certificate from the Canine Heritage Breed Test, Lacey has no primary breed (meaning neither of her parents were pure breds). Her secondary breeds include Akita, Chinese Shar-Pei and Chow Chow. And a touch of Whippet can be found in the DNA, as well.
"I was really surprised about the Whippet. I can see the Akita and Chow Chow, but the Chinese Shar-Pei was weird," said Horwood. "I work with a lot of dog organizations and know lots of people who work with dogs all the time, and none ever guessed anything close to this."
According to Brady, MMI Genomics will release a new, updated test in February. The current version of the test can certify 38 potential breeds; the new version will certify around 100, and will eventually expand to 115.
The new test will be a bit more expensive, with a price tag of $119.95 per dog.
The company plans to increase publicity in conjunction with the new test, Brady said. They have planned a number of "swab-athons" - where company personnel is on site at Petco locations to perform the swab - including one in the Tampa area. And the test will be featured on the National Geographic Channel's "Dog Whisperer."
Brady is hoping curious dog lovers everywhere will want to find out the truth about their pet.
"They've have been very enthusiastic, to say the least," she said.
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