What breed is your dog?
… are you sure?
That one question has led millions of pet owners to invest in dog DNA tests. Yes, similar to human kits, they test your dog to produce a genetic report.
Some companies also claim that results can help you make better decisions, such as how to prevent major health issues specific to your dog.
But do DNA tests really work for dogs? Are they accurate or a load of bullsh!t?
If you’re wondering the same, this guide is for you. Here, we’re breaking down how dog DNA kits work, how they’re tested and if they’ll actually help your pup.
What are Dog Breed DNA Tests?
If you’re familiar with how a human DNA test works, like a genetic ancestry test, you pretty much know what happens with a dog DNA test. Although the science behind these kits is quite complex, the process is pretty simple and straightforward.
Here’s how it works:
- Order a kit online and wait for it to arrive
- Use the swab in the kit to take a saliva sample from your dog’s cheek.
- Put the swab in the clean container or tube the kit comes with
- Mail the sample to the lab (the kit will come with a prepaid envelope)
- Wait to receive your report (you’ll be emailed)
- Login to the kit’s site to view results
Some DNA dog kits have a specialty. For example, some offer purebred testing exclusively while others will do designer dog testing.
What Happens to the Sample?
When your sample is mailed to the lab, technicians will begin to process the DNA contained on the swab. That information goes into a complex computer system that sends “flags” when your dog’s DNA matches something.
For example, your pug will be compared against other known pugs in their system, that is, other users who’ve also tested their pugs. Your pug will also be compared against other breeds to see if anything else matches. For example, maybe some of his DNA matches that of a jack russel. It’s important to understand that the results are based on the “reference data” in the company’s computer system. Although we’ll talk more about this in the accuracy section, a company with a larger base of data may show different results that one with a fewer data.
The report will detail your dog’s DNA results. The way these results appear will look different per company. Typically, you’ll receive:
- A breakdown of your dog’s breed(s) expressed in percentages (ex. 10% miniature pincher, 90% chihuahua)
- Genetic health risks (ex. your dog is more at risk for hip issues)
What’s the Point of a Dog DNA Test
If we take a genetic DNA test ourselves, it may be because we’re interested in our ancestry and wish to get in touch with unknown relatives. Since dogs can’t call up their canine cousin across the world to gossip about their ancestry, you may wonder, what’s the point?
There’s quite a few reasons why someone may want to test their dog.
If your dog isn’t a purebred, you may not know what breeds she’s made up of. Even if you have a rough idea, you may want to know which breed is dominant or if there’s any other hidden types. In some cases, if you rescue a dog, a shelter may have no idea what his breed is. Although they’d make best guesses, some people choose DNA tests to get a more accurate picture to satisfy their curiosity.
Many kit results also display what health conditions your dog is most at risk for based on his genetics. When you have this information, you may be able to better prevent the issue. This can be especially useful for purebreds. Since they are only one breed, there’s a chance some inbreeding could have happened somewhere down his line. This can cause genetic mutations that later show up as diseases. For example, maybe the finding encourages you to double up on exercise, become more cautious of diet or have more frequent check-ups. In other cases, it doesn’t require any immediate action but may be something to look out for. Like, if your dog is more at risk for blood clotting, that’s helpful to tell a vet before surgery. You can also discuss the results with your vet, who can provide recommendations on prevention efforts.
Although not every dog of one breed acts the same, they share characteristics. Knowing your dog’s breeds can help you better understand how to communicate with them or train them for better behavior. For example, my dog is part chihuahua and miniature pincher. If I didn’t know about the min pin in him, I may wonder why he seems to think he’s a big dog and why he’s so high-energy. But, since I know this, I can apply it to training. I know that the min pin makes him intelligent, but he needs to burn off his high-energy before lessons so he can focus. Another example could be a breed that’s overly affectionate, perhaps signaling the need for more praise during training.
Dog DNA Test Accuracy
One of the major questions concerning kits is dog DNA test accuracy. After all, why would you spend money on it if the results aren’t accurate? Well, major dog DNA tests claim their results are anywhere from 95-99% accurate. But, truly, how reliable dog DNA results depend on a wide range of factors.
When your dog’s sample is tested, it’s compared against a lot of other doggy data in the company’s system. When your dog’s DNA matches something, you’ll see it as a percentage on your report. So, your dog’s results depend on the reference data in the system. If a company is small and has fewer customers, their reference data will be smaller. This may mean less accurate results in some cases. For example, if your dog is part breed X but breed X isn’t in their system, you won’t know because that can’t be reflected in the results. Although this is unlikely, it is possible since there’s many rare breeds across the world. The results may also shift when more data is collected and the company can better match your dog.
So, when you’re looking the best dog DNA test, one thing to consider is their breed database. For example, Wisdom tests about 350 breeds while Embark has around 250 in their database. The breeds stored are typically the most popular ones. With that being said, companies that test more breeds may have some cons. The added data could mean more expensive testing and a longer wait for results.
It’s also unknown how much your results could vary across different tests. Some people have sent the same sample to multiple labs to see if there were a difference in results. The ones I’ve seen don’t show any huge differences; only minor percentage changes or an addition of a low-match breed. So, although the accuracy of dog DNA tests as a whole may be unclear, the tests on the market today seem to be comparable to each other.
As with any type of health test, there’s some room for human error. For example, if the lab technician doesn’t take the proper precautions, your dog’s DNA could be affected. If it somehow becomes contaminated with another dog’s DNA, your dog’s result profile could contain inaccurate breeds.
Many dog DNA test claim to tell you your dog’s health risks. This is typically done by testing gene variants for health conditions. By doing this, they may be able to tell you if your dog is more susceptible to a certain problem. However, as with humans, risk is never a for sure thing.
For example, your dog may be more likely to get a certain disease based on his genetic makeup, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. The risks stated in your report can vary in accuracy. With that being said, usually the point of testing your dog for future problems is to learn prevention steps.
Accuracy Can’t Always Be Confirmed with Appearance
Several dog DNA test reviews claim that results are inaccurate because their dog doesn’t look like or have the weight of predicted breeds. While they could be right, there’s something else to consider: Genes can be expressed in different ways. For example, if your dog if 40 lbs. and you receive the results that he’s part chihuahua, you may immediately reject them. However, his “chihuahua gene” may not necessarily make him look like an actual chihuahua. The same goes for humans; twins can have similar DNA yet look completely different.
How to Increase Dog DNA Test Accuracy
There’s no way to ensure 100% accuracy. However, there’s a few things you can do to increase the accuracy of the results:
- Follow the swabbing/sampling instructions specific to your kit
- Get a good swab. Kits typically recommend swabbing between 20 seconds and a minute to get a full profile. To ensure your dog sits still for long enough, you can distract him with a treat (just don’t give the treat to him while you’re doing the swab!).
- For best results, make sure your dog doesn’t eat or drink within 2 hours of testing
- Make sure your dog doesn’t come in contact with other dogs for 2 hours prior
Dog DNA Test Cost?
If you’re considering testing your dog, your first question is probably “how much does a dog DNA test cost?” Similar to human ancestry tests, the price varies per kit. Some cost as low as $65 while others near $200. While some may say you get what you pay for, that’s not always true. To get a better idea of the value you’re getting, consider:
- Processing time (the time you wait for results)
- Number of breeds the kit tests for
- Any official expert affiliations
- Upsells (some companies charge lower but also offer less in favor of trying to upsell you later)
Some kits may cost more because they have a larger reference database, making accurate results more likely. Other’s charge more of a premium because they’re backed by backs, such as Embark being developed by Cornell University.
Dog DNA Test Reviews
There’s tons of dog DNA tests on the market and since they can range in price, we recommend reading reviews first. These can give you a better understanding of the process, results and accuracy. Combined, it can give you a better picture of which kit would be best for you.
- Accuracy— Although it’s usually hard to tell the accuracy of a kit from a review, it can sometimes provide valuable information. For example, some dog moms buy 3 different kits to compare results. If you read their dog DNA test reviews and discover that one company’s results didn’t match the others, you may learn not to choose that one.
- Result interface— When your report is ready, it will be displayed on your account webpage. Many people share screencaps of their results so you can get an idea of what yours will look like. Are their graphs or charts easy to read and interpret? Which company has the best layout?
- Result descriptions— Read reviews to see how far in detail the results go. For example, some outline the characteristics of each breed match. This can be helpful when trying to spot where the hell the Pomeranian is in your short-haired dog. Other companies may just give you a brief overview.
- Wait— Were there any unexpected waits or complications people had when ordering their kit or waiting for results?
Best Dog DNA Test Amazon
In this section, we’re going over the pros and cons of each Dog DNA test on Amazon. Information is compiled from product information as well as a compilation of user kit reviews.
Embark Dog DNA Test
Embark is seen as the best dog DNA test by some because it was developed in partnership with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
- Breed Breakdown
- Screens over 250 dog breeds
- Information on ancestors (dog’s great grandparents)
- Connect with other owners/dogs who’ve used Embark
- Tests for over 175 genetic diseases
- Intuitively designed information dashboard
- Easy-to-follow charts
- Detailed results
- Downloadable report to share with vet
- Processing updates after the lab has received the DNA (so you always know which stage it’s at)
- Reviews noted good customer service
- Results 2-4 weeks (some complain it’s longer than other companies)
- Processing updates can be overwhelming and some people complain about too many emails during this period
- Some reviews say their results list too many breeds, including the ambiguous terms “supermutt” or “village dog” (not helpful)
- Some reviewers expressed concern that the requirement to send your dog’s picture may “sway” results
- Some people say the test gave them generic and unhelpful advice
Dog DNA Test Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 stars with 1,800+ ratings
Cost: $169 on Amazon
DNA My Dog
DNA My Dog has two main advantages over its competitors: It’s almost less than half the price and gives you the results in 1-4 weeks before others.
- Budget-friendly (making it more affordable for shelters too)
- Quicker results (about 2 weeks)
- Breed breakdown
- Info on breed-associated personality traits
- Info on potential health problems
- Predicts dog’s size
- Easy instructions and easy-to-understand report
- Reviewers also express concern that sending dog pictures influences results
- Dog DNA Test Amazon Rating: 3.5/5 with 976 ratings
- Some dog DNA test reviews say that the results don’t match those of other companies
- Several reviews point to potential inaccuracies
Dog DNA Test Amazon Reviews: 3.5/5 with 980+ ratings
Cost: $68.98 on Amazon
Wisdom Panel 3.0
Wisdom Panel 3.0 is another popular option. It tests slightly more breeds than other tests, potentially making your results more accurate if your dog’s breed is rare.
- Tests over 350 breeds
- Identify specific health issues
- Results as soon as 2 weeks
- Provides 2 swabs (other kits only provide 1), which may increase accuracy
- Predicts ideal weight
- Detailed breed info for every matching breed
- Family tree breed chart
- Easy-to-understand results and charts
- Some reviews say the results are almost the same as Embark, which is double the price
- Some reviews say the results can be ambiguous or unidentified (ex. 50% “breed mix” of “companion and sporting” breeds)
- Reviewers who tested multiple dogs with the company say that some seem accurate and some don’t
- Some reviewers complain that the company tries to upsell you with an additional health check test (whereas other companies have it built-in)
Dog DNA Test Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 with 6,600+ ratings
Cost: $79.99 on Amazon
Orivet is a slightly higher priced option than other brands, but it includes a “Life Plan” with tips on how to care for your dog throughout their life.
- Breed identification
- Dog family tree 3-generation report
- Life/wellness plan gives you direct health advice for your dog for years to come
- Suggested health tests
- 100% satisfaction guarantee
- Weight prediction
- Easy-to-read dashboard and results
- Company responds to criticism, such as website improvement
- Reviews say complaints received refunds without even asking
- Some reviews say results are ambiguous for very mixed breeds, saying “mixed breed unknown”
- Some reviews say that they suspect the percentage breakdown is inaccurate (ex. an exact 12.5% match for many breeds)
- Some reviews say that the minimum match is 12.5%, meaning that if your dog matches below this percentage, it won’t show up.
- Some people say the results took longer than expected
Dog DNA Test Amazon Rating: 3.5/5 with 40+ ratings
Cost: $109 on Amazon
Find My Pet DNA
The Find My Pet DNA kit tests fewer breeds than others, but the company has an extensive AKC breed database, making it a good choice for suspected purebreds.
- Identifies about 100 AKC recognized breeds as far back as dog’s grandparents
- Includes suspected personality traits of breeds
- Identifies genetic health concerns
- Clear instructions and easy reading results
- Tests fewer breeds than most kits
- Result accuracy is capped by the fact that non-AKC breeds aren’t tested
- Results in 3-4 weeks (longer than some brands)
- Some reviewers say they know the results aren’t accurate
- Some people say that the results are extremely broad and unhelpful
Dog DNA Test Amazon Rating: 3.5/5 with 20+ reviews
Cost: $65.95 on Amazon
Summary of Dog DNA Tests on Amazon
Most commonly, dog DNA tests are purchased because people wonder the breed of their dog. They can have other advantages too, such as predicting personality traits or future genetic health problems. Knowing these details can help you prevent issues or better train them according to their breed. Dog DNA test price varies depending on which brand you choose. Accuracy can also vary based on how much reference data the company has to test your dog against.
Although you may not be sure how accurate your results are, they can satisfy curiosity and provide information to help you make better decisions. Similar to human ancestry DNA tests, if relatives are also on the database, some dog kits also allow you to connect with your pup’s supposed family.