Jan 29, 2010
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My opinion to date on the several "DNA test your mutt today!" services has been that they really aren't all that accurate. But after the 1,000,000th time someone has asked me what breed my SPCA special is, I kinda want to know myself. He's 60 lbs, black and shaggy (soft coat), ridiculously smart (willful and arrogant too) and it's impossible to pick out a dominant breed in his mix.

People have guessed everything from Bouvier X, Irish Wolfhound X, labradoodle, terrier X lab, Schnauzer X and so on...

Do any of you guys who work in vet practices have an opinion and/or experience with the various services available today? Have they gotten any better in the past few years or are they still basically guessing?
 

nyanko

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It's never been "basically guessing" but they are inaccurate because of the basic principles of population genetics.

When we talk about testing for breed identification, we're actually talking about using genetic markers, aka multiallelic loci that are in the "junk DNA" and generally don't code for anything so don't have selective pressure placed on them. Theoretically you should be able to assign a purebred dog to a breed with a very high confidence level, because purebred dog breeds are subject to fairly rapid selection based on similarity to a breed standard. This causes a number of phenomena to occur that in a nutshell mean that if marker A had 16 alleles in an original population, either selective sweeps/genetic hitchhiking or random genetic drift means that in a smaller, reproductively isolated population with founders drawn from this population (such as a breed), eventually the allele frequencies will change and in many cases, one allele may even end up becoming fixed.

To try to illustrate, let's take that theoretical marker and name the alleles A1-A16. Now let's sample 6 dogs from this randombred population that all seem to have pretty good retrieving instinct and use them to start a new breed. If every single dog in your sample were heterozygous and all had different alleles (which is not really likely) you'd still be losing 4 alleles completely from the originals. Apply selective pressure, use popular sires, and don't outcross, and you can see how the allele frequency of the founder alleles will obviously be different in this new population from the population from which the founders were drawn.

So each breed will have different allelic frequencies at these markers, and when you genotype a dog at enough diverse, proven loci and wave your hands around a little, you can come up with a statistical probability of the dog belonging to a particular breed. The problem with trying to do this for mixed breeds is that admixture totally muddies this up. There are algorithms they use that are actually quite cool to assign breeds based on marker genotypes, but by and large the error rate is pretty high. It's a lot of inferring and simulation...

Basically it's a fun little conversation starter. I will discuss more about it later if anyone really wants me to, but I doubt that's the case. :smuggrin:
 

sumstorm

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even with purebreds, there are some drift problems...ie purebred registerable GSD from poland vs from california. and some registries open up occasionally to outcrossing with select breeds to improve vigor. that can cause some kinks..but so far, my experience (know too many people who want to 'test' it) is there is good accuracy for known double crosses (dog has 1/4 of four recognized breeds) and F1 cross. toss pitties in, and it goes all wrong.
 

Whyevernot55

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We use the Wisdom Panel test, although not very often.
Sometimes the results are helpful - we had a client adopt a massive adult dog from a neglect situation, and he came with a lot of behavioral issues. We tested him, and his dominant breed came back Anatolian Shepherd. It helped explain a LOT about his personality and helped her to work with him better.
On the other hand, my boss's dog is the spitting image of a Jack Russell morphed into a 35lb dog. And her dominant breed came back Rottweiler. :confused:
Mostly it's just hilarious to see what the results are. The Wisdom Panel seems like a decent quality test, but I don't have experience with anything else, so who knows?
 

nyanko

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even with purebreds, there are some drift problems...ie purebred registerable GSD from poland vs from california. and some registries open up occasionally to outcrossing with select breeds to improve vigor. that can cause some kinks
Yes right, this was all implied with the fact that it's a statistical probability. Test population and marker selection make all of the difference in the power of the statistics. If you have a group of markers you want to test on, say, English Springer Spaniels (a breed that has a marked divergence between its field and show lines), you're going to have to make sure you select both field and show animals from diverse regions and lines (maybe set an upper limit for coancestry coefficient based on pedigrees?) and then hope they have enough in common at your markers to distinguish them from other breeds.
 

VeganSoprano

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We offer the Wisdom Panel too. Our experience has been that it is accurate - dogs of mixed but known ancestry came back with the results one would have expected. However, many dogs came back with ancestry that was too mixed to identify a dominant breed. What we generally tell clients is that if a dog's ancestry is too mixed to identify a dominant breed based on phenotype, they're probably too mixed to identify a dominant breed on the Wisdom Panel. But if someone wants to run the test for fun, we're happy to do it and as curious about the results as they are!
 

cowgirla

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My boss's Bichon-Mini Poodle mix came back as "20% Miniature Poodle, 80% Unknown." Dog's mother was a mini poodle, father was a bichon cross (with maltese, I believe, not positive)

Needless to say, after that, we don't recommend the service to our clients.
 
Jan 29, 2010
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Nyanko, whatever will we do when you start vet school and are too busy to post like this! Seriously, I love your posts.

I knew how the tests work in general, but wasn't sure if over the past several years since I last checked into them if they'd gotten more accurate. Sounds like we're still at the point like VeganS said, "...that if a dog's ancestry is too mixed to identify a dominant breed based on phenotype," most likely any results will come back "Melting Pot" for my dog.

It would be nice to know more about one of my dogs because of his temperament and behavior--sharp as a tack, willful, very independent, and very, very obsessive. He'd been adopted out and returned twice from the shelter. At his first vet visit, the vet remarked "I don't know what he is, but you've got a very healthy pain in the ass on your hands."



Thanks guys!
 

GreennWhite

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It would be nice to know more about one of my dogs because of his temperament and behavior--sharp as a tack, willful, very independent, and very, very obsessive. He'd been adopted out and returned twice from the shelter. At his first vet visit, the vet remarked "I don't know what he is, but you've got a very healthy pain in the ass on your hands."
Sounds like my Border Collie's twin!
My "All-American" looks like a Rotty x Husky mix but is only 40 lbs full grown - I'd love to know what she really had in her...watch it's chihuahua :rofl:
 

Vet Engineer

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Just for fun, and as part of his birthday present, I had my boyfriend's dog tested with the Wisdom Panel. It came back 1/4 German Shepherd, 1/8 German Spitz, and 1/8 Irish setter. I have no idea where the Irish setter comes from and I can barely see the other two.

However, the DNA testing has come in handy when moving to a new apartment. His dog is black and tan so people who have no idea what specific dog breeds look like think he is rottie or dobie, neither of which they allow in the apartment complex. He uses the DNA testing as "proof" that he doesn't have either breed in him. It's all bs, but they buy it!

I've thought about doing it on my mutt so people can't accuse him of being a pitt, but I'm afraid it might backfire on me and come back as pitt. Then I've just wasted $80. (not that I care if he is a pitt, but certain places, even certain cities don't allow them)