Dog DNA Test Reviews: Wisdom Panel, DNA My Dog, and Embark Dog DNA

Dogs know so much about us. Their soft eyes track us around the kitchen, waiting for scraps to fall from our fingers. Their sharp ears pick up every snorfle and wheeze we make in the night. Their high-resolution noses can detect everything from drugs to bed bugs. Yet we don’t often know much about them. We might think we have a cattle dog/collie cross from the shelter, but it’s really just a guess. And what we do know is often a sad crystal ball: The hips of a Labrador give out, the back of a dachshund fails.

The advent of relatively inexpensive genetic testing, then, gives us a chance to learn a little more about our best friends. (Maxwell is part terrier! No wonder he’s such a champion digger!) It’s a process that can be surprisingly emotional. Angela Hughes, a veterinary geneticist at dog genetic testing company Wisdom Health, remembers a call from a couple who had recently adopted a shelter dog they thought was a shepherd mix. The test showed that the dog, who weighed a mere 18 pounds, was actually a Lhasa apso mix. “And they were calling in upset. You build the story and this background around this animal. It can be a real shock when you learn, no, that’s not your father. This is your father.”

The kits work much like human commercial DNA tests. They don’t “read” the entire genome; rather, they look at a specific number of markers. Some markers give you clear yes/no information—like the presence of a mutated version of a particular gene that causes this or that disease. In other cases, like a gene that affects hair length, one allele might confer long hair, another short hair. Breed testing is more complicated; the companies compare your dog’s genetic information with that of other dogs in their databases. It can be a little less exact. Algorithms are involved.

We tested three different kits on two different dogs. Anna Alexander, WIRED’s director of photography, adopted a dachshund-and-beagle-ish pup named Trout from a shelter last September. Sarah Fallon, deputy web editor, adopted an emaciated could-barely-stand-up German shepherd thing named Lexi from a rescue in 2017. The results were illuminating, comforting, and sometimes contradictory.

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WIRED: Approachable pricing. You get genetic information for two common conditions with the basic test. The fun Traits page tells you if your dog is likely to have long or short legs or floppy or pointy ears.

TIRED: Most complex sampling process.

Wisdom’s sleek kit comes with two brushie swabs you stick into the back of your dog’s mouth between gum and cheek, swirl around to collect the DNA, let dry, and repeat three times. (Dogs do not love this, and will look at you awful forlorn when they see the tiny little bottle brush thing come off the sideboard for a third scrape.)

Pop it in the mail, and Wisdom will run it through their system, looking at 20,000 genetic markers in all—around 1,800 for breed identification and the rest for diseases and traits. The basic panel gives you breed information and a yes/no on whether or not your dog carries two particular mutations. One leaves the animal prone to poor drug processing and another is linked to something called exercise-induced collapse. The Health panel offers you the full flight of genetic conditions, from Alaskan husky encephalopathy to X-linked tremors.

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