Updated June 2018 – From personal experience, interviews and research… We can comfortably say Embark is our top pick for the best Dog DNA Test on the market.
The Dog DNA Test has been around for the past decade. Still, it seems as though it has recently become one of the more popular trends to take over the world of dog owners. YouTube is inundated with videos of people sharing the “Big Reveal” of their Fur-children’s DNA test results.
If you own a purebred dog, you probably haven’t given Dog DNA Tests much thought. As the owner of a mixed breed, mutt, mongrel, pavement special, or rescue dog knows, attaching the name of a specific breed (or 3) to your dog is guesswork at best. Besides that, things have changed… DNA tests now tell you what health conditions to look out for and help you figure out how best to take care of your hairy friend.
Knowing your dog’s ancestry and its family tree gives you an inside look at the canine genetic markers, parentage, and more.
Your dog might be the size of a Corgi but have what looks like the face of a German Shepherd, or vice versa. This is who dog DNA testing is designed for. Put an end to the curiosity and ensure that the next time someone asks what breed your pup is, you can give a list of breeds going back at least 3 generations.
The 3 Most Popular Brands
There are many Dog DNA Test kits out there, but three of the most popular choices are:
(Spoiler Alert) Embark is the best and worth every penny!
Click here to jump to the section where we cover these three brands in details.
Dog DNA Test: What’s the Purpose?
1) What breed or breed mix is my dog?
Owners of purebreds can find most of the information about their breed online. Expected size, energy level, training techniques for a breed are just a Google search away. With the tapping of the keyboard and a few clicks they’ll even know what part of the world the dog breed is from.
But what about me? I have a dog with the head of a Rottweiler and body of a Poodle.
A Dog DNA Test will tell the dog owner what breeds went into making their pooch. Embark’s latest version even identifies what part of the world your dog may be from if it is a village dog – yeah, that’s a specific and unique type of dog… And they differ from country to country.
2) What health conditions do I need to look out for?
Originally, a Dog DNA Test told you what breed or breeds your dog is. Times have changed!
In addition to identifying your breed mix, the best DNA tests tell you what conditions to be aware of… for your exact dog. No more wondering if your pooch is going to develop joint pain because of his or her breed. Now you can get the information based on the genetic profile of your specific friend.
As an example, my sister has two dachshunds that look like clones. She had both tested with Embark and one showed a potential for developing Dysplasia. A quick consult with the vet and Frankie is now on a diet to prevent costly medical bills in the future. Less pain and less bills!
Dog DNA testing will also ensure that someone who is looking for a dog suitable for apartment living doesn’t end up surrendering the dog because he grew into a 110lbs dog.
Dog DNA Test Kit Amenities
Although some test kits may vary slightly, most of them will generally include:
- Instructions – Step-by-step and easy to follow
- Cheek Swabs – Usually 2 of them which should both be used for the same dog
- An insert for drying the swabs
- Shipping label and box (or envelope) – This should be prepaid and used to send the dog samples to the laboratory for analysis
Dog DNA Testing: A How-To Guide
Here are the instructions for the Wisdom Panel 4.0 DNA Test.
Other tests may vary slightly (Embark Dog DNA Test, for example, has an additional step which instructs users to insert the cheek swab into the container and shake for 10 seconds), but in principle, the procedure is the same for most test kits!
- Remove a swab from the packet (and try not to get anyone else’s DNA on it!)
- Firmly twirl the swab on the inside of your canine’s cheek for around 20 seconds. (Your dog will probably not understand or enjoy this part of the procedure)
- Place the swab into the insert in the packaging and allow for it to air dry for around 5 minutes and then repeat steps 1-3 with the second swab
- Activate the dog DNA test online (with whichever company you are doing the test). You will receive an activation confirmation number, which you need to write onto LABEL #1
- Apply LABEL #1 to the swab sleeve
- Insert the swabs back into the sleeve and DO NOT SEAL IT. (All kinds of things will grow in there if it doesn’t stay dry)
- Put the sleeve with the swabs into the box (or envelope) and seal it
- Apply the shipping label to the front of the box, mail the dog samples, and wait for the results
Useful tip: The Embark Dog DNA test kit instructions advise you to wave a treat in front of your dog to get that saliva flowing for an easier DNA harvest. This is especially useful for dogs that don’t drool a lot.
Dog DNA Test Cost
The dog DNA testing kit costs range from $70 up to $179 (after coupon code).
As with most things in this day and age, the more you are willing or able to spend, the better the tests are. Better accuracy and better results cost more – pretty simple.
Some dog DNA tests cost much less than others but have a much smaller canine breed or genetic database. This is fine for anyone who wants to have a better sense of what breeds were poured into their doggo. It’s probably not enough for someone who wants to be certain of the breed and wants to detect genetic mutations in order to prevent their pups from getting sick.
The Best Dog DNA Test: A Comparison of Brands
From our tests, Embark is the clear winner. They do cost a bit more… but it’s worth it. They test against more markers and actually have a bigger breed database (despite the claim of competitors).
Embark Vet Dog DNA Testing
Embark Dog DNA Test Website: Click Here (Use Embark Coupon Code PAL20 for a $20 Discount)
The Embark Vet test is a solid all-inclusive DNA test. It is well priced (after using the Embark DNA coupon we mention above) and includes the most exhaustive database and testing standards.
This is the perfect DNA test for anyone who wants to know about their canine’s breed and wants a more extensive genetic health screening done on their dog. Want a happy and healthy life for you pooch? – Get the Embark Dog DNA Test!
Embark Vet DNA tests take a little longer to produce their results, but they’re also considerably more accurate.
Wisdom Panel Website: Click Here
Wisdom Panel offers 4 different canine DNA Testing Kits. The 2 most popular ones are the Wisdom Panel 4.0 (which goes for $84.99), and the Wisdom Panel Health kit (which goes for $149.99).
The main difference between the two is that the Wisdom Panel Health kit tests for all the breed information as well as doing genetic screening associated with increased disease risk.
The Wisdom Panel 4.0 tests mostly for breed information with an added bonus of testing for 2 genetic mutations:
- MDR1 – knowing whether or not your dog has this genetic mutation is very useful as it determines whether or not your dog will experience negative side effects associated with certain medication
- DNM1 – Carriers of this gene might suffer from Exercise-induced Collapse, which can be fatal.
In our tests, Wisdom Panel was the clear #2 choice. It’s cheaper than Embark, but not as exact. It’s better than DNA My Dog, but it costs more.
DNA My Dog
DNA My Dog Website: Click Here
As the lowest priced test of the popular brands, the DNA My Dog test might sound like a good value, but sadly their database is very limited and can often lead to unreliable results.
They have a wonderfully fast turnaround time and present your dog with a certificate (with a photo of your dog) which declares what he or she is made of. DNA My Dog’s database only consists of 95 dog breeds. But… if your pup has any of those in it, the test will probably pick it up!
Dog DNA Test: What Factors Count to Ensure Accuracy
Dog DNA testing depends on 3 critical factors: a quality sample, a large database to compare against, the number of genetic markers tested
One very important factor is the number of breeds included in the breed panel.
Some tests have a breed panel of 95 and others have more than double that amount. The more expensive tests include more breeds and test against more genetic markers, allowing for more accurate breed and health results. Those 95 breeds in the smaller panel might include the most popular breeds, but the test won’t yield satisfying results if one or more breeds aren’t in that database.
A more comprehensive database will also help untangle the genes of a mixed breed born of mixed breed parents who in turn were sired by mixed breed grand and great-grandparents.
To be sure, the breed tests are more accurate when purebreds were involved in the last couple of generations. But with the health testing, the genetic markers tested are not dependent on whether the dog is a pure breed or mixed breed.
Without getting too mathematical, superior algorithms trump the not so good ones every time. Even without a math degree, with enough research, you will be able to tell which brands are backed by the better science, and that should be one of the big boxes to tick when choosing a brand. (Hint: the best science is in the brand we recommend)
Possible User Error of Dog DNA Testing
The term “User Error” is a polite way of telling people that the failure of something is entirely their fault, and although companies go out of their way to make sure that margin for (human) error stays as small as possible, people will always find a way to mess things up.
The accuracy (read: success) of Dog DNA tests can be brought down to zero if users do not read the instructions and follow them to the T.
It may seem self-explanatory, but your dog might not be too keen on your stealing his DNA, so the cheek swab might go all over the place and fall on the floor where your other dog might have been drooling while chewing on something.
Instructions also advise for you to wait for a certain period of time before or after your dog has eaten to take the test.
Those swabs need to go from the sleeves to your dog’s cheek, into the insert to dry and then into the sleeve.
You might be tempted to seal the sleeve in order to contain all that DNA, but all you will have achieved is create a bacterial playground, as well as probably ruining any chance of extracting enough DNA to successfully run a test.
Dog DNA Test: Purchasing the Right Brand
Whether you decide to test your dog’s DNA out of pure curiosity for knowing what breed(s) he or she consists of, or whether you are doing it to rule out or pick up on potential health risks, it is a very exciting process no matter what brand you choose.
Most owners of mixed breed dogs would (should) want to know as much as possible about their fur-children to better provide them with the best possible care, and doing a DNA test on your dog is a big step in the direction of Dog Parent Level: Expert.
In the end, most brands will provide you with the basic amenities and information you need to figure out your dog’s family tree, but always be aware of what you’re buying and if what you’re paying is the right price for the product.
You may be completely surprised by the result, or have your suspicions confirmed.
Either way, all of these dog DNA tests will provide ample information about the breeds involved and will likely explain not only your dog’s appearance, but will also help you to understand their behavior. Plus it’s always fun to learn more about your dog’s ancestry!