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Owners are getting their pets DNA tested, too


DNA tests aren't just for people. Pets are getting swabbed to explore their ancestral roots as well.

Owners aren't trying to build out Fido's family tree looking for links to Lassie, Sandy or Rin Tin Tin. Typically, it's just curiosity that gets the best of these mixed-breed dog or cat owners.

Much like the human tests, the accuracy and interpretation of the tests are up for debate. None of the local veterinary offices contacted wanted to go on the record about the subject. While one dismissed the legitimacy of the tests but didn't want to offend clients who have done it, another said it's probably 50-50 whether it's accurate, and if the tests go back a few generations, "anything could be in the breed."

Most agree the tests can be fun, if not factual, but owners might have more serious reasons for getting it done.

"Sometimes people do it because of a health issue or they're having trouble training the dog," said Mindy Tenenbaum of DNA My Dog. "If they learn the breed, sometimes they can alter the training method to suit the breed more."

Dog trainer Babette Haggerty said more and more of her clients are doing the tests, which cost around $60.

"It helps understand better why the dog does the things it does," said the Oakland-based trainer.

Recently she was working with a family of a mixed breed, and training was difficult. They did the DNA test and found out it was a coonhound, husky, Samoyed mix.

"He has no interest in pleasing us," Haggerty said. "Knowing the background, no wonder."

They still work to train the dog, but the new information is helpful.

"It gives you a better understanding and gives you more patience," Haggerty said.

Another big reason for the test is that some owners suspect their dog is not what they were told he is.

"We also have people who purchase a dog as a puppy and were told they're getting a Shih Tzu and now the dog is 6 months old and they're starting to see the dog is not that," said Tenenbaum. "They want to confirm or not, that is the breed they have."

Haggerty said most people, especially at rescues, "innocently" mislead owners about the dog's breed. Good intentions are sabotaged by a lack of education on breeds.

In the U.S., the most common breed to get is German shepherd, said Tenenbaum. The most common breed people think their dog is is border collie, she said, but 9 out of 10 times the test does not show it is a border collie at all.

Curiosity got the best of me and I recently took a Q-tip to our mixed-breed Harry's cheek, sent it away and anxiously awaited the results.

According to the test, he is not a Cairn terrier, as we were told. Instead, the report says he's mostly border terrier, with some poodle and a little bit (10 to 20 percent) Chihuahua.

DNA My Dog also sends along a little primer on personality traits of the breeds found and basic health information.

Now we know why he squeezes himself through small spaces (it's a border terrier thing, apparently), how to answer people who ask what kind of dog he is and, perhaps most important, which breed to root for next year while watching the Westminster Dog Show.