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What Does a Dog DNA Test Tell You

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dog DNA tests can identify a large number of dog breeds and breed mixes down to 5-1% in some cases, and they can help to screen for several medical problems.
  • There are two leading dog DNA tests on the market: Embark and Wisdom Panel, which offer slightly different testing procedures and results.
  • The tests can provide details about your dog's breed heritage, family tree, vulnerability to medical conditions, and hidden traits like coat colors, shedding, and other physical features.
  • The accuracy of dog DNA tests varies by manufacturer and is not 100% accurate. Some tests lack information for specific breeds, and the family tree given is not definitive.
  • Dog DNA tests take about two to four weeks to process and should be used as a tool for gaining insight into your dog's ancestry, potential health concerns, and hidden traits, but not as a diagnosis. You should always speak with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet's health.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Friday 13 August 2021
Last updated on
Tuesday 30 May 2023
dna tests for dogs
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As a pet owner, you already love your furry friend, no matter their breed or ancestry. But have you ever wondered what makes your dog so special? Dog DNA tests are a fun and exciting way to learn more about your pet’s unique traits and health needs as they age.

You can easily purchase DNA tests for dogs online, but how do they work? Do they reveal hidden traits, like how much your dog sheds? And which brand is the most reliable? Here, we’ll answer all of these questions and more!

What is Dog DNA Testing

If you want to learn more about your dog’s ancestry, health, and traits, a DNA test can provide valuable insights. With a DNA test, you can identify many different dog breeds, and even trace your dog’s ancestry back several generations. In some cases, the test can also determine your dog’s breed mix down to 5-1%.

Additionally, a DNA test can help screen for several medical conditions, indicating whether your dog is at risk or a carrier of certain diseases. However, it’s important to note that a DNA test is not a comprehensive health screening. For example, it cannot replace the need for an OFA hip dysplasia screening. If you are a dog breeder, it’s important to research which tests are necessary for your breed.

In summary, a DNA test can be a valuable tool for pet parents and breeders alike. By understanding your dog’s genetic makeup, you can make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

How do These Tests Work

There are two leading dog DNA tests on the market: Embark Dog DNA Test, and Wisdom Panel. Both tests are available on Amazon and other online pet pharmacies. They both offer slightly different pros and cons. Here, we discuss how the two tests work. For more comprehensive instructions, be sure to check with the manufacturer’s website. With both panels, be sure to take samples a few hours after your dog has eaten. Make sure to take samples a few hours after your dog has eaten to avoid any food particles affecting the DNA results.

Your Embark test kit comes with a cheek sponge applicator. To start the test, pop the sponge into your dog’s mouth and gently rub it along the inside of their cheek pouch and under their tongue. Be careful not to scrape! You need to do this for at least 30 seconds. Then, place the swab into the collection tube with blue liquid, being careful to not spill any. Then, shake the sample for 10 seconds. This stabilizes the DNA. Next, seal it inside the plastic bag, activate your kit online, and drop it off in the mail with the pre-postage box. Your dog’s results will be with you in two weeks.

Your Wisdom Panel test kit comes with two swabs. As you open the swab sleeve to remove them, make sure to avoid touching the bristles. Gently rub the swab inside your dog’s mouth for a few seconds. Allow your samples to dry for five minutes before placing them back into the sleeve. Lastly, activate your kit online, then drop off the bag in the pre-paid postage box. Your pet’s results will be with you in two to three weeks!

results of dna tests
Some people would invest in a DNA test to ensure their dog’s breed.

What Does a Dog DNA Test Tell You

Embark and Wisdom Panel provide an array of details about your furry friend. With a DNA test, you can find out your dog’s breed heritage, their family tree, and their vulnerability to medical conditions. Different panels will offer different results, however, so be sure to double-check what the panel offers before making your purchase!

Ancestry & Parents

Some DNA tests, such as Embark, generate a predicted family tree based on your dog’s DNA. This can help to show which breeds are present at the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent levels of your dog’s family tree. However, the family tree given through a DNA test is not definitive. While the test algorithms predict the most likely family tree to explain your dog’s makeup, the one given may not be the only possible one. As a breeder, be sure that you don’t solely rely on a DNA test when studying your dog’s ancestry. Make sure to closely study your dog’s pedigree above all else.


The main purpose of a dog DNA test is to identify what breeds make up your furry friend. Your dog’s makeup is broken down into percentages, making it easy to see what makes your dog special. For example, your dog’s results may show as 50% Labrador Retriever, and 50% Border Collie if your dog is a mix-breed. However, in some cases, it’s not as clear-cut. Many dogs descend from dogs who were themselves a mixed breed, sometimes so far back in their ancestry that your dog’s DNA cannot be confidently assigned to one particular breed. In this case, Embark assigns the “Supermutt” label and suggests that breeds might make up this percentage. Other tests may refer to this percentage as an “unknown breed” or something similar.

Vulnerability to Medical Conditions

A DNA test can reveal a range of health conditions that may affect your dog. Embark, for example, tests for 200+ genetic health risks in your dog. A comprehensive health report makes it easy for you to send your dog’s results to your vet! You can also get ahead of diseases that occur later in life. By knowing what your dog is predisposed to, you can start prevention as early as possible. Some tests will even sort your dog’s conditions in a “breed-specific” category for your convenience.

Once your dog’s information is processed, their conditions are sorted into a few categories. These are “at-risk”, “carrier”, and “clear.” This information is best used for making breeding decisions and for awareness of what conditions could affect your dog later on. However, vets warn of putting too much stock into these health test results without speaking to their vet. There are also slight differences between the two leading DNA tests – while one might claim that your dog carries a disease, another might claim that your dog is at risk of developing it themselves. More research must be done to conclusively identify whether a dog carries, is at risk of, or is clear of, certain diseases. As always, speak to your vet about your dog’s health if you have any concerns!

Hidden Traits

Certain dog DNA tests can reveal “hidden” traits. These include “hidden patterning” and body patterns.” In short, this side of testing reveals the genetics at play in your dog’s coat and shows which coat colors are recessive and dominant. Other traits include furnishings, as controlled by the RSPO2 gene. This gene is responsible for the mustache, eyebrows, and beard that is characteristic of breeds like the Schnauzer or Scottish Terrier. Similarly, the MC5R gene affects how much your dog sheds, so a DNA test may help you to predict how much your dog sheds. Even traits like your dog’s muzzle, tail length, appetite, and altitude adaptation can sometimes be predicted through DNA testing!

process of dna tests
Some veterinarian clinics offer dna tests.

Dog DNA Tests – FAQ

Got any more questions about DNA tests for dogs? Feel free to check in with our FAQ for more details. If in doubt about DNA tests for dogs, always check in with your vet for advice.

Are Dog DNA Tests Accurate? 

Dog DNA test accuracy varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Overall, though, it’s important to note that the results of these tests are predictions. The earliest breed tests relied on a tiny number of markers, about 30 to 40 in total. Today’s DNA tests are much more extensive – Embark, for example, now uses more than 200,000 genetic markers based on their in-house research. Local ancestry inference, the method that these tests use, works by determining which breed most likely contributed to each part of your dog’s genome. Once an inference is found for each part, these inferences are summed to find an estimate. This shows you which breeds make up specific fractions of each inferred breed. Because of this, some DNA tests will offer slightly different results from one another if they find different inferences.

A DNA test may be inaccurate if the manufacturer lacks information for a specific breed, too. If a breed is absent from the reference dataset, it cannot be detected, even if it contributed a lot to your dog’s DNA.

Furthermore, the family tree offered by a DNA test is not 100% accurate. A DNA test can generate the most likely family tree, but cannot definitively tell you the exact placement of each breed in your dog’s ancestry. There may actually be several other possible family trees for your dog – the test shows which is the most likely. Overall, however, Embark and Wisdom Panel are widely regarded as the most accurate dog DNA tests available today, as recommended by vets.

At what age can I DNA test my dog? 

Most dog DNA test manufacturers state that puppies can be tested at any age. However, Embark advises waiting until the puppy is at least two weeks old. This is because they recommend separating the puppy from their dam and littermates for at least one hour, to minimize contamination. They also recommend swabbing for double the time, as puppies produce less saliva. Always keep your puppy warm and safe during the separation and handle the swabbing with care!

How long does a DNA test take? 

Depending on the DNA test manufacturer, results could be with you in two to four weeks! This is because it takes time to process all of your dog’s genetic information with the most accuracy. Don’t worry about your dog’s sample not lasting long enough – Embark’s DNA test in particular stays stable for 6 months!

Can Dog DNA tests tell a dog’s age?

To date, no dog DNA tests can estimate your dog’s biological age. Instead, a DNA test can estimate your dog’s genetic age. To estimate your dog’s age, a vet will consider their body shape, lens clarity, coat color, and dental condition.

How can I tell what my dog is mixed with? 

Dog DNA tests can suggest what your dog is mixed with, down to 1-5% depending on the manufacturer. Apart from DNA testing, you can study your dog’s pedigree to see what dogs make up your pup’s ancestry.

Dog DNA tests are useful for gaining insight into your dog’s ancestry, potential health concerns, and hidden traits. To date, the most accurate tests are Embark and Wisdom Panel. To get the most accurate results, some pet parents use both tests to compare the data. However, do not take your dog’s health test results as a diagnosis. You must speak with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.

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