When he first arrived at PAWS Humane, staffers were perplexed by Burt.
With his curly tail, some guessed the dog was mixed with Siberian husky. Others believed his unique coloring meant he was part cattle dog.
Thanks to pet DNA testing, they will soon find out the background of this mystery mutt.
PAWS Humane now offers DNA tests to local pet owners with mixed breed dogs. For a $125 fee, staffers will take a dog’s blood sample (the dog must be spayed or neutered) and send it to a third-party company, which conducts a test called the Wisdom Panel MX Mixed-Breed Dog DNA Test. In two to three weeks, pet owners can find out what breeds are present in their canine’s genetic makeup — from the most prominent to the least.
Pet DNA test services is a relatively new offering for pet owners across the country. Locally, Gateway Veterinary Hospital in Columbus and Companion Animal Hospital in Phenix City provide clients DNA results through Wisdom Panel, the same test PAWS Humane uses.
At PAWS Humane, adoption center staffers typically have to guess when visitors ask about a dog’s background.
“We always get the question, and it’s always our best guess — based on what they look like and how they act,” said Courtney Pierce, admissions manager at PAWS Humane.
So why should someone pay to find out their dog’s genetic background?
“It’s a good way to learn more about your dog,” she said.
Knowing a puppy’s mix of breeds can help predict what the dog may later look like, as well as what behavioral traits it may eventually display. For example, a puppy mixed with the boxer breed may grow to more than 60 pounds and be prone to drooling.
Hank Hall, veterinarian at Northside Animal Hospital, said that information can help new owners understand what they’re getting into.
“Knowing the breed could be helpful in making an informed decision about a dog purchase or acquisition,” Hall said.
For dogs already in the home, it could explain certain habits — why the dog carries things around in its mouth or digs holes in the yard, perhaps. At the least, Pierce said the DNA test could simply satisfy an owner’s curiosity about his pet.
“I think most people would be interested because it’s just fun,” she said.
There are several pet DNA tests on the market; most use either cheek swabs or blood samples. Hall said this technology is still in its infancy and tests “are still a roll of the dice.”
“It’s not an exact science, but it might put you in the ballpark,” he said.
Some critics say certain tests may have limited breed databases, which could skip over breeds that may actually be a part of a dog’s genetic background. The specific test PAWS Humane uses claims it is 90 percent accurate and can detect 157 different breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Wisdom Panel is also backed by a decade of peer-reviewed research, according to its Web site.
As for Burt the mystery mutt, his background will soon be revealed. PAWS Humane is running a contest for those who pay a $2 entry fee to guess Burt’s breed mix. Those who correctly guess the two most prominent breeds will be eligible for a six-month supply of Frontline flea prevention medication.
Pierce received Burt’s results about a week ago, and guesses have been coming in — mostly predictions of cattle dog and husky.
Is that close?
“I’m not going to say,” she said. The contest ends Aug. 15.