So there’s been a long standing joke about Raafi’s parentage. Basically, no one could come up with a definitive guess as to what his mix was beyond “German Shepherd and something, probably a kangaroo.” And while it doesn’t really make much of a difference (at three-and-a-half years old his personality is pretty well formed and he has no health issues to speak of aside from seasonal allergies), I was still super curious about it. So when I had a bunch of Amazon gift cards to blow I decided to take the plunge and order a Wisdom Panel DNA kit and see what it says.
Before getting the test I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought the results might be. Pretty much everyone guessed some GSD, and many suggested some sort of northern breed. Myself I figured German Shepherd and husky, with maybe whippet in the background somewhere based on they way his hind end is structured. There were a few outlandish suggestions like Klee Klai (which, given the considerably rough area he was picked up in by the dog catcher, it is just a bit unlikely). A few others suggested collie or lab, which is a lot more likely, though I didn’t really see either of those in him, but as I would discover, genetics are weird.
The test arrived in a little white box. I was super stoked though the dogs had no idea why. After carefully inspecting the box they found that there was no food involved at all and thus had no idea why I was so in to it. The test comes with two swabs (that look a bit like a tiny toilette cleaning brush) which you use to scrap the inside of your dog’s cheek for 30 seconds each to make sure they pick up enough cells to do a DNA test. Raafi was not thrilled with this process but tolerated it, and many treats rained from the heavens afterwards. Mu somehow felt slighted, even though scrapping for cheek DNA does not really seem like the funnest activity. At all. However, Mu still got treats for not bugging his brother while I collected the samples. Basically treats all around.
You might be wondering why I didn’t get a test for Mu at the same time. There were two reasons. The first one is that I’m pretty confident that he’s a lab and border collie cross. There might be a bit of something else in there but he’s so LAB sometimes and so BORDER COLLIE sometimes, that there doesn’t seem to be much of a debate (I often say that the root of most of our problems with not being able to leave him uncrated at home is because he has the stomach of a lab with the brain of a border collie. Which is basically the worst combination ever). The other reason is that these tests cost about $80 with tax, and while I’m curious, I’m not that curious (hence the reason I waited until I had some Amazon gift cards saved up to get Raafi’s).
Once you have your sample collected you need to register it online at their website. This allows them to match the package with your information, and it means you can get updates on what stage your sample is at. All in all they were pretty accurate on how long it would take. Even though the test is processed in the US and I’m in Canada, it took a little over two weeks to get the results. Once it’s finished you can download the profile in a pdf file, which includes a fancy looking certificate to show what your dog’s breed profile is.
The end result? For 50% of Raafi’s genetic background, you’d have to go back more than three generations to find a purebred (which they don’t cover), and you have to go back to his great grandparents to find any purebreds. Some of the dogs found were no surprise: if there wasn’t a German Shepherd in there somewhere I would have denounced the test as complete hooey. Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky also make a lot of sense. In fact Raafi is closer in height to a Husky than any other dog listed in his background. The real corker was the Golden Retriever. No one guessed that one. Mostly because there is absolutely nothing about Raafi that screams “Golden Retriever” at all. It’s super, super weird, but then again genetics are strange sometimes. Another weird thing is that they predicted that Raafi’s adult weight would be between 60 to 90lbs. Yeah, he’s maxed at 41lbs, so pretty far off on that one.
The rest of the document gives you some nifty little descriptions of the breeds found in your dog’s profile. There’s an example of how tall your dog is likely to end up, some common physical traits, and a short description of the personality traits commonly found in the breed. There are a few bullet points on the bottom and the one on Siberian Huskies included this little tidbit: “Stubborn tendencies may be lessened by using reward-based training involving small treats and favourite toys.” I was happy to see the company making note that stubbornness can be addressed with positive reinforcement based methods, instead of making some comment such as “this dog requires someone confident enough to be the pack leader”, which was the sentence I was expecting to read. I am always happier knowing my dollars are going toward a company that preaches modern, science based approaches to training, even if their product isn’t directly about training per-say. Though they do sell their tests as a way of identifying breed characteristics so that you can use them to formulate a training plan, with the caveat that these personality characteristics are not guaranteed.
Now, all of this stuff is really neat but there’s still 50% of Raafi’s background that they couldn’t conclusively identify. They do list the breed group that those unknowns are likely to be from (the highest percentage in Raafi’s case was that he’s descendent from something from the hound group, which is not hugely helpful since there’s kind of a big difference between a basset and a whippet, with the next highest percentage being from the herding group), but it’s not broken down by linage. Raafi has two grandparents who are 50% unknown and one that is completely unknown. It would have been nice if they could have broken down the “mixed breeds” into their breed groups.
After all this there is still one unanswered question that still bugs me. The first thing people say when they pet Raafi is how soft he is. They are expecting him to feel like a GSD (aka a thick, course coat), except he has almost no undercoat to speak of and his topcoat still feels like puppy fur. That doesn’t describe any of the breeds in his background. He is also built very, very narrow, which is atypical of the breeds listed in his profile.
So, there you have it. The end result is that Raafi is a true Henz 57 if ever you saw one. The results don’t really change anything, but the information was neat to read. Would I do it again? Sure, if you’ve got the money why not. But don’t do it expecting any information that’ll revolutionize how you think of your dog. And don’t do it expecting perfect results. These tests are still relatively new, and the databases somewhat incomplete. But it was a fun diversion to play around with. Also, apparently Wisdom Panel does not have kangaroo in their database.
If you’re interested in pickup up a test here’s a link to the one I bought. Of all the varieties out there it has the best reviews: