dog DNA tests guide | Pupford

Dog DNA Tests Guide [updated for 2020]

Dog DNA tests have risen in popularity dramatically in the past couple of years.

Here’s why 👇

Some of the best boys and girls we know are mixed breeds. Sometimes you have a good idea what breeds your dog is but just want to be sure.

But sometimes, like in the case of rescues, we aren’t sure (but we are sure they are 100% lovable).

That’s where dog DNA tests come in.

A dog DNA test can serve a few purposes:

  • Give insight into which breeds your mix-breed dog is
  • Help your vet get vital information about how to best treat your dog
  • Alert pup parents about any potential health concerns to look out for
  • Teach you more about your pup so you can bond even more!

We’ve gotten a lot of questions about dog DNA tests within our community, so we’ve put together a guide to help answer them.

You can use the table of contents to jump to a specific question:

  • How do dog DNA tests work?
  • How do I give my dog a DNA test?
  • How accurate are dog DNA tests?
  • How much do dog DNA kits cost?
  • Which dog DNA test is the best?

So let’s dive right into our guide on dog DNA tests.

How Do These DNA Tests Work?

light brown dog wearing glasses before doing a DNA test | Pupford

The short answer: exactly like human DNA tests.

I know, not very helpful, so we’ll talk through how that works.

Genetic testing can be done on any bodily tissue or fluid. The least invasive method is called a buccal smear, where a cotton swab or brush collects cells from the inside of your cheek.

Since it’s the quickest and least painful, it’s the chosen method for dog DNA tests.

Once the samples are collected, they’re sent to a lab where scientists analyze the coding within a DNA molecule. Believe it or not, the millions of nucleotides (the “letters” of DNA molecules) are comprised of just four options.

One individual different letter can be the difference between an 18-pound dog and an 80-pound dog.

The order of your dog’s DNA code is then compared with others to find patterns and similarities.

The comparison is used to draw conclusions like breed, the risk for certain diseases, appearance — anything that makes your pup themselves.

Pretty technical… but also, pretty simple, right?

How Do I Give My Dog a DNA Test?

While all this science seems complicated, giving your dog the DNA test is actually pretty simple. Once you get your kit (we’ll give some guidance on that a little later), you’ll have everything you need.

Here are the steps of administering the DNA test to your pup:

  1. Make sure your dog has not eaten in the past 30 minutes.
  2. Open the kit and remove the collection tube from its packaging without removing the swab from the tube.
  3. Gently swab the inside of your dog’s cheek for 30 seconds to a minute, until it’s completely saturated. If they aren’t producing enough saliva, you can show your dog a treat so they salivate.
  4. Seal the swab inside the collection tube as tightly as you can — be careful not to spill the liquid inside.
  5. Shake the collection tube.
  6. Send your sample as per the instructions in your kit. You might have to activate/register your kit online before sending it, so read the instructions carefully.
  7. Give your dog that treat from earlier, just for being a good boy or girl!

The steps are pretty simple, but be patient and take it slow. Some dogs might not love the idea of a swab in their mouth — keep a calm, positive demeanor to help your dog relax.

How Accurate are Dog DNA Tests?

dog who just got a dna test | Pupford

A lot of people hesitate to do DNA tests on their dogs because they don’t know how accurate they are.

Most brands of tests claim 95%-99% accuracy. The biggest factors that impact accuracy are human error and database size.

That’s why following the instructions carefully is so important. If the activation fluid spills or the sample is not sealed completely, the sample can end up tainted or unreadable.

But sometimes, even if you give the test properly, the results still aren’t clear. (This is probably the biggest complaint people have about dog DNA tests. We want to be transparent about that!)

That’s because each brand of test kit has its own database to compare your dog’s DNA to. If there’s nothing similar within the database, they can’t draw a conclusion.

Different brands typically have between 100-350 dog breeds within their database.

So to ensure that 95%-99% accuracy, follow the instructions closely and choose a brand with the largest possible database (more on that soon!).

How Much Do Kits Cost?

We understand that cost is a factor in making any purchase decision, especially something like a dog DNA test.

Costs for a DNA test for a single dog typically range from $60-$170 depending on the lab. Some brands offer multiple-dog discounts or less expensive options if you’re just looking for one thing (disease screening, breed identification, etc.).

But it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes the cheaper option is not always better. In this case, paying more for a better quality product might yield better results and prevent you from having to buy a second kit to re-do the test.

Which brings us to our next topic…

What’s The Best Dog DNA Test Kit?

black dog on black background | Pupford

We did some research to help you find the best DNA kit for testing your dog. We’ve picked an overall winner as well as some runner ups, so you have everything you need to make a well-informed decision for you and your pup.

Here’s what we looked at when ranking the DNA kits 👇

  • Depth of testing
  • Speed of results
  • Accuracy
  • Pup parent reviews
  • Overall value

Without further ado, our winners.

Drumroll, please… 🥁

The Overall Winner: Embark Dog DNA Test Kit

We love the Embark Dog DNA test because it really does it all. Plus, it’s backed by a partnership with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, so users can trust the science behind it.

Embark uses over 200,000 genetic markers to provide a broader range of information than other tests. There are sections on family history, risk assessments for hundreds of conditions, and more.

Dog parents find the depth of information invaluable:

“Embark provides the most comprehensive, informative, and interesting results,” one user said. “If you are on the fence about what doggy DNA test to get, please do yourself a favor and pick this one,” said another.

Get your Embark test kit here.


Runner Up: Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Test

Wisdom Panel is another highly-reputable dog DNA test with many positive user experiences.

What we love about Wisdom Panel is that they have a test specifically designed for mixed-breed dogs which helps you understand the behavioral tendencies and health needs of your dog. Their results are very detailed and are especially useful for people who have rescued a dog.

The only downside is that the results aren’t quite as detailed as Embark’s.

Learn more about Wisdom Panel here.

Runner Up: Orivet Dog DNA Test

Orivet Dog DNA test is great for gathering nutrition and allergy information about your dog. They give invaluable information in their Customized Life Plan, which uses your dog’s DNA to make exercise and nutrition recommendations.

While that information is critical in providing the best care for your dog, the scope of this test is limited. There’s much less in-depth information in other areas of your dog’s DNA than some of the other tests.

It’s middle of the pack in terms of the price range, so if you’re looking for nutrition and allergy information from a test that won’t break the bank, this is a great choice.

Learn more about Orivet tests here.

Recap of Dog DNA Tests

No matter which one you choose, remember that no test is going to solve all of your dog’s life mysteries (health, behavior, allergies, etc.)

Again, our pick for the best dog DNA test is from Embark.

Go get your DNA test from Embark here!


Have you tested your dog’s DNA? If so, what interesting information did you find?

We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Written by Devin Stagg

Since being deprived of dogs during his childhood, he and his wife decided to make up for it by having three dogs, two Lab puppies, and one grandpa Puggle. Meaning he is ALWAYS covered in dog hair. When he’s not busy training his dogs and/or picking up their poop, you can find him cheering on Tottenham Hotspur and the Cleveland Browns (yes, you read that right).

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2 Comments on “Dog DNA Tests Guide [updated for 2020]

  1. I got the Embark kit for my rescue dog. I feel so much calmer he isn’t a carrier of any genetic health issues, and I love that I got 8 breeds as a result, with the remainder being supermutt (but they did give me an additional 5 breeds that most likely made up that part of him). I can finally give people a response now when they ask what breed he is or whether he’s a shepherd mix — which happens to be his second highest breed percentage. Love this DNA breed and health kit.

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