ABC 13 Tries Out Doggy DNA Testing

Lynchburg, VA - They say a simple swab of your dog's cheek can reveal all sorts of information about it.

Doggy DNA testing has been around for a few years now. And ABC 13's Noreen Turyn and Len Stevens both gave it a try with their dogs.

Scooby Stevens is a workout warrior. He has an almost nonstop motor, a perfect trait for a Rhodesian Ridgeback, which are dogs bred in Africa to hunt lions. He certainly looks the part although he doesn't have a ridge. But people ask all the time "Is he a Ridgeback?" Time and again, Len answers, "He sure is, maybe mixed with something else. You know Ridgebacks hunt lions?"

He's a good dog. And like any good Ridgeback, even those without a ridge, he needs his exercise. Scooby gets exercise with his best buddy Cadbury, which is Noreen's dog.

Dr. Cassandra Campbell at Peaks View Animal Hospital says there could be great value in knowing your dog's breeds.

"We may have a heads up to some of the medical conditions that could be happening or anticipate them," she said.

Knowing your dog's breeds means knowing your dog's genes and any health and behavioral issues.

We did a purebred test on all three dogs, including Campbell's dog Maverick, using the Widsom Panel test kit from the Mars Company. A few weeks later, Dr. Angela Hughes showed the results for all the dogs through Skype.

First up was Maverick, believed to be a purebred Boxer. No surprises here: He's full on Boxer and a friendly one at that.

Now Noreen's dog, Cadbury.

"The humane society said he was a Shepherd/Collie mix. But most people when they look at him, the first thing they ask is, 'Does he have Golden in him?'" said Noreen.

The results were about what we expected: Golden Retriever, Chow, and some German Shepherd.

"Several of these breeds do have orthopedic issues, so that would be what I would pay attention to most with him," said Hughes.

Hugues advices to keep him thin so there's less wear and tear on his joints.

Finally, Scooby's results, which Len thought would be easy, guessing he was bound to be about 90 % Rhodesian Ridgeback.

"The bulldog and Chihuahua were the two that came out strongest in him," said Hughes through Skype. "And the Chihuahua is coming up very consistently."

From the start, Len had been told that Scooby was a Ridgeback without a ridge, descendent from proud animals that roamed the plains of Southern Africa, fearless enough to take on the King of the Jungle!

Len was surprised to say the least.

Hughes says that reaction is fairly typical because many people think they know their dog's breeds.

"A lot of people have that perception. And they get set on that one breed," she said.

She says dogs' traits -- ear and tail shape, coloring, hair length -- can come from a variety of breeds. For instance, she says both bulldogs and Chihuahuas carry the yellow gene, which Scooby has.

"And yellow is recessive. He needs two copies of that yellow gene to come together," said Hughes.

Hughes points out that they're not talking about a Bulldog head on a Chihuahua body. The genes are much more complicated than that.

Scooby shows up as at least 42 % other breeds - sheepdogs and spaniels, mostly. And the test indicates there could be still other breeds in Scooby's more distant past.

"He's interesting in that he's got a lot of different breed groups coming together," said Hugues.

One positive: More breeds in the mix very generally means a healthier dog. It's called Hybrid Vigor.

"In terms of diseases, he's going to reap the benefits of being a Heinz 57," said Hughes.

Hughes says the "eye test," just looking at a dog and guessing its breeds, is about 25 % accurate.

It worked for Cadbury, but not at all for Len's Scooby. Their DNA testing, she says, is 90 % accurate.