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Decoding Clifford, the Big Red Dog


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Almost everyone knows Clifford, the Big Red Dog. He’s the huge, lovable pup from children’s literature and the star of a new movie.

If we ran an Embark DNA test on Clifford, what would we find? A gene that gives him his red coat? Maybe a new mutation that causes supersized dogs?

Of course, Clifford is fictional, so we can’t really swab him and find out his breed mix or his genetic traits. But we do have some clues.

What kind of dog is Clifford?

Almost two-thirds of online guesses thought that Clifford is a Labrador Retriever or a Lab mix. You also guessed that Clifford might be part Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, Redbone Coonhound, Golden Retriever, or Mastiff.

We enjoyed your food-related breed mix guesses… like Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Lab, Chocolate Velvet Labrador Retriever, and Kool-Aid Man… though they might not be completely accurate.

And a couple of online guesses correctly picked up on Clifford’s Viszla features!

The original prototype for Clifford was meant to be a Bloodhound. The Bloodhound is very large for a hound, weighing up to 110 pounds. Bloodhounds come in a few different colors, most commonly black & tan (with the black forming a saddle shape on the dog’s back as it grows), or red—the perfect color for Clifford.

Although Clifford was inspired by the Bloodhound, he has the characteristics of a Vizsla. Vizslas are known for their hunting skills. They are great family dogs that thrive on human interaction and require lots of exercise.

Clifford’s DNA Decoded

Even though Clifford is a cartoon, there are a few things we can guess about his DNA from looking at his traits.

1. Clifford probably has genetic variants for his red coat

Yes, there really is a gene that determines the amount of red in a dog’s coat! More accurately, there are several genes that do this.

Embark discovered that five places in the dog genome explain about 70% of the variation in red pigment intensity across all dogs. These places are called the “I” loci (“I” for “intensity.”) Intensity refers to the concentration of red pigment in the coat. Dogs with more concentrated (intense) pigment will be a deeper red, while dogs with less concentrated (dilute) pigment will be tan, yellow, cream, or white.

Clifford’s Embark results would probably say that his genetic result for this trait is “Intense Red Pigmentation.”

(In reality, Clifford the Big Red Dog ended up being red for a very practical reason—because his creator, Norman Bridwell, happened to have red paint on the drawing table that night.)

2. Clifford’s genes influence his large size

Genes: GF1, IGFR1, STC2, GHR – E191K, and GHR – P177L

Embark tests for five different genes that affect body size. We can guess that Clifford’s genetic result would be “Larger” for most—if not all—of these genes!

Body size is a complex trait. Both genetics and the environment can affect a dog’s size. Embark’s genetic analysis includes genes that, together, explain over 85% of the variation in dog body size.

Five gene results that say Body Size - Larger

3. Clifford probably has the GG genotype for a short coat

Gene: FGF5

The cartoon Clifford and the movie version of Clifford both have short coats. Clifford likely has the GG genetic result for the FGF5 gene, giving him his short coat.

This gene is known to affect hair/fur length in many different species, including cats, dogs, mice, and humans. In dogs, a TT result means the dog is likely to have a long, silky coat as seen in the Yorkshire Terrier and the Long Haired Whippet. A GG or GT result is likely to mean a shorter coat, like in the Boxer or the American Staffordshire Terrier.

Did you guess Clifford’s genetic results correctly?

Clifford may be fictional, but the health insights from DNA testing are not. An Embark dog DNA test can tell you about your real-life dog’s breed mix, genetic traits, and genetic health risks.

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Did you guess Clifford’s breed mix correctly? Let us know! Follow @embarkvet on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Can’t get enough cartoon dog DNA? Read along as we decode the DNA of other famous cartoon dogs, Scooby-Doo and Max from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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