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Decoding Max from How the Grinch Stole Christmas


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This holiday season, we’re decoding Max, the beloved fictional dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Max joins Clifford and Scooby-Doo in our Embark Decoded series.

If we ran an Embark dog DNA test on Max, what would we find?

What type of dog is Max from The Grinch?

Max is a true mystery mutt—no one knows exactly what kind of dog he is. In the 2000 live-action film starring Jim Carrey, Max is played by six different mixed-breed dogs. All were rescued from shelters.

In the 1966 animated film, his long muzzle looks similar to that of a Beagle, and his long body shape is reminiscent of a Dachshund. His tan coat and dark brown ears could come from a number of different breeds, including the Beagle or Cocker Spaniel. His scruffy appearance (also known as furnishings or a wire coat) could hint at some Poodle or Wire Haired Dachshund ancestry. 

It’s likely that Max’s genetic ancestry contains some American Pit Bull Terrier, German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever, or Chihuahua—the four most common breeds in Embark-tested mixed-breed dogs. Not coincidentally, these breeds are also among the most common breeds found in shelters.

We know that you can’t always tell what breeds are in a dog’s ancestry just by looking at them, but we can help explain some of the genes behind Max’s physical traits.

Two genes that give Max his brown coat

1. Gene: Tyrosinase Related Protein 1 (TYRP1)
Max’s genetic result: bb

Max from How the Grinch Stole Christmas has a tan coat, so he likely has a bb result for this gene. The TYRP1 gene helps determine whether a dog produces brown or black pigments. Dogs with a bb result produce brown pigment instead of black in both their hair and skin, while dogs with a Bb or BB result produce black pigment. 

2. Gene: Melanocortin Receptor 1 (MC1R)
Max’s genetic result: EE or Ee

Because he is able to produce brown hairs, we know that Max has either an EE or Ee result for the MC1R gene. Any result except for ee means that a dog can produce dark hairs. An ee result means that the dog does not produce dark hairs at all, and will have lighter white, yellow, or red hairs over their entire body.

Max thrives at high altitudes

Gene: EPAS1
Max’s genetic result: AA or GA

The EPAS1 gene was originally identified in breeds from high-altitude areas, such as the Tibetan Mastiff. It helps dogs tolerate low-oxygen environments, such as those found at high elevations.

Max might have inherited an AA or GA result from a mountain-climbing breed in his ancestry, because he seems to tolerate the high altitude of the Grinch’s mountain cave pretty well. He might have some hidden sled dog ancestry in him, too, because he’s surprisingly skilled at pulling the Grinch’s heavy sleigh!

Did you know that EPAS1 is one of the many genes that humans and dogs share? Scientists found that the same gene that allowed humans to adapt to high elevations also allowed their dogs to resist altitude sickness.

Max has a long muzzle

Gene: BMP3
Max’s genetic result: CC

The BMP3 gene affects muzzle length. Max likely has a CC result for this gene, giving him his long snout. He may have inherited this variant from a Dachshund, Whippet, or Collie in his ancestry.

A dog with an AA result is likely to have a short muzzle (like an English Bulldog). A dog with an AC result is likely to have a medium-length muzzle.

The genes behind Max’s scruffy coat

1. Gene: RSPO2
Max’s genetic result: FF or FI

This gene is responsible for “furnishings”, which is another name for the mustache, beard, and eyebrows that are characteristic of breeds like the Schnauzer, Scottish Terrier, and Wire Haired Dachshund. Max likely has an FF or FI result, giving him his furnishings.

2. Gene: KRT71
Max’s genetic result: TT or CT

For dogs with long fur, dogs with a TT or CT result will likely have a wavy or curly coat like the coat of Poodles and Bichon Frises.

Max likely has the CC genotype for a long tail

Gene: T
Max’s genetic result: CC

This is one of the genes that can cause a short bobtail. Most dogs have a CC result and a long tail. Dogs with a CG result are likely to have a bobtail, which is an unusually short or absent tail.

Max is a mystery—and an audience favorite

Whatever the truth of Max’s breed ancestry may be, his defining feature is his unconditional love for the Grinch, which makes him arguably the most lovable character in the movie.

In the words of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the animated film The Grinch: “Max is the world’s greatest dog, let alone the Grinch’s best companion. Anyone should be so lucky to have a Max in their life.”

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Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with or endorsed by Seuss Enterprises L.P., Universal Pictures, or Turner Entertainment Co.

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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