What is the most accurate dog DNA test? The answer to that question depends on a few different factors, like what technology the test uses, how much genetic information is captured in the results, and more. Embark is proud to offer the most accurate dog DNA test on the market today.
But how can you tell which dog DNA test is most accurate? We break down the factors that go into accuracy. Here’s what to look for when you’re searching for the most accurate dog DNA test.
What makes Embark the most accurate dog DNA test?
Experts at The New York Times’ Wirecutter named Embark the most accurate dog DNA test. In their words, other companies “analyze fewer DNA markers in your pet’s saliva than Embark, so we don’t think the results are as accurate overall.”
Why does the Embark dog DNA test contain so many genetic markers (over 230,000)? It all starts with our commitment to science. Analyzing this volume of genetic information not only helps us give you accurate breed results. It also makes it possible for scientists to make future discoveries that can benefit the health of all dogs.
The most accurate dog DNA test uses advanced technology
The accuracy of a dog DNA test depends in part on the technology it uses.
Our commitment to science is at the heart of everything we do. We use a research-grade genotyping chip, called a “microarray,” to look at your dog’s DNA. It’s the same kind of technology used for human genetic research and trusted by companies like 23andMe, so you know it’s reliable.
Scientists have used microarray chips (also called “SNP chips”) for over 15 years. As a genetic testing platform, microarrays are extremely accurate.
For Embark dog DNA tests, we use a custom version of an Illumina microarray. The base technology is not a secret. Our microarray is based on the commercially available Illumina CanineHD Array, with custom markers added. The CanineHD Array has long been the leading research platform for dog genetics. The result is a chip that analyzes over 230,000 genetic variants known to occur in different dog breeds.
Here are a few of the things we do to make sure that we offer you the most accurate dog DNA test:
- Each health condition is tested multiple times. That redundancy helps us have confidence that we got it right. If the test gets different results for that gene, our scientists review it manually to see what’s going on.
- When we upgrade our test to a new version, we test it on known dog DNA to make sure it calls the same dogs correctly multiple times.
- We manually review our results periodically to make sure there are no inconsistencies, which enables us to catch and fix anything that might be misbehaving.
- We have quality control processes in place to make sure dog DNA samples don’t get mixed up. By double and triple checking the breed, sex, and relatives for every sample, we make sure that each DNA sample is tied to a unique dog.
- We catch any contamination at the start of our DNA analysis. If that happens, we’ll send you a new swab.
You can read more about dog DNA testing in this deep dive into microarray technology.
The most accurate dog DNA test for breed ID
Embark identifies 350+ breeds, types, and varieties, including dingoes, coyotes, wolves, and village dogs—more than any other test on the market. We have more breeds in our database than any other dog DNA testing company. That means that Embark can detect breeds even if they contribute only a small percentage to your dog’s overall breed mix.
In addition to having the most accurate dog DNA test for breed mix, we’ll be transparent in our results. If a percentage of your dog’s breed mix doesn’t match any breeds in our database, or if it’s too small a percentage for us to be sure that it’s accurate, we’ll tell you. Other dog DNA tests may show other breeds in your dog’s results to make up that small percentage—breeds that may or may not actually be present.
Let’s break down some of the common questions about why a dog’s genetic breed mix can sometimes be surprising.
Why breed doesn’t always dictate appearance
Genetics are more than skin deep. Even though a dog might look a lot like a specific breed, genetics can tell a different story. That’s because a lot of the traits we associate with just one specific breed are tied to variants that can show up in any breed.
Some traits are very breed- or population-specific. For example, the golden coat color we associate with Golden Retrievers does not always show up in mixed-breed dogs with Golden Retriever ancestry. Often, those mixed-breed dogs have black coats.
Whether or not your dog looks more like one breed than another depends on whether they have certain genetic variants that code for visible traits, and what kind of traits they are (e.g., if the variants are recessive or dominant).
Adam Boyko, PhD, Chief Science Officer at Embark, explains why your dog’s genetic breed results might not be what you expected.
Your dog looks the way they do not because of averaging or blending the breeds in their genetic makeup, but because of specific traits inherited from specific breeds. That’s one reason your mixed-breed dog may look, act, and have certain health issues much more like one breed than another.
A few things to keep in mind about how dog DNA testing works:
- The vast majority of DNA doesn’t code for proteins, but it does tell us about ancestry.
When we report your dog’s breed mix, we look at the total of your dog’s DNA. That doesn’t mean that the most visible traits (like coat color, snout length, or body size) all come from your dog’s dominant breed. Some of those traits might come from a breed that makes up only 10% of your dog’s overall breed mix, but those are the traits we see. Your dog might be 50% Poodle, but not look anything like a Poodle (like Bernyk the Yellow Lab).
- A single gene can determine a single trait.
Some traits are controlled by a single gene. This might cause surprising breed reveals! For example, if your dog inherits the genetic variant for a long muzzle from their Collie side, but their genetic ancestry is only 10% Collie, your dog will look a lot more like a Collie than their DNA says they are.
- Genetics is a game of chance.
It all depends on what your dog inherits from their mom and dad. That’s why mixed-breed dogs can look completely different, even if they have similar breed mixes. That’s also why the dogs in Dogs Like Mine in your pup’s Embark profile can look so different from your dog, and why mixed-breed siblings might not look the same.
What exactly is a “Supermutt”?
If your dog is a mixed-breed dog, you might see “Supermutt” listed in their breed results. This might seem nonspecific, but there is a real scientific reason behind it.
Some dogs descend from other dogs that were themselves mixed-breed dogs. These other dogs can give small contributions to the ancestry of your dog. They are so small that they are no longer recognizable as any one particular breed. We call this portion “unresolved” or “Supermutt.” We might not know exactly what breeds are in this “Supermutt,” because the percentages are so small, but sometimes we can detect one or two of them.
Single breed vs. purebred
Genetic ancestry and purebred status are two different things. A dog’s “purebred” status is defined by their pedigree and determined by a registration body. A purebred dog has purebred parents that meet the breed standards for that breed. Those breed standards often include visual requirements, like certain traits, as well as behavior and temperament.
As we now know, a dog’s appearance doesn’t always match their genetic ancestry. Genetic ancestry is determined by looking at your dog’s DNA and seeing how much DNA they share with other breeds. The more shared DNA, the higher the percentage of that breed in their breed mix.
If a dog’s DNA test results are 100% one breed, we call that “single breed.” Single breed refers to a dog’s DNA, whereas “purebred” refers to a registered status.
Therefore, a dog that was thought to be mixed breed can turn out to be “single breed,” but that doesn’t mean they are a purebred dog. Vice versa, a purebred dog’s DNA test might say they have a small percentage of ancestry in another breed, but that doesn’t invalidate their purebred status.
Want to learn more about what DNA testing means for purebred dogs? We debunk common myths about purebred dog DNA tests.
Accurate genetic health screening results
Embark gives you accurate results about any health findings so you can have peace of mind about your dog’s health. We test for 250+ genetic health risks that affect multiple breeds, with a very low rate of false positives and false negatives, so you can trust the results.
In genetic testing, a false positive means that a test result says that your dog has a health risk when they really don’t, which can cause unnecessary worry for you and your veterinarian. A false negative means that the test didn’t detect a health risk that your dog actually has. That causes false confidence and a missed opportunity to catch it early.
It’s important to talk to your veterinarian about any genetic health risks your dog might have. Just because your dog has a genetic health risk doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll develop a disease. (The scientific term for this is “penetrance,” referring to how often a variant that is present actually causes a condition.)
A specific genetic variant might have very little effect in one breed and a significant effect in another breed. By knowing your dog’s breed mix, as well as their genetic health risks, you and your veterinarian can develop a medical care plan that accounts for their unique health considerations.
The most accurate dog DNA test meets rigorous quality standards
Our scientific and laboratory teams follow rigorous quality control processes. We label each dog DNA sample with a unique barcode, which prevents sample mixup. Our use of microarrays exceeds industry quality control standards by also checking the breed, sex, and relatives of every sample. This also helps to prevent fraud by making it impossible for the same dog to be tested multiple times.
We use robots to handle the samples in the lab, minimizing risk of human contamination. If there’s any contamination, our process detects it early and flags the contaminated sample. If that happens, we’ll send you a new swab, free of charge.
As we’ve grown, we’ve continued improving our quality control processes. In the rare case that the results of the probes testing the same gene don’t match, we offer secondary testing using a different method to confirm the result.
At Embark, we’re proud of our world-class DNA testing service, our customer support team, and the most accurate dog DNA test on the market today. As technology advances and scientists discover new genetic variants, we’re constantly upgrading our dog DNA test to make sure that we use the latest, most accurate scientific information.