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What is a “Supermutt”?


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You might be surprised to receive your dog’s breed results and find that a percentage of their breed ancestry comes from “Supermutt.” But what exactly is Supermutt?

We hear this question often at Embark. Here, we’ll explain what “Supermutt” means, how Embark scientists match your dog’s DNA to different breeds, and why a “Supermutt” result is more accurate than guessing at your dog’s breed ancestry.

What is a Supermutt?

“Supermutt” means that a dog has ancestry from multiple different breeds, but the amount of DNA inherited from those breeds is very small. In those cases, it turns out that the DNA segment is so small that it can no longer be confidently assigned to any one particular breed. This happens when dogs descend from several generations of other dogs that were themselves mixed breed.

The fragments of DNA we use to identify breed get shorter and shorter with every generation of mixing. The further in the past your dog has purebred ancestors, the smaller the identical segments matching our reference dataset are.

How does Embark identify Supermutts?

We analyze a dog’s breed ancestry by comparing their DNA to our reference database of dog DNA from 350+ breeds, types, and varieties.

Our algorithms match segments of shared DNA against dogs in our reference panel. These matching segments indicate that the DNA came from a shared ancestor of a particular breed. Scientists call this identity-by-descent.

For dogs who are several generations removed from their purebred ancestors, some portion of those DNA match segments become too short for us to attribute to any one breed. That percentage of DNA will show up as “Supermutt” in a dog’s Embark results.

A dog's breed mix results showing 7.2% Supermutt.

An example of Supermutt in a dog’s Embark results.

Is “Supermutt” the same as “Unresolved”?

Supermutt is another name we use for the unresolved portion of a dog’s genome, where the genetic contributions from some breeds are just too small to detect and recognize as any one particular breed.

For dogs who receive a “Supermutt” result, we can identify some of the breeds that we think may have been part of their heritage and contributed to the Supermutt portion of their genome. Although we can’t be sure, because it’s a small amount of DNA, we’ll share our best estimate of the likely breeds that contribute to the Supermutt percentage. You’ll see those breeds listed under “Supermutt Analysis” in your dog’s Embark results.

We know that discovering your dog’s “Supermutt” result may be surprising at first. Rather than making a guess, we believe that this is the most honest and scientific way to report ancestry that might be due to generations of mixing.

Learn more about breed surprises and the science behind them in this video with Dr. Adam Boyko.


What is the difference between a village dog and “Supermutt”?

Village dogs are different from Supermutts. Village dogs are a distinct type of dog and are not descended from modern breeds. A village dog’s ancestors were likely also village dogs.

In contrast, a Supermutt’s distant ancestors were not Supermutts themselves; they were modern breed dogs. Some of those DNA segment matches are just too short to be confidently assigned to a breed.

Is “Supermutt” a good or bad result?

A “Supermutt” result isn’t a bad result by any means. Supermutt just means your dog’s genome has small contributions from multiple different breeds. It’s one of the many ways your dog’s DNA makes them unique. 

According to Embark scientists, Supermutts are also exciting from a scientific point of view. Because each Supermutt is unique, they represent a one-of-a-kind blend of DNA over many generations. We think Supermutts are, in fact, super! 

Discover the breeds that make up your dog with an Embark dog DNA test.

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If you’re curious to learn more about dog DNA, see our guide to dog genetics 101 and read about the science behind how dog DNA tests work.

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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