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It's, Well, Some Sort of Dog

The origins of shelter dogs can be obscure, and Gemma Tarlach at Discover writes that her three dogs are no different. One looks like an American Bulldog and another like a Labrador, while her third acts like a hound, with a predilection for treeing squirrels and baying, though all have pit bull-like characteristics.

In an effort to figure out whether her guesses were accurate, Tarlach ordered three tests — one for each dog — from Wisdom Panel. That test examines some 320 DNA markers to create a profile for the dog being tested. The resulting profile is then compared to the 200 breeds in Wisdom Panel's database.

This test found that Tarlach's dogs are likely mostly American Staffordshire Terrier — which often gives the pit bull-esque look — with some Standard Schnauzer, Smooth Fox Terrier, or, for the third, Entlebucher Mountain Dog thrown in.

Wisdom Panel's Angela Hughes, a veterinary geneticist, tells Tarlach that the Entlebucher Mountain Dog finding for the third dog, Waldo, is likely a false positive as Entlebucher is a rare breed with a strong signature that can throw the analysis. By sifting through Waldo's profile more deeply, Hughes says he is more likely to be part Mastiff.

Additionally, Hughes says that the lack of bulldog or lab that Tarlach expected to see in her dogs is likely due to the test examining non-coding variants while people focus on the traits they do see. "People think, for example, that bigger dogs with merle (a mottled coat pattern) are Catahoula, smaller merle dogs are Australian shepherds," she tells Tarlach. "But there's a single gene for merle and it's dominant — it could be from 20 generations ago."

Tarlach also wonders whether the test, which told her that her dogs were mostly American Staffordshire Terriers, as she expected from their pit bull-like characteristics, was worth it. She notes, though, that she could be more vigilant about checking her dogs conditions like skin cancer that American Staffordshire Terrier are prone to.

"In the big picture, people want a label," adds Karen Sparapani, executive director of Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission where Tarlach got her dogs. "Some people were calling [the pit mixes] boxer-black lab mixes, or terrier mixes. But I decided it's in the dog's best interest to call it what it looks like. So, you know, if it looks like a duck, call it a duck."