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A DNA Test Taught Me About My Dog – And Some New Vocabulary Words


I expected surprises when I adopted Juniper, an eight-month-old scruffy pooch who was left outside a pet store in Texas.

And I had surprises.

She didn’t like to pee on a leash. She had an apparent need for electrical cords. And every time she drank, more water ended up on her face than in her stomach. This meant that every time she left the bowl, she left a trail of drips and little puddles on chin-high furniture like my coffee table.

This was all new to me. But I soon learned that surprise puddles are part of owning a pet when your dog has a beard.

Her muzzle full of shaggy, unkempt fur (which I later learned meant she was “furnished”) is one of the things that made me adopt Juniper. I got it from Ruff Start Rescue, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that uses a foster-based system to find homes for dogs in overcrowded shelters in Texas and junkyards in Dakota. from South.

Ruff Start Rescue identified Juniper as a mix of schnauzer and terrier. And that was a pretty good guess. But I just needed to know more about the unique set of genes that intertwined to create this goofy, sweet pup. So I ordered a dog DNA test. (I chose Embark, probably because I liked the pun in the company name, but there are other brands available.)

For about the same price as two big bags of dog food, I was able to untangle Juniper’s genetics. The process was simple: don’t let her drink water, eat or share a toy with another dog for about 30 minutes, dab her mouth with what looks like a giant cotton swab for 30 seconds, then squirt the saliva to analyze. .

Within weeks, I had a wealth of information on the breed composition, ancestry, and probable Juniper traits. The results showed that she was made up of approximately 40% German Shepherd, 25% Miniature Schnauzer, 20% Chihuahua and 5% Pembroke Welsh Corgi. She was also around 10% “supermutt”, which comes from inheriting genes from several generations of mixed-breed dogs.

This immediately helped make sense of Juniper’s trends. German Shepherds are loyal and intelligent dogs, and Chihuahuas are known to have huge personalities. This follows with Juniper, who I often call a diva. And Miniature Schnauzers, according to Embark, are “an alert, feisty breed with watchdog tendencies.” So at least I can blame her genes when she starts barking (and won’t stop barking) at the people, dogs, squirrels, and shadows she sees out the window.

Even more intriguing was the family tree which showed that one of Juniper’s parents was likely a German Shepherd descended from other German Shepherds – possibly a purebred from a breeder – and his other parent was a mix of miniature schnauzer with a much more diverse set of ancestors. .

But my favorite part of the process was learning new terminology. Although the test doesn’t explain why Juniper has mismatched ears (one erect ear and an endearing “drop ear,” as I call it), the test predicted his likely traits: his DNA shows he’s unlikely that she has rear dewclaws, but that she probably has dark, patterned fur, for example.

The test also revealed that Juniper was “probably furnished,” meaning her genes indicate she’ll likely have a mustache, beard, and eyebrows. Juniper has it all. And since I tested her DNA two years ago, she’s grown even more wispy fur on her nose and sticking out of her ears.

“Furniture” is now part of my daily jargon. I often coo at Juniper, whispering how much I love his schnoz furniture. And there’s never a dull moment outdoors when Juniper finds herself with extra furniture – leaves, mud or clumps of icy snow – tangled in her fur.

I didn’t need to know Juniper’s DNA to love him. But I’m happy to do it. Not only did it expand my understanding of his personality, it expanded my vocabulary.

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