Monday, September 5, 2011

Failing the test

Out of sheer curiosity, as well as a desire to understand the genetic components of Bella's physical and mental make up, we had her DNA tested. I didn't know it was possible but she actually failed the test. They gave us our money back.

No, really.


Stop laughing.

Ok, I'll give you a moment.

So apparently, a DNA test can identify up to 8 different breeds in any one dog and that limit didn't go high enough to fully capture our Bella's, um, 'unique' heritage.

Over time, however, and with the input of vets and trainers (and anyone else who comes in contact with her and wants to weigh in on the subject), we've been able to pull together a possible list of breeds she might have in her: Australian Cattle Dog, Basenji, Beagle, Bluetick Coonhound, Border Collie, Collie and, well, we haven't even gotten out of the "C's" yet.

We've determined some of this by physical traits and some by behavior. When she was smaller, she really had the body shape of a Basenji - long legs and a delicate square frame - and she still has the facial markings of a tri-color B. As she's filled out with age, her shape has taken on some of the characteristics of a Smooth-coated Collie although her nose isn't nearly as long and narrow. Of course, the mottled coloring has always suggested a bit of either Coonhound or Cattle Dog. And the tail. As close as it might get sometimes to a Basenji curl, the tail is otherwise all Beagle.

The many breeds of Bella

Behaviorally speaking, I only noticed the potential for Border Collie in her when she did her first "Border Collie Crouch". You know the one - that moment when a BC is watching and waiting for some sheep to boldly go where no sheep is supposed to go? The head drops down, neck out and the body seems to fold into the shoulders like a swan ready for take off? I suppose most dogs left to their own devices will learn that but she just looked like a perfect herding dog, like she was born into it. She also does the Collie "Timmy fell down the well" routine particularly well.

But from the perspective of behavior, Bella is most assuredly at least part Basenji. She does head stands, she can climb just about anything and she was doing the B-500 long before I even knew what it was. She has an opinion about everything and a spectacular sense of "up". She also cleans herself like a cat. Oh, and I'm pretty sure she'd rather eat glass than get her feet wet by going out in the rain.

We'll never really know what her genetic heritage is and we love that she is truly one-of-a-kind. So does it really matter what breeds make up a dog? In as much as it helps us understand her motivation and set our expectations, I think, yes, to some degree, it does. Are we expecting her to be cuddly and social, constantly at our side like our velcro-Lab, Beau? Do we expect her to do what we say just because we say it? As all of the breeds we've seen glimpses of in her are independent working dogs, we'd be fighting against type and setting ourselves up for endless frustration if we did.

That's not to say she's not trainable (good grief is she trainable!) or that we can't help her get past some of her resistance to things, but I think it's important for us as pet owners to set expectations of our pups based on their view of the world as well as our own. We'll get much more out of our partnership with them if we have just a little understanding of what they want out of it.



  1. Nicely put. "Failing" a DNA test is a great way that Bella will keep you on your toes. You'll just have to observe and communicate with her to figure out what she needs. You won't just fall back on "oh she's doing that because of the Border Collie, or Basenji, or Collie in her background."

  2. Thanks, Pamela, that is a good point. Bella has been a wonderful learning experience.  And on the plus side, I've had a great deal of fun learning about other breeds and learning what motivates them.  

  3. It is important to understand Bella's "programming" that comes with breed instinct.

    Smooth collies are notoriously high strung. Basenjis are cat like. There hasnt been an enclosure that could keep a Plott Hound.

    But nature plus nurture equal Bella. :-)

  4. This is very interesting:)  I've read of people getting 3 DNA tests done on their dogs by 3 different companies and getting totally different results from all of them.  I've never read about anyone getting a refund before!  While it's great having a gorgeous Mutt, sometimes it would be nice (and possibly helpful!) to know something of their genetic makeup.  Frankie is like Bella in that he doesn't have anything obvious of any breed showing.  But I like to think he's got the best of whatever is behind him:)

  5. PS how did you do that lovely montage of Bella?

  6. Hi Sheila! Thanks for stopping by. :wave:

    No worries, I am also a firm believer in nature & nurture.  The whole breed thing has just been a revelation for me as I'm most familiar with the sporting dogs. Motivation that extends beyond 'fetch the toy', 'return the toy', 'repeat - endlessly' is somewhat new to me. lol  (I was saying to Jan yesterday that I'd love to collect pictures or sculptures of my favorite breeds - too bad there's always something dead in their mouths. ;)

  7. Frankie's gorgeous and I'm with you - I think they have the best of everything in them. It makes them truly unique. :) 

  8. Thanks.  I use a graphics software tool called "GIMP".  It's free and open-source which, unfortunately, means it's also not the most user-friendly package our there.  

    It's not my technical specialty but if you ever have questions about manipulating graphics/photos, I'd be happy to offer what little expertise I do have. :)

  9. Nice to meet you and Bella. What a pretty mixed up girl :) She has all the smart doggie genes, she will be a star soon, we are sure of that!

    Wyatt and Stanzie

  10. Hi Wyatt and Stanzie!  How rude of me to go off on a vacation and not check my blog comments - I'm only just now seeing you stopped by.  Thanks for visiting.

    LOL - "a pretty mixed up girl" - oh in so many ways!  I don't know if you happened to see an Airedale terrier picture in an earlier post of mine, but my very first dog was an Airedale named "Sam".  She was a very good girl.

  11. Ah, I have had a look at GIMP and shuddered, lol!  I'm seriously impressed, when I'm not quite so brain dead I'll have to check it out again:)  Thanks, Leslie!

  12. Please tell me the brand of test you did? For Enzo's "Guess My Breed Fudnraiser" for Save a Sato we used Wisdom Panel Professional.
    Mind, you I realize this is mostly for fun and I don't expect exact results - we did this test (Wisdom Panel) on our other dog Scruffy and it said he is 75% Scottish Terrier (we completely see that) and 18% St. Bernard, the rest was little bits like %1 Old English Sheep dog, %4 Skye Terrier....but before we did the Wisdom Panel we did Canine Heritage test on Scruffy and it came back listing only one breed, Scottish Terrier and we laughed and laughed. Scruffy, looks well, Scruffy, there was no way in heck he was a pure Scottish Terrier, oh how we laughed.
    Since Enzo is a "sato" he probably has 25 breeds listed...I hope he doesn't fail his DNA test too!

  13. The test was the Wisdom Panel - don't know about professional but it was administered by our vet.  Don't panic about your test - we knew Bella was the result of a stray of a stray of a stray and didn't really expect good results.  
    Given his size, I can't imagine Enzo has quite the same history (uncontrolled breeding and harsh conditions create satos that tend towards smaller sizes and similar features over time - Enzo's got the ears but he's so big, I'm guessing his parentage wasn't stray for that long.)
    Ours is the only test I've ever heard of coming back as unidentifiable - they can identify up to 8 breeds so that's pretty substantial.  I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. :)