It’s believed that all dogs are descended from wolves. And yet thousands of years of cross-breeding and gene mutations have helped establish them as one of the most diverse species on the planet. Considering our own human fascination with ancestry and genealogy, it stands to reason that this curiosity would extend to untwisting the tangled roots of our pups. After all, if we can exclaim that a baby has their dad’s nose and their mom’s eyes, shouldn’t we be able to celebrate our fur child’s Beagle coloring and Boxer bounce?
That’s where doggy DNA tests come in. Some of the most established companies can root out traces of up to 350 breeds, as well as identify markers for 200 genetic health conditions and behavioral traits. Such is the case with our top pick, Wisdom Panel(available at Amazon), whose reports have become known for their pinpoint accuracy and exhaustive detail.
These are the best Dog DNA kits we tested ranked, in order:
Wisdom Panel Premium
Embark Breed+Health Kit
Orivet Dog Breed Test Kit
DNA My Dog Canine Breed Identification Test
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I’m Sarah Zorn, an animal lover and freelance writer who happens to have a dog trainer for a husband. I’ve reviewed dog products such as the best leashes, dog beds and even poop bags for Reviewed, as well as developed pet-friendly recipes and written animal rescue stories for outlets including Rachael Ray Every Day and Animal Fair magazine. In fact, my first professional review was of DNA tests 10 years ago when my first dog, Rowdy (who became my official testing partner), was a puppy. And now it’s the first product category I’m reviewing with his baby brother.
This brings me to my (mostly) willing test subject: Our five-month-old, mixed-breed pup, Zander. Not only was he part of a large litter from the south sporting a wide range of coat colors (tri-color, black and white, and merle), the pups with whom he was rescued were the offspring of two sisters, impregnated by the same male. Oh, the intrigue!
We ordered the most comprehensive versions (combining breed and health analyses, where available) of the four dog DNA tests available. I collected Zander’s DNA, packaged it, registered it on the company websites, and returned it according to instructions.
From there, I evaluated whether or not results were returned to us in a timely fashion, how exhaustive the analysis was and how easy it was to interpret, and if the results appeared accurate—especially if multiple companies’ tests showed the same data.
What is a Dog DNA Test?
A dog DNA test looks at a pup's genes to determine their breed ancestry. How do dog DNA tests work? They provide their results by taking a sample of a dog’s saliva and cheek cells from a swab and analyzing the DNA inside to determine what breeds make up their genes,” explains Dr. Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, and Companion Animal Veterinarian with VIP Puppies. The test breaks down the genetic materials to look for specific markers that tell a dog's breed make-up by percentage. “The more mixed breed a dog’s [lineage is], the harder it will be to detect those individual breeds in their genes,” Venkat says. “However, most DNA tests are fairly accurate enough depending on how many breeds are in their database.” With most dog DNA companies, you may also pay more for a genetic health analysis, which can point to genetic conditions your dog may have or may develop in the future.
Why Should I Try a Dog DNA Test?
Some owners may want or need proof of their dog’s full-breed status for showing or breeding purposes. But for most pet parents—particularly of super mutt like mine—it’s just fun to know what’s in the Chex party mix of your dog’s DNA! It can also help to have a sense of where certain behaviors come from. For instance, instead of dismissing your pup as a bad dog, you can credit their penchant for dropping dead mice at your feet to their innate terrier instincts.
As mentioned, three of four tests on the market also offer insight into genetic health markers. While they’re not 100% predictive of whether your pup will develop a particular disease, they can give you (and your vet) a heads up of what to look for. For instance, my former dog, an 89-pound mixed-breed named Rowdy, participated in a joint study between a DNA testing company and the FDA to determine whether his heart disease was diet-related or caused by a genetic condition (it was found to be diet-related).
What Should I Look for in a Dog DNA Test?
Cheaper definitely isn’t better when it comes to DNA tests. “Look for a DNA test that has a lot of breeds in their database. Companies that are newer often charge lower prices, may not be able to detect breeds accurately if their DNA database is smaller,” advises Dr. Venkat. And you’ll want to splurge on an upgraded test, if you’re interested in determining whether your dog is at risk for any specific genetic conditions or diseases. “Lastly, the best DNA tests will also be able to match your dog to their relatives, or determine what genes they carry for coat color and other desirable qualities.”
Other Dog DNA Tests We Tested
Embark Breed & Health Kit
Embark stands shoulder to shoulder with Wisdom Panel for having the most extensive breed database, also at 350. And like its competitor, the company regularly contributes to health and wellness research, which serves to both expand that database and potentially lead to scientific advancements for the canine community at large. Where it differs—and ultimately what knocked it down from the top spot—is its higher prices: $129 for the breed-only Breed ID Kit, and $199 for the Embark Breed+Health Kit.
Embark’s packaging comes with clear and helpful instructions, and you’ll receive multiple progress report emails (perhaps too many?) once your sample arrives at the lab. Ours was processed within the promised range—15 days—and an emailed link leads to the website where the comprehensive results are stored. Unlike Wisdom Panel, Embark offers many options to share its reports with others, either through a printed PDF report or via a link for social media.
In addition to the breed breakdown, family tree infographic, and optional health screening, both versions of the test will tell you how inbred your pup is, which affects health and diversity—a result not offered by Wisdom Panel. Unsurprisingly, my adorable mutt Zander registered at 0% inbreeding, but it would stand to reason that a purebred dog might rank quite high on this index.
Like Wisdom Panel, Embark explains the genetics behind your dog’s appearance and size. For instance, the presence of A (Agouti) Locus accounts for Zander’s black, brown, and tan coat color pattern, while other genes accurately indicate his light-to-moderate shedding, medium-to-long muzzle, and “intermediate” body size, even though he’s still growing. (But, phew, does that mean he won’t reach 117 pounds?)
Another cool feature unique to Embark: Your pup’s breed breakdown is compared with other dogs in the database with similar mixes, and matched, according to percentage (not unlike how human DNA companies, like Ancestry.com, match you to distant relatives). Zander’s closest “mix-match” was a dog named Marietta at 70%, but some users have actually found their pup’s long-lost litter mates this way!
Orivet has a somewhat smaller database than the two market leaders, encompassing 220 breed types and 150 health conditions (versus 350 and 200, respectively). So while Orivet’s test results for Zander largely echoed Wisdom Panel’s and Embark’s findings, it did so with less specificity.
When it came to registering samples and checking on their status, I found the website temperamental and difficult to navigate. I also waited the longest for our results by far—it wasn’t until I wrote an email to customer service almost a month after mailing that they were magically processed the next day.
As stated, the breed findings seemed accurate in comparison to other tests. But you’ll receive very little else by way of scientific, DNA-based data, like the genetic trait breakdown or family trees offered by Wisdom Panel and Embark. If you personally input health, breed, and environmental information about your dog on the website (oddly, Orivet doesn’t pull any of it from its own DNA results), it will provide advice like disease screening suggestions, daily calorie requirements, or feeding recommendations. Which frankly, with no evidence anyone at the company is a vet or dog nutritionist, Orivet has very little authority to do.
In short, the marginally lower price isn’t enough to choose Orivet over Wisdom or Embark if you want detailed results.
I first reviewed DNA My Dog more than a decade ago with my dog Rowdy. Back then, the service left a lot to be desired, but I hoped that its database had expanded and the process had improved since.
Nope. You stick your swabs in the same basic, unprotected paper envelope, which quickly becomes soggy and transparent with drops of saliva if you don’t wait for the cotton tips to fully dry. You fumble your way through the oddly barebones website in order to activate your test. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. My results that were promised in 1 or 2 weeks took close to a month, and when they arrived, it was via two emailed PDFs—no personal info lives on the website.
Our former dog, which Wisdom Panel and Embark deemed a mix of Doberman, bloodhound, American Bull Terrier, German shepherd, and Weimaraner, came back a purebred cocker spaniel (yes, really) during my last go-round with DNA My Dog. This time with Zander, the results were a little closer to the mark, citing he’s part Rottweiler (and part Rhodesian Ridgeback, which none of the others picked up on). But otherwise, DNA My Dog’s breed analysis lacks detail and is confusing to boot: Instead of a straight percentage breakdown, the company categorizes breeds as Level S (single breed), Level T (trace), and then ranks “T” breeds from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating a 61% to 99% makeup of a particular breed, and a 5 being 10% or less. (I promise, that’s the clearest way to explain it in words.)
By way of additional info, all you get from DNA My Dog is a printable photo certificate of the breeds identified and a generic write-up on the personality traits and health concerns of said breeds, but DNA My Dog doesn’t offer a genetic health breakdown based on your dog’s DAN. But, hey, considering its paper envelope swab delivery system, I’m impressed our pup didn’t come back “Level 3 Pocket Lint.”
Sarah Zorn is a food writer, cookbook author, and product tester for Reviewed, Wirecutter and the Food Network. She regularly contributes to outlets such as Saveur, Esquire, and Civil Eats, and has very much passed her food obsessions down, as her beloved rescue hound, Rowdy, regularly deglazes his kibble bowl.
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