How accurate are at-home dog DNA tests?
From rescue mutts to purebred hounds and designer dogs, at-home dog DNA tests claim to bring you answers about your four-legged friend's genetic makeup.
CBS Austin dug into just how accurate these tests really are.
Meet four-year-old Stoney. At least his owner Becca Rushworth thinks he's four... he could be five. Like his age, his breed has remained a mystery since she adopted him in 2014. The shelter guessed he was a German Shepherd-Welsh Corgi mix.
"I think he could also be basset hound with his stature," Rushworth said. "His head and paws are too big for his body. It's my favorite thing," she added.
After three years as faithful friends, she wanted to know more.
"I don't even have my own DNA test, but I want to know what my dog is," Rushworth said.
The DNA My Dog at-home DNA test can be purchased for $69 online. Rushworth used the kit to collect Stoney's DNA then it was sent off for analysis. A few weeks later the results were in.
"Oh, wow," Rushworth said after seeing the results. According to DNA My Dog, Stoney is a Siberian Husky-Bull Dog-Catahoula Leapord dog mix.
"It's definitely shocking. I definitely would not have thought he was going to be any of those," Rushworth said.
But is Stoney really what the test says he is? We did a second at-home DNA test the same day we did the first one. The second test by Mars Veterinary is called Wisdom Panel. The Wisdom Panel kit cost $80 online. The kit and instructions were almost identical to the DNA My Dog Kit, but the results were anything but the same.
"Congratulations. Stoney is a Border Collie-Alaskan Malamute-Chow Chow-Dalmatian-Keeshond mix," Rushworth read from the results. "None of the same results," she mused.
The two tests left Rushworth and Stoney with as many questions as answers.
"I figured they'd be at least similar, but there's nothing that's the same about them," Rushworth said.
Mike Wilson, director of the Genomic Sequencing and Analysis Facility at the University of Texas at Austin, explained what's happening behind the scenes. UT's facility doesn't specialize in dog DNA specifically, but the scientific process for reading the DNA is similar.
"They're using a test to look at very specific genetic codes," Wilson said.
Wilson explained, the original dog DNA each company used to develop their test directly impacts the results.
"How many breeds are in their database? How many samples of each breed did they collect and test? How they interpret the data can all make a big difference in what you get," Wilson said.
On their website, DNA My Dog says they test for 84 different breeds. The Wisdom Panel kit tests for more than 250. Both companies tell us they stand by their results.
"You're a little enigma buddy," Rushworth said to Stoney. While she doesn't have all of the answers she was looking for, she doesn't regret doing the tests. As for the next time someone stops her on a walk to ask what Stoney is, she'll have quite the answer.
"I'll call him like... Husky-Chow Chow-Border Collie-mutt," she said with a laugh.
In an email, DNA My Dog said they reviewed Stoney's laboratory data again for our story and did not find any trace of any other breeds-- only the Husky, Bulldog and Catahoula Leopard Dog they reported. They said, while the Alaskan Malamute and Husky results are somewhat similar, they are unique breeds that would report separately in an DNA test.
"There are a few factors that can affect a sample such as bacteria or other contamination. We don't see any signs of this from the sample you provided us," said Mindy Tenenbaum of DNA My Dog through email.
Tenenbaum went on to say, "Our test offers the highest possible accuracy based on continuous measures we use to make sure we are able to report only the most accurate results. If the sample is taken correctly and the breed is in our database (which covers about 97 percent of the mixed breed population) the results will be 99.9 percent accurate."
Juli Warner, of Mars Veterinary, said the company "absolutely, 100 percent" stands by their Wisdom Panel results. Warner said, the Wisdom Panel dog DNA test includes the largest breed database on the market. Warner explained, it would be difficult for a consumer to mess up an at-home DNA test that has the proper controls in place. Warner said if there was not enough DNA collected for an accurate reading then their lab would not process the test for results. She said Mars Veterinary believes their Wisdom Panel test is just as accurate as a blood DNA test.