What’s Your Mutt’s Story: Doggie DNA, Part 1

I recently reached out to Mars Wisdom Panel to learn more about how they use DNA to detect breeds in dogs, and I asked them if they would like to participate in a blog series and internet radio episode I am doing on doggie DNA. They agreed, and gave me a free Wisdom Panel test to use as part of the series and episode. Please note, however, the opinions about the Wisdom Panel product expressed in the following blog series and the corresponding radio episode are solely my own. 

Ullr is my doppelganger, and practically perfect in every way.
Ullr is my doppelganger, and practically perfect in every way.

Meet Ullr (pronouced “ooh-ler”).  Ullr is just about perfect (don’t tell Penny).  He’s one of the dogs that hangs out at the PetHub office and I have never known a single person to not fall instantly in love with this dog.  Now technically, he belongs to Tom, PetHub’s CEO & Founder…but it’s a widely known secret that I am his favorite human.  😉

Ullr was adopted  by Tom from a rescue in Olympia, WA when he was about 8 weeks old.  Tom was looking for a Newfoundland because he was hoping to raise an avalanche dog.  He found a listing on Petfinder for Newfie mix puppies. When he went to the rescue, there were three left. One of the puppies had a white patch on his nose (the others were pure black) and this pup locked eyes with Tom and toddled over to him (the other two pups just played with each other and ignored Tom). Tom knew this wee pup staring at him was destined to be his dog. But after a few weeks, Ullr’s claim to being part Newfie came into doubt.

Baby Ullr -- So. Stinkin'. Cute.
Baby Ullr — So. Stinkin’. Cute.

Now because he is just so darn adorable, and everyone wants to find a dog, “just like Ullr,” folks are always asking “What is he?” But, as I’ve mentioned,  Ullr is a rescue with unknown parentage, and Tom doesn’t really have a solid answer.  Ullr certainly has the black fur of a Newfie (that gets SUPER fluffy when he’s freshly bathed).  However, Ullr has a smaller frame than would be expected for a Newfie, and his face looks like some Black Labrador mixes Tom has met. And then there’s the fact that he acts like a lot like a Border Collie…so….hmmm. When Ullr was still just a puppy, he actually did an at-home DNA test.  The results…inconclusive (Tom can’t remember the brand, but knows it wasn’t Wisdom Panel). So that wasn’t too helpful.

Enter me. You see, I’m not satisfied with “inconclusive” results.  And when I realized that Ullr was coming up on his 6th birthday and the world was still in the dark as to his origins, I declared it was time to investigate further.  According to the folks I recently talked to at Wisdom Panel, DNA testing has improved a lot since Tom first tested Ullr.  The test is more refined, many more breeds are now part of the database, and it tests more markers for a more accurate assessment of the dog’s breed origins.  According to the Wisdom Panel website, with this test, we will know Ullr’s:

  1. Ancestry back to the great-grandparent level (we’ll announce the results on air on November 19th)
  2. A predicted weight profile (for the record, he is a svelte 55 pounds)
  3. Information about the physical traits he may exhibit (we’ll let you know if these are actually legit)
  4. Testing for the MDR1 genetic mutation (more on this in a future blog post after I learn what the heck that means)
  5. Testing for Exercise-induced Collapse (EIC sounds super scary — paws crossed he doesn’t show this marker)

And as November is not only Ullr’s birthday month, but also “Family Story Month” (a month particularly important to adoptees of all species), I decided that helping Tom discover Ullr’s story would be the focus of one of my radio episodes for the month.

Ullr is rather dubious about this whole "Wisdom Panel" thing.
Ullr is rather dubious about this whole “Wisdom Panel” thing & what secrets it might reveal about him

Wisdom Panel agreed that it was an ideal time to retest Ullr and see if we could figure out HIS family history.  They offered to send me their newest test (the 4.0) and set me up with one of their scientists to interview for my radio show (episode to air November 19). By the way, if you are curious about the process of using DNA to figure out a dog’s breed, check out the “Geek Out Moment” in next week’s post when I delve more into the science of doggie DNA.

Side note: check out the hilarious Funny or Die, though totally NSFW video about doing that “DNA thing” on a mutt. Though this video should probably be a cautionary tale to anyone wanting to know what their pup’s DNA reveals, I told Ullr that regardless of the results from the test, I’ll totally have his back if something untoward is revealed.

I told Ullr he would get to put something in his mouth...little did he know, I want going to allow him to eat or chew it. :/
I told Ullr he would get to put something in his mouth…little did he know, I wasn’t going to allow him to eat or chew it. :/

We got the test in the mail late Friday, but waited until right before the Seahawks’ game on Sunday to do the test (which, by the way, will go down as the most BORING & FRUSTRATING Seahawks game ever). Why did we wait? I have no idea, but you’ll notice I’m wearing my Seahawks gear and, now, days later, I’m still lamenting the outcome of the game (a tie? are you kidding me? who ties a professional football game???) and it’s my blog, so I can digress into talking about football if I want.  But back to Ullr’s test…we did it right before a football game which was grossly unfair. This poor boy HATES football games (all the yelling and unsavory language really bothers him…and there was a lot of both of those during this particular game). Long story short, I basically traumatized Tom’s poor dog for the evening and in retrospect, should have followed up the test with something much more fun…like fetch or a hike in the woods.

Not to imply that the test itself was traumatizing, but it certainly wasn’t something Ullr enjoyed. The Wisdom Panel test itself is ridiculously easy to administer — just two swabs in the check, let them dry and pack them back up in the box they provide.

Ullr endures the cheek swabbing stoically
Ullr endures the cheek swabbing stoically (note Penny photo bomb)

I will say that the 15 seconds you are required to rub the inside of the cheek with each swab is a LONG time for a pooch. Thankfully, Ullr is the sweetest, most perfect dog on the planet, and he endured the procedure like a trooper (I mean, look at that FACE). If it had been Penny, the Boston Terror, it would have been a wrestling match and I’m not sure I would have prevailed. Another thing about timing on this test — it says to wait 5 minutes to let the swabs dry, and specifically says to put “dry swabs back in the wrapper” — but after 15 minutes, the spit on the swabs still looked wet (I waited another 5 minutes, just in case).

Activating the test on the Wisdom Panel website -- easy peasy
Activating the test on the Wisdom Panel website — easy peasy

The Wisdom Panel website is crazy easy — really well laid out and easy to follow. I truly appreciate that brands take the time to make sure that the user experience is strong — it immediately builds my trust.

The website also has a ton of really cool information about DNA and the science behind the test…and, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll be digging into that in next week’s post.

In the meantime, I thought I’d mention one more thing before signing off: we’re going to have a contest to guess Ullr’s ancestry!  I’ll give you the details soon…but start thinking about it now. Live, on the air, on November 19th, we’ll reveal Ullr’s Wisdom Panel results…and we’re gonna give the person who guesses closest to the results a big prize! So…can you Guess the Mix?



  1. Great post although I must say the video that was supposed to be funny left me feeling really sorry for the dog! Looking forward to Ullr’s test. My guess for what kind of dog is he: a mix of black lab and Odin.

  2. Phyllis says:

    Ullr is the cutest! I recently did a DNA test on my little Emma – I got her through a breeder and was told she’s a Shorkie (half Shih-Tzu/half Yorkie) mix. I was totally surprised to find out she is 86.5% Shih-Tzu and 13.5% Pomeranian! I couldn’t believe it. Emma’s DNA was done by Embarkvet.com who offered to do it a second time because I just couldn’t believe that for the past 8 years I thought she was a Shorkie. The second test revealed the same results. I really don’t care, I love my little girl no matter what.

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