The Case Of The Mysterious Puppy, Solved! (Sort Of)

Dovekie i i

Dovekie's owners thought three DNA results would finally clear up the mystery about his background. But even genetic testing has its limits. Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister
Dovekie

Dovekie's owners thought three DNA results would finally clear up the mystery about his background. But even genetic testing has its limits.

Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister

On Monday's All Things Considered, we told a tale about our puppy, named Dovekie (pronounced "dove-kee"). We bought him outside Plainwell, Mich., in January, thinking we were getting a "Golden Retriever chocolate Lab mix."

But as Dovekie started to grow, a strange metamorphosis took place — and it was clear this dog was anything but this mix. Our alleged Lab/golden pup had vast and complicated whiskers capable of concealing small plants and animals.

So we got a couple of DNA tests to solve the mystery and asked listeners to guess Dovekie's breed — and more than 500 people have weighed in.

The Results

But Dovekie's test results were utterly baffling. The "Canine Heritage" swab test from MMI Genomics showed four breeds in the mix — in order of prevalence, golden retriever, wirehaired pointing griffon, bearded collie and miniature schnauzer. This means that Dovekie's mom, Charlie, whom we met and felt confident was a purebred golden retriever, was anything but. It also meant that Romeo was no chocolate Lab.

The other results — the "Wisdom Panel" blood and swab tests from Mars Veterinary — both showed only two breeds: wirehaired pointing griffon, or WPG, and golden retriever. The Mars blood test suggested that Dovekie has a mixed-breed golden parent — presumably his mom — and a purebred WPG as a father. The Mars swab test went a step further and suggested a 50-50 mix: that Dovekie is the son of a purebred golden and a purebred WPG.

Dovekie's DNA results i i

Dovekie's "Canine Heritage" swab test from MMI Genomics showed four breeds "in the mix." Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister
Dovekie's DNA results

Dovekie's "Canine Heritage" swab test from MMI Genomics showed four breeds "in the mix."

Courtesy of Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister

So, what we thought would provide resolution just yielded even more confusion. When we called each company for an explanation, they both managed to convince us of why their results were the correct results — in other words, we still had no idea. And WPGs are quite unusual — the American Kennel Club registers fewer than 500 each year on average, compared with tens of thousands of golden retrievers. A purebred WPG can go for well over $1,000, and we thought it was pretty odd that one just happened to be running around this very rural area in Michigan.

'Markers' For The Breeds

So, out of desperation, we called Joshua Akey, an assistant professor of genome sciences from the University of Washington.

Akey explained that canine DNA testing is still in its infancy, and the accuracy is dependent primarily on whether or not a particular test has "markers" for the breeds that may be present in your dog. Much of the info for these markers seems to have been provided to companies by the American Kennel Club and other dog-fancier organizations.

Wirehaired pointing griffon

Here is an example of a wirehaired pointing griffon — a breed that's quite unusual. On average, the American Kennel Club registers fewer than 500 each year, compared with tens of thousands of golden retrievers. Courtesy of Ginger Hughes hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Ginger Hughes

In some cases, breeds not recognized by the American Kennel Club aren't represented well in the tests. In other cases, a test may have better markers for some breeds (say Labs and goldens) than others (griffons and otterhounds).

Akey explained that it's virtually impossible to get these companies to reveal the genetic markers they're using — so as a result, it's almost impossible to say which tests are most accurate, and the accuracy may really vary from breed to breed. So ultimately, dog DNA tests put owners in the ballpark, but they're rarely conclusive.

Because we couldn't help ourselves, we did some more sleuthing after we completed this story — and it turns out there is a WPG breeder within 20 miles of the mother. That breeder is aware of a purebred WPG hunting dog in the mother's community.

So, in the end, we're confident that Dovekie is the world's most-loved black-coated golden griffon.

Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister are independent producers with Long Haul Productions.

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