Disclosure: Embark provided us with a sample of their product to review.
For those of us who have adopted dogs from shelters, their backgrounds are much of a mystery.
While shelter workers do their best to guesstimate a dog’s breed, they often are only able to make a rough attempt at breed identification based on visual cues.
However, visual breed identification is notoriously unreliable. Dogs can be predominately one breed genetically, but if certain visual traits of that breed are recessive, they can look like a totally different dog!
Why You Should (Probably) Learn About Your Dog’s Breed & DNA
But why does it matter what breed your dog is anyway?
Well, in some regards, it doesn’t. We’re guessing you’d love your mystery mutt no matter what his breed make up is.
However, there are many legitimate reasons why an owner might want to know about a dog’s genetic background, such as:
- Training Benefits. Certain dog breeds were designed to fulfill different needs. Some breeds are made for protection, while others are born to retrieve. Still others were initially bred to hunt vermin or protect sheep. Your dog’s breed can clue you into behaviors you may want to work with or discourage. For example, German shepherd dogs (GSDs) have a high prey drive, so if you find your pup is a GSD mix, you’ll likely want to be especially vigilant around cats and squirrels. If you discover that you have a shepherd mix, you may also want to make the most of that brain and enroll in agility lessons. Knowing your dog’s breed can help you identify the most effective rewards or activities to engage in.
- Health Assessments. Certain breeds are predisposed to specific ailments and health issues. Knowing ahead of time what kind of diseases your dog is genetically susceptible to can help you be proactive about your dog’s heath. You may choose to visit the vet for heart checks if you discover your dog’s breed has a high risk of heart disease, or you may go easy on the jumping games if your dog is a breed that often suffers from joint issues.
- Adult Size. If you have a pup, getting a ballpark idea of your dog’s expected adult weight and size can be helpful for long-term planning (for example, getting a larger dog crate your dog can grow into, rather than switching out sizes every 3 to 6 months).
- It’s Fun! When we love someone, we kind of want to know everything about them. This probably applies to your pup too. Even if you aren’t interested in some of the training or health benefits of knowing your dog’s DNA, it can be just plain fun to know the genetic background of your fur baby.
Embark Dog DNA Breed Identification Test Review
There are several brands of dog DNA tests on the market — the only two reputable ones you should consider are Wisdom Panel 4.0 and Embark. Embark offered to send me their Breed Identification Kit for a review, so that’s the one I used.
We’ll detail the differences between Embark and Wisdom Panel further down in the review, but in a nutshell, Wisdom Panel is cheaper, while Embark is more accurate and provides more data.
If the price of Embark is stressing you out, we were able to score a special discount for K9 of Mine readers: You can get $20 off Embark’s Dog Breed Identification Kit with code K9OFMINE, so try that if you’re on the fence!
Part 1: Getting a Dog DNA Sample
Before you can find out your dog’s breed ancestry, you have to submit a DNA sample. For humans, that means spitting in a little tube.
For dogs, it’s basically the same thing, but since I haven’t met any dogs that can spit on demand, you’ll have to collect the saliva sample via a cheek swab.
Don’t worry — it’s easy and totally painless, although it may confuse your pooch a bit like it did Remy. We’ll show you how we got the DNA sample in the video below:
After you collect the sample, you pack it away in the provided envelope and send it off (it’s self-addressed and postage is prepaid, so no trip to the post office is necessary).
Part 2: Wait Until You’re Notified That Your Sample Has Been Tested
Next was waiting — the hardest part!
Embark will email you and let you know when your dog’s sample has been received. They’ll then email you once the sample has been processed and the results are in!
I was pretty psyched upon finally hearing that Remy’s results were ready.
Part 3: Learning My Shelter Dog Remy’s Breed
Remy is a fairly recent pooch in my life. I adopted him from the animal shelter I was volunteering at in Austin, TX. He was a foster fail I just couldn’t bring myself to return, because he is such a cuddly sweetheart.
This is what Remster looked like when I first adopted him:
Remy was labeled at the shelter as a Boxer mix. His coloring is Boxer-ish, so this seemed like a reasonable guess to me. He was all skin and bones and also had some skin issues since he came in as a stray.
I wanted to know Remy’s breed because I want to make sure I’m setting up his training regimen for success. I also want to make sure I’m answering any natural needs he might have based on genetics.
Since certain breeds love to retrieve, dig, or do scent work based on their breed, I wanted to make sure I was encouraging the natural traits I liked and discouraging ones that I didn’t like.
While I knew I would love Remy no matter what, I was mostly just downright curious. What exactly is Remy? Is he a boxer-mix like the shelter guessed? Or is he something else entirely?
Well, we took the test and found out that….
Remy does not have a drop of Boxer in him! He is — in fact — pretty much all pittie.
Remy is 52% American pit bull terrier and 30% American Staffordshire terrier.
I always thought he looked like a boxer with his white chest and paws, but this type of color pattern is pretty common in American pit bull terriers (APBTs) too!
Remy has a few other fun things in him too..
- 9% Siberian husky
- 6% black and tan coonhound
- 3% bloodhound
You can specifically see what breeds your dog’s great grandparents were, and see where his different breed compositions come from.
Embark also gives a little background info regarding the different breeds in your dog’s genetic makeup, which I found nifty.
How I Felt About Remy’s Embark Results
I found these results pretty interesting. Especially because I purposely did NOT want to adopt a pit bull.
Pit bulls are the most common breed in animal shelters, and despite their questionable reputation, they are notoriously sweet. But as an individual who moves around a lot, I really didn’t want to have to deal with breed restrictions that are common in dog-friendly apartment complexes.
Pit bulls are always on breed restriction lists. It’s not fair but it’s a fact of life.
Well, looks like my future apartment searches are about to get a lot harder! Here’s hoping his boxer paperwork from the shelter can get me past some less breed-savvy apartment managers.
I know one thing for sure: Remy’s breed has made me even more determined to work on training to make him the best possible pooch. I want Remy to be an advocate for pitties everywhere!
Breed Identification Isn’t All Embark Offers…
While the breed identification is certainly one of the main components of Embark’s dog DNA test, there are some other features I really loved too.
See Photos of Other Dogs With Similar Breed Compositions
I love that you can browse through and see pictures of dogs that have a similar breed makeup to your own pooch. It’s cool to see the similarities and differences.
Roxy Rae below has a 91% breed match to Remy, but she looks really different with those huge upright ears. Even though they are similar in terms of breed composition, that 9% contribution by an Australian shepherd makes her look quite a bit different.
It goes to show that even breeds that don’t make up a large portion of your dog’s DNA can have a huge impact on his appearance!
Finding Your Pup’s Doggie Relatives
Another really cool feature Embark provides is the ability to see your dog’s genetic relatives!
Embark identified which dogs who have taken the Embark test have high genetic similarities, and they will tell you what the equivalent of this is in human terms.
I found a few dogs in Vermont and Arkansas that are the equivalent of cousins to Remy!
While this is mostly just for kicks and giggles, it could be fun to have a meet and greet with any family members nearby (although there isn’t much chance your dog will know he’s meeting his cousin).
I can’t really imagine Remy being overjoyed at meeting his cousin but who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a cute story like the one below.
This is a pretty nifty feature and shows how powerful Embark really is — it’s doing the same science as a human DNA test, but with doggies!
Upgrading to the Breed + Health Kit
I decided to go ahead and upgrade to the full Breed + Health Kit (yes, you can unlock the health data for an addition fee, even if your initially just purchased the Breed Identification Kit)!
I learned that Remy inherited two genetic variants I should watch out for:
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy, crd1
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy, crd4/cord1
When clicking the variants, I learned more about what the variant is, and how common it is in various breeds.
CRD1 is related to blindness, but the information says it’s usually diagnosed at around 6 months of age, with full blindness typically occurring by 2 years. Remy is four years old and seems to see fine, so no worries there.
CRD4 is also related to vision loss, but it can vary a lot in terms of when dogs are affected – some dogs can live to be ten and still see just fine.
All this simply means I’ll keep an eye on Remy’s vision, and if I begin to see him bumping into objects, struggling with navigation more, or getting testier than usual, I’ll know to ask my vet about the possibility of his vision deteriorating.
In addition, the Health kit offers data on your dog’s COI (aka Coefficient of Inbreeding) to assess your dog’s genetic diversity. You can also upload and store your dog’s health records, as well as send your Embark data directly to your vet, all from within the Embark health panel.
About Embark Dog DNA Test: How it Works
Embark’s dog DNA test is divided into three different options, depending on the kind of info you want and how much you want to spend.
Option 1: Breed Identification Kit ($129)
About: The Breed Identification Kit is Embark’s most affordable option, and it’s the version of the test I used.
It’s ideal for owners who are simply curious about their dog’s breed ancestry, but don’t need access to the health condition screenings.
The Breed Identification Kit includes:
- 350+ Breeds. Your dog’s breed ancestry is tested against the genetic markers of over 350 breeds, making it the most accurate dog DNA test in the biz.
- Family Tree. See your pup’s family tree all the way back to his great grandparents.
- Dog Relatives. See your dog’s genetic relatives and connect with them (if you want to).
DEAL ALERT: K9 of Mine readers can get $20 off the Breed Identification Kit when you use code K9OFMINE with this link!
Option 2: Breed + Health Kit ($199)
About: The Breed + Health Kit is the next level up from the Breed Identification Kit, and it’s the kit Embark considered the best value. It includes all the breed identification info from the Breed Identification Kit, as well as:
- 210+ Health Conditions. Embark screens for more than 210 health conditions, including glaucoma, degenerative myelopathy, and dilated cardiomyopathy (three of the most common adult-onset diseases in canines). Discovering these potential health conditions early on can allow you to work with your vet to implement preventive measures and learn which symptoms to keep an eye out for.
- 35+ Physical Traits. Discover more about your dog’s traits such as coat color, shedding, etc. This can help you develop a good grooming routine (or find a local groomer who knows how to handle your dog’s coat).
Why Health Screenings Are Important
Embark notes that, on average, Americans spend more than $400 in veterinary expenses each year (and that’s for each dog — owners with more than one pooch will spend much more)!
These expenses tend to increase even more as dogs get older and face more health issues. Embark can help owners prepare for potential genetic health conditions and take preventive action that may allow owners to bypass costly vet treatments in the future.
Being able to catch diseases earlier (or even just knowing what to be on the look out for), allows owners to work with their vet and start treatments earlier, which can potentially make all the difference in helping your dog live his longest, best life possible.
Option 3: DNA Test for Purebred Dogs ($199)
About: The Purebred Dogs Kit is the kit Embark specifically designed for purebred dogs, with a special focus on your dog’s genetic diversity and highlighting genetic health conditions common within your dog’s breed and bloodline.
- 210+ Health Conditions. Embark screens for more than 210 health conditions and genetic risks, including glaucoma, degenerative myelopathy, and dilated cardiomyopathy Identifying these potential health risks early on can allow you to implement better preventive measures.
- Measured Genetic Diversity. Embark’s breed test measured the genetic diversity of your purebred poch!
- 35+ Physical Traits. Details your purebred dog’s physical traits such as coat color, ear shape, fur color, coat pattern, eye color, and even appetite and altitude tolerance!
Option 4: Embark Breeder Kits
About: Breeder DNA Test Kits allows for more ethical, responsible, and easier dog breeding. In addition to screening for genetic health conditions and identifying various physical traits like eye color and coat color, breeder kits also track the coefficient of inbreeding (COI) of breeding dogs, considered the most accurate technique for measuring inbreeding.
The breeder DNA kit is ideal for evaluating potential mating dogs, choosing the best mates based on genetic health condition status, traits, and predicted average litter COI. Embark even provides free genetic counseling services to ensure you’re breeding the very best pups.
Breeder options include:
- Standard Kit ($119 – $149). Allows you to screen dogs and puppies for breed-relevant genetic health risks, as well as physical traits and genetic diversity.
- Litter Package (starts at $99 per kit). The Litter Package provides discount pricing for testing entire litters of puppies.
- Breeding Package ($134 per kit, with 2 kits). Allows you to evaluate prospective breeding outcomes for a male/female dog pair. Includes consultation.
Other Awesome Things About Embark
- Most Accurate Dog DNA Test On the Market. Embark definitely leads the pack when it comes to dog DNA accuracy. They’ve hired an amazing team of dog DNA scientists to develop the tech they use. Embark uses over 200,000 genetic markers to evaluate your dog’s breed heritage (most other dog DNA tests only use around 2,000 genetic markers), and they test 256 quadrillion different possible dog genetic ancestry combos for your canine.
- Adult Weight Prediction. A handy feature for pup owners, Embark can predict the expected adult size and weight of your pup. Even if you already own an adult dog, the adult weight expectation can help owners evaluate whether or not their dog might be overweight (50% of dogs in America are obese).
- Genetic Age. If your dog’s age is a bit of a mystery, Embark can detect your dog’s genetic age. Knowing your dog’s estimated genetic age can help owners pick out age-appropriate food or allow you to have a better idea of when your dog is entering his senior years.
- Digital Report. Rather than sending you a big paper report you might misplace, Embark provides your dog’s DNA test results online through an interactive online panel. This way, your dog’s info can easily be emailed to friends, family, and veterinarians. The report can be viewed on desktop, as well as mobile devices.
- Vet-Friendly Reports. Embark provides special detailed reports designed for you to share with your pet’s veterinarian. These vet-friendly reports can help facilitate conversation between you and your dog’s care provider about any preventive measures you should take or things to look out for.
- Simple DNA Sample Collection. Your dog’s DNA sample is obtained through the use of a quick-and-easy cheek swab collection for a saliva sample.
- Contribute to Science. Your dog’s DNA ancestry info helps improve scientific research regarding dog breed and history.
- Extra Accuracy & Verification. Embark puts your dog’s DNA results through added verification steps to ensure accuracy. Any questionable findings are hand-checked by dog DNA scientists for the highest level of accuracy.
- Updates for Life. Embark provides all users with updates for free — you’ll never need to buy a new test for any new information that comes in. Embark regularly discovers new canine genetic tests in their research, and your dog’s profile will be updated with any new tests at no additional charge.
- Original Research About Village Dogs. Embark’s researchers spent years studying village dogs all over the world, working with National Geographic and other scientific organizations to better understand the genetic diversity of canines across the globe and how our bond with them has evolved. They can even measure of wolf, coyote, or dingo ancestry in your dog too (and they’re the only DNA test out there with access to that info).
- Cutting Edge Research. Embark has made some amazing strides in the realm of canine research. They published the first-ever genetic discovery from a non-human genetics company, discovering a mutation that explains why some dogs have blue eyes. Embark is also the first commercial dog DNA test that looks for inbreeding tracts over the entire genome and can detect inbreeding from dozens of generations back.
Embark vs Wisdom Panel: Is Embark Worth It?
The two main competitors in the dog DNA market are Embark and Wisdom Panel 4.0.
There’s no doubt that Embark is the winner for quality.
Embark’s test is more accurate (due to their 200,000 genetic markers vs. the 2,000 used by Wisdom Panel) and provides more data than any other dog DNA test on the market.
However, Embark is also the priciest dog DNA test out there.
While the more budget-friendly Breed Identification Kit is more affordable than Embark’s most-popular Breed + Health Kit (which was also their single original product), it’s still a lot pricier than the standard dog ancestry kits offered by competitors like Wisdom Panel 4.0 (you’re looking at approximately $85 vs $129 for the breed-identification-only kits) .
What Embark offers that no other dog DNA test does is the dog relatives feature as well as the look-alike information. This info is really fun, but fairly non-essential.
In my opinion, you might as well do Embark’s Breed + Health Kit. Yes, it’s more than the Breed Identification Kit, but the health tests are really the crown jewel of Embark’s offering.
If you’re just curious about your dog’s breed but don’t really plan on making any actionable changes based on what you learn, you might as well go with the cheaper Wisdom Panel 4.0.
The accuracy isn’t as reliable, but if it’s just for fun it may not matter. However, you’ll miss out on the dog relatives feature, so if meeting your pup’s long-lost siblings is appealing to you, Embark may be worth the higher price tag.
Pro Tip: Wait For a Discount
Embark will often offer $20 or $30 off their kits during holidays or during special promotional periods. Wait for a discount to really make the Embark kit worth your hard-earned dough.
As noted above, K9 of Mine readers can access a special discount – get the Breed + Identification Kit for $20 off with code K9OFMINE
Have you ever used Embark or another dog DNA test? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts in the comments below!