My new puppy’s DNA says she is mainly Heeler

Did you know that your dog has 39 pairs of chromosomes? Many more than us humans. The pet DNA testing companies now have features similar to the people testing sites, relative matching, messaging, raw data download, health results, and even a chromosome browser and painting.

Rockie at about 6 weeks (photo by my friend Rochelle)

Last fall I was given a puppy, found by the side of the road near Shiprock, NM by friends of mine. Of course I had to test her DNA. This time I decided to use Embark (this link should give you a discount*). Last time I used Wisdom (click here for that post) which now claims similar features to Embark. The Embark test shows only 38 chromosomes, thus not the sex chromosome, the XY or XX pair. The test is an easy cheek swab and the results came back within a few weeks.

It is important to understand that we humans deliberately created dog breeds, originally to help us hunt or herd, but also for protection or lap pets. The Victorians developed most of the more recent breeds we know today. Wikipedia has a good article on dog breeds (click here) which says “In 2004, a study looked at the microsatellites of 414 purebred dogs representing 85 breeds. The study found that dog breeds were so genetically distinct that 99% of individual dogs could be correctly assigned to their breed based on their genotype…” That sounds like these tests are likely to be accurate as to breeds.

Embark Home Page for Rockie showiin one message (red arrow added by me)

When I logged into Embark after her results came in, I saw the image above.  I was surprised that she had no border collie. because that is how her black and white markings looked to me, but apparently the white is from her Great White Pyrenees ancestor. On that home page there are many areas to explore. First I checked her health results, of course, and there was nothing bad there, phew.

Next I looked at the Breeds page which had the same image as above plus a chromosome painting by breed of her DNA. I can see that she has heeler (australian cattle dog) on both sides but Pyrenees only on one side. Both are herding breeds that might have been useful in the South West for cattle ranchers and sheepherders.

On that breed page there are five more pages in a submenu, including a link to the family tree page shown below and Maternal haplogroup page. It occurred to me I could explore the validity of the presumed family tree by asking her relatives’ owners for information like maternal haplogroup and type, whether related to the other matches, plus where the dog came from. You get to the relative page from the menu on the home page or breeds page. Rockie had three first cousin level matches and several good sized more distant ones.


The messaging system is similar to other sites. You get an email when there is a new message and the response rate is variable. Rockies best match “A” was also found in New Mexico and shared Heeler, Chow Chow, and German Shepard but no Pyrenees. “A”s owner responded that he has no other first cousin matches. So no match to Rockies other first cousin matches, “R1” or “R2” neither of which have any great white Pyrenees either. Finally “A” does not share Rockies maternal haplogroup , thus is not on the direct female line. “M” was also from Shiprock, NM but my message to her owner went unanswered. Shared breeds are Heeler, Great White Pyrenees, and German Shepherd. Got an answer from a 2nd cousin “M3” who shares Rockies maternal haplogroup and also told me they had 9% with “R2.” Thus R1,R2 and M3 are all on Rockies mother’s side. A few more messages like these and I might be able to build her tree; of course a first cousin might be a half niece as with human trees, the amounts shared can be other relationships.

The shared breads shown with 2nd cousin M3


Perhaps a defect of this site is not being able to compare her matches to each other. Also the messaging system, like many of the human DNA testing companies, can be a roadblock to communicating. Most of the owners who replied only did so once or twice and then it petered out.

I could spend many many more hours on this but it is time to get back to human DNA.


Rockie at 4 months, Embark predicts 42 lbs, but I think she will be larger

* I get a small amount from Embark also when you use that link.


10 thoughts on “My new puppy’s DNA says she is mainly Heeler

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  1. Congratulations on getting your new puppy! With the herding cattle dog and livestock guardian dog portion of the Pyrenees, you’ve got quite a combination! They are both so different. Our rescue puts out a podcast for people who get rescue puppies and dogs to help them along the way if you need to know more. It’s called Pod To The Rescue It’s interesting that one moderator has a Cattle Dog and the other one has a Great Pyrenees! Anyway, it’s a good podcast on many different topics. Your puppy is really really cute and I’m glad to have him!

  2. Congratulations on your new family member, Kitty. It will be interesting to see which breed characteristics are prominent, but she’s a beaut no matter what! Wishing you many happy walks.

  3. Love this doggy dna testing!
    What a little cutie Rockie is 🙂

    Might have to try it, I reckon my dog has some spaniel in her.

  4. Hi Kitty
    I am a new member of your blog. Congratulations. Our little family history group at Lake Macquarie near Newcastle, NSW, Australia, is just starting on a journey of encouraging our genie members to value DNA as a tool in their genealogical toolbox. We are not a commercial enterprise in any way and are there to support the genealogy interests of our members.
    We are running weekly Zoom sessions, and our club’s Chronicle focuses on DNA this quarter. All this is a long-winded way to ask you if there is any chance we could have your permission to include your article “My New Puppy’s DNA…” in our club’s magazine? We would follow all appropriate requirements to acknowledge your work.
    Our club’s Chronicle is not sold and is distributed to our members. An online version is sent to other Family History Societies in Australia. Hopefully, not only would your article spark an interest in some of our members who are coming lately to genetics, but I hope that you could also find additional readers for your blog.
    I loved your article and I am writing on behalf of our Chronicle editorial team.
    Hoping to hear from you regarding this request.

    Jan B. Member LMFHG

  5. I also adopted a puppy found on the side of a road in Austin, Texas some years ago. We always thought he was an Anatolian, but Embark test showed Great Pyrenees mix! They are cousins but I was surprised. They also tested a close relative from Austin and I was hoping to find out where she was from, but I have never heard back from my attempts to reach the pet parents! Sound familiar? Enjoy your new fur family member. My newest one has been my loyal buddy for the last 5 years!

  6. Beautiful pup! I just sent in Embark test for my dogs last week. Now I know who to ask for help when i get the results 😉

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