Genealogy websites, fitness gurus, forensic scientists and American Kennel Club-obsessed dog owners are fascinated with DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid makes up the twisted double-helix of amino acids that characterize every organism from a barrel cactus, to Dexter, Comet and me. Others are finding just how much Neanderthal, an ancient cousin of Homo sapiens, we have in us today. Perhaps that explains why some have a “unibrow”, thick back hair, or are great bouncers at popular East Coast nightclubs.
I have not spent a large sum for a pedigree when I find the dog I want to make part of my family. I can imagine that some who do, might want to know that their Prinz has blue-blood. If spending three to eight thousand dollars no generic dog genes will do. If I understand the process correctly, sending in a mouth -swab sample to be processed by a testing lab will reveal whether your Siberian Husky (that never did remotely look like a Husky) is actually a mix of Labrador Retriever and Staffordshire Terrier.
Then there are those who look farther into their human origins. I had a minister at church, in a sermon, relate that everyone on earth ultimately can be traced genetically to a small pool of Southwest-Asian origin.
A genealogy website I use now offers this service for people. However, I do not need to determine my particular mix of Neanderthal, or Rottweiler, or creosote bush. I am fairly certain that my paternal origins are Eastern European, and my maternal ancestry is Scot-Irish. There are no Presidents, monarchs, or billionaires in my lineage – though there are strangely enough, sailors, doctors, and a writer or two – which may have predisposed some of my family to these professions. Of my father’s genetic heritage, I am less certain. I do have a flair for language – he learned Italian in college, and I do work in an engineering profession as he did, and occasionally have read the Wall Street Journal, albeit with less enthusiasm.
Do we need a DNA test if your dog, a mix of greyhound and shepherd, is good with children, or is a high-energy breed which needs room to run? A conversation I had today during our prayer-dog walk was as much common sense as it was dog “nature versus nurture”. One fellow had a neighbor years ago with a spaniel breed, where a younger child got bitten on the nose when he put his face near it. From an ER visit, a dog control officer was dispatched to corral a “biter” or fine the family. Another time, a quick heart-tug visit to a local animal shelter, resulted in my friend bringing home a dog which was a great family dog – until it encountered some smaller dogs in the neighborhood and was very aggressive. It takes time to socialize and train any adult shelter -adopted dog, observing and studying its behavior around adults, children and other animals. Most of the dogs, like most of the people I know, have ‘quirks’.
And such has been the case with all the dogs I have shared my life with. All have had questionable mixed genes, with German shepherd, terrier, bully, Australian Shepherd, hound, retriever, and even a dachshund-mix among the mutts I have rescued from Animal shelters and the strays. Most of these have been healthy and lived thirteen to seventeen years. Life span is as much nurture as it is nature. And often a mix of genes is a good thing.
So when I hear from some people that they want an AKC-registered purebred dog, I wonder if there is some specific purpose, like a working or service dog that they want specific traits. While Dexter might have been an excellent tracking dog given his primary focus on sniffing out great smells, his attention-span is limited. Comet is a very homebody dog, loves fast walks, and yet is very affection-needy, and is not “comfortable” around large “happy-go-lucky” dogs. I do not know his life before coming to us, but he is a very trainable, easy-going dog. With “quirks”.