Saturday, October 15, 2016

The DNA is in! (Part 2)

If you haven't read my previous post (The DNA is in Part 1), you can scroll down if you'd like to read that one before you read this one. To recap: When I adopted Sgt. Thomas Tibbs, my quirky but much beloved pound puppy, I was told by the folks at Upland Animal Services that he was German Shepherd and Golden Retriever. You can see that Golden Retriever influence in his fluffy red coat, right? Wrong! He has no Golden in him whatsoever! What?!?

In a casual conversation with a friend one day, she mentioned that her dog-that-looks-exactly-like-a-black-lab was not a lab at all. He was, in fact, pit bull, bulldog and terrier. How did she know? She got him from a man who had done a DNA test on him. That conversation got me thinking. I know what we all assumed Thomas was, but maybe he wasn't those two breeds at all. Sometimes, because of his tendency to be extremely stubborn with a high anxiety level, I have wondered if he didn't have perhaps a bit of Border Collie in his ancestry. So I researched the cost and accuracy of the DNA test kits for dogs. Turns out the Mars Wisdom Panel for mixed breed dogs is around $80 (the same amount I paid to have my own DNA tested), and you can order it through Amazon with the 1-Click feature. Done!

An interesting note here: Thomas hates to be messed with. Just clipping the tangles out of his hair is an ordeal. (I have to do yoga first and meditate and channel Cesar Millan just to make sure I am completely calm while working with him.) But when I took a swab to the inside of his cheek and started twirling it around? Yeah, he was super chill. It was just before bedtime; he was happy and relaxed and sprawled in his bed, and I'd just been giving him head rubbies and ear scratches, so he was really in a great mood. So... Done!

The kit was easy to use and mail back. Waiting three weeks to get the result was the only hard part. And then, two weeks and five days after I mailed it, an email appeared in my inbox. "The DNA results for Thomas are in!" Yes!

Any last guesses before we learn the truth?
Golden Retriever? No, not a bit.
Border Collie? No, not a bit.
Irish setter? No.
Irish Wolfhound? Well....

Half of Thom's DNA is categorized as "mixed." In other words, there is such a hodge-podge of breeds there, it's impossible to isolate one specific breed. However, his mixture does seem to be made up of the "sighthound" breeds, which includes Afghans, Greyhounds and yes, the Irish Wolfhound. This will make my grandson Ben very happy. He is a devoted fan both of Irish Wolfhounds and Sgt. Thomas Tibbs.

But the other half?

Yes, definitely German Shepherd. I mean, look at his face. In fact, he is 25% GS.

And what else?

As soon as you read Australian Cattle Dog, I think (if you're a dog lover and know the breed) a little bell will go off in your brain. Here's a picture of one:

(This is Sugar-N-Spice's Turbo Diesel, also known as "Cummins." The photo was taken for the breeder, Rochelle Gribler, by Steve Ball.)

Check out that red color. That's Thomas alright. He is 12.5% ACD. Now I understand why he's always trying to herd me away from his perception of danger. I also understand his suspicious nature; he is wary of any new human who enters our environment, and he becomes unsettled when things are out of place (furniture moved, the truck missing from the garage, new potted plants appearing on the patio). The accompanying literature from the Mars panel explains traits of each breed, and "suspicion" is listed. Rochelle (the owner/breeder of Cummins above) also confirmed this trait as we chatted about the characteristics of Australian Cattle Dogs. ("Ohhh, no wonder!" I kept thinking as she was listing them off.)

And what comprises the final 12.5% of Thom's DNA? American Bulldog. Oh good grief!! No wonder this dog is so stubborn! Here's an example: Although Thomas loves to ride in the extra cab of the truck, he balks if I try to take him out in a place he's never been before. (See the explanation for that trait in the previous paragraph.) With the recent move, I have begun picking up my mail at the common mail delivery area, and Thom always rides down with me to get it in the evening. The other night I decided to get him out of the truck down there so we could take a nice stroll up to the lake and watch the snowy egret catch frogs. But we hadn't done before, and as soon as I opened the truck door and clipped on Thom's leash, he gave me "the look." (Someday, with time and patience and maybe an extra hand, I'll capture that look in a photo.) When he's wary, his ears go down, his eyes narrow, and he turns his head to the side--much like a human would do when suspicious of what another human might be up to. And then he dug his heels in. When he doesn't want to come forward, he will sit down on his bottom like a stubborn jackass--or, I know now, like an American Bulldog. (I did finally get him out of the truck that night, with much patience and after assuring another resident that everything was fine with us, we were just having a disagreement.)

So that's my boy in a nutshell, and that really explains so much about why he is the way he is. No, there is no sweet Golden Retriever personality in there that will emerge one day when Thom fully recovers from his previous life. But now I know how he survived through neglect and abandonment. Australian Cattle Dogs are descended from Dingoes, the wild dogs of that continent. I believe the traits of his ancestors--his wariness and fierce independence--are what made him strong enough to live through an ordeal that took the lives of other dogs around him. And now that I know what I'm up against, I can not only appreciate his strengths but also focus his training more acutely to manage those characteristics that negatively affect his behavior.

I'm so glad I spent the $80 to have the test done! For the insight it has given me, it was worth every penny.


  1. Oh, S. Kay....This has been so much fun to read and to think about. I don't think you knew that my Sophie died. She's the one who looks like Thom and who is/was my beautiful, beautiful girl! She died October 3, here at home, probably around 10:35 PM or so. She had been sick for a couple of weeks and we knew the end was near. I did not subject her to trips to the specialty clinic, pokes and prods and ultra sounds......She was 14 1/2. It was so, so hard to let her go...... But her litter mate, her sister is still with us and no one can believe that she is 14 1/2. She looks nothing like Sophie externally, completely different coat on all counts. But they clearly have the same skeleton. After reading your blog, I am going to go to Amazon and get the DNA kit you mentioned. I always meant to do with Sophie and Rica and compare the two litter mates. The differences in coat and temperament are probably from having different dads..... I am using Sophie as my profile picture and it is one where she looks a lot like Sgt. Thomas! I'm betting Sophie had Australian Shepherd as a very large component. But I'll guess we'll never know.....But with Rica, we will. She is a love of a girl, sweet and purely innocent and still a bit tweaked from what ever it was that she and Sophie endured. She is getting a lot more attention now and I can see some change in her already. ....But more later....

  2. Oh Deb! Oh no! I didn't know. I knew Sophie had been sick, but I didn't realize you'd lost her. Kudos to you for not attempting to prolong her life at this point. You gave so much to her. Believe me, I know how hard it is to take a dog who is permanently "tweaked" from its prior life and work with it enough to incorporate it into the family. Thomas is still a work in progress--but the fact that he is still making progress amazes me. Well, this will be Rica's time to be showered with attention. Fourteen years is a long, good dog life. Sophie is free of all cares now. May your grief be balanced with love from the rest of your family. Big hugs to you!