What’s That Mutt: A big surprise in Nanai’s family tree

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A few weeks ago I posted about my mother’s dog, Nanai, an apparent PitShepherd mix with an odd of instinctive behaviors.

We wiped Nanai’s cheek with a swab from Canine Heritage and, a few weeks later, got the results: No primary breeds (meaning neither of her parents was a purebred), and as a secondary breed, Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

(According to Canine Heritage, a secondary breed is one that’s “easily recognizable within your
dog. While these breeds may have a strong influence on your pet, each
breed listed makes up less than the majority of your dog’s DNA.”)

Staffordshire Bull Terrier was not a big surprise — we’d figured Nanai was a bully breed, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, while descended from the same line as the American Staffordshire Terrier, is smaller and, according to our Dog Breed Guide, was originally used for killing rats (which would explain Nanai’s high prey drive and mouse-killing abilities). 

But some big surprises turned up “in the mix.”

Canine Heritage’s Web site explains that “In the Mix” breeds are ones that “that have the least amount of influence on your pet’s
composition, however, they still appear, at a low and measurable amount,
in your pet’s DNA.”

And in Nanai’s DNA: English Coonhound and, believe it or not, Bernese Mountain Dog.

The hound would explain Nanai’s tracking behavior and her baying howl when left alone, and the Bernese Mountain Dog would explain her herding instinct. As for her love of water, well, apparently that’s just her own personal quirk!

Nanai’s DNA-test results certainly prove that a dog who looks like a Pit isn’t necessarily a pure bully breed — but could her results, demonstrating that a substantial minority of her DNA is Staffordshire Bull Terrier, be used to discriminate against her should my mom’s city, Philadelphia, enact breed-specific legislation?

We asked the company that makes the breed test whether the test could be used to enforce BSL. “The Canine Heritage™ Breed Test by MMI Genomics is not designed for use as a purebred or paternity verification test and is not an established legal tool,” Tom Russo of MMI Genomics told us. “We test many dogs that people believe may be Pit Bull, but usually turn out to be a combination of American Lab or European Lab (which has a squarer head) and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  Looks can be deceiving, particularly for dogs, as we realize the breeds show more strongly in behavior than appearance than we previously expected.”

However, BSL often targets dogs based on appearance alone. So my mother is doing everything she can to establish herself as a responsible pet parent and Nanai as an upstanding member of the community: Nanai is spayed and up-to-date on her vaccinations, she’s registered (as a terrier mix) and microchipped, she wears collars and tags, she’s always walked on-leash and whenever she’s in my mom’s fenced-in yard, my mother is there keeping an eye on her.

After all, even if we can’t do anything about irresponsible owners, the best way to change a person’s mind about bully breeds is to introduce them to a true breed ambassador.

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Thanks to our partner Canine Heritage for donating Nanai’s breed test.
For more information on how to test your dog’s DNA, visit the Canine
Heritage Web site

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