“What kind of dogs do you have?”
It’s a question that has for years thrown my family off guard a bit.
“They’re small dogs,” we say first, trying not to sound apologetic because, let’s face it, there is a school of thought that suggests only large dogs that keep up with you on your 10-K trail runs or pin intruders to the ground are “real dogs.”
“They look just like big dogs, but they’ve been shrunk,” we add.
What we’re really saying is: “They’re not foo-foo dogs,” expressing our own prejudice or preference, depending on how you look at it.
Our dog Buster came to us as a puppy and we met his mom, who was billed as a Jack Russell cross. He clearly sports chihuahua genes too, so we weren’t too curious about him. But our rescue dog Lulu was another matter.
Lulu’s paperwork from a dog pound in California described her as a “terrier cross,” but when she had her first check-up with Harold Bond of Salt Spring Veterinary Services a few years ago, he stated emphatically, “This is no terrier.”
Whenever the subject of Lulu’s heritage came up, our answer was that she is “one of a kind.”
But it seems important to be able to label one’s pet with at least one tangible breed name. It’s like not knowing your own country of origin.
Lulu stands about nine inches off the ground. She has a bit of a dachshund look about her face, but her body is not all that long and her fur is quite thick. When it comes to the positioning of her legs, it’s as if the pooch-making elves were having a bad day when they put her together.
It wasn’t until we saw a corgi jump out of a vehicle parked next to us in the Vesuvius ferry line-up one day that we saw other possibilities for her origins. While Lulu’s ears hang down, they are the same shape as a corgi’s, and the legs appeared similar. That led us to photos of something called a Swedish vallhund, which is related to the corgi, as Lulu’s coat texture and colouring matched those images.
But how would we ever find out, really? The answer came when I received a press release from an Ontario company called DNA My Dog last year.
“Who’s Your Doggy?” it asked. “That’s the question that DNA My Dog, a genetic lab specializing in Canine DNA breed determination analysis, will answer. This test will tell you the breeds in your dog through the dog’s unique DNA.”
It took us a while to take the plunge because it seemed like such a frivolous undertaking, but we did it. The kit contained two cotton-tipped sticks, an envelope to put them in, a form to fill out with a reference number identifying us and the dog, and instructions about registering online and getting a good DNA sample.
Within two weeks we had our answer, and it was a bit of shock. Lulu apparently has genes from five dog breeds, and the one she has most of is Shih Tzu. Yes, let’s call that a foo-foo dog. The other four are chihuahua, dachshund, maltese and King Charles cavalier spaniel. Major mutt alert!
Despite being momentarily disappointed that she wasn’t a Swedish vallhund descendant, it was a relief to know what was packed into that sweet, odd doggy body.
It wasn’t long before we started looking at Buster with some suspicion. What else might be lurking in there, we wondered.
We were just as surprised with his result as we were about Lulu’s. Buster’s DNA test declared him to be at least 75 per cent chihuahua and the rest pekinese. Another foo-foo breed! That led us to look at photos of his “Jack Russell cross” mother and to research chihuahua breeds online. Sure enough, she could be one of the larger chi varieties, although she was definitely a bit fluffier.
If you’re not afraid to find out what kind of dog you really have, the answer is a bark away.
The writer is editor of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper and Aqua – Gulf Islands Living magazine based on Salt Spring Island, B.C.