Sunday, December 11, 2011

What Is A "Dexter"?

When we bring our dog Dexter out in public, at least one person is sure to ask, "What kind of dog is he?" Dexter is strikingly handsome, if I may say so, and I am certain it is his looks that spark their curiosity and not his antics at the end of his leash.

"Well...we think he is part Great Dane," we would respond, "but we don't know...blah blah blah...he could be a blah blah blah" and then the person might begin to speculate as well and soon we all ran out of speculations and everyone drifted apart, feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

One day, after the breed question was asked yet again, I laughingly replied, "He's a Dexter." To my surprise, the person nodded thoughtfully, and then shrugged, saying "Well! He's a big boy, isn't he! Have a nice day!" This then became our standard response. It was just easier to say "He's a Dexter!" and leave it at that and everyone is happy.

"Dexter" is also the name my husband and I give the breeds we come across that look like Dexter. You have seen a Dexter before, I am sure. We have all seen a Dexter. Big, black lab-ish dogs, usually with a blaze of white on their chest. You may even have a Dexter or know someone who does.

Truth is, we had no idea, nor did we especially care what our Dexter's breed make-up was. The only explanation to be found in the shelter documents that summed up Dexter's short past was the sad scrawl on the surrender form. It read, simply: "He is too much dog."

I had briefly considered investigating Dexter's heritage but what I had heard about canine DNA testing was not encouraging.

Completely inaccurate results!
A waste of money!
My chihuahua sized dog came back with St. Bernard in her profile-impossible!

I resigned myself to never knowing what  Dexter was made of, and truthfully it did not matter to me. I loved him for being what he was... a Dexter.

Along came Arlo

Arlo, for those of you new to my blog, was rescued from a caravan of trucks stacked with crates which were in turn stacked with dogs all headed for the meat trade in Asia. Now this dog's genetic soup interested me! Arlo looks like a puppy, but he is an adult dog. Anyone asked to speculate on his breed invariably tosses in a terrier or two. He is a medium sized dog, but on the smaller side of medium. His hair length ranges from short to shaggy to wispy. He is mostly reddish, but also blond, gray, and tan. In short, he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. It was time to rethink my views on canine DNA testing.

As a naturally skeptical gal, I began to read and ask questions of people I trust. Here is the heart of what I found: The test is only as good as the number of breeds the testing company has in its database. I chose to go with the Wisdom Insight Panel at around $49. With over 185 breeds in their database, I felt I could get a pretty fair idea of what makes an Arlo, and if I was going to test Arlo, I might as well test Dexter at the same time. The test itself could not have been simpler. Two test sticks swabbed inside of each dog's mouth cheek, pop them into the prepaid addressed envelope, done.

"But my dog looks nothing like a -----!"

Phenotype-anything that is part of the observable structure, function or behavior of a living organism.
Genotype- the "internally coded, inheritable information" carried by all living organisms. 

My Great Grandmother
 had lovely Mediterranean skin
and dark hair and eyes

My blue-eyed daughter
 freckles, but also tans
Your tiny mutt may look nothing like a St Bernard, but that does not mean he does not carry the genes of one. Some phenotypes such as the typical flat face of a Bulldog may vanish after just one crossed generation. Take a look at the differences between generations in my own family. My great grandmother was a very tiny woman (maybe 5 feet tall?) who likely weighed a scant 95 pounds. Dark hair, dark eyes with lovely Mediterranean skin. Me, I am 5'7" and let's just say I am over 95 pounds and leave it at that. My green-eyed black haired father could not tan. I have dark hair and eyes and tan easily (after burning first if I am not careful). My daughter, on the other hand, is blue eyed with reddish hair. She freckles in the sun but also tans, her father and paternal grandmother do not tan at all. She is also 5'7". My point? You just never know what cards you will be dealt in the gene shuffle.  

I tan easily but may burn first
I kept the dark hair and eyes
So...(drum roll) the results!

Dexter was found to be mostly lab. No surprise there. Despite my strong suspicion that he was part grasshopper, he is actually part... Rhodesian Ridgeback!? Wow.
The real Dexter is: (besides Devastatingly Handsome)

Mostly Labrador Retriever

With a good chunk of Rhodesian Ridgeback 

The other breeds that came up were:
Wire Haired Pointing Griffon (19%)

Welsh Terrier (12%)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (1%)

Keeshond (2%)
Beagle (less than 1%)
   Arlo's results

Turns out,  there is no terrier in Arlo's genetic recipe at all!
Here is the ingredient list for an "Arlo"

To make an Arlo: 

Take mostly Shiba Inu 
And Chow 

Add a smattering of:

Samoyed (12%)
German Shepherd Dog (8%)
Australian Kelpie (2%) and

Tibetan Spaniel (2%)
Have these results changed anything in our lives? Not really. I still treat the boys exactly as I did before.
Except now, if anyone asks "What's a Dexter?" I can tell them he is a "LabraRidgePointingWelshCavaBeagle!"

Happy Training!