Are you concerned that your Merle Poodle or your Silver Labrador came back as a single breed? Sometimes dogs tested with Embark may show 100% single-breed ancestry results, even if they have a color that isn’t standard for their breed. How does this happen?
First, it’s important to note that Embark never uses your dog’s appearance to determine breed ancestry. We also cannot determine if a dog is “purebred”—purebred status depends on registration data showing both parents were registered as a certain breed with a registry body such as the AKC. Registration is not the same as genetic ancestry. By contrast, Embark only looks at genetic ancestry when determining breed makeup, which can sometimes lead to surprising results!
Off-standard colors can appear in breeds in a variety of ways. Some breeds have recessive traits that exist at low frequencies in purebred populations. Occasionally, a dog will inherit both recessive alleles required to show the trait and have a coat color that isn’t typical for their breed. Tan-pointed Labradors (Labs that have markings like a Rottweiler) are a great example of this–a small percentage of the purebred Labrador population carries the recessive genes for tan points, and purebred Labrador puppies are occasionally born with this coat pattern.
New colors can also be introduced by crossbreeding with dogs of other breeds. Depending on how many generations back the cross took place, the breed used to introduce a specific color may no longer show up with DNA testing. DNA testing can go back at least three generations and can generally identify breeds making up around 5% or more of your dogs’ ancestry. Beyond this, the segments of DNA used to determine breed ancestry are often too small to detect once they’re below that ~5% threshold. Traits can often persist even when genetic evidence of the breed they originally came from is gone, especially if the trait has a dominant mode of inheritance, such as merle or masking!
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