I Swabbed My Rescue Dog’s Cheek For DNA, Then Sent It For Testing. Here’s What It Revealed

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is the Senior Editor of Branded Content at Wild Sky Media. She grew up in upstate New York and Oregon and now lives in Queens, NY. Ileana graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in sociology. After graduating, she attended the Columbia Publishing Course in New York City, then worked as in marketing at Oxford University Press. Since transitioning to editorial, she has written for BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Woman's World. She has also worked for local newspapers and magazines in upstate New York. In her free time, you can find Ileana watching Law & Order: SVU, eating ice cream, and spending time with her dog.

Growing up, I always wanted a pet — desperately. But I was never allowed to get anything that required more attention than a fish or hermit crab.

It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I actually started considering getting a pet. After I moved in with my boyfriend, the two of us began talking about adopting a shelter dog.

I found a good shelter with an up-to-date website, and we kept our eyes peeled.

After only a few weeks, I was stunned when I saw a 1-year-old hypoallergenic (my boyfriend’s slightly allergic) dog appear online.

There was only one picture, but I knew she was the one for us.

By the end of the night, Bella was ours.

After we adopted her, we tried to learn everything we could about her breed — Tibetan terrier — but she didn’t look quite like other pictures of the breed. We started to suspect she had a different background.

Finally, almost a year after adopting her, we decided to get Bella’s DNA tested.

When we got the DNA test results back, we found out that the shelter had been wrong about Bella all along.


bella adoption
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

On August 18, 2016, my boyfriend and I went to a Manhattan shelter and picked up the newest member of our family.

Bella was sick, scared, and lonely, but we immediately did everything we could to make her feel loved.

While I was signing the paperwork, the shelter staff told me that Bella was a Tibetan terrier mix. She was about a year old, and she’d been self-surrendered by owners who couldn’t properly care for her.

When we finally took her home, she’d been at the shelter for 10 days (which is a very long time for shelters in New York City, especially for young, hypoallergenic dogs).

The DNA Test

bella dna test
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

Tibetan terriers are known for their herding skills, their strength, their stubbornness, their love of snow, their playfulness, and more.

Although Bella definitely has some of these traits (she’s stubborn, strong, and playful), there were some characteristics that didn’t quite seem to fit.

We still fully believed that Bella was part Tibetan terrier, but we wanted to find out what other breeds she had in her. Excited to learn more about Bella’s ancestry, we ordered a DNA test.

The Mars Veterinary Wisdom Panel 3.0 has the largest dog DNA database, with more than 250 breeds. It’s also the only dog DNA test in the US licensed to screen for the MDR1 drug sensitivity.

How It Works

dog dna how it works
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

The test claims, “With a simple cheek swab, you can uncover DNA-based insights that may help you understand your dog’s unique appearance, behaviors and wellness needs.”

Using the DNA test is pretty simple. All you have to do is register the test online, rub your dog’s cheek for 15 seconds with the enclosed swabs, wait five minutes for the swabs to dry, then mail them back to the DNA company.

I read the instructions carefully (or so I thought), then pulled out the swabs and called Bella over to me.

Using The DNA Test

bella dna swab
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

The trickiest part of using the test was definitely swabbing Bella’s cheek.

Bella doesn’t like people touching her mouth, so I knew rubbing a swab around for 15 seconds wasn’t going to go over very well.

My boyfriend gave it a try first, and although it went OK, I decided to try one more time to make sure we really got some of Bella’s skin cells on the swab.

used dna swabs
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

After we used the swabs and set them out to dry, I realized I’d missed one key instruction: don’t feed your dog for two hours before using the test.

We’d given Bella some treats directly before using the test, to butter her up so she’d let us swab her cheek. Oops.

Luckily, it didn’t mess up the test results (and if it had, the company said they’d have sent some new swabs).

sending dna test
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

Once the swabs had dried for five minutes, I put them back into the baggie they came in, then secured it in the prepaid box.

The next day, I dropped the DNA test in the mail and waited.

Later that week, I got a confirmation email from the company letting me know they’d received the test.

bella outside
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

The next part was actually the most challenging: waiting.

About two weeks after I sent in the DNA test, I got an email letting me know Bella’s results were in.

I was nervous and excited, but nothing could have prepared me for the results I was about to see.


bella dna results
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

The results were clear: Bella was not a Tibetan terrier, not even a little.

I was so surprised — we’d been so sure that Bella was at least part Tibetan terrier.

In fact, Bella is more poodle than anything else. Half her DNA is miniature poodle, while an eighth is Yorkshire terrier, and another eighth is Bernese mountain dog.

Since the Bernese can weigh up to 110 pounds, I was pretty surprised to learn that my tiny pooch had such a massive ancestor.

The other 25 percent of DNA was unknown, but definitely comes from terriers and companion-type dogs, sometimes called lapdogs.

bella bandana
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

I’m still coming to terms with the fact that Bella isn’t at all what we originally thought, but it’s starting to make some sense.

Of course, we always knew the shelter might not be totally right; they have to do their best guesswork, which is hard with mixed-breed dogs like Bella. But we definitely didn’t think she was half poodle. We also never guessed that she might have some Bernese in her heritage.

Now that I’ve read up on miniature poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Bernese mountain dogs, some of Bella’s personality traits make more sense — but it’s still hard to believe she isn’t a Tibetan terrier at all.

There’s still a chance she has some Tibetan terrier in her; that 25 percent of unknown could have some small percentage of Tibetan terrier, but it’s definitely not her primary breed.

Dog DNA: Final Thoughts

ileana bella
Ileana Paules-Bronet for LittleThings

We knew all along that no matter what her breed was, it wouldn’t change how much we love her — so overall it was definitely a positive experience.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Definitely! It’s a great way to find out more about your rescue dog’s ancestry, health, and more.

Would I do it again? If I get another rescue dog in the future, I’ll definitely test their DNA! I’d probably do it even sooner than I did with Bella, so that I could know more about their health predispositions and breed personality.

If you’re considering getting your dog’s DNA tested, please SHARE this article with your friends and family!