The dog, the DNA test, and the scientist – a reflection on four years of panel screening

When we first launched the MyDogDNA® (Optimal Selection™ in the United States) DNA test in 2013, we took a giant leap into unexplored territory. To be honest (and we Finns typically are), pioneering a whole new way of thinking about dog DNA testing was not the easiest thing to do. 

If you had been able to listen in on the conversations at our laboratory office back then, you would probably have heard us asking ourselves questions such as: 

  • What if we could somehow test for as many breed-relevant genetic disorders at once? Wouldn’t it make the life of breeders easier to get the DNA test results they need all at once, with one sample taking, analysis, and reporting? 
  • Or; what if we could offer all coat color variant tests in one package, so that we can really understand and study the complexities of coat color genetics? 
  • Ideally, is there a way to screen for as many known inherited disease mutations as possible in one go? Now THAT would be a research tool!
  • And; let’s not forget about genetic diversity testing and hands on tools for breed genetic health management, because that is what breeders really need in the long run.


Ultimately, as you know, our panel test was born, combining all of the features above. Although, I’ll admit, being a young and foolish scientist with visions of grandeur at the time, that the production costs of the very first version ideal DNA test we drafted would have been something way beyond what one would be typically pay for a puppy… Eventually of course, we needed to make compromises to make the DNA testing as affordable as possible to breeders, dog owners, and veterinarians. There is a trade-off between massive information content, and affordable DNA testing for the whole litter. Testing quality and reliability, naturally, are where you spare no expense.


Having tackled more than a few hurdles, we launched our DNA panel screening service, very excited about how it would be received in the dog community. Well, as it turned out, some loved it, some said “I don´t get it”. Quite many, actually. We realized we were in for a massive educational task.

Breeders were used to making selections based on straightforward single gene test results, often guided by that outdated information on the breed club web page about a “one and only laboratory” that offers the test. And here we were, telling them that our tests are equally valid as anyone else’s, that they may benefit from testing for more at once, and that they should worry as much about genetic diversity as about getting that single gene test done! Here we were, explaining that it’s not deception to test for more than 150 disease-related genetic mutations at once, when the majority of the mutations have not previously been found in the breed. That it’s the future: a means of efficiently testing your dog for breed-relevant mutations to help it get appropriate health care, or ensure that it is bred wisely. All while simultaneously advancing canine genetics research in a unique and novel way – that´s what those extra tests are for!


Today of course, panel screening for canine inherited disorders is becoming commonplace and new “world leading”, “revolutionary”, and “unique genetic screen” service providers have recently popped up. Reflecting on our roots and experiences over the past four years, we want to take the time to thank all of our pioneering customers for so boldly testing with us, and growing with us. Together, we have built a unique reference database of purebred dogs from more than 300 breeds, explored breed genetic diversity levels, population structure, genetic variation in coat color and body size, and shed light on the prevalence and distribution of inherited disorders in unprecedented ways. Not to mention exploring the genetic disease heritage of over 275 000 mixed breed dogs. So thank you, for each and every tested dog that has directly contributed to the advance of canine health research! 

And, we are publishing our findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals for the benefit of everyone in the dog community. As we have said from the very beginning, complex DNA information should be produced and conveyed only in association with high quality, responsible research. So far, you have helped us discover the presence of more than 30 genetic disease variants in a total of 100 breeds in which they were not known to exist prior to panel screening. You can read about some of our first findings in more detail in our recent publication (Donner et al., PLoS ONE, 2016). 

And we are not stopping here! Together with our academic collaborators, we are involved in more than 70 projects aiming to identify completely novel genetic disease variants, and studies on common canine disorders such as hip dysplasia, dilated cardiomyopathy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. We are not giving up on the educational responsibility in the community either, and are supporting such efforts through the Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs initiative of the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD).

Again, our sincerest thanks to you for embarking on the journey to improve dog health together with us at MyDogDNA® and Optimal Selection™!


Interested in what we can do for your dog and its breed?


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