Building a Mystery, Canine Edition

Anyone who has visited my website or followed me on Facebook knows that I talk quite often about Gaby, my dog. Someone left her tied to the front door of my vet’s office back in August 2008, and after due consideration I adopted her. She filled the hole left behind by Mickey, the dog I had lost the month before, and helped King, my remaining dog, get over the loss of his good buddy.

When I posted the first photos of her, the response pretty much boiled down to “Look at that face!” As you can see from the photo below, taken the day I brought her home, it really does evoke the Awwww response.



“That dog in that movie, Winn Dixie.”


Up to that point, I had always had a fairly easy time figuring out what breeds my dogs were, either because I had met the parents or because some physical feature stood out. King was a German shepherd-Labrador retriever mix. Mickey looked like a standard Lab mix, but contained some AmStaff or other type of pitbull terrier judging from the jaw and the foursquare way he would stand, chest out, muscles bulging.

But Gaby proved a puzzle. A terrier mix, yes, but which terrier? Assuming she was born in NE Illinois, I had to take into account the area in which I lived. I see a lot of Yorkies and Jack Russells about the neighborhoods, but other breeds that Gaby resembled—wheatens, West Highland whites—not so much. Her size added to the confusion. Most terriers that she resembled were on the small side, but she was—though underweight at the time—most definitely a medium-size dog. A malnourished 26 pounds when I brought her home, but with an expected recovery weight of 35-40 pounds.

So when I heard that companies offered DNA tests to determine the mix of mixed breed dogs, I decided to give it a shot. The test is performed in the following manner: DNA is extracted from the cells and examined for breed markers. Those results are evaluated using a computer program designed to consider all the possible pedigrees those markers could represent. The results are then scored, with the highest scores indicating the most likely pedigrees.

At the time, the more accurate test was a blood test. I ordered the kit and took it to my vet’s office. They drew Gaby’s blood and sent it off. A few weeks later, they called me that they had received the results, and I dropped by after work to pick them up, certain that I would learn which terrier breed my little girl was.

I read the report. I stared at the report.

American Eskimo.
Mixed Breed—below detection threshold

The husky result did not surprise one of Gaby’s vets. She apparently broke out laughing when she read the report. Gaby’s body type, long tail, love of the outdoors, stubbornness, her vocal complaints as she came out of the anesthetic after her spay surgery, all pointed toward that breed.

Over the years, more evidence presented. Gaby loves cold weather. She comes alive when temps drop below 50F, and adores playing in the snow. If given a choice between a pile of snow and a bowl of clean water, she will quench her thirst by eating the snow. When the weather turns bad, she has to be carried inside. Rain. Sleet. Freezing temps. She will hunker down in a pile of leaves or curl up atop a snow bank, tucking her feet so they stay warm.

Behavior-wise, well, she’s attached to me. But eager to please? Not so much. She possesses an independent streak.

Then there’s her prey drive. No squirrel is safe in my backyard. Neither are the mice. The voles. Any rodent you can name. She has yet to learn that you do not attack skunks, although she has learned to circle them at a distance. If she spots a deer during our walks, oh how she strains against her harness. I have no idea what she would do with a deer if she ever caught up to one, but my, does she yearn for the opportunity.

Anyway, years passed. People would oh and ah over her and ask which breed of terrier she was, and I would say that I had her tested and that she is part husky and they would look at me like Huh?

Fast forward to the present day. Gaby has been an only dog since I lost King in 2013, and she’s adapted well to being the queen of the house. We go for long walks—4, 5 miles—most days a week, and she attends a playgroup on the other days so she remains well socialized. She enjoys playing with the other dogs, but at times she will go off by herself and watch the proceedings for a while before eventually rejoining the group. She still loves the outdoors. Still patrols the backyard with a vengeance. Best guess is that she is about 9 years old. She weighs 38 pounds.

I had read that the mixed breed DNA tests had improved over the years, and decided to give it another try. This time, the preferred sampling method was a cheek swab. We took the sample, and I sent it off. Counted the days. Attended World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs. Checked my email every so often. Waited.

Finally, a few days after I returned home, I received the email that the results were ready. I logged into my account, opened the file, and waited waited waited until the report downloaded.

I read the report. I stared at the report.

Siberian Husky
Chow Chow
Mixed Breed—below detection threshold

And by “Siberian Husky,” they mean “a lot of Siberian Husky.” As in, one parent. As in, one whole half of her family tree. Any way you look at it, there’s a whole lotta husky going on.

As for the other breeds…beagle…chow chow? Well, Gaby does possess a distinctive yodel-bark that some have compared to an emergency siren. The stubbornness, prey drive, and desired activity level could point to beagle as well as husky. Her coat may be similar to that of a rough-coated chow chow, since that type of coat makes for a fluffy appearance. Nope, no blue tongue.

The Mixed Breed result both clarified and muddied matters. The two most likely breed groups turned out to be (ta da!) Terrier along with Working Group. Both below the limits of detection, so no detailed information could be gleaned. It’s possible that one parent was half beagle-half chow/terrier/working breed, but it’s a best guess only.

So, there it is. Gaby is half-husky. Her size and body type are consistent with the breed, even though her coat and face are not. The beagle and chow chow are buried in there somewhere. Maybe some tiny bit of a Working Group breed, Australian shepherd or schnauzer, lent her that heavy not-quite-smooth/not-quite-rough coat.

But the mystery remains. So maybe in a few years I’ll see if the test has improved. If it has, I’ll give it another try, just to see see if they’re finally able to tease out which breed of terrier gave her that face.



About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


Building a Mystery, Canine Edition — 7 Comments

  1. Sheila–I know. I have a hard time accepting it, but two tests performed 7 years apart apparently confirm.

    Sherwood–her face is her salvation because she is often quite the Naughty Girl.

  2. Pingback: Fly-by | Kristine Smith

  3. It’s years too late for my first real dog, but, ‘terrier’ doesn’t surprise me. She has the same facial conformity and coat quality as the mixed mutt of my childhood. Like others, though, I would /never/ have guessed Husky!

    I loved this blog post, thanks for sharing it!