Home Page Forums Darwin’s Ark Option to “upgrade” later?

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #14953


    I think this is a great project doing a lot of good! On a personal level, for the sake of my current dog and others like her, I hope you’re someday able to uncover more about the genetic bases of extreme fearful behavior, especially “stranger danger” reactivity on the level of requiring psychiatric medication and expert behavior modification protocols.

    I was wondering, because I really want to support this kind of science but have limited finances right now, is there an option to buy the Explorer level of DNA analysis but then later on “upgrade” to the Trailblazer level, either before or after the results are back?

    I’m itching to get the process started and also curious to see what she comes out as for breed background, because a Wisdom Panel DNA test said 75% border collie, 12.5% cattle dog, and 12.5% made up of the general breed groups of hound, sporting, and Asian… whereas her behavior (extreme awareness of movement and wanting to control it, suspicion of strangers, lithe and graceful cat-like feet, natural sense of balance, intelligence and trainability for days, etc.) is 100% spot on consistent with a McNab and/or cattle dog mix.


    jessica hekman

    Hi Katherine. Thank you so much for wanting to support our project – we hugely appreciate it. For an upgrade to Trailblazer, we actually use more DNA than we use for Explorer (two swabs not just one) so we wouldn’t be able to just upgrade from your dog’s current sample. It’s not just more analysis, we actually do different stuff with the DNA, in other words. If you did want to go to Trailblazer but had already paid for Explorer, it would be worth asking us to look into discounting the Explorer price – I don’t think we have a policy about that currently and I have no idea what we’d decide, because it’s never come up. So it would be worth asking.

    If your dog is more than 2% Australian Cattle Dog, we’ll find it! We don’t currently have McNabs in our breed panel, so we wouldn’t be able to find that for you – yet. We’re always looking to expand our breed panel and when we do we’ll re-analyze all our dogs and you’d find out then. Border collie sure sounds like it could explain a lot of what you’re seeing, though, and if Wisdom Panel is finding 75% BC then I expect there is indeed quite a lot of BC in there. Wisdom Panel does very well at finding breed ancestry with large percentages in a dog.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

    Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD
    Darwin’s Ark Researcher



    I’m not sure if this helps, but as someone who has experience with purebred ACDs, I just wanted to add that the “natural suspicion of strangers” the ACD breed standard calls for is very different from “stranger danger,” which fearful dogs of just about any breed can show. The ACD standard is referring to a certain coolly confident, calm, sharply scrutinizing “tough guy” stare that ACDs typically show when encountering strangers, which puts the stranger on notice without being dramatic. (By contrast most Border Collies show strangers polite reserve, without that air of sharpness.) But if instead a dog shows a tendency when encountering strangers to snap directly into a full-tilt pre-emptive threat display (nervous growling and tensing, reactive lunging and barking etc.), that’s “just” fearfulness, and can’t safely be assumed to have anything to do with any one underlying “natural” disposition towards strangers.

    Because the working herding breeds tend to overlap so much in behavioral traits–extremely biddable and handler-oriented, great all-around natural athletes, obsessed with controlling movement, standoffish with strangers and needing lots of socialization in puppyhood to be comfortable around them–it can be really tough to pinpoint breed-specific behaviors in a herding mix of uncertain ancestry. Sometimes the tactics the dog favors during herding play can be a strong clue (e.g., dropping into a stalk and giving eye vs. darting in close to grip the heel), but even this isn’t foolproof, because none of these tactics are truly breed-specific, and besides a dog doesn’t necessarily need a lot of ancestry from any one breed to show its stereotypical herding behaviors.

    Anecdotally BCs do have the reputation of being the most prone of all the herding breeds to fearfulness problems, but I’m not sure what actual veterinary behaviorist data might have to say about that, let alone the genetic factors that Darwin’s Ark is looking into.



    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for replying! And incidentally, I recognize you from FDSA! Your biology of socialization webinar was actually my very first webinar purchase back in March 2018. 🙂

    I’ll have to think about it a little before deciding which one to do, then. I think whatever genetically might be contributing to her fearful behavior would be really useful for scientists’ and breeders’ knowledge far in the future, at least, and my own curiosity may just have to wait until I can save the funds to pay for that level of analysis.

    And hi Jennifer, thank you for your post too! That’s good information to know about purebred ACDs. My dog Raven would definitely be in the reactive category, alert barking/howling at strangers, but especially when they surprise us on walks, as in coming around a corner, and growling and lunging if they keep trying to come over and “say hi” to her. (I wish people wouldn’t do that!) I have no knowledge of her background, except that she was finally caught after weeks of running around rural middle of Missouri at an estimated 7 months of age, taken into a rescue group, and then stayed in a foster home, where she acted like she’d never been in a house before (foster didn’t provide specific observable behavior examples, just that statement). Then I got her at 13 months. So I’m guessing she had very little to no early socialization, and probably also learned in her running around days that if she barked at people they would leave her alone.

    Off leash at a dog park type place, she also displays circling and barking behavior that looks like an attempt to control people’s movement, especially a kid running, and acts like she’s about to nip at their heels. To my knowledge she’s never actually made physical contact, but now I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to let her “practice” that behavior or not.

    My previous dog was a border collie, a detection dog washout, so I’m familiar with their crouching/stalking behavior, and what she does is not the same at all. Buzz, my previous dog, used to creep forward a bit and then drop down and wait when he saw a dog running towards us from a distance. Incidentally, he also had neophobia, probably due to being raised in a kennel type environment and not being exposed to the outside world as much as he should have been, and he was also dog-reactive towards dogs who were getting too close to me, essentially resource guarding me. I sure know how to pick the fun dogs! 😀

    Could I send you a link to a video showing how she intensely stares at a stranger but in this case didn’t bark? I’m just curious about how you would interpret her behavior, if it’s that “hard stare” of an ACD you refer to. She was pretty ok with the stranger in this context because it was at a workshop where she decided how close she was going to get, but still never approached her past a certain point.

    Editing to add her profile on here:


    jessica hekman

    Hi Katherine! So cool that you saw my FDSA webinar. About the upgrade question – so, while we would always love for people to have their dogs sequenced at Trailblazer level, honestly in terms of learning more about anxiety, that extra sequencing doesn’t help us all THAT much. We mostly get what we need from the “low pass sequencing” that we do at Explorer level. We are really glad to have Raven in the project and that you funded her sequencing – that’s incredibly helpful!

    For those who are curious, what the Trailblazer level gets us is basically more info about dogs in general, rather than that dog specifically. We use the information to improve our imputation panel. This is the panel of about 700 deeply sequenced dogs that we use to interpret the low-pass Explorer-level sequencing that we do on most other dogs. So we loooove getting more of these, but really I don’t want to see anyone bankrupting themselves to do it! (If anyone reads that and thinks “I don’t get what that all means,” feel free to ask in this thread.)

    Hope that helps and feel free to ask more questions.




    The different levels make much more sense to me now, thank you for explaining that! Just to clarify, I haven’t actually sent off for a kit and paid for her to participate yet (still making myself wait until payday at least for that too haha), but I did spend an afternoon completing all the surveys, which were pretty fun and thought-provoking on their own.


    kristen johnson 2

    Katherine, I feel your pain!! I was so excited to participate in this study and was also thinking my dogs would be very useful because of their reactivity and/or fearfulness. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into my Dexter, who is extremely reactive, and it makes me sad to think that many people wouldn’t have been able to and he would’ve ended up homeless. He is also has ACD in him. We don’t have the problem of people approaching us though…..he makes it quite clear very early that they do not want to do that. He lunges and growls and snaps. We’ve been working on it and it’s better. He also has required Prozac and we see a behavioral veterinarian for behavior modification. We can walk a distance away from people without him freaking out now but it’s work. They can’t be moving too much and have to be far enough away. He’s making baby steps but I think he’ll always just be a work in progress.

    Jennifer your description of the ACD and BC was interesting! The ACD is totally my Dex (half ACD and half Jack Russell)……minus the not dramatic part. Lol. He is very dramatic…….Maybe that’s the JRT in him. Anything that moves is going to be killed or herded. He’s also very protective of me and hates strangers. It’s very difficult to introduce him to new people and dogs but once he warms up and their in then he’s good. I read about ACDs when his breed results came back and saw they came about when herding dogs got bred with Dingoes. So no wonder he’s so difficult. Lol. We always used to joke that he looked like a Jackal or a Hyena……so now we call him a Dingo.

    My other dog Luna has some ACD in her as well as Border Collie, but she has 13 different breeds so she has a lot in her. Lol. I always thought she’d have BC in her because of her fearfulness. She’s 15.1% Australian Shepherd, 10.9% Beagle, 9.4% JRT, 6.5% ACD, 5.9% BC. She is fearful of anything new and different, very fearful of sounds. She’s cautious with strangers but mostly indifferent unless they approach her too fast then she will back up and howl. If they have treats she’s their best friend. However, she is extremely reactive around other dogs.

    It’s all so fascinating. I knew what Dexter was mostly because of his behavior. Luna I couldn’t quite get but now I know why…….13 breeds!

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic. Login