Embark the Good:
Embark is a USA based company that is quickly developing a one stop shop for most of our breeds genetic test (that can be tested through saliva) needs. Currently this one test can test for several known genetic issues within our breed, according to Embark. These tests are Degenerative Myelopathy, Multiple Drug Sensitivity, Hemophilia A variant 1 & 2, Canine Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency Type 3, Day Blindness, Urate Kidney & Bladder Stones, Anhidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, Renal Cystadenocarcinoma & Nodular Dermatofibrosis, and Mucopolysaccharidosis Type 7.
Most of these ailments are brought on by a recessive gene, which means both parents must be carriers. Therefore, through health testing and selective breeding we can keep them from becoming common issues within the breed.
Embark also test for long coat (FGF5) and coat texture (KRT71). Long coat is a recessive trait and a disqualifying fault for the breed. Coat texture is helpful in trying to avoid breeding dogs with an open coat. Again, knowing if your dog is a carrier allows for selective breeding to avoid producing litters with a disqualifying trait.
Another great feature is that Embark’s results for DM can be printed off and sent into the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to be recorded and fulfill that testing requirements for your dog’s CHIC number. So, you are fulfilling an OFA requirement in the process of obtaining an abundance of other helpful information about your dog.
Some other fun features that Embark’s health testing provide is your dog’s coat traits, coat color, body size, and even altitude adaptation and food motivation.
OFA sets a minimum of testing requirements for the breed and Embark goes above and beyond in providing breeders, owners, and Veterinarians with an abundance of additional helpful information that is essential in insuring we are breeding the healthiest litters possibly and providing the best care we can for our dogs.
Embark the Bad:
Embark also provides a breed identification feature. The Czechoslovakian Vlčák is “provisionally” recognized by them, which means it is still a work in progress. This is causing a slight misunderstanding as people are taking this feature as a hard and fast fact or proof of lineage. Unfortunately, that is not how this feature works.
Currently there have been confirmed reports of wolfdog mixes coming back as part CSV. There lineage is known and there is no CSV in their lines. There is also reports of Embark showing 100% CSV dogs who are carriers for traits that are not found in either the German Shepherd or Wolf ancestry. This is again where the provisional status comes into play. Embark is not able to detect CSVs with 100% accuracy, currently. These issues have been reported to Embark to help them refine their breed test as it pertains to CSVs.
I was able to reach out Embark as to this issue and received this response, “…genetic ancestry testing should not be used to certify a dog as "purebred" or to prove "purity" of a bloodline. The term "purebred" is not a scientific designation and "purity" cannot be determined by an individual dog's DNA. Purebred status is formally defined by a registration body or kennel club and generally requires that a dog of a nationally or internationally recognized breed has a documented pedigree recorded in a studbook. In contrast, Embark tests for a dog's genetic ancestry, as described above. That said, we are constantly growing our reference databases, and while we anticipate seeing fewer instances like what you described here as we move forward, it is important that we emphasize the difference between a result from a genetic ancestry test and a "purebred" dog.” Embark goes on to say, “This is a process that also depends on our reference dataset and generally tells us about the most likely source of recent (past 3-4 generations) ancestry. For that reason, results might differ from registration information or known pedigrees due to several sources, but they reflect our best assessment of recent ancestry at the present time.”
What’s Next with Embark:
OFA currently has Pituitary Dwarfism (DW) listed as an optional test for the breed. This is quite worrisome as DW is common in the breed. The main hindrance is that no laboratory in the USA currently screens our breed for DW. You can still test for DW but you have to do so with a laboratory in Europe or outside of the USA. Then you can submit the results to OFA to be reordered but they are not needed for a dog to get a CHIC number at this time. Once we have a laboratory within the USA that is capable of testing for DW, we can hopefully make DW a mandatory test through the OFA.
That is where Embark comes in to play. Embark is currently working on including DW testing for our breed, specifically the LHX3 variant. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have a timeframe for this.
From Embark, “We appreciate the breeders/owners that have provided Embark with test results and samples from carrier and affected dogs, and while we currently do not need additional samples from Czechoslovakian Vlacks, the samples we have received are immeasurably valuable and useful for the future. We will certainly let the community know if we develop the capacity to test for the LHX3 variant in our lab, as we know how important this test is for several breeds.”