Your Weird Animal Questions Answered: Is Your Dog Part Coyote?

We’re going right to the dogs this week on Ask Your Weird Animal Questions, where we answer your inquiries about our wild and wonderful world.

I have read about coy-dogs (coyote-dog hybrids) and am very curious to find out if our dog is one. I cannot find a DNA test available to determine this. Any suggestions?—Phil Gardner, Missoula, Montana

Coydogs and coywolves—coyote-dog and coyote-wolf hybrids—occur in the wild in the United States. For instance, coyotes in the northeastern U.S. carry DNA both from wolves and from domestic dogs, albeit in small amounts, according to a 2011 study. (Related: “Coyote-Wolf Hybrids Have Spread Across U.S. Northeast.”)

A coyote-wolf hybrid. Photograph by Kelly Raymond, National Geographic Your Shot

Most commercially available canine DNA tests don’t identify coyote DNA, but Teri Kun, a forensic scientist at the University of California Veterinary Genetics Lab, says dog owners can get a DNA test to determine their dog’s coyote heritage via her lab. (Just click on the link to her lab for details.)

“It’s what we call a coyote-hybrid test,” Kun told National Geographic. After the owner sends in his dog’s DNA, her team checks a coyote database to see if the dog’s DNA contains a gene variant that’s found only in coyotes.

Keep us posted!

I had a yellow lab who was once licking my left side while I was lying in the floor watching a sporting event on TV. I had a CT scan done because of blood in my urine and a tumor was found in my left kidney. I’m a urologist and I believe my dog smelled out the kidney cancer. This dog saved my life.—Ron Smialowicz, San Francisco, California

This comment on the story “Dog Brains Link Pleasure with Owner’s Scent” was so intriguing, we decided to see what kind of research is going into dogs sniffing out human disease.

“This is definitely something that is getting a lot of attention. The University of Pennsylvania is currently doing a study looking at dogs’ abilities to detect ovarian cancer at their Penn Vet Working Dog Center,” said Nancy Dreschel of the Penn State College of Animal Sciences. (Take National Geographic’s dog quiz.)

2006 study by Penn State showed that trained dogs detected lung cancer 99 percent of the time just by sniffing people’s breath. Malignant tumors release compounds not found in healthy tissue, and the animals can smell the compounds.

Dreschel thinks dogs will help scientists develop better alternatives to disease detection, though she doesn’t see pooches actually giving people the sniff test in doctor’s offices any time soon.

Do St. Bernards really rescue people?

I was curious to know (and used writer’s prerogative to ask) whether all those cartoons we’ve seen of St. Bernards rescuing travelers lost in the snow held any truth. They do.

The American Kennel Club says the St. Bernard was an established breed when Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon built a hospice to aid those traveling the treacherous alpine passes between Switzerland and Italy.

The dogs were likely brought to the hospice as companions and watch dogs for isolated monks who found them to be excellent pathfinders, able to sniff out those lost in the snowy wilderness. They’re credited with 2,000 such rescues and are still helping us out in the modern world.

Is a dog’s mouth really cleaner than a human’s?—Doug Rhodehamel via Facebook

Nope! Cesar’s Way, the website for Nat Geo WILD’s Cesar Millan, says that no matter how much you love your pet, those doggie kisses are a bad idea.

A photo of a dog catching a ball.
Dog mouths aren’t as clean as you think. Photograph by Holly Schkura, National Geographic Your Shot

A 2011 study that tested dental plaque from dogs and humans found that dogs have a higher concentration of disease-causing bacteria—including the species that causes periodontal disease—than do humans.

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Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com
  • Kevin Hazard

    The last point (is a dog’s mouth cleaner than a humans mouth) is an extremely subjective one as dental health is directly related to diet intake. Dogs who survive on raw meat diets do not have the dangerous disease causing bacteria or plaque, mentioned in the article, present in their mouths at all. It is the dogs who survive on a kibble diet specifically who have the dangerous oral bacteria and plaque present in their mouths.

  • Gotham_Greg

    An alpine pass between Sweden and Italy? That would be some pass — more like a wormhole! LOL

  • Rocky chaudhry

    wow .Good looking animals tho.

  • Eleonore

    Please note that you have an error in the answer about the St Bernard question. The alpine pass is the Col du Grand Saint Bernard located between Italy and Switzerland (not Sweden).
    The hospice was established in the 11th century by St Bernard de Menthon, however the presence of a “large breed dog” was not established before the mid 17th century.
    If interested check out http://www.fondation-barry.ch

  • Liz Langley

    Thank you and thanks for the link, @Eleonore!

  • Don L. Johnson

    My mongrel dog doesn.t do anything except love me.

  • gary wiens

    Our dog (cavachon) watches t v , actually watches– he knows when an advertizement’s music comes on that that ad has a dog or dogs in it. Our big screen is over the fireplace 5 ft off the floor, and the chimney is under tv , when a dog or animal is on the screen, he dashes to the sliding door we use to let him out if I let him out he goes to ghe right ten ft and abruotly right again and barks at the outside of the chimny— ad if where is the animal— repeatedly every day– is this crazy or am I to let him out—

  • Paul K. Bowden

    Coyote vs dog

  • Sarah Brower

    The link in the first article doesn’t lead to the right place. You have to click on services on the left side of the screen and then the animal you want to test (ie. for a wolf hybrid test you click on wolf, and ditto for coyote).

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