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.

Follow Liz Langley on Facebook and Twitter.


Meet the Author
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