Background To accurately diagnose giardiosis in dogs, knowledge of diagnostic test characteristics and expected prevalence are required. The aim of this work was to estimate test characteristics (sensitivity and specificity) of four commonly used diagnostic tests for detection of Giardia duodenalis in dogs. Methods Fecal samples from 573 dogs originating from four populations (household dogs, shelter dogs, hunting dogs and clinical dogs) were examined with centrifugation sedimentation flotation (CSF) coproscopical analysis, direct immunofluorescence assay (DFA, Merifluor Cryptosporidium/Giardia速), a rapid enzyme immunochromatographic assay (IDEXX SNAP Giardia速) and qPCR (SSU rDNA) for presence of G. duodenalis. Bayesian latent class analysis was used to determine test performance characteristics and to estimate G. duodenalis prevalence of each of the four dog populations. Results All tests were highly specific. IDEXX SNAP Giardia速 showed the highest specificity (99.6%) and qPCR the lowest (85.6%). The sensitivities were much more variable, with qPCR showing the highest (97.0%) and CSF the lowest (48.2%) sensitivity. DFA was more sensitive than IDEXX SNAP Giardia速, but slightly less specific. Prevalences of G. duodenalis differed substantially between populations, with the hunting dogs showing the highest G. duodenalis prevalence (64.9%) and the household dogs the lowest (7.9%). Conclusions This study identifies qPCR as a valuable screening tool because of its high sensitivity, whereas methods using microscopy for cyst identification or cyst wall detection should be used in situations where high specificity is required. G. duodenalis is a prevalent gastro-intestinal parasite in Dutch dogs, especially in dogs living in groups (hunting and shelter dogs) and clinical dogs.