The Great Dane is a giant breed dog that comes in 7 different coat colors including Merle and Harlequin.
Each coat color is a result of the genetic makeup of a puppy. Breeding between some of the Great Danes is discouraged by the American Kennel Club’s breeding practices to ensure good health and longevity of the breed.
The question is, can you breed Merle and Harlequin Great Danes? Is this possible?
Let’s get into more details on whether you can breed the Merle and Harlequin Great Danes and what happens if they are bred.
No, you cannot breed Merle and Harlequin Great Danes because of the production of double merle Great Dane offspring. Double Merle Great Danes have several health problems which limit them to live a quality life This can be prevented by avoiding Merle and Harlequin Great Dane breeding.
Genetics Basics: Merle and Harlequin Great Danes Coat Genetics
All dogs carry genes that act as foundation coat colors which are black and red. A puppy’s coat color and variations will depend on these genes and their interaction with other inherited genes.
Genes exist in pairs called alleles, one from each parent. When Great Danes are bred, the father and mother each randomly contribute one allele.
This gives each allele a 50% chance of being passed on to the puppies. One of the alleles in the pair is dominant and determines the overall coat color traits expressed in a Great Dane.
Learning about the coat genetics of both the Harlequin and Merle coat patterns helps to better understand what happens when they are bred.
Merle Great Dane Genetics
A Merle Great Dane is a Great Dane with a pale to dark grey base coat covered with dark marks.
A puppy inherits color genes from its parents. The Merle gene is represented as (Mm), which indicates a dominant merle allele (M) and a non-merle gene (m), giving the merle appearance to a puppy.
A Merle Great Dane puppy is produced from inheriting a merle gene (M) and a non-merle gene (m) from its parents.
A puppy can also acquire two non-merle genes (mm) and they will not have a merle appearance.
When a Great Dane puppy inherits two copies of the dominant merle allele (M), they are referred to as a double merle Great Dane.
For a comprehensive guide on Merle Great Danes, read our Merle Great Dane guide.
Harlequin Great Dane Genetics
A Harlequin Great Dane is a Great Dane with a white base coat covered by irregular black or dark patches all over their bodies. Variations of this can also exist according to the breed’s color standards.
The Harlequin gene is represented as H/h, which indicates a Harlequin allele (H) and a non-harlequin gene (h).
Generally, there are three possible outcomes when a puppy inherits the Harlequin gene:
- Puppies with (H/h) genotype (genetic constitution) by having one copy of the Harlequin allele (H), will express the Harlequin coat color pattern if combined with a Merle allele (M)
- Puppies with (H/H) genotype with two copies of the Harlequin allele, are unhealthy and terminate in utero
- Puppies with (h/h) genotype, with no copies of the Harlequin allele, do not express Harlequin Coat pattern or its variations
The Harlequin coat color pattern comes about when a puppy inherits one copy of the Harlequin allele (H) and Merle allele (M) from its parents, expressed as H/M.
Double Merle Great Dane
When a Merle and Harlequin Great Dane are bred, there is a 25% chance a double merle Great Dane puppy will be produced. A double merle Great Dane is a Great Dane with two copies of the merle gene (M/M).
This happens because both parents carry a dominant Merle allele (M), that is, Merle Great Dane having (M/m) with Harlequin Great Dane (H/M). A puppy inherits each Merle allele (M) from its parents and this produces double merle puppies.
Double merles’ have a complete or partial white coat. The merle genes inherited cause their coat to be faded making the double merle coat to be partially or completely white.
When their eyes are present or not deformed, they are blue or pale.
Why is a double merle bad?
A double merle is bad because they are highly likely to have several health problems. The health issues that they face include eye and auditory system (ear) deformities, sun sensitivity, and skin cancer. At birth some are stillborn.
The double merle life expectancy is 7 -10 years however generally they have a shorter lifespan due to the associated health problems.
Double merle health issues are the reason why it is unethical in practicing Merle to Harlequin breeding. The American Kennel Club discourages this breeding practice.
Recommended reading: Do Merle Great Danes have more health problems?
Reputable breeders also always perform genetic testing before breeding to prevent the production of double Merle Great Dane puppies.
This is important before breeding because a Great Dane may not appear to be merle from their physical appearance, however, they may be carrying the merle genes.
An example is a Cryptic merle (Phantom merle) Great Dane, which looks like a solid color Great Dane but has the merle genes.
Can a double merle be healthy?
A double merle can be healthy because not all suffer from the associated health problems however getting a healthy double merle is uncommon. They are highly susceptible to health issues and thus unhealthy.
Due to this high probability and risk of producing a double merle with health issues, breeding for the production of double merles is discouraged and unethical.
Recommended reading: What is a Blue Merle Great Dane?
Prevention of Merle To Merle Breeding
Merle to merle breeding occurs when two dogs both with the Merle genes are bred which increases the likelihood of production of double merle puppies.
This breeding is unethical and due to irresponsible breeding practices because it produces double merles which have a high risk of health problems.
The following includes breeding that should not be practiced to prevent production of double merle Great Danes due to merle to merle breeding:
- Harlequin and a Merle
- Harlequin and a Harlequin
- Merle and Merle
- Any quin* and Merle
- Any quin and another quin
(* A Great Dane having a harlequin coat pattern with another coat color variation, bred from two Harlequin parents. This includes Fawnquin, Merlequin, and Brindlequin)
Some Great Danes do not appear to be merle however genetically they may have the merle genes. This is the Cryptic (Phantom) merle which can be mistaken as a solid color Great Dane.
Therefore to prevent production of double merle Great Dane puppies, reputable breeders always carry out genetic testing before breeding to confirm that the parent Great Danes do not carry the merle genes.
Merle and Harlequin Great Danes are among the unique coat colors of the Great Dane. Breeding between them however should not be done due to their genetic makeup which leads to the production of double merle puppies.
The breeding of dogs to produce double merle puppies is due to irresponsible breeding practices and is deemed unethical due to the high health risks of the double merle.
Genetic testing is always performed by breeders to prevent merle to merle breeding.