Merle Great Dane Vs Harlequin : Top Differences

Merle and Harlequin are among the Great Dane’s coat colors. Although each coat color is unique, it is understandable why one might confuse the two because both look almost the same.

Merle Great Dane vs Harlequin, so what makes the two Great Danes different?

Read on to learn what makes a Merle Great Dane different from a Harlequin Great Dane.

The main difference between a Merle Great Dane and Harlequin is the coat’s base color. The Merle base coat color is gray while a Harlequin’s coat color is white, which are both  covered with black spots. The other differences are the coat color genetics, and the health issues based on the coat colors.

The two coat colors are among the seven official standard Great Dane colors recognized by the American Kennel Club, which include Black, Harlequin, Fawn, Blue, Brindle, Mantle, and Merle.

merle great dane vs harlequin



Merle Great Dane and Harlequin Great Dane are different in appearance. The main difference is their coat’s base color. 

The Merle Great Dane’s base coat color is gray while a Harlequin’s coat color is white. Both are covered by black or dark patches. 

merle great dane A Merle Great Dane

There are some variations of the dark spots covering the body of both coat colors as shown below. The American Kennel Club recognizes the below variations of the two coat colors.

harlequin great dane

Harlequin Great Dane

Merle Great Dane vs Harlequin coat variations:

Merle Great Dane coat variations

Harlequin Great Dane coat variations

Solid merle color with white markings on the toes and chest

Markings that are not completely round with jagged or torn edges

Solid merle color all over the body

Dark marks are not large to cover the whole coat as one

Partial or whole white neck

Merle markings 

White chest

Black markings on the legs and chest

White on whole or part of the hind legs and forelegs

Pure white neck 

Black pigment on white areas

Partial or whole white neck

White Merle tail

Distribution of black patches on the body

Breaks between the merle color


A white muzzle with merle head


Any variation of color that does not align with the above guidelines is not recognized and cannot also participate in conformation shows.

The physical attributes are similar for both the Great Dane colors. This includes the athletic body structure and size. The Great Danes naturally have long tails and a long broad head with a large muzzle.

 Great Danes usually have floppy ears but some have their ears cropped. Ear cropping involves the trimming of a Great Dane’s ears to give them a standing position.

You may also spot Merle Great Dane cropped ears or Harlequin Great Dane cropped ears.

Related: Can you breed a Merle and a Harlequin Great Dane?

Coat Color Genetics

Merle Great Dane coat color genetics

The Merle Great Dane has a gray base coat color covered with black spots. It is also described as dark spots on a diluted background. 

The Merle Great Dane can be produced from the breeding of two Harlequin Great Danes or Mantle and Harlequin Great Dane breeding. Harlequin Great Dane breeding produces one or two Merle Dane puppies in a litter.

The interaction of coat color genes that a puppy inherits from both of its parents leads to the production of the merle coat color.

Genes can be made up of two or more possible alleles. 

The genes that produce this coat color pattern include the dominant merle allele (M) and a non-merle allele (m), which is represented as the (Mm) gene.

A puppy must inherit the dominant merle allele and a non-merle allele, to have the merle coat color. 

Variations of this coat color such as the Blue Merle Great Dane can occur when a puppy inherits the merle gene and another coat color gene which both express themselves. 

 In addition to altering the base coat color of a Great Dane, the merle gene is also responsible for the Merle Great Danes’ eye, nose, and paw pads colors. 

The eye color can be blue to two different colored eyes, that is, one eye being blue and the other one brown. 

The paw pads may be black or mottled pink.

 Read our guide on Merle Great Dane to learn more about this fascinating coat color. 

Is a Harlequin Great Dane a Merle?

A Harlequin Great Dane is a modification of a Merle because for a Great Dane puppy to present a Harlequin coat color pattern, a puppy must inherit the Merle allele (M) and a Harlequin allele (H) from their parents. 

The H allele dilutes the merle base coat color from gray to white. This means the merle gene is essential for the Harlequin coat color to be expressed. 

Related: Merlequin Great Dane: A Guide to this Great Dane color

Harlequin Great Dane coat color genetics

The Harlequin gene is represented as H/h, which is a Harlequin allele (H) and a non-harlequin gene (h).

A Harlequin Great Dane is a HhMm genotype meaning a Harlequin puppy is produced when a puppy inherits both the Harlequin allele (H) and the Merle allele (M). 

The gray base color of the Merle coat is diluted to white color by the Hh genotype. Therefore a Harlequin Great Dane presents as a dog with a white base color with black torn patches or spots. 

A Great Dane with a Harlequin allele (H) and lacking the Merle allele (M) will have a standard coat color.

Related: Harlequin Great Dane Vs Dalmatian: Top Differences

Associated Health Problems

Sadly, studies have shown that there is a correlation between a dog’s coat color with its susceptibility to some health problems.

Dogs with light white colored coats are more susceptible to deafness or hearing problems. This includes dogs that have white, merle, roan, and piebald color pigment.

The Harlequin Great Dane coat is predominantly white which makes them susceptible to congenital deafness.

The Merle Great Dane is also prone to hearing problems, deafness, eye deformities, sun sensitivity, and skin cancer.

Read more: Do Merle Great Danes have more health problems?



Unlike the associated health problems of the Great Dane associated with their coat color, their personality is not influenced by the coat color.

There is no personality difference between the Merle and the Harlequin Great Danes. Both dogs’ temperaments are the same, that is, the Great Dane breed’s temperament.

A Great Dane is an affectionate, friendly, people-oriented, gentle, sweet-natured, protective, and loyal dog. 

An important thing to note is that personality is also shaped by a dog’s breeding, training, socialization, and good nurturing. 


Both the Merle and Harlequin Great Danes are similar in size, that is, the standard breed’s size. They are both large/giant breed dogs with athletic and muscular bodies.

Full-grown male dogs weigh an average of 120 to 200 pounds with a height of 32 to 34 inches while the female dogs are smaller, with a weight of 100 to 130 pounds and 28 to 32 inches tall.


Both Merle and Harlequin Great Danes generally live between 7 to 10 years. This is unfortunately a shorter lifespan compared to small breed dogs which live an average of 10 to 15 years. 

Research has shown there is a correlation between the size of a dog and its lifespan. The larger a dog is, the shorter the lifespan.

Large breed dogs’ size puts a strain on their physiological processes which wear faster. This simply means they age faster, thus have a short lifespan. 

Common Great Dane Health Conditions

As a large breed dog, the Merle Great Dane and Harlequin Great Dane are also susceptible to common Great Dane health issues. This includes:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Heart disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Bloat

Although Merle and Harlequin Great Danes are prone to the above conditions, most are healthy. However, it is important to purchase both dogs from responsible Great Dane breeders who will practice ethical breeding and provide the medical histories of the puppies. 

This will prepare you on what to expect as well as prevent the purchase of unhealthy puppies due to unethical breeding practices.

Related: Mantle vs Black Great Dane


Merle and Harlequin Great Danes stand out because of their distinctive and unique coat colors. They are loved by many Great Dane owners because of their beautiful coats. 

The coat colors may be confusing to some because they look alike, however there are differences between them not only in appearance but also in the coat color’s genetic makeup and associated health problems.

Despite their differences, overall as a Great Dane breed, the Merle and Harlequin have the same personality, size, and physical attributes. 

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