Great Dane colors (Simplified guide)

Great Danes come in a variety of colors and color combinations (patterns).

Of these colors and patterns, only seven are recognized by the breed standard. These colors are black, fawn, blue (gray), brindle, merle, harlequin, and mantle.

However, colors such as white, chocolate, or mismarked Danes are not recognized or are considered faults (undesirable) and hence cannot be shown.

About Great Dane colors

There are a number of genes that interact to give rise to various Great Dane colors. These genes come in pairs as long chains of genes (from each parent) in chromosomes. Each chromosome is divided into segments each known as a locus (particular location of a gene). Each pup inherits each locus from each parent.

The same gene can occur in various alternatives called alleles. Each pair of alleles can occur in a pure form (homozygous) where each allele is identical or as hybrid pairs (heterozygous) where the two alleles are different.

In a hybrid pair (heterozygous), the dominant allele will override the recessive one and will be visible. The recessive trait will be hidden and may only become apparent in the offspring.

However, the recessive allele can be visible if it occurs as identical copies (homozygous state). The dominant allele is written as a capital letter (e.g B for dominant black) while the recessive gene is written in lower case letters (e.g b for recessive brown).

Alleles interact to control the two pigments responsible for all colors. These pigments are;

  • Eumelanin is a dark pigment that varies from black to brown. This pigment will be visible on the coat color and the leather in areas such as the nose, eye rims, paw pads, and lips.
  • Phaeomelanin is a light pigment that varies from red to yellow. This pigment will only affect the coat color but not the skin or nose color.

It is a combination, modification, and dilution of these pigments that make all the coat colors and patterns. Areas, where both pigments are absent, will appear white.

Each of these color genes is contained in the following locations (locus, pl loci) on a Great Dane’s chromosome;

A locus (Agouti)

The A locus is responsible for coat patterns such as fawn, sable, and tan point Great Danes. Different alleles in the A locus affect pigment switching between eumelanin and phaeomelanin on the coat (red and black pigment switching).

There are 2 alleles responsible for different colors in this locus on Great Danes that are;

  • Ay– In a pair (AyAy) this allele is responsible for the fawn/sable color on most Great Danes. This is a yellowish to reddish coat with a light to heavy black overlay (two-tone/bicolor; phaeomelanin base with black-tipped hairs). The color ranges from red fawn, dark fawn, and orange fawn. Ay is dominant over at. Will display a melanistic mask with the Em genotype at the E locus.
  • At– In a pair (AtAt) is responsible for Tan Point Great Danes. This is a black base (eumelanin pigment) with tan markings (phaeomelanin) on the cheeks, eyebrows, chest, underbelly, feet, and under tail. Will have a black mask if they carry Em.

The agouti locus can be restricted by the B, E, and K locus. The A locus will not be visible if the E locus is ee or if the K locus is Kb. Fawn Great Danes will also have a black mask (melanistic mask) caused by the EmEm genotype.

K Locus (Dominant black & Brindle)

This locus is the site of the dominant black (Kb) and brindle (Kbr). The black gene (Kb) is dominant over the brindle gene both of which are dominant over the A locus. Kb dominates over all the colors except ee (red phaeomelanin shades) at the E locus.

When present a Great Dane with at least one Kb at the K locus will be black. A Great Dane with copies of Kbr (KbrKbr) at the K locus will display the brindle pattern.

Both dominant black and brindle can be modified by the S (spotting), M (merle) B (brown), and D (dilution) locus for various shades of the black eumelanin pigments.

Only KyKy at the K locus will allow the pattern on the A-locus to show.

E locus (Extension)

The extension locus determines whether eumelanin (black) or phaeomelanin (red) is produced. In this locus, only the Em allele will affect the Great Dane. This allele is responsible for the melanistic mask on Great Danes that are not Kb at the K locus.

The mask will contain black pigment (eumelanin) that can be modified by dilution (D locus), brown (B-locus), merle (M locus), and spotting (S-locus).

B locus (Brown)

The brown locus is a modifier that alters the shape of the black pigment changing the visible color to a shade of brown. Both brown and black are eumelanin pigments that make up the skin, coat, and eye color. B (black) is dominant over b (brown) which is recessive. 2 copies of the recessive allele are required to turn the coat and skin from black to brown and produce chocolate pups. It will mask any black pigment including on merle and brindle Danes.

This locus is responsible for Brown or Chocolate Great Danes.

The B locus does not affect phaeomelanin (red) pigments such as tan or the base of a fawn dog. However, it is genetically impossible for a dog to have any black pigments with 2 copies of the b-allele (bb). You can determine the base color by looking at the nose, lips, eyelid, paw pad, or skin. A dog with a black base is black and a brown one is brown.

D locus (Dilution)

The dilution gene found in the D-locus reduces the intensity of the black eumelanin to blue-gray. In phaeomelanin, the dilution gene may just dull the color and may be indistinguishable from non-dilutes.

D is a full color without dilution while d which is recessive dilutes the pigment.

2 copies of the dilution genes (dd) are required to reduce the intensity of the coat color and skin color. This copy can also affect the mask on fawn dogs, and the stripes on a brindle dog.

M locus (Merle)

The merle gene is an incomplete dominant gene. M (merle) is dominant to m (not merle). A Dane with at least one copy of M will have a diluted blue-gray coat with irregular and torn black patches. It also affects eye pigmentation resulting in blue eyes.

Merle only affects eumelanin but not phaeomelanin pigments. Thus, a dog that is ee or fawn can be marle but not show. On a fawn dog, the merle pattern will show on the black mask.

However, since this is an incomplete dominant trait, it is possible for a dog to carry the merle gene without it being visible.

A Great Dane with 2 copies of the merle gene (MM/double Merle) will have its pigment diluted to white. The dog will be predominantly white (White Great Dane) with a few patches of black or merle at the head or tail tip.

Since merle also affects the internal structures including the pigment on the bones, ears, and eyes, double merle is associated with hearing and vision complications due to a lack of pigment.

H locus (Harlequin)

Harlequin is a pattern that results from an interaction between the Merle and Harlequin gene on the black eumelanin pigment.

First, the merle gene produces dark irregular spots on a dilute base color then the Harlequin gene dilutes the base color further and removes it altogether.

The harlequin gene cannot express if the merle gene is not present or if the dog is mm at the M locus. A harlequin dog will have the genotype Mh.

S locus (White Spotting)

There are several alleles in the S-locus as seen below ranked in order of dominance;

  • S (Self-colored) has no white spotting. S is dominant to Si.
  • Si (Irish Spotting). White symmetrical spotting appears on the chest, underside, muzzle, neck/collar, feet, a blaze (white stripe running between the eyes), and tail tip. The dog might or might not have a full white collar. Great Danes with this coloration are said to be mantle. 2 copies of this allele are responsible for well-marked mantle coloration in Great Danes. Si is dominant over Sw.
  • Sw (extreme white) Sw is recessive to the other alleles. 2 copies of this allele (SwSw) extend the white further to blanket the dog apart from the head and possibly random rounded patches at the back or saddle. This pattern is similar to piebald but is not due to the piebald gene (Sp) which is assumed absent in Danes. Great Danes with this pattern are often referred to as piebald or color-headed whites. They have less symmetrical black patches compared to mantles.

A Great Dane that is SiSw at the S-locus will have a break on the mantle blanket (hybrid piebald or mismarked mantle). These Danes are Mantles with too much white that may appear on the large black back blanket.

It is assumed that the genotype SiSi is responsible for the mantle pattern. This dog may or may not have a full white collar. A Dane that is Ssi will have minimum Irish spotting (Some white patches on the chest, face, feet, and tail tip- too little to be mantle). The extent of white marking will depend on how extreme the S-locus is and varies from dog to dog. The B, D, and M-locus can modify any black patches.

Both the S-locus and M-locus are responsible for black and white Great Dane markings but spotting is recessive to harlequin. S locus markings are more rounded while harl patches are jugged and less symmetrical.

A dog with spotting markings (S-locus) cannot carry a harl gene but a harl dog can carry spotting.

The ears always remain colored unless the dog has a high amount of white. What’s more, white spotting does not affect the skin, nose, eye rim, or lip colors.

Recognized coat colors

These are colors and patterns that conform to the breed standard. They include;

Black Great Dane
(Solid color)
Should have a black shiny coat with no markings. Markings are deemed undesirable for a black dog but are accepted for shows.
Has dark brown eyes, black nose, black eye rims, black lips, and black skin
May have white residue markings on the fore-chest, toes, and tail tip where pigments do not reach as the pup (embryo) develops during pregnancy. These are considered mismarks.
Blue Great Dane
(Solid color)
Should have a consistent shiny blue-gray coat. Some Blue Danes will be darker or lighter than others
The eyes are amber/pale blue and the nose blue
Markings on the chest, toes, and tail tip are not desirable. Blue brindle, blue harlequin, blue merle, and blue fawn brindle are not recognized.
Silver Great Danes are similar to Blue-gray Great Danes but with a shinier silver hue
Fawn/Sable Great Dane
Has a pale to dark yellowish-tan coat with black tips on individual hairs (washed out black overlay), and a black facial mask (melanistic mask)
The black mask covers the snout, around the eyes, jaw, and the ears
The mask, skin, nose, eye rim, and lip color can be modified by the Brown, Dilution, and Merle genes
Markings in the chest, feet, and tail tip are considered a fault
Merle Great Dane
Has a diluted grey base color with different colored irregular/torn patches
Merles also come in other color combinations but the gray base color with darker black patches is desirable and fully accepted (Blue Merle Great Dane)
It may have white markings on the chest, toes, and tail tip
A merle dog is likely to have one or two blue eyes if it carries one merle gene. If it is a double merle (MM) both eyes are likely to be blue.
Harlequin Great Dane
Has a white base color with black irregular patches with torn edges evenly distributed over the body. The black patches should not dominate a single part of the body and should not be too small
A heavily marked harlequin will have a blanket of black like a mantle while a dirty marked harlequin will have individual black hairs mixed into the white base
The patches can be any color (e.g blue, brindle or fawn) but black is the only acceptable color
The Dane will be more white than black
The neck may be partially or entirely white
The skin will also have harlequin markings and the nose will have pink and black patches

Porcelaine- anu harlequin color other than black e.g brindle harlequin, blue harlequin, fawn harlequin
Brindle Great Dane
Has a fawn/golden-yellow base color with an assortment of clear black stripes and a black mask on the muzzle around the eyes, jaws, and ears
The stripes should not be too dense or too far apart
The stripes can be of any color (e.g blue or chocolate). Lighter base color with stripes of any color is preferred
A reverse brindle will appear to have fawn stripes on a black base color
It may have white markings on the chest, feet, and tail tip that are considered a fault
Mantle Danes are black and white with black being the dominant color making up the majority of the coat with no splotching
They will have white covering the feet, chest, torso, tail tip, around the neck, the blaze, and muzzle
They seem like they are wearing a blazer extending over the saddle and back. The black blanket should have no breaks
Breaks in the white neck/collar or black blanket are accepted but not desired
The patches can come in different colors such as blue, merle, and fawn

Off-colored Great Danes

An off-color Great Dane is an unrecognized or mismarked color that is not accepted as per the breed standard. They include;

Chocolate Great DaneHas a pale brown to deep brown color
Has a brown nose, skin, lips, eye rim, nails, and amber eyes
On a fawn dog, the mask will be chocolate devoid of any black hairs
White Great DaneHas a predominantly white coat caused by a double merle gene (MM) that almost wipes out all the pigment
Some parts or the whole nose will be pink
Results from breeding two Merle Great Danes
Tan point Great DaneHas a dark eumelanin base color with tan points on the legs, underbelly, eyebrows, and face
For example, a blue tan dog has a blue base color with tan points or a merle tan that is merle with tan points
Piebald (plattenhunde) Great DaneHas a white base color with black rounded patches at the rear, the middle saddle, and the head. Has extreme amounts of white on the body
The patches are not torn/jugged
The patches can also be blue, chocolate, or have a merle pattern but black is the most common color
Piebald does not have a specific pattern
Blue Merle Great DaneHas a lighter silver base color with blue blotches instead of the typical black
Has a blue nose and skin
Chocolate Merle Great DaneHas a light brown base color with chocolate patches
Fawn Merle Great DaneHas a fawn coat with a Merle mask and ears
Brindle Merle Great DaneIs brindle with a merle mask and points
Merlequin Great DaneHas a white background color similar to harlequin with merle (Grey-black) patches instead of black
Fawnequin Great DaneIs a harlequin Great Dane with fawn patches instead of black. Has a white base color with fawn-colored torn patches (Fawn-colored harlequins)
Brindlequin Great DaneHarlequin with brindle patches. Has a white base color with brindle patches
Merle mantle Great DaneHas a mantle pattern with merle patches instead of black
Blue HarlequinHas a harlequin pattern with blue patches instead of black

Other off-color patterns include;

  • Blue mantle
  • Blue brindle
  • Blue brindle mantle
  • Blue fawn
  • Brindle mantle
  • Blue merle mantle
  • Blue fawn mantle
  • Blue brindle merle
  • Blue fawn harlequin mantle
  • Blue fawn merle
  • Blue fawn merle mantle
  • Blue harlequin mantle
  • Blue brindle merle mantle
  • Blue fawn harlequin
  • Blue brindle harlequin
  • Blue brindle harlequin mantle
  • Fawn mantle
  • Fawn merle mantle
  • Fawn harlequin mantle
  • Brindle merle
  • Brindle merle mantle
  • Brindle harlequin mantle

To Sum Up

Great Danes are ideal companions and pets. They are affectionate, mellow, and non-aggressive.

The dog’s personality and quality will outweigh the color if you are looking for a household pet. The color will only be a deal breaker if you are looking for a show dog.

There you go, WOOF!