Great Danes are large imposing dogs prized for their friendliness and patience. These dogs come in various colors and patterns caused by the complex interaction of different color genes. One typical and increasingly popular Great Dane color is harlequin.
Harlequin is a visually interesting pattern consisting of irregular and distinct colored patches with torn edges on a white background. According to AKC’s breed standard, only black patches that are evenly distributed on a white background are desired. The patches should not be too large or too small.
Harlequin is a modified version of the marbled merle pattern. A Dane needs at least one copy of the merle gene for the harlequin pattern to be visible.
First, the merle gene (M) dilutes the base color to blue-gray with d,ark-color patches. The Harlequin gene (H) then acts on the diluted base color, dilutes it further to white, and increases the size of the dark-colored patches.
Harlequin Great Danes have one or two blue eyes due to dilution of the eye pigment. The nose may also have pink patches or spots. No Harlequin Dane is identical to another.
For a deeper understanding, let us look at the genetics of a harlequin Dane.
Harlequin Great Danes genetics
Two basic color pigments determine coat in all dogs: the eumelanin pigment which is default black and phaeomelanin which is default red or yellow. Through various pigments’ modification and dilution, we get all possible colors in any dog. White is a due to a lack of either pigment.
As mentioned earlier, a Great Dane should have a merle gene for the harlequin pattern to show. Merle and harlequin are controlled by 2 different dominant genes denoted as capital letters;
- Merle (M)– This is a variant of the SILV gene. By itself, one copy of merle dilutes random areas of the coat to a lighter shade and leaves irregular torn patches of the original color. The merle gene will mostly act on the black pigment (eumelanin) or shade of the pigment such as blue, chocolate, or lilac. Black Danes to blue merle- black patches on a blue-gray background. Blue to slate merle- darker blue-gray patches on a light grey background. Chocolate or brown patches on a lilac background. Lilac or isabella (pale brown) patches on a very pale brown background respectively. 2 merle copies will result in a dog that is almost white with a few lighter and dark patches. Merle has no visible effect on pheomelanin (red to yellow) pigmented areas
- Harlequin (H)– This is a variant of the PSMB7 gene. On a merle dog, the harlequin gene removes all pigment from the lighter areas making them appear white and making the colored patches bigger. Harlequin will have no visible effect on a non-merle dog. Pheomelanin (red to yellow) pigmentation will be affected since the merle gene cannot act on the red/yellow pigment.
Non-merle can carry a hidden harlequin gene and have a normal coat color. But the hidden harlequin gene can be revealed through genetic testing. 2 copies of the harlequin gene (HH) have not been observed and are postulated to be embryonic lethal (pup is lost in the womb before birth). Thus all dogs with the observable harlequin pattern have one copy of the harlequin gene (Hh) and at least one copy of merle (Mm).
The merle gene also causes the dog to have pink speckles on the nose, one or two blue eyes, half-blue eyes, or a bluish speckle in one or both of the eyes (sectoral heterochromia). Harlequin dogs will have these features plus white areas of the coat where it should have been light-colored on a merle.
A double merle Great Merle will thus be predominantly white when acted upon by a harlequin gene with an almost pink nose and blue on both eyes. The dog may have a few random colored speckles. More on white below.
How to know a harlequin Great Dane
The best way to know if your Git dueDane is harlequin is through genetic testing. This is because your dog may be a carrier but not show it due to the absence of the merle gene.
On a fawn dog that is predominantly pheomelanin, a hidden merle X harlequin gene combination can be revealed by the eye, nose, and skin color. One or both eyes may be blue, pink speckles may show on the nose, eye rims, lips, and paws. You may also notice pink splotches on the skin beneath the coat.
The harlequin marking may also be visible on the face of a fawn Dane with a black mask (melanistic mask).
An eumelanisitic Dane (predominantly black), will have 2 colors: black and white, chocolate and white, lilac and white, or blue and white. Black and white harlequin is the most desired color as per the standard.
This is unless it has tan points on the legs, cheeks, eyebrows, and chest or is brindle. Tan points are caused by the phaeomelanin pigment which will be unaffected. On a brindle Dane, merle will reveal the phaeomelanin on some parts of the coat with white and brindle patches.
Not all harlequin Danes have blue eyes but all will have pink splotches on the skin and/or nose (butterfly nose).
White Great Dane
Harlequin Great Danes have white markings but not all white markings are due to harlequin.
A merle dog can have white markings due to the white spotting or piebald gene. A Great Dane with the piebald gene (mantle Great Dane) will have white primarily on the ventral surface, lower legs, tail tip, neck/collar, and or face. The ventral surface is the chest and underside. White may also creep into the dog’s saddle (back).
The difference between the white spotting/piebald and harlequin genes is that piebald acts on both eumelanin and phaeomelanin pigments.
A Great Dane can be piebald and harlequin at the same time if the dog is predominantly eumelanin. Merle may also show up on a piebald dog. However, harlequin and merle only affect eumelanin on random and irregular areas that have been acted on by merle.
White on a Great Dane can also be explained by a double merle without harlequin or piebald. The second merle gene removes almost all the pigment from the dog’s skin, eyes, ears, nose, and body. Most of the coat is white with a few merle patches, predominantly pink skin and nose, and blue eyes. There is a risk of blindness and deafness with double merles due to pigment deletion which is required in the ear and eye structures.
The harlequin gene will have no big effect on a double merle since most of the pigment is removed anyway. If the dog has merle patches, the harlequin wipes all the light color on the merle patches and leaves a few spots of the darker color.
The Black and white harlequin is the only color combination accepted by the breed standard. All blue-gray hairs on a blue merle harlequin will be turned white. Black hairs muddying the white base are accepted but not desired.
However, other color variations do occur;
- Blue harlequin or bluequin– Blue patches on a white background
- Chocolate or brown harlequin– Brown patches on a white background
- Lilac harlequin– Lilac patches on a white background
- Brindle harlequin or brindlequin– Stripped patches on a white background
- Fawn harlequin or fawnequin– Fawn with a black and white mask
Blue Harlequin (Bluequin/Porcelain)
A blue Harlequin Great Dane has diluted blue to grey-haired splotches covering the white background. This is due to 2 copies of the recessive dilution gene which reduces the intensity of the original color from black to a shade of blue. Dilution only affects eumelanin (black) pigments.
The shade of blue can be slate which appears almost black, steel blue which is shinier blue, and dusty blue which is blue with a greyish hue. The nose will be blue but may have pink spots due to merling with amber to light blue eyes.
Blue Harlequin Danes are also called Porcelain, Bluequin, or Grey Harlequin Great Danes.
Chocolate or brown Harlequin
Chocolate Great Danes have brown/chocolate and torn splotches covering a white coat. This is due to 2 copies of the brown gene acting on the eumelanin pigment changing its shade to brown.
Some dogs may appear to have 2 tones of brown due to the muddying effect. This is where some parts of the coat have white and brown hairs causing them to appear lighter.
The nose color is brown with one or two hazel-green eyes. Brown harlequins may have one or two blue eyes due to the merle gene but not always.
Lilac or isabella is a lighter shade of brown due to dilution of the brown eumelanin pigments which reduces their intensity. Isabella or lilac harlequins have light brown patches on a white background.
Some may appear to have some even lighter patches due to the mixing of lilac and white hairs.
Lilacs have light brown noses and hazel green eyes. One or two of the eyes may appear blue to the merle gene.
Brindle Harlequin Great Dane (Brindlequin)
A brindlequin is a harlequin Great Dane with brindle or stripped patches on a white base color. The black eumelanin hairs on a brindle will be broken up into patches. This coloration is more prominent in reverse brindle Great Danes with more dark eumelanin hairs than yellowish phaeomelanin hairs.
Remember that the Merle X harlequin gene combination has a greater effect on eumelanistic dogs (black-pigmented).
Fawn Harlequin Great Dane (Fawnequin)
Phaeomelanin is the predominant pigment on a fawn or sable Great Dane’s coat. Some fawn dogs may have a black mask covering the face and ears that the merle and harlequin gene affects on.
A fawnequin Great Dane has pink splotches on the nose and the skin beneath the coat. One or both of the eyes may also be blue. If a fawn dog has a melanistic mask (black facial mask), it will also be acted up to white and black/brown/blue.
White markings on a fawn harlequin body may be caused by the piebald gene which affects both eumelanin and pheomelanin pigment. Not all white markings are caused by the harlequin gene. A Great Dane can have both the piebald and merle X harlequin gene.
Merle Vs Harlequin Great Dane
Merle is a pattern of darker and lighter patches that are torn giving a Great Dane a marbled appearance. Meanwhile, harlequin is a coat pattern of the darker patches plus white where the lighter hairs would appear.
It is genetically impossible for a dog to be merle and harlequin at the same time. A merle Great Dane may appear harlequin due to white hairs on the coat but this is due to the white spotting or piebald gene. White spotting/mantle markings are more rounded compared to harlequin which are torn and jagged.
The white markings on a white spotting Dane are concentrated on;
- Tail tip
- Legs and particularly the inner and lower parts of the legs,
- Partial or entire necks
- Muzzle and face as a blaze (white stripe between the eyes)
- The marking may also creep into the saddle, regardless of the color or pattern
White can also be caused by the presence of 2 merle genes (double merle) which causes most of the coat to appear white.
A double merle Great Dane with white and merle marking is known as a merlequin or merlekin Great Dane.
What is a merlequin Dane?
A Merlequin Dane is a Great Dane that appears harlequin but with merle markings on a white background. However, on a Merlequin Dane, white markings are caused by the double merle or piebald gene but not the harlequin gene.
A merlekin or merlequin dog may still have regular merle markings on some parts of the coat.
Breeding Harlequin Great Danes
When breeding Harlequin Great Dane puppies only one parent should carry a copy of the harlequin gene. Harlequin does not have to be visible hence the need for genetic testing before breeding.
Two copies of harlequin (HH) are assumed to be embryonic lethal where a pup dies before birth (stillbirths). Breeding of two harlequins is thus discouraged as it is likely to result in smaller litters. A Harlequin Great Dane should also not be bred to a harlequin carrier where the harlequin pattern is not visible. What’s more, mating 2 harlequins does not guarantee harlequin puppies.
Your best bet is a 25% chance of harlequin puppies where only one parent is visibly harlequin and the other is not a carrier.
To get healthy puppies, you can breed a harlequin dog with a Dane of any color or pattern that is not merle and does not carry the harlequin gene. This could be a mantle to a harlequin, a brindle to a harlequin, and so on.
Avoid breeding merles to harlequins since some pups of the litter may inherit 2 merle genes (MM). Double merles are associated with an increased risk of pigment-related complications such as deafness.
Harlequin Great Dane price
Harlequin Great Danes are quite expensive due to the rarity of the coloration and breeding difficulties. As such, you should expect to pay upward of $1500 for a Harlequin Great Dane. The cost will depend on the breeder, your location, and the line of puppies.
Is a harlequin Great Dane rare?
Harlequin Great Danes are quite rare due to the gene combination required to get this coloration. Other variations such as the Blue or chocolate harlequin Great Danes are even harder to come by.
What breeds make a harlequin Great Dane?
A Harlequin Great Dane is a purebred dog and not a mixed or separate breed. Both merle and harlequin genes required to get the harlequin pattern are present in some purebred Danes.
Can you breed two harlequin Great Danes?
Two harlequin Great Danes should not be bred. Pups that inherit 2 copies of the harlequin gene die before birth reducing the litter size.
Breeding 2 harlequins is also not a guarantee for harlequin puppies.
Can a merle produce a Harlequin?
A Merle Dane can produce harlequin puppies when bred to a harlequin or harlequin carries. However, it is discouraged to breed merles to visible harlequin dogs as puppies that inherit 2 copies of the merle gene are at increased risk of pigment-related health complications.
Can you breed a harlequin with a mantle?
You can breed a harlequin to a mantle as long as the mantle Great Dane is not a carrier of the harlequin gene. Genetic testing is mandatory because a mantle can carry a harlequin gene and not show it on the coat, skin, or eyes.
Can you breed a brindle to a harlequin?
A harlequin can be bred to a brindle as long as the brindle is not a carrier of the harlequin gene. This is likely to produce some brindlequin pups depending on the interaction of the genes.
Can you breed a fawn with a harlequin Great Dane?
A harlequin can be bred to a fawn as long as the fawn Dane does not carry a harlequin gene. However, harlequin markings will only show on the face of a dog with a gene for the melanistic mask (Em). Other than that, one or both eyes on a fawn harlequin puppy may be blue with pink splotches on the nose, lips, eye rims, and skin leather.
What Colour is a Harlequin’s eyes?
The eye color of a harlequin Great Dane will depend on how the genes act on the pigment. One or both eyes may have blue speckles, one or both eyes may be half blue, and one or both eyes may be completely blue. It is also possible that none of the eyes will be blue as the actions of merle X harlequin gene combinations are random.
To Sum Up
Great Danes are often described as gentle gentle giants due to their imposing presence but gentle demeanor. They can weigh as much as 175 pounds and come in a variety of colors and color combinations.
Harlequin is one of the Great Dane’s patterns or color combinations that many find appealing. This pattern is quite rare and specific harlequin combinations are even less common.
However, the color will not effect on the dog’s temperament or behavior traits. As such, you should not base your buying decisions on color alone.
You should also be aware of some of the complications that can be caused by some of the colors including merle and harlequin.
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