Princeton and his Harlequin and Merle littermates (courtesy of Shabrea Great Danes)
I wondered how my Great Dane puppy Princeton got his beautiful markings, so I did some research on the genetics of breeding Harlequin Great Danes.
Both of Princeton’s parents are Harlequin (white with black patches), but Princeton and two of this littermates are Merle (grey with black patches). Princeton is also Mantle because he has a white face, neck, chest, belly, legs and tail tip.
Princeton’s breeder said she did not intend for his parents to mate because they are both lightly marked Harlequins, so some of their puppies were likely to be deaf. But love found a way and Lilly and Retro got together anyway. Fortunately all of their puppies were born hearing. In a litter of nine, there were six Harlequins and three Merles. (Seven boys and two girls.)
I was curious about why a breeding of two Harlequins created some Merle puppies, mine included. I discovered that Harlequins come from a combination of two different genes, Merle (spotting) and Harl (removing the grey background). Therefore Merles are a necessary part of Harlequin breeding.
Merles are considered “mismarks” and “pet-quality.” The American Kennel Club does not allow Merles to show or breed in an effort to prevent genetic defects.
Our previous dog was a Harlequin who was adored by strangers. I thought that maybe our new Merle might not get as much adoration from the public because of his “mismark” coloring. Boy, was I wrong! People are fascinated by Princeton’s markings, and he gets tons of compliments on his striking mix of grey, black and white.
For those who are interested in all the complexities of Harlequin Great Dane genetics and coat color, here are two excellent articles:
The Harlequin Family of Dogs: Harls, Merles, Blacks, Whites and More
Inheritance of Great Dane Coat Color by Jane Chopson