Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mismark Case Study: Great Dane

In continuing with my musings on mismarks, here is a case study of the great Dane. 

Great Danes is five of the six recognized coat colors: harlequin, black, brindle, blue, and fawn (mantle not depicted).
The great Dane is a bit curious to me when it comes to its color standards. There are only six recognized colors, but breeding within the gene pool caused by these colors can lead to not six color possibilities, but numerous more mismarks. Here is the full list of possible mismarks when only including the genes that make up the accepted colors:

This great Dane is a fawn mantle mismark
- Blue fawn
- Fawn mantle
- Brindle mantle
- Blue mantle
- Blue fawn mantle
- Blue brindle
- Blue brindle mantle
- Merle
- Merle mantle ("merlequin")
- Fawn merle
- Fawn merle mantle
- Brindle merle
- Brindle merle mantle
- Blue (dilute) merle
- Blue (dilute) merle mantle
- Blue (dilute) fawn merle mantle
- Blue (dilute) brindle merle mantle
- Blue (dilute) harlequin
- Fawnequin (fawn harlequin)
- Brindlequin (brindle harlequin)
- Double merle
- White (double merle harlequin)
- Harlequin (when the nose has too much pink)

And that's not including other mismarks seen in the breed, such as liver and piebald. To me, this is downright ridiculous. One of the major issues caused by there being so many color combinations is that is has lead to the breeding of color classes within the breed. The classes were created in an attempt to avoid possible mismarks, but the practice has only succeeded in isolating the different classes from one another. As such, it has narrowed the potential for genetic diversity within each color class. But, it also means that not only are breeders not supposed to breed, say, a fawn to a blue, but they could actually get kicked out of their parent club for doing so. To me, the standard is much too restrictive since isolating the different colors negatively affects the breed as a whole.

This great Dane is a white mismark
This great Dane is a merle mantle mismark
One of the biggest issues to me when it comes to the great Dane standard is the breeding of harlequins. Harlequin is caused by two genes: merle (M) and the harlequin modifier (H). Harlequin is lethal in the homozygous form, and as such, it never breeds true. So, mismarks aren't just possible, they're basically guaranteed. Also, it only affects the gray in a merle dog, so if the breeding produces black puppies without the dominant merle gene, even if they have the harlequin gene it will not show. Notice also that harlequin-harlequin matings are not only accepted in the color classes, but possibly even encouraged! I take great offense to this since, as I already mentioned, harlequins have a copy of the merle gene. Breeding two merles together leads to a 25% chance of producing a double merle. Double merles are very bad due to the fact that they have an extremely high chance of being deaf, blind, or both, among other things. It is not fair to the puppies to purposefully produce ones that are blind or deaf. And no, I do not approve of euthanizing them at birth because a smart breeder wouldn't have produced them in the first place.

This great Dane is a fawnequin mismark
This great Dane is a merle mismark
The sheer number of  mismarks possible from the presence of the harlequin dogs in the breed population in the first place is amazing. Sixteen different mismark combinations are possible thanks to the merle and harlequin genes, as opposed to only seven caused by the other genes alone.

As I've said before, I think the standard is far too restrictive. Is it really that bad if a dog is patched and fawn instead of patched and black? Or if a dog is brindle with blue stripes instead of brindle with black stripes? And why is it acceptable to breed two harlequins together and produce blind puppies, when it's not okay to breed a fawn to a blue and produce puppies with perfectly normal vision? It really is beyond me how anyone can think the great Dane breed standard makes any sense.


  1. It's pathetic, is what it is! That "fawnequin" is gorgeous! Mismark schmishmark.

  2. Welcome to the Church of the Purebred Dog.


  3. It's not bad at all. Why anyone would value a particular dog colour over another escapes me.

    I really like this part of your blog. Please carry on with it.

  4. I agree. Rejecting a dog just because it's not the "right" color is absurd.

    I once saw a merle Dane that was the spitting image of what I think of when I hear the words "great Dane." But, since she was merle she could never ever be a show dog and would be kicked out of breeding programs just because of her color. So, it's still okay to breed harlequin to harlequin and produce deaf puppies, but not merle to black and produce all hearing puppies? Absurd.

  5. I run a group on facebook called ACGD alternative color great danes and i would love to have your opinions and questions on our page if youd be interested. i know general breeding genetics as i have been raised in the breeding AKC standard but we are SO interested in a pro's opinion and maybe you could help others understand too

    thank you
    Deemer Danes

  6. ACGD is a great group Deemer Danes (This is Goliath)

  7. Not many reputable breeders do harl X harl breedings. Most do harl X mantle or black. The problem with throwing any dog together with another is that one, chances are these two dogs were never health tested, and two, you can't show mismarked colors and therefore verify that the Dane conforms to the standards set forth in the standard. Too many BYB bred Danes don't even look like Danes. I'm not just referring to their coloring. I love some of the mismarks, but I'm not going to jeopardize health and conformation to do it.

  8. Doesn't anyone get that all dogs were a result of "throwing" two dogs together? We as humans have screwed it up by continuously breeding faults into them. It would be like you and your cousins constantly producing children........Get it?

  9. Hello Stephanie,

    Thanks for helping me identify the correct color of my 13 month old Great Dane. She is bred from Harlequin, although I don't know the coloring of the father.

    We go to the dog park most every day and many have asked me "What Color is That" to which I would reply I don't know. Now I can respond with Blue Merle.

    Really sweet dog and one that my wife has wanted for some time.

    Enjoy your career as a biologist and best of luck.

    Here's link to my blog and story about Lexi

  10. I run into the same problem with my dachshunds. I have some amazing colours like piebald and Dapple's but my colours cannot be shown and are not excepted by show breeders. Just like the great Dane it is totally ridiculous it should have more to do with confirmation and temperament not just the color. Giving every breeder a chance to show their dog instead of the ones that only like a certain colour .

  11. I think the main reason show breeders do not want all of the other colours is because they do not want the competition because we would kick their butts LOL

  12. I breed great Danes and only breed from colour and health tested Danes, we breed from merles to solid black and to mantles and our dogs have outstanding temperaments and conformation, they cannot be shown though because of they're colour which is stupid,then you have the breeders and showers who breed harl tpo harl and pass them off as lightly marked harls…….. spot to spot breeding should be banned completely...….