The Great Dane is a well-known easygoing giant breed that many around the world adore, but a variation of the breed that is particularly eye-catching is the merle Great Dane!
Great Danes of this pattern can come in many different colors and all look unique from one another.
The merle pattern can provide an absolutely beautiful coat to an already well-built and stunning breed.
In this article, we will be taking a detailed look at what the merle pattern means for Great Danes, covering everything from genetics to coat-related health issues.
So let’s get started!
What Are the Genetics of the Merle Great Dane?
To gain an understanding of how the merle pattern appears within Great Danes, we will have to take a dive into the basic genetics behind it.
Having this knowledge can help you further understand the risk factors for health issues related to the pattern, which we will discuss later in the article.
The color and pattern of any dog’s coat is down to their genes.
There can be multiple genes at work, controlling facets such as overall color, dilution/silvering of that base color, and patterning.
As we will be focusing on just the merle pattern, we only really need to worry about the patterning genes!
Genes often have two or more alleles, or versions.
They can be thought of like a blueprint, containing instructions on what to do.
When a puppy is born, for every gene in its body, it receives a single allele from each parent, giving them a total of two copies for each gene.
However, these two alleles could contain conflicting instructions.
For example, the merle gene has two possible alleles.
One tells the coat of the Great Dane to create the merle patterning.
The other tells the coat to not create a merle pattern.
So which one would be listened to?
Well, that comes down to some basic mechanics!
Dominant or Recessive
Alleles can be dominant or recessive.
A dominant allele will always beat out a recessive one and become the allele that is expressed within the dog.
Thus, for a recessive allele to be expressed, there must be no dominant allele present.
In the case of the merle gene, the allele that creates the merle patterning is dominant, while the allele that blocks it is recessive.
Due to this, a puppy needs to only receive one of the dominant merle alleles from their parents to express a merle pattern in their coat.
It’s important to note that there can be multiple genes at play when it comes to the overall pattern in a Great Dane.
For example, it’s possible to have a combination of the brindle and merle patterns.
Still with me?
It can seem complex at first, but once you have an understanding of the basics, you will be able to hold a conversation with a breeder about the potential coats in their litters.
As mentioned earlier, this knowledge will make it easier to understand the potential merle health risks too.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to look at the dog itself!
Merle Great Dane Appearance
As mentioned earlier, the merle pattern can appear on many different Great Dane coat colors.
It’s also possible for some patterns to combine, such as mantle and merle, or brindle and merle.
This leads to many different possibilities in the coat of a merle Dane.
Take a look below to see some of the common variations!
Solid Merle Great Dane
This usually refers to Great Danes who are light/dark gray, with mottled patches of black throughout the coat.
Merle Mantle Great Dane
This is similar to the one above, however it is mixed with the mantle pattern.
Mantle adds some white areas of the coat, primarily on the chest, legs, and muzzle.
Blue Merle Great Dane
This is the merle pattern on a diluted blue coat.
Blue Merle Mantle Great Dane
Combination of the three we have just described!
Brindle Merle Great Dane
Combination of the merle and brindle pattern.
Great Danes of this variation will be yellow gold with black stripes and merle patches.
Brindle Merle Mantle Great Dane
Combination of all three of these patterns.
White areas, stripes, and merle patches.
Blue Brindle Merle Great Dane
Yellow gold coat with blue stripes and merle patches.
Blue Brindle Merle Mantle Great Dane
Same as the above but with mantle white patches.
Fawn Merle Great Dane
Solid yellow gold coat with merle patches.
Fawn Mantle Merle Great Dane
Same as above but with white mantle patterning.
Blue Fawn Merle Great Dane
Same as the Fawn Merle but with much lighter merle patches.
Blue Fawn Mantle Merle Great Dane
Combination of these patterns and colors.
The AKC also lists other standard colors, so you may find blue merle Danes, silver merle Great Danes, and chocolate merle Great Danes.
There also exists a rather special case; the harlequin merle Great Dane.
Harlequin refers to a gene that acts as a modifier to the merle gene.
If both are active, it results in a white Great Dane with black spots and merle patches.
It’s possible for two harlequin dogs to be bred together, creating a variation of the breed that is dubbed the merlequin Great Dane.
These dogs will be almost fully white with small black markings.
It is not recommended to breed merlequins however, as they will be at very high risk of coat-related health problems.
Regardless of which merle Great Dane you choose, there will be no physical differences from a non-merle Great Dane.
The only difference will be the pattern of the coat!
Merle Great Dane Temperament
First, we must make clear that there is no marked difference in the temperaments of merle Great Danes and non-merle Great Danes.
However, you may still hear people make the claim that merle Great Danes have a unique temperament compared with other members of the breed.
There is no scientific evidence that this is the case.
Therefore, it’s likely that these claims stem from superstition.
We would not recommend purchasing merle Great Dane puppies on the belief that they will have a unique temperament, as it simply isn’t true.
We would also advise that you be careful of any breeders who state these claims.
At best, they are simply misinformed.
This is still not a great sign, as a breeder should be an expert on the dogs they are producing.
At worst, they may be lying to just get more interest in their merle Dane puppies, or even to try and charge more for them.
Therefore, we would recommend avoiding such breeders.
Instead, expect the general temperament known for the breed: easygoing, loyal, and friendly.
Be aware that any given dog’s temperament is subject to many different factors, including their upbringing and how much they have been trained and socialized.
It is key to properly fulfill their training needs at a young age to have the best chance of a positive temperament.
Merle Great Dane Health
As mentioned earlier within the article, merle Great Danes may be subject to health issues related to the merle pattern, which you must be aware of.
Deafness can be prevalent within merle-patterned dogs, due to the fact that some merle patterns result in areas of white.
This can be seen with harlequin and merlequin Great Danes.
The white areas are caused by a complete lack of pigment.
This is linked to deafness.
The merle pattern may also lead to ocular problems such as microphthalmia, in which the dog is born with unusually small eyes.
In severe cases, this may lead to being born blind.
While many merle dogs do not have these health issues, it can still be a concern.
The risk increases significantly if a merle dog is bred with another merle dog, as it can result in puppies inheriting two of the dominant merle genes.
This causes the merle pattern to be much stronger, leading to significantly more white patches and a higher risk of ocular problems.
This goes for merlequin Great Danes too, as they will also be double merles.
We would heavily suggest avoiding any Great Danes who show signs of a double merle coat.
Excessive white in the coats or ocular problems are usually good signs.
A good breeder will avoid breeding double merle Great Danes in the first place and should be able to prove that none of their puppies are double merle.
Great Dane Health Issues
On top of the health issues that come with the merle pattern, merle Great Danes are still prone to certain health conditions that are prevalent across the entire breed.
- cherry eye
- dilated cardiomyopathy
- hip dysplasia
As with all breeds, it is important to pick a breeder with a discerning eye.
They should be cautious and knowledgeable about breeding merle Great Danes.
You want to look for a good and reputable breeder for the best chance of receiving a healthy puppy.
Recognition from breeding societies and positive feedback from previous customers can be good signs that a breeder can be trusted.
It’s also important to note that the merle Great Dane is not any healthier than non-merle Great Danes.
In fact, due to the extra health risks, an argument could be made for the reverse.
Do not trust any breeder who states that merle Great Danes are the healthiest members of the breed.
The Merle Great Dane: Stunning and Regal Dogs!
That’s all you need to know about this popular variation of a lovely giant breed!
Remember that the merle Great Dane does not possess any unique physical characteristics, temperament, or greater health than other members of the breed.
They are still Great Danes, just with a stunning coat! You might also want to check out harlequin Great Danes!
Have you ever owned a merle Great Dane?
Do you have anything to say to a person who may be looking at this breed variation?
Let us know below! And make sure you also check out our guide to the best Great Dane names!
References and Resources
American Kennel Club
Strain, GM, Canine Deafness Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 2012
Strain, GM, Deafness prevalence and pigmentation and gender associations in dog breeds at risk The Veterinary Journal, 2004
Schmutz, SM, Genetics of Coat Color and Type in Dogs
Dea, CO, The Prevalence of Ocular and Auditory Problems in Homozygous Merle Dogs Szent István University, 2014
Gough, A, et al, Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats John Wiley & Sons, 2018
Wood, JLN, et al, Relationship of the degree of goniodysgensis and other ocular measurements to glaucoma in Great Danes American Journal of Veterinary Research, 2001
Mazzucchelli, S, et al, Retrospective study of 155 cases of prolapse of the nictitating membrane gland in dogs The Veterinary Record, 2012
Meurs, KM, et al, Clinical features of dilated cardiomyopathy in Great Danes and results of a pedigree analysis: 17 cases (1990-2000) Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2001
Nesbitt, GH, et al, Canine hypothyroidism: a retrospective study of 108 cases Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1980
Martin, SW, et al, Canine Hip Dysplasia: Breed Effects The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 1980
Phillips, DE, et al, Hypothyroidism and Myocardial Failure in Two Great Danes Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 2003