Harlequin Great Dane – Everything you Need to Know

What is a Harlequin Great Dane?

Harlequin is a unique patterning that is only officially recognised in a Great Dane. The look itself is most comparable to that seen in a dalmation. It is a combination of the Merle genetics which are seen in a large number of breeds with the Harlequin gene. Due to health issues around the Merle/Harlequin genes it is rare to see this combination and a number of breeders look to avoid breeding these dogs.

The Merle gene required is a Dominant gene. This means that only one copy is required for the effect to be present and it displays itself as small patches of dark fur across the Great Dane. This effect is often described as Marbling due to the smaller patches and random placement. Whilst only one Merle gene is required for the effect to appear it is important that they are never bred for two Merle genes. When a dog has two copies of the Merle gene it is referred to as a Double Merle and comes with significant health issues. You should expect such a dog to have a short life, almost certainly be deaf along with eye issues and immune issues. This is why breeders will never breed two Merle dogs together. All Harlequin dogs will also be Merle dogs which needs to be remembered. If you’re unsure what genes your dog carries we would highly recommend carrying out a DNA test.

The Harlequin gene effectively works as an enhancer on the Merle gene. It takes the Merle patterning and enlarges the markings. Similar to the Merle genetics only one copy of the Harlequin gene is required for this to modify the Merle effect.

Harlequin Great Dane Health Issues

Unfortunately there are a number of health issues linked to the Harlequin gene. It appears that these are often similar to the effects that can appear in Merle but with enhanced effects. The majority of Harlequin dogs can and will have long lives but it is important to look out for the below issues which can appear.

  • Deafness – There is an increased risk of deafness or hearing issues compared to a regular Frenchie
  • Blindness – Dilation of the pupils can be an issue which can lead to night blindness and in some cases complete blindness.
  • Further Eye Issues – There is also a risk of eyes being off centre, additional eyelids, missing tissue or in some cases being born without eyes.
  • Immune Deficiency – A high risk of a having a weakened immune system.

In the circumstance that a dog has two copies of the Harlequin gene then unfortunately these dogs are unlikely to make it past the embryotic stage. This shows the severity of breeding two Harlequin dogs and this should never happen.

Blue Harlequin Great Dane

The Blue Harlequin Grate Dane requires an extra set of color genetics to produce. This involves the recessive dilution gene which is more commonly referred to as the Blue gene. This requires both parents to pass on the gene to any puppies produced and any Great Dane that doesn’t carry the gene cannot produce a Blue puppy.

When combining the Blue base coat with the Harlequin markings it creates a truly unique look. The Blue base coat which can also be referred to as grey is dominant across the majority of the dog. This then has the Dalmatian style black spots across the body intertwining the Blue and Black colors.

Due to this requiring three separate sets of genetics to produce these dogs will often come with a higher price tag attached. Despite Merle and Harlequin both being dominant traits they are not as actively bred for as other patterns. This is due to the large health risks attached to combining two copies of these genes. When adding in the recessive Blue color this makes it a much rarer dog. Due to it’s look being unique across a number of breeds there is often high demand for this type of dog.

What’s the difference between Merle and Harlequin?

Whilst there are similarities in the health issues related to the Merle and Harlequin gene there are differences as well. They are often grouped together due to the Harlequin gene only being visible if Merle is also present.

Merle displays itself as a pattern which is often compared to a marbling effect. It is very similar to that of the Harlequin look but it does display itself in slightly bigger patches which are more solid in color.

There is also a further difference in that whilst Merle will always display it’s pattern Harlequin won’t. Without the Merle effect being present the Harlequin gene will not display itself. Therefore you could quite easily have a Great Dane which is a Harlequin but will just have the regular base coat coloring.

Great Dane Health Issues

Great Danes like most dogs can suffer a range of health issues with many related to their large size. Below we outline some of the more common afflictions.

Hip Dysplasia 

This leads to a reduced range of movement in the hind legs along with a reluctance in jumping, running and climbing stairs. Ensuring they stay at a healthy weight and are fed a high quality diet will help delay the onset.

Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV)

This is largely associated with eating large meals rather than several smaller meals. Studies have shown that dogs which are fed one large meal a day are more likely to be afflicted. In addition it has been observed that foods high in oils such as sunflower or animal fat can be a contributing factor. Whilst this illness can be life threatening in the worst of cases there are additional ways to reduce the risk. Elevated feeding is recommended as a way to reduce this pressure in addition to several meals a day.


Great Danes can be prone to allergies like most other dog breeds. This will usually display in red/raw patches often around their paws. Also it can show through watery eyes, ear infections or sneezing. If you suspect allergy issues it is best to discuss with a vet around possible treatments.

Heart Disease 

Great Danes can be prone to Heart disease, the best way to reduce this risk is through breeding. It is important to find out the medical history of any puppies parents as this will be the best indicator of risk.

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