What to Know About the Harlequin Great Dane

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on December 08, 2022
4 min read

The Great Dane is a beautiful dog that is known as the gentle giant of the dog world. Though Great Danes come in several recognized colors, none is more well-known and sought-after than the harlequin. Harlequins’ striking white fur with large contrasting black patches has made them the star of many movies and music videos, yet their intrigue is far more than skin deep.

Harlequin Great Danes are Great Danes with a special harlequin coloration, identified as white fur with large black patches. They are the most difficult color of Great Dane to breed. The harlequin gene does not pass directly from parent to pup, instead only coming about through a specific combination of color genes. 

To meet the American Kennel Club (AKC) standard, the Harlequin must have a base fur color of pure white with black or merle — a grayish shade — patches throughout. The dog’s neck must be wholly or partially white. Patches of black should not reach a diameter where they’re considered to be a blanket instead of patches. Black hairs may show throughout the white coat, but this is considered less desirable. 

Harlequins should have dark eyes, but blue or other colored eyes are also acceptable under the AKC standard. Noses should be black, but a black spotted nose is also permitted. Harlequins may also have light-colored nails.

Like all Great Danes, harlequin Great Dane females can grow to be 30 inches tall at the shoulder and males can reach up to 32 inches. Depending on their sex, they can weigh anywhere from 110 to 175 pounds. These dogs’ size makes them taller than most other dog breeds, and even taller than most humans when standing on their rear legs. However, despite their size, harlequin Great Danes have a very easygoing temperament.

Harlequins are highly sought-after due to their beauty and overall rarity. Because it’s hard to determine which litter will produce harlequin puppies, many breeders will perform genetic color testing on the potential parents before breeding.

Other Great Dane colors. Besides the Great Dane harlequin color, there are six other recognized Great Dane coat colors:

  • Black — With their rich, glossy black coloring, black Great Danes have a strikingly regal coat. 
  • Blue — Blue Great Danes often don’t receive enough attention despite their striking steel gray coloration.
  • Brindle — Brindle Great Danes exhibit a black face and ears with black stripes on a background of gold and brown.  
  • Fawn — Marmaduke and Scooby-Doo are two famous Great Danes with fawn coloring. Fawn Great Danes have yellow-gold coats along with black faces, eye rims, and eyebrows.
  • Mantle — Mantle Great Danes were only added to the list of acceptable show colors in the 1990s. Mantle, a black color marked with white trim on the nose, chest, tail, and legs is often a color produced when trying to breed Harlequins.
  • Merle — Merle Great Danes have a lighter coat color that usually consists of a gray or blue undercoat with darker gray and black patches all over.

Harlequin is the most difficult color to breed correctly and is unique to the Great Dane breed. Some may believe that breeding two harlequin-coated Great Danes would yield harlequin puppies, but that’s not the case. Even if you breed two harlequins together, it doesn’t guarantee that the litter of pups will be Harlequin like their parents. 

It's all about genes. To get the perfect Harlequin color, breeders must be able to combine a particular dominant gene with the merle gene. The normal blue color brought about by the merle gene is modified by the dominant gene to give Harlequins their distinct white base coat. Breeders need to be careful — having two copies of the dominant gene usually proves fatal to puppies before birth.

Harlequin Great Danes are still considered to be merles because they must have at least one copy of the merle gene. However, the dominant gene that produces harlequins dilutes the grayish merle pigment, giving the harlequin its distinct white base coat. 

Some Harlequins carry genes from other colors such as black and blue. As a result, even the most experienced breeders can have difficulty breeding the perfect litter of harlequin puppies. It can take years for a breeder to identify the ideal breeding pair. Until then, a lot of trial and error happens, and many normal litters of black, white, and merle Great Danes occur.

Harlequin Great Danes have a white background with patterns of dark patches throughout. These patches are typically black or dark gray but can also be diluted blue, brindle, or sable. Just like the genetic color tests breeders use to determine whether a breeding pair might produce harlequin puppies, there are genetic tests that can determine whether a dog is a true Harlequin.

Genetic color tests can cost $50 or more and typically take 15 business days to complete.

Unfortunately, larger breeds of dogs tend to have shorter lifespans. Since the Great Dane is one of the largest breeds of dog, the harlequin Great Dane’s lifespan is quite short — around 7 to 10 years.

Harlequin Great Danes are also more susceptible to certain diseases. Some common health issues include:

Bloat, where the dog’s stomach swells and twists, is considered to be the top cause of death for Great Danes. Not much is known about what causes bloat in Great Danes, but offering numerous small meals throughout the day and avoiding intense exercise after meals can help prevent it. 

To give your harlequin Great Dane the happiest life, be sure to provide it with proper care, including exercise, a healthy diet, love, and routine vet visits.