What Is a Merle Dog?
I met a beautiful blue merle dog, a Great Dane this weekend, Harper. He’s everything a Great Dane should be – soft mouth, a leaner, huge, laid back.
What is a merle dog? What have you heard about merles? I’ve heard that merles are prone to insanity. Is it true? Here’s what Wikipedia says about the merle:
Merle is a pattern in a dog‘s coat, though is commonly incorrectly referred to as a colour. The merle gene creates mottled patches of color in a solid or piebald coat, blue or odd-colored eyes, and can affect skin pigment as well. Health issues are more typical and more severe when two merles are bred together, so it is recommended that a merle be bred to a dog with a solid coat color only.
In the Great Dane, the merle gene is known as Harlequin. The merle coloration is beautiful, making it desirable for dog owners. But what happens when a breeder gets carried away and breeds two merles? Here’s what Lethal Whites has to say:
Double Merle pups are born when both of the parents are merle. It doesn’t matter what color merle, how much merle the parents have, how little (or how much) white trim, what breed they are, or even that the parents are the same breed. Statistically, 25% of the pups from two merle parents will be Double Merles.
Possible Health Issues
They go on to say that often the double merles will be deaf and/or have vision issues. And that these are really the only two issues with double merles, all other health issues being attributed to poor breeding practices, at least with the Australian Shepherds, where the merle gene is most common and desirable. It would probably help, at this point, if I show you another merle for reference:
As you can see with both of these dogs, their noses are lighter in color (you can’t see their lightened paw pads), a mark of a merle dog. It’s not just the coat which is discolored. I found a great blog post, chock full of photo illustrations of merles of various breeds. The author is a biologist and I think you’ll find it fascinating. And here’s an interesting post on the breeding of Harlequin Great Danes.
So in searching, I’m finding that the crazy merle dog is probably a myth. But that merles are more prone to health issues, and that breeding two merles, while sometimes achieving stunning visual results, is highly undesirable. The health issues definitely aren’t worth that kind of breeding.
If You Really Want a Merle Dog …
If you’re procuring a mottled pup and believe it’s a merle, or especially a double merle, ask to see the pedigree. Ask to see both parents. At least photos of the one not on the premises. Talk to the pup, make sure it’s not deaf. Blind and deaf are common with the double merle. Do some research on the dog family, as well as the merle genetics. It’s a dominant gene.
So! That was a little depressing. My apologies. But better to know and be armed than not to know. One more photo of handsome, healthy Harper.
Until I write again …