What is a Merle Dog?

What is a Merle Dog?

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.

Is it a good bone?
Harper, the merle Great Dane, investigating an L Bone from Jones Natural Chews.

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.[1] 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:

Aussie pup meme
Rowdy, an adorable Australian Shepherd pup, is a red or liver merle dog.

And another:

Crazy Merle Dog
I love this one, especially, for the crazy eyes – met it at a local pancake breakfast to support the dog park.

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.

A happy blue merle Dane
This merle is healthy and happy, gnawing on her L Bone from Jones.

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.

Stunning blue merle Dane
Harper asks, “Is this my bone?” Yes, Harper. Yes, it is.

Spreading the good chews …


10 thoughts on “What is a Merle Dog?

  1. Barkly’s sire was merle. Barkly ended up tri-color like his dam though. There was a “cryptic” merle in the litter too. Some people call those cryptic ones “phantoms.”

  2. Gosh, I didn’t know merle’s had those problems. I think merles are SO gorgeous. There was a merle doxie at the shelter where I volunteer once. Such a SWEETIE! I wanted that dog so bad, but I knew our princess beagle that we had at the time would not stand for it! I still think fondly of that pup… hope she’s happy wherever she ended up!
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: A Chew Review with Words FewMy Profile

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