NOTE THE INCLUSION OF THIS ARTICLE AT INDIVIDUAL BREEDER WEBSITES IS UNAUTHORIZED & THE DISCUSSION OF COLOR & MARKINGS BELOW NO WAY SUGGESTS A SUPPORT OF INDIVIDUAL BREEDER PRACTICES OUTSIDE OF BREED TRADITION.. ALL THOSE WISHING TO PURCHASE A GREAT DANE IN THE USA SHOULD BEGIN BY VISITING THE GREAT DANE CLUB OF AMERICA'S WEBSITE.
**NOTE: The articles in the section on "Great Dane SPECIFIC Coat Color Information" are intended specifically as a practical aid to those breeding & exhibiting Great Danes. They may not always be relevant to other breeds & the information is deliberately not technically minded.
THE PIEBALD DANE: Pinto, Parti-colored, Check: the Colour-Headed or White-factored Dane. (Der Plattenhund).
TO See the latest on coat color research in dogs, to include new info on piebaldism, CLICK HERE
THE EXISTENCE OF PIEBALD IS NO LONGER IN QUESTION AND A COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE GENETIC TEST IS OFFERED FOR PIEBALD. SEE THE ARTICLE LINKED ABOVE FOR DETAILS OF THE S LOCUS AS DETERMINED AT THE GENETIC LEVEL.
READ THE UPDATED ARTICLE (2010) ON MANTLE GENETICS FOR INFORMATION ON HOW THESE TWO PHENOTYPES INTERACT.
There is quite a bit of confusion about the piebald* dane. There are problems that result from breed-specific & even idiosyncratic terminology, and there are problems of identificaion as well. Piebald, as a phenotype, is a common & well recognised coat pattern seen in many breeds (if not all that familar to those only involved in Danes). Piebalds are are called pinto, parti-colored & colored-headed whites. Piebalds are dogs at least 50% white (& typically much more, 80-90% being common) where there is a white base coat with a few, large round-to-oval areas of color. Typically color on the head & at the root of the tail is the last to be lost. The piebald gene is referred to by geneticists as "excessive white" for this reason & is associated with assymentry and irregularity of markings. Note piebalds are not necessarily black and white dogs: the pigment they have can be any color (e.g. blue, fawn) _&_ the piebald gene can combine with the merle & harl genes to produce what Harlequin Dane breeders have referred to as merle-heads & harl-heads. So you can have a piebald merle and a piebald harlequin. A "straight" piebald (one in phenoytpe as well as genotype) used to be called a boston-head & if you only looked at the head, the dog would seem to be a Mantle, but looking at the body, the dog has a few area with large black spots, which the Germans referred to as "plates of color," hence the German name for this phenomenon: Plattenhund.
For breeders, of first import is to be clear that the piebald dane is a disqualifying mismark that should be identified as such and typically then sold on limited registration as a non-breeding, pet-only Dane. All of the various iterations of the traditional black & white piebald in the Great Dane are genetically undermarked Mantledanes; they are not acceptable Mantledanes nor are they some kind of Harlequin. Mantledanes must have a complete blanket, not body spots. Harlequins must have the distinctive, irregular torn patches which distinguish them from parti-colored dogs, also called pintos, piebalds, etc. Black and white parti-colored or piebalds (pintos) Danes *are* sometimes bred (knowingly or unknowingly), and even shown as Harlequins. What's wrong with that, you say? Alot.
Firstly, the dog has simply been misidentified if called a Harlequin, & so has been misregistered. If that alone doesn't matter to you, then this next point certainly should: traditional piebalds are mismarked Mantles who do not carry & cannot produce Harlequins or Mantles on their own. This mis-identification therefore has great genetic consequences to the already confined & confused harl family gene pool. Piebald danes increase the percentage of mismarks & piebald carriers in every breeding in which they are used, and this decreases the number of correctly marked Danes in the gene pool, particularly down through the generations, and also results in the spread of this undesirable gene. Piebalds can also can increase the percentage of deaf puppies in Harlequin litters. Clearly any responsible breeder would be doing all they could to minimize the incidence of both in their litters & their bloodline. (See Cattanach/Strain. which docments all forms of piebald can and do produce both partial & complete deafness; see also "White" Danes". We also have dogs registered as "harls," "whites," "white & black," "merlikins" & even "mantle" who are genetic piebalds. All this adds to the confusion & potentially damages the gene pool. And thanks to the recessive nature of the piebald spotting allele, these piebald Danes go unrecognised & continue to be bred by folks unaware of the far-reaching consequences, and so it looks like the piebald is here to stay, and may well be increasing in frequency. There is also a growing trend of breeding piebald carriers, either Mantles with broken blankets or lightly marked Harlequins, for example, because these flashier markings are pleasing to the human eye & acceptable (if not preferred) under various breed standards.
Why is that so & exactly why is that a problem? The piebald gene is gaining frequency in our gene pool because: 1) Harlequin breeder, owners & judges often tend to favor a very lightly marked harlequin, thus unintentionally selecting for the underlying genetics of piebald, 2) far too many breeders of Harlequins use multiple mismarks on a routine basis (without testing them) in their breeding programs, thus muddying the waters perpetually, so that, 3) we currently do not have commercially viable tests for both the piebald & irish genes, which means we often are unable to ascertain which genotype individual Mantles have, which is our only point of control, given that, 4) it is practically impossible to discerne how much white on a harl came from recessive spotting (e.g. piebald) genes & how much from merle-harl dominant white gene variation. Piebald is also a problem as many do not recognise this genetic pattern occurs in merles & harlequins too. Broadly referred to as "color-headed whites" in other breeds (with carriers called "white factored"), piebalds, as a genetic phenomenon includ merle-head and harl-head ("lite marked harl") puppies as well as the classic Pointer markings which is strictly a piebald as to phenotype. All however are genetic piebalds & so will breed like piebalds, not like normal merles & harlequins. And a piebald with the harlequin markings on the head is no more a "Harlequin" than a piebald is a Mantle: the "harl head" in fact shares more genes in common with the piebald pup than a normal harlequin, especially when considering the harl-headed piebald from a breeding standpoint. Anymore you can see two beautifully show-marked and even Champion parents producing litters where most of the puppies are mismarks (disqualified under the standard), as the piebald gene takes away 50% of the potential show marks in even these litters from parents with exceptional (and completely correct) color.
So it is a problem because having so many piebalds in the gene pool is robbing us all of show marks at the very least. Piebald is a simple Mendelian recessive. Breed two piebald carriers (white factored dogs) and one-in-four resulting puppies statisticaly will be some form of piebald (color-headed white), be it "pied," "harl head/lite-marked harl" or merle-head/merlikin. (This does not mean that you will ALWAYS see a piebald puppy result from two piebald carrying parents. It also doesn't mean that, by looking, it's always clear whether some of the lighter harlequins & even broken blanketed mantels are actually genetic piebalds). More importantly most of the normal marked dogs will actually be piebald carriers. (To read more about Mantles & their variations, their genetics, click here) This means the breeder is only "a step away" from having two carriers meet & thereby end up producing piebalds. And that step for each of us gets smaller the more piebalds in the gene pool.
Loss of show color via the production of piebalds isn't the only problem of color piebald produces. In contrast to the steady, reliable pattern of white markings the Irish gene produces, often heavily marked mismarks also are born to litters involvingh piebalds/piebald carrier parents. So looking at the show marks, had the parent(s) no been piebald carrier(s), the breeder in question would have seen more show marks: the loss is first the 25% to outright piebald, then the heterozygotes too lightly or two heavily marked to be shown/preferred. And although too often suggested, breeding piebalds to to heavily marked dogs to get show marks is breeding a fault to a fault & not recommended. This is "robbing Peter to pay Paul": the show marks made from this will just make more piebalds--so the breeder is mortgaging their future (& that of their buyers) to get show marks now. (That is, the practice of breeding mismarked blacks to piebalds to get Mantles, or msimarked blacks to "lite marked harls" to get show marks, means that the resulting show marked offspring will produce the same problems of color found in the original parents. You are back where you started, no progress made. Not understanding this means often breeders feel color is uncontrollable where it is not. THE POINT HERE isn't to point fingers or throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, but to simply extend an appreciation of the laws of nature & genetics functionin here, to recognize this, restrict the use of such animals judiciously, and ideally help increase the irish gene, reduce the number of Danes carrying piebald. Practically that means avoiding ideally using piebalds and avoid breeding carriers to each other whenever possible, so as to move away from a gene that detracts from fully achieving the breed standard & help bring the breed's gene pool back to the main genes that produce the most correct markings in the Harlequin family over time.
Still unconvinced breeding outright piebalds brings mostly bad news? Here's a simple example of why this IS a problem for the breeder & the breed, using a piebald bitch as an example. She carries two doses of what is called excessive white or piebald (that makes her a piebald (mmss)). She is bred to a correctly marked Harlequin male. She produces from him 2 correctly marked harls, 2 correctly marked mantles, 2 boston-marked merles, a piebald like herself, and a "merlikin" (who is actually a merle piebald). Not a bad litter you say? Four show-marked pups to start with, for a harl litter, is really good. Here's the problem: *ALL* four of those pups are now white-factored. They may be show-marked, but they are carriers of white-factoring, and this has gone unrecorded. So they are sold and bred. Let's say they are all bred to other correctly marked, white-factored danes like themselves.
Now what happens? You lose show prospects each time you breed them & keep spreading white-factoring through the gene pool. White-factored to white-factored means 25% of the resulting pups will lack body color, & 2 of 3 correctly marked dogs will be "carriers" like themselves. And so on...and so on...and the genes for piebald are spread. Dogs are sold and bred, & people buy and then breed these piebald carriers unknowingly. Eventually one of these piebald carriers meets up with another piebald like the original bitch, or one of those nearly white harlequins who carries two doses of white-factoring, & then the resulting litter is mostly lacking in body color (i.e. is largely undermarked dogs), including some deaf pups, and, since they are all mostly white, the breeder cannot, by looking, sort out from looks what's what (i.e merlikins & harlequins, whites & piebalds all get mixed up). Even worse two "harls" meet, both are lightly marked, and are actually piebald harls, not true genetic harls. Then the whole litter is predominately white & you have no real show marks at all to show for it, plus a bunch of potentially deaf & blind pups. kay, you say, fine--I'll breed my piebald bitch to a Mantle--I _know_no deaf whites can come from that & I'll at least get mantles. Wrong. You _can_ get piebald & deaf pups if the Mantle you choose is white-factored (does he have splashy color, a break in the blanket?), and even if you do get well-marked Mantles they will *ALL* be white factored, so will be carriers of this same problem again.
These may be worse case scenarios, but here's a more typical one happening routinely now in the Harlequin gene pool (& a problem worldwide). Two nicely marked Danes are bred, maybe two Champions even. Maybe this is two Harlequins, or a Harlequin to a Mantle, or even two Mantles. Both dogs have beautiful markings and the hope is for a litter with the same. Instead mismarks predominate in the litter. There are mismarked blacks/mismarked mantles (with two little white to be correctly show marked at least for the USA). There are weirdly marked/heavily marked Harlequins and Mantles they would have to be near perfection to be showable. There are borderline Mantles & Harlequins also with too FEW markings--just a fews spots on the Harlequin, a very much "eaten up" & broken blanket on the Mantle, maybe such a wide blaze the head looks odd at various angles, or such assymetrical markings (like half a collar, or half a mask) that the dog is dubious for the ring. Compared to the predictable consistency of markings the Irish gene produces, piebald is a wild card--the joker in the pack. So it's important to track the piebald gene & promote the Irish gene to protect our Harlequin/Mantle gene pool.
There is just no way to get around it: breeding mismarks makes more mismarks & piebald is no exception. Sure, *you* can "get away with it" for a generation or two, but someone, somewhere, down the line will have the pay the price. The _breed_ pays the price. So, please! mark all pedigrees acturately: don't mis-register whites (MM) as harls (Mm), or piebalds (mm) as harls (Mm), & don't use piebalds (mmss) & lite-marked" (Mmss) piebald harls in your breeding program unknowingly.+ Confine the use of mismarks in a breeding program to circumstances of extreme duress & make them the exception, not the rule is the careful breeder's rule of thumb. And the same breeder tracks unwanted recessive genes, honestly knows & honestly says where they are and/or might be. Truly "Color Ethical" breeders don't play fast & loose with pedigrees, misidentify bloodstock, nor sell off mismarks routinely as breeding stock. There are far worse "sins" in the world of Harlequins than having a "fawn in the woodpile" & not dealing appropriately with the piebald gene is certainly one of them.
And to illustrate the issue here in concrete terms, below are two Mantle Danes, the first one a "pseudo-Irish" hybrid carrying the piebald (MITF SINE) allele, the second getting his Mantle coloring from another seperate ("true Irish") gene (i.e. he is not/not--SINE negative). Note the characteristic break in the blanket on the Mantle that is so typical of a piebald producer on the first Dane? The other Dane shown here cannot and will not produce white bodied (piebald) dogs as he is not carrying the gene, so will have a higher percentage of show marks over time & generation. Most interesting is also they are mother and son. The dog pup did not inherit his mother's piebald gene, but still is a show quality Mantle. See new information (2006-7) here.
NOTE: There _was_some controversy over the existence of piebalds in the Great Dane breed. Although some experts such as Friedmar Krautwurst explicitly refer to the piebald as a reality of the genetic Dane inheritance, others such as Neil O'Sullivan felt these dogs are mutated harl/merle animals, with pigment patches isolated in areas of evolutionary importance. Breeders may also have been divided on this issue? However the genetic evidence is now clear that piebalism does exist. That the FCI recently allowed this predominately white dog to be shown in the Open Black class is as controversial as it is illogical. Many FCI countries have been laboring hard to reverse what they felt was a poor decision for the breed, one felt by many to be political, not rational, in nature. Recall in the FCI dogs that are not within the standard cannot even be registered, nevermind bred. So dogs have to be "showable" to be considered breed dogs under FCI, unlike the AKC/CKC situation here. And the way a standard is changed under FCI isn't through the democratic process of a member vote as it has to be in the AKC, nor is how often it can be changed restricted. Less than a handful of people in the breed's country of origin can change the standard at any point and even over the objections of the majority of countries and/or majority of breeders.
*Although COLORED HEADED WHITE fits the general description better & includes then harl & merle iterations of this gene's expression, strictly speaking piebald is not only a perfectly reasonable general appellation for this phenomenon in Danes, as the dogs in question result from being homozygous at the (SINE MITF) recessive mutation at the "Spotting" (MITF) locus. The color pattern in German is referred to as "PLATTENHUND," meaning "plate(or disc)-like" markings, to distinguish them from Manteltigeren (Mantledanes) & Tigerdoggen (Harlequins). This recessive white pattern, disqualified under the standard, would most likely be best translated as "piebald," given that "Tiger" in German refers to the Paint or "pinto" horse, & therefore "Tigerdogge" is loosely translated as Pinto-(German)-Mastiff. (Krautwurst has argued that "Harlequin" & "Tiger" are both bad appelations for what he called the "geflect" (patched, spotted or dappled) Great Dane.) It seems only reasonable to carry on this breed tradition & precisely seperate out Harlequins from piebalds, in that the standard itself does, & they _are_ genetically distinct. It is unfortunate that so much confusing inter-breed (& even intra-breed) terminology abounds for parti-colored, pinto, piebald, color-headed, white-bodied & white-factored animals, so it is necessary to specifically define one's terms. Here piebald is taken to mean the non-harlequin Black & White Dane that is more white than allowed under the Mantledane description--a spotted dane (the harlequin is technically patched, not spotted)--who is at least 50% white & is <mmss> in genotype, but can present as a "light marked harl", "broken-blanketed/half mask mantle," or "merlikin" (while not actually being any of these genotypes), as well as as "harl-head," "boston-head" & "merle-head" long recognized as a different genotype. All are actually piebalds.
+For those trying to navigate harldane pedigree space, best to get photos (ah-the day AKC requires photos with registrations!!!) of all the dogs you can. Beware dogs listed as "white with black markings," especially if these animals were bred to harls. Any dog who is so registered, if not a defective-white (<MM>), is most likely either a piebald (<mmss>), or a piebald harl (<Mmss>), & you'll find white-bodied dogs pop up for generations to come in such pedigrees, which means their well-marked siblings are likely white-factored, so will also produce piebald deaf, other defective whites, plus undermarked harls & piebald danes. Also any Harlequins, particularly non-Champion harls for whom one does not have accurate photos may be suspect, especially if there are numerous litely marked/mostly white dogs in the pedigree.
This message written and prepared by JP Yousha for the purposes of education and can be reprinted to that end.
All copyrights © remain with the author.
CHROMADANE 2000. Illustration added 2007. Updated 2010.