THE PIEBALD DANE:

Pintos, Parti-colored, Check: the Colour-Headed or White-factored Dane. (Der Plattenhund)*

There is quite a bit of confusion about the piebald* Dane. There are problems that result from breed-specific and even idiosyncratic terminology, and there are problems of identification as well. Of first import is to be clear that the piebald Dane is a disqualifying mismark that should be identified as such and sold on limited registration as a non-breeding, pet-only Dane. All of the various iterations of piebald in the Great Dane (be they sp or se carrying), 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, and so has been misregistered. If that alone doesn't matter to you, then this next point certainly should: piebalds are mismarked Mantles who do not carry and cannot produce Harlequins. This mis-identification therefore has great genetic consequences to the already confined and confused harl family gene pool. Piebald Danes increase the percentage of mismarks in every breeding in which they are used. They 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 and their bloodline. As Ann Greavu has clearly documented, the problem of white Danes is further reaching than simply the merle gene: we have both piebald deafness and merle deafness in our breed (see also "White" Danes). We have dogs registered as "harls," "whites," "white and black," and even "mantle" who are genetic piebalds. And thanks to the recessive nature of the piebald spotting allele, plus the fact these piebald Danes go unrecognised and continue to be bred by folks unaware of the far-reaching consequences, it looks like the piebald is here to stay, and may well be increasing in frequency.

Why is that so and exactly why is that a problem? Piebald Danes are likely increasing because: 1) American harldane breeders and owners 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 basic in their breeding programs, thus muddying the waters perpetually, so that, 3) we are currently unable to ascertain exactly what genotypes for the phenotype Mantle are present in our breed, which is our only point of control, given that, 4) it is practically impossible to discern how much white on a harl came from recessive spotting (e.g. piebald) genes and how much from merle-harl dominant white genes. (For purists addicted to detail (<G> like myself), it really doesn't practically matter if this "white-factoring" is sese=extreme white piebald spotting/colour-headed, or spsp=piebald spotting with negative factoring/checks of some kind, or even both homozygotes and their heterozygote offspring; the point is they are all undermarked Mantles in genotype, so should be selected against as they produce an increase in un-breedable, and even defective, puppies.)

Here's a simple example of why that is a problem, using a piebald bitch. She carries two doses of what we'll call white-factoring (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." 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 and keep spreading white-factoring through the gene pool. White-factored to white-factored means 25% of each of their litters will lack body color, and 50% more will be "carriers" like themselves. And so on...and so on...and the genes for white-factoring are spread. Dogs are sold and bred, and people buy and then breed these white-factored pups unknowingly. Eventually one of these white factored Danes meets up with another piebald like the original bitch, or one of those nearly white harlequins who carries two doses of white-factoring, and then the resulting litter is mostly light and undermarked dogs, including some deaf pups, and, since they are all mostly white, you cannot even sort out from looks what's what. Even worse, two "harls" meet, one actually a piebald and the other carrying twice for white-factoring (both could be "beautifully"--if lightly--marked!), and practically the whole litter is white and you have no real show marks at all to show for it, plus a bunch of potentially deaf and blind pups.

Okay, you say, fine--I'll breed my piebald bitch to a Mantle--I know no deaf whites can come from that and 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. There is just no way to get around it: breeding mismarks makes more mismarks. 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 accurately: don't mis-register whites (MM) as harls (Mm), or piebalds (mm) as harls (Mm), and don't use piebalds (mmss) and piebald "light-marked" (Mmss) harls in your breeding program unknowingly. Confine the use of mismarks in a breeding program to circumstances of extreme duress and make them the exception, not the rule. Truly "Color Ethical" breeders don't play fast and loose with pedigrees, or sell off mismarks routinely as breeding stock. There are far worse "sins" in harldane land than having a "fawn in the woodpile" and not having a clue what you have (and are spreading to others) is certainly one of them.


To SEE Piebald genes "in action" and how they are related to the Mantledane, click here.

*Piebald is not only a perfectly reasonable general appellation for this phenomenon in Danes, as the dogs in question most definitely carry an iteration (sp and/and se, called sw) of the piebald allele, but the color pattern in German is referred to as "PLATTENHUND," meaning "plate (or disc)-like" markings, to distinguish them from Manteltigeren (Mantledanes) and 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, and therefore "Tigerdogge" is loosely translated as Pinto-(German)-Mastiff. (Krautwurst has argued that "Harlequin" and "Tiger" are both bad appellations for what he called the "geflect" (patched, spotted or dappled) Great Dane.) It seems only reasonable to carry on this breed tradition and precisely separate out Harlequins from piebalds, in that the standard itself does, and they are genetically distinct. It is unfortunate that so much confusing inter-breed (and even intra-breed) terminology abounds for parti-colored, pinto, piebald, color-headed, white-bodied and white-factored animals, so it is necessary to specifically define one's terms. Here piebald is taken to mean the non-harlequin Black and 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 and is mmss in genotype (the recessive s being spsp, sese, or a heterozygote sesp, perhaps even sise/sisp, although these latter are more likely to fit the color standard for the Mantledane if they do exist in the breed).

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), and 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 and 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 lightly marked/mostly white dogs in the pedigree.

NOTE: There is 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 feel these dogs are mutated harl/merle animals, with pigment patches isolated in areas of evolutionary importance. Breeders may also be divided on this issue? But whereas Dr. Krautwurst would call these dogs white-factored (mm) mismarks and Dr. O'Sullivan would call these dogs merle-factored (MM or even Mm) mismarks, they would both call them mismarks. And not knowing the genetics of an animal that is also a mismark seems to be yet another reason to NOT breed it?

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Copyright 2000 J P Yousha, CHROMADANE. All rights reserved. Our thanks to the willingness to share this article for educational purposes.