Breeding Great Danes Is complicated by the fact that the breed Standard condones only five colours – fawn, brindle, black, blue and harlequin – though when standardised as a recognisable breed in Germany about 100 years ago Danes appeared in many and various colours. Colour was not considered important by early breeders and a great deal of white was often present in the coat colour of fawns and brindles. The extension of white was so common that eventually German breeders disallowed the breeding of harlequins – dogs with a predorninance of white – to fawns or brindles. It’s also true to say that early Danes were often referred to as being ‘smokey’ In colour, evidence of the recessive blue colouration being widespread. So there we have the background to the generally accepted colour Code of Ethics of today. The basic rules of breeding only fawn to fawn or brindle, brindle to brindle or fawn, black to black or blue or harlequin, blue to blue or black, harlequin to harlequin or harlequin derivates or black. By so doing, the five colours were established and stabilised. However, such matters get more complex. Without going Into all the facts of colour breeding, I would like to make the following observations.
1) One must breed for type as well as colour. As a basic rule of thumb, type in Danes has traditionally permeated basically from the fawns and brindles. Therefore, even In Germany, occassional ‘cross colour’ breedings between fawn or brindle and the other colours have been sanctioned in the interests of type.
2. Even the most ardent supporters of the breeders’ colour Code of Ethics cannot deny the fact that some excellent Danes have resulted from cross-colour breedings. Undoubtedly great progress has been made in blacks as a result of breeding to lawn. Danes from the American breeders of Honey Hollow, Jacopa and Jecamo kennels come to mind in this regard. I would ven- ture to add that it has not only been the blacks which have benefited, and the history of Ch Honey Hollow Stormi Rudi must be a classic example of an excellent fawn (multi BIS winner) who resulted from a cross-colour breeding. Furthermore, modern scientific research into colour breeding as quoted in Nancy Carroll Draper’s book, ‘The Great Dane – Dogdom’s Apollo’. In the chapter by Kenneth A Doeg PhD, he reports the fact that rusty coated blacks have not resulted from fawn/black cross-colour breeding In Danes.
3. The colour blue would seem to present particular problems in that it may be safely bred blue to blue, or blue to black, the black to be bred black to black or possibly harlequin. The dangers of breeding blue to other colours is the possible undesirable result of blue fawns and blue brindles, and blue would also seem an undesirable element in harlequin breeding with its possible contribution to merle and blue patches on harlequins. I am not a harlequin breeder, but would think that the preceding reasons account for the fact that blue harlequins (white dogs with blue rather than black patches, as recognised by the English Standard and its followers, Australia and New Zealand); are not accepted in other Standards. These inherent problems mean that blues have a smaller gene pool than other colours and are difficult to breed. The pigmentation that goes with blues makes it difficult to maintain dark eyes and a pleasing expression. Therefore the darker the blue the better, as the better will be the chance of dark pigmentation. Breeding to blacks can help.
4. The commonly held belief that cross-colour breeding (black to fawn) can result In smutty blacks and rusty blacks has not proved to be the case in our experience. In fact some of the cleanest fawns have resulted from black/fawn matings, whereas smutty colour on fawns and brindles is another genetic factor often inherent in conventionally bred lines. Rusty blacks have been no more of a problem than in blacks bred any other way. Bear in mind that blacks and blues can turn revolting hues when changing coat.
5. Chocolates, occasionally encountered (very rarely), can eventuate from even the best colour bred pedigrees and are not exclusively a byproduct of cross-colour breeding. Like the smutty colour encountered in some fawns and brindles, this is a separate problem.
6. All Great Dane pedigrees should be colour marked, to show the colour of each animal, and there should be a climate in the breed that will facilitate honest colour marking of pedigrees.
7. I do not advocate cross-colour breeding just for its own sake. But in a small country like NZ, breeding choices are very limited. First choice for colour should be along conventional lines always, but breeders have many factors to consider when making decisions about their breeding programme. Breeders should be knowledgeable about colour genetics. For example, a very basic principle is fawn to fawn will only produce fawn. A black ancestor will not vary that fact. This is a ‘controversial subject, and one on which a Dane breeder’s outlook seems to be shaped very much by their own involvement in the various colours. Having started in blues and blacks, our outlook can differ greatly from those of breeders who have only ever had fawns and brindles, and therefore would not usually have to concern themselves with even considering cross-colour breeding. However, Great Danes should conform to their breed Standard and display the same type regardless of their colour. If never the twain had met between the various colours in Great Danes, the uniformity of type achieved thus far in the breed would not have been reached.