Tan points

The colours black, brown, smoke blue and fawn can appear with tan points

Tan points on a Kelpie are also called “traditional tan” and belongs to one of four types of alleles from the A series. Tan points only appear on certain areas of the dog’s body. Often there are smaller spots above the eyes, on the side of the nose and sometimes up towards the cheeks, in front of the neck below the head, two triangular spots on the chest, on the legs and paws and on part of the tail.

The tan points is lighter than the rest of the coat and the colour ranges from a pale creme to a golden copper. Sometimes there are black markings on the tan coloured toes or paws, which is called pencilling. Occasionally tan points are missing on a tan coloured dog, especially from the face. These individuals likely have a melanistic mask (Em). This gene masks these specific points. Melanistic mask belongs to e-locus, you can read more about under the color section cream.

In order for tan points (at/at) to appear in offspring, they need to receive one at gene from the mother and one at gene from the father. Tan points on both parents can only give tan marked puppies. Tan points may, however, occur on black, brown, fawn or smoke blue Kelpies.

Traditional tan points is the only confirmed known allele in the a series in the Kelpie today. Possibly an Ay may occur in a Kelpie as there are individuals that appear to be saddle pattern or creeping tan. However, more studies and DNA tests are needed on Kelpies with this colour type to verify this.
K locus has influence
There is another gene that causes tan points to appear and that is the K gene. This is the gene which determines whether the dog will have a solid colour coat or have any of the colour variants belonging to the A locus.

KB is dominant over at/at. It is enough for the offspring to receive KB from one of the parents for at/at to be masked, and the tan points will not show up in the dog. In other words, if a Kelpie will have tan points it can not carry the KB gene.

Colour results from a DNA test from an Australian Kelpie:

The picture above shows the DNA result from the genotype in one Australian Kelpie. This dog’s phenotype is brown, but the genotype according to the test shows that the dog is red and tan as it carries the at/at. However, the test also reveals the dog has n/KB. This means that the KB masks the at/at and the tan points do not show up on this dog.
Ghost tan
There are some Kelpies with only a hint of tan points. These are called shaded or shadow in this breed. In other breeds this colour variant is called ghost tan. It is yet unclear how the Kelpie gets its ghost tan. What is known is that another gene, likely from the K series, affect the at gene and the tan points can only just be indicated in the dog’s coat.

There are Kelpies which appear to have ghost tan, especially those with shifting hues in the coat in the same areas where the tan points normally occur. However, this may just be appearance and nothing else, only shifting colours in the coat. A genetic test would tell whether a dog is ghost tan or not, and what other colours the dog genetically carries.

People have different opinions whether the ghost tan in an Australian Kelpie is acceptable or not. The breed standards does not mention it. On the other hand, both tan points and solid colours are accepted and approved, and ghost tan could be comparable with the other colours.
Dilution with tan points
Fawn and smoke blue are two recessive colours of black and brown, as are the tan points. However, the tan points are at the bottom of the colour gene hierarchy. This means that fawn and smoke blue Kelpies may be carriers of tan markings. Therefore, they may have blue and tan or fawn and tan puppies. These two colour variants are not approved in the Australian Kelpie, but they do exist.


Kelpiegallery presents photos all types of Australian kelpie. All photos are taken by the same photographer, Sofia Olsson. The purpose of Kelpiegallery is to display photos with the same type of image layout and information on each dog. The Kelpiegallery was created 2005 and is online since 2008.