Foto: Åsa Lindholm, 2013
Tan points
Tan markings on a Kelpie are also called “traditional tan” and belongs to one of four types of alleles from the A series, agouti. Tan markings 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 marking 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 markings are missing, especially from the face, on a tan coloured dog. These individuals likely have a melanistic mask (Em), and this gene masks these tan markings.

Alleles from the A series in the Kelpie, known so far:
at/at = traditional tan

In a litter of tan marked puppies, both Kelpie parents need to carry at least one tan gene. Two tan marked Kelpies can only pass on tan marked puppies. Tan markings can appear in black, brown, fawn or smoke blue Kelpies.
K locus has influence
Another gene influences the tan markings as well, the K gene, the dominant black gene. This gene determines whether a dog will have a solid coloured coat or have one of the colour variants belonging to the A locus. KB is dominant over the Kelpie’s at/at and so it is enough for the offspring to receive KB from one of the parents for the tan markings (at/at) to be masked.
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 according to the DNA test the genotype is red and tan as it carries the at/at. However, the test also reveals the dog has n/KB, which masks these tan markings.
Ghost tan
There are Kelpies with only a hint of tan markings. Within this breed these are called shaded or shadow. In other breeds this is termed ghost tan. As of today, it is not known how the Kelpie gets its ghost tan. What we do know is that another gene, probably from the K series, affects the at gene’s expression.

There are Kelpies which appear to have ghost tan, especially those with shifting hues in the coat in the same areas where the tan markings 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.

Among the breed there are preferences, but since breed standard doesn't say anything about ghost tan, and on the other hand approves two-tones and solid colors shaded should be treated equal to any approved colors.
Dilution with tan points
Fawn and smoke blue are two recessive colours of black and brown. The same goes for the tan markings even though those appear lower in the colour gene hierarchy. This enables fawn, and smoke blue Kelpies to be carriers of the tan markings. They can produce blue and tan, or fawn and tan offspring. These two colour variants are not approved in the Australian Kelpie, but they do occur.
See more Australian Kelpies with the colours:
Page updated: 2019-12-30
Kelpiegallery online since 2008.