The colours of kelpie

There are ten possible colour variants, but only seven are accepted in the breed standards of the Australian Kelpie.

The most common colours in this breed are black and brown. The Kelpie may also be grey and beige, and black or brown with distinctly lighter areas on specific parts of its body. A commonly recognised list of acceptable colours in the Australian Kelpie are black, chocolate brown, red, smoke blue, fawn, black and tan, and red and tan. Two other colours which exist, but are not accepted with FCI or ANKC breed standards for the Australian Kelpie, are fawn and tan, and blue and tan.

Yet another variant is a cream colour appearing in different shades. Genetically it is the same colour as in the yellow Labrador Retriever. This colour is very unusual in the Working Kelpie and even less common in the Australian Kelpie, since this colour also is not approved according to the breed standards.

Sometimes there is confusion when a litter of puppies have colours which neither of their parents have. However, what seems to be random acts of nature, actually follows strict laws. It is all about genetics, the science of hereditary. On the following pages you may read about the different colours appearing in both the Australian Kelpie and the Working Kelpie, and also about the heritability of these colours. If the text just says “Kelpie” it includes both breeds.
Colour series
All colour genes come in sets of two. They have their specific place on each chromosome. Every gene pair with its defined place is called locus and holds two alleles. One allele is passed down from the mother and the other from the father.

Every locus and allele is coded with a letter, and each letter affects the colour of the dog. Upper case letter indicates dominant heredity. It is sufficient with one upper case letter in the gene pair for a colour to appear. A lower case letter indicates recessive heredity and has to exist in both genes of one set for the colour to appear. In other words, a recessive gene may be masked for generations until it is combined with a gene of the same kind and the colour will show up in the offspring.

The Kelpie are included (what we know today) in the following genetic colour series:

The brown gene
B = black
b = brown (chocolate and red)
D = normal pigment
d = dilute pigment (smoke blue and fawn)
Tan points
at = tan points 
n = not carrier of the at gene
Dominant black
This gene affects the appearance of tan points.
KB = dominant black (masks tan points)
n = not carrier of the KB gene
Recessive red
E = normal pigment
e = recessive red (cream)
Em = melanistic mask (possible to masks tan points)
White spots
S = white spots
N = not carrier

Different name, same genetic colour
Different names are used for the same genetic colour among dog breeds. A diluted brown (b/b d/d) Kelpie is called fawn, while the same colour is called isabella in a Doberman Pinscher, and lilac in a Border Collie.

A dog genetically recessive red (e/e) is known as cream in the Working Kelpie and yellow in the Labrador but is called red or orange in some other dog breeds. The brown colour (b/b) in the Kelpie is called chocolate or red depending on the colour intensity, but genetically it is the same colour.

This may sometimes cause confusion about whether colours are the same or different. It is good to know what genetic terminology belongs to which colour in the Kelpie, as well as in other breeds.
Kelpie colour Genotype Genetic term Locus
Black B/_ Black B
Chocolate/red b/b Brown B
Smoke blue B/_   d/d Diluted black B, D
Fawn b/b   d/d Diluted brown B, D
Black and tan B/_   at/at   (n/n) Black with tan points B, A, (K)
Red and tan b/b   at/at   (n/n) Brown with tan points B, A, (K)
Blue and tan B/_   d/d   at/at   (n/n) Diluted black with tan points B, D, A, (K)
Fawn and tan b/b   d/d   at/at   (n/n) Diluted brown with tan points B, D, A, (K)
Cream e/e Recessive red E
Shaded (brown)* b/b   at/at   n/KB Ghost tan B, A, K
*The table above shows the Kelpie’s general colours. These colours carry several other genotypes which are affected by many different colour series, but these are not included in this table. For example, the K locus affects the grade of masking of the tan points. More information can be found on the page on tan points.
Read more about the different colours of Kelpie


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.