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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.

In order for tan points (atat) 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 atat. It is enough for the offspring to receive KB from one of the parents for atat 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 results 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 atat. However, the test also reveals the dog has KBKB. This means that the gene masks the atat, hence the tan points do not show up on this dog.

Shaded (Ghost Tan)

There are some Kelpies with only a hint of tan points. These are called shaded 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 locus, 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.

Kelpie with ghost tan.

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.

Melanistic mask

There is a third variant of the gene on the E locus labelled Em. The gene is called a melanistic mask and occurs in e.g. the Boxer, Belgian Malinois and German Shepherd.

Melanistic mask is a dominant gene and dogs may therefore have both one or two copies of the allele Em for the mask to occur.

There are some kelpies that are DNA tested and show that they have at least one melanistic mask gene. The dogs that have been shown to have the gene have been solid colored and therefore the theory has not yet been confirmed that the kelpies that lack tan markings on the face probably have at least one copy of the Em gene.

To determine whether the dog in the picture has a melanistic mask a DNA test is needed.