The Tan Point allele (at), which is one of four alleles in the Agouti (A) gene series, is responsible for the tricolor coat pattern and traditional tan points in dogs. It is a recessive genetic trait that requires two copies for the tan point coat color pattern to express itself. One copy of the gene is inherited from the sire, and the other from the dam. Due to its recessive nature, the tan point gene can remain hidden for generations, until two copies are inherited. A dog can be a tan point carrier without actually expressing tan points.
The tricolor pattern requires the tan point gene, and consists of 3 well-defined colors — one base color, white, and tan. The base color can be any one of a range of colors (black, blue, lilac, chocolate), can be affected by dilution (d/d) and intensity, or another pattern, such as merle or piebald. The tan and white can also consist of other patterns.
Tan points can be hidden by White, Dominant Black (K) or Recessive Red (e/e). A dog without any visible tan points, or tan points that are completely hidden by white, Dominant Black, or recessive red, would not be considered “tricolored” by definition, even if it is homozygous (has 2 copies) for traditional tan points. Why not? Because all of the conditions for using the term “tricolor” must be present.
Those conditions are:
- Genetically at/at. (at/a possible but rare)
- Traditional tan points, white, and a base color must all be visible, even if in small amounts. By definition, the term TRIcolor refers to a pattern of 3 colors.
- Traditional tan points must be present and visible in at least one of the 13 traditional locations, even if it is only tan ticking.
No traditional tan points? Not tricolor. No white? Not tricolor. Not at/at (or at/a)? Not tricolor.
A dog that has traditional tan points, is genetically at/at, but lacks white would be bicolor, not tricolor.
A dog that is solid white, Dominant Black, or Recessive Red (e/e), but genetically at/at would simply be homozygous for tan points, not necessarily tricolored, because tan points would be hidden in those cases. However, such a dog would still be able to produce tricolored and tri carrier offspring. In cases of incomplete dominance, both Dominant Black and Tan Points may be expressed. Incomplete dominance is responsible for Ghost Tan and Seal.
A dog that is all white with ticking, and genetically at/at, would most likely be considered tricolored, because the ticking would be tan where traditional tan points would normally be located on the dog, and would be a base color everywhere else.
Where does the American Bully get the tricolor gene from?
It is impossible to say with certainty where the tan point gene originated in every American Bully bloodline that carries it. Some American Bully bloodlines are more recently mixed with other tan point-carrying dog breeds than others.
The tan point gene has been in the American Bully and American Pit Bull Terrier breeds since inception. In the early American Pit Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, the tan point gene may have originated from crossings between Smooth Fox Terriers and Bulldogs in the early 19th Century. The Smooth Fox Terrier inherited its tan points from Black And Tan Terriers of the 18th Century.
Above is a picture of a tan-pointed Smooth Fox Terrier X Bulldog mix, circa 1858. “Half-bred” dogs, like this one, are part of the heritage of the American Pit Bull Terrier, antecedent of the American Bully.
Is tricolor rare?
Early American Pit Bull Terriers were prized for their game, not their color. Actually, tan pointed dogs were not considered to be desirable, because they were easily mistaken for being mixed-bred. This perpetuated a rarity in tricolored dogs in the overall gene pool.
Today, tricolor is a more popular coat pattern, and some breeders select for the tan point gene to produce tricolored dogs.
Q: What are all the different names for tricolor in the American Bully?
A: Colors – Black Tri, Blue Tri, Chocolate Tri, Lilac Tri, Purple Tri (unofficial)
Patterns – Creeping Tan, Ghost Tan, Trindle, Tri Merle, Piebald Tri, Ticked Tri
Q: Can 2 dogs that are not tricolored produce tricolored puppies?
A: Yes, because the tan point gene is a recessive trait, neither parent has to actually express the tricolor pattern, but both parents must be tan point gene carriers.
Q: Can 2 dogs that are tricolored produce anything but tricolored puppies?
A: Not according to the laws of inheritance. 2 tricolored parents will produce 100% at/at offspring. However, whether or not the offspring will express tan points depends on other genetic factors. For example, if offspring have one or more copies of Dominant Black (K), or are Recessive Red (e/e), or solid white, then tan points would not be visible, except for cases of incomplete dominance of the K gene, then they would be Ghost Tri or Seal.
Q: Can a dog be a tan point gene carrier if neither of its parents are tricolored?
A: Yes, because the tan point gene is a recessive trait, neither parent has to actually express the tricolor pattern, but can still pass the trait on to their offspring. If one parent is tricolored, then all offspring will be carriers. If neither parent is tricolor, but one is a carrier, then a percentage of the offspring will be tan point carriers. In that case, DNA testing, or test mating can determine if a dog is a tan point gene carrier.
Q: Why are tan points more red on some dogs than on others?
A: Tan points can be modified by the Intensity gene. The Intensity gene determines how much phaeomelanin (red pigment) is produced.
Q: Are there any health issues that are associated with the tricolor pattern?
A: No. The tricolor pattern is in no way detrimental to health.
Q: Can a Bully be Champagne Tri?
A: This is a controversial topic. Technically, no, a Champagne dog can’t be Tricolor also.
The term “Champagne” refers to Recessive Red (e/e) with Dilution (d/d). This genotype (e/e d/d) produces coat colors that range from pale yellow (red), to cream, or pearl. Because Recessive Red completely hides any patterns that would normally be expressed from the “A” Locus, it is not possible for Tan Points to be expressed; therefore, a Champagne dog cannot be Tricolor, even if it is homozygous for tan points.
What many people in the Bully community commonly refer to as “Champagne Tricolor” is actually “Lilac Tricolor” (b/b d/d at/at). Lilac Tricolor is possible because tan points are not hidden by Chocolate (b/b). Lilac is Chocolate with Dilution (b/b d/d).
Q: Is there any such thing as “Reverse Tri“, “Purple Tri“, “Trindle“, “Creeping Tan“, or “Ghost Tri“?
A: Sometimes, for whatever reasons, people invent their own names for dog coat colors or patterns.
- The pattern referred to as Reverse Tri is actually Sable, also called Smut. Below is an example of this pattern. Although there are 3 colors present, red, white, and blue, the genotype for this particular dog is Ay/at, Sable/Tri Carrier, not at/at, Tricolor.
- The term Purple Tri was coined recently and is used as a marketing tool, but actually refers to an extremely pale Blue Tricolor, or Lilac Tricolor. Purple is not an officially recognized dog coat color.
- Trindle is simply tricolor with brindle. A dog that is Trindle will have tan points with brindle pattern.
- Creeping Tan is a variation of traditional tan points where the tan points expand, or “creep” as the dog matures. Dogs with this pattern typically appear to have a traditional tan point pattern as puppies, but the tan points gradually expand with age.
- Ghost Tri, or Ghost Tan, is a true pattern. This refers to a dog with faint Traditional Tan Points. Sometimes tan points become more apparent as a dog matures. Incomplete dominance of the (K) Dominant Black allele is responsible for Ghost Tan.