There are many agouti alleles which have been documented in mice and other species of animals. This locus is still being studied and documented in dogs, and at this time a number of alleles are known to
exist. It appears that two agouti alleles are found in Malamutes, with the possibility of a third.
aw - Agouti Pattern Also known as wolf pattern or wild pattern, this is very similar to the pattern seen in wolves. This allele produces a pattern of a banded coat, though it is not unusual for the guard coat (particularly along the topline) to be solid black. The Face does not usually have distinctive tan point markings, and instead of a clear “bar” on the top of the muzzle the color "bleeds" down around the face. In the absence of white spotting, these dogs have a full mask. Unlike Seal or Black and White dogs, the bar on an Agouti (as well as the rest of it's color) will appear salt and pepper. The color on the face will lack clear cut edges. .
at - Tan Point Pattern Also known as Black and Tan (we call them Black and White), these dogs are black on top and tan on the bottom with distinctive facial markings. Their facial markings are heavier than is seen in Gray or Seal dogs. This is particularly noticeable when they are pups, and they are almost always born nearly completely black. In Malamutes, other factors frequently alter the phaeomelanin that would otherwise create the "tan" legs and points, leaving these dogs black and white. In its homozygous form, this allele produces solid colored black guard hair on the dorsal or top surface of the body. Essentially the black band at the tip of the hair extends to cover the entire hair. The undercoat is always solid black or gray. And the markings on the face are always extensive
awat - Heterozygous Agouti or "Dark Agouti"
The agouti locus is interesting because its alleles are incomplete dominants. That means that a dog who is heterozygous (has one “aw” gene and one “at” gene) often (but not always) looks different from a dog who is Agouti and thus has two “aw” genes (awaw) or is Black and white and has two “at” genes (atat). In many cases the heterozygous “awat” dog’s color will appear to be something in between, with the dark tips extending a further distance on the hair, but still "salt and pepper" colored like an Agouti. This feature becomes less distinct when impacted by Domino, however it can often still be seen as an increase in facial markings and darker color.
Homozygous Agouti (awaw) on the left, Heterozygous Agouti (awat) aka "dark Agouti" in the middle and Tan Point (atat) aka "Black and White" on the right
"Carrying" Tan Point tends to darken the color of the Agouti.
While the "tan" markings on malamutes are often pale or white, you can see the facial markings are extremely heavy and identical to those of other tan point breeds like the Jindo above
Light rings around the eyes are a distinguising feature of Agouti
Regardless of their adult appearance, Agouti pups always have a very characteristic sooty color.
Tan Point pups lack the clear cut facial markings seen in Seal pups.
As adults these dogs can resemble seals or grays due to other factors affecting their coat color, and it is not really unusual for some to develop more standard facial markings. As puppies their dark and sooty facial markings are a clear giveaway that they are agouti. Adult Agoutis often appear to have a light ring around their eyes when looked at head on, and this can be a tip that an otherwise gray or sable appearing dog is actually an agouti.
Though clearly an Agouti as a pup, this dog's adult appearance could easily be mistaken for gray.