The Dalmatian’s origins are unknown. The spotted dogs are known to have traveled with the nomadic bands of Romanies, sometimes called gypsies, and it’s unclear where they may have first appeared. The Dalmatian obtained his name during his stay in Dalmatia, a province on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, the area that is now known as Croatia.
Dalmatians have been utilized for a variety of jobs during their long history, never specializing in one area. They were used as guard dogs in Dalmatia, shepherds, ratters, retrievers, circus dogs, and coaching dogs.
It was in England that the Dalmatian was developed as the definitive coaching dog. He was used to clear a path before the horses, run alongside the coach or under the coach between the axels. He guarded the horses and coach when they were at rest. To this day the Dalmatian has a natural affinity for horses.
This affinity took the Dalmatian on a different career path in the United States. Here he became a firehouse dog, running with the horses to the fire, watching over the equipment during a fire, and sometimes even rescuing people from burning buildings. When the excitement was over, they accompanied the fire wagons back to the station and resumed their duty as watchdog. Today most Dalmatians are companions and family members but many firehouses across the country still have Dalmatians as mascots.
- Black spots
UKC group: Companion
Average lifespan: 11 -14 years
Average size: 50 – 55 pounds
Coat appearance: Velvety and soft
Coloration: White with black spots
Other identifiers: Athletic, squarish body; deep chest; strong, upright and tapered tail; black or dark-colored nose; toenails are white or black
Possible alterations: Born white, spots develop later; spots can vary in color from brown to brindle; 10 – 15 percent are born deaf and require special trainingComparable Breeds: Brittany, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Is this breed right for you?
A hyperactive and devoted breed, the athletic Dalmatian requires a home equipped with a large yard. Due to his playful nature, he will need firm training and leadership to avoid acting out. Attached to his owner, the Dalmatian needs a lot of companionship and love to maintain his happiness. Enjoying running, it’s advised the breed be run for long periods of time, daily. If not given the proper amount of exercise, he will display erratic behavior with family members. Due to this, it’s advised that he is brought into a family with older children. A great watchdog, any owner that can handle his energetic personality will find a lot of love in having a Dalmatian as a family pet.
The Look of a Dalmatian
Dalmatians are lean, medium-sized, well-proportioned dogs with distinctive black spots on white. Their muzzles are strong, eyes deeply set and their soft ears are set somewhat high. They have strong, arched necks, deep chests and level backs. Their tails extend out from their backs and curl up slightly without carrying over their backs, and they have long, well-muscled legs with round feet. Their coats are short, dense and sleek. Puppies are born solid white and develop black spots as they get older. Overall, Dalmatians have a dignified, powerful and alert posture with a steady gait.
Born to run, the Dalmatian is a high-energy dog with an endless capacity for exercise. He loves attention and has a strong desire to please, making him easy to train through positive reinforcement such as food rewards, praise, and play.
He’s a smart dog with a sly sense of humor, and will do his best to make you laugh. The Dalmatian is alert and interested in everything that goes on around him and makes an excellent watchdog.
Like every dog, the Dalmatian needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your Dalmatian puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
The Dalmatian is a very active dog and needs plenty of exercise. He’s a fast runner with a great deal of stamina. If left to his own devices a Dalmatian will head cross country on a jaunt that could last several days, so always exercise him on leash or in a secure area. Dalmatians thrive with human companionship and do not do well if relegated to the backyard. They should have plenty of time with their family or they will pine.
Because of his unique uric acid metabolism, it’s important to observe whether your Dalmatian is urinating regularly. For the same reason, be sure to provide him with easy access to fresh water all the time.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
Among the health problems in Dalmatians is a unique uric acid metabolism that predisposes them to stones anywhere in the urinary tract. The stones can cause urinary blockages, most commonly in males. It’s essential to notice whether a Dalmatian is urinating regularly and to provide him with plenty of fresh water at all times. Dalmatians are also prone to genetic deafness. All puppies should be BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) tested to make sure they can hear. The Dalmatian Club of America has a foundation that sponsors grants and activities to aid research to reduce deafness and find a solution for the uric acid stone problem.
Dalmations are also prone to allergies, skin conditions, eye problems and laryngeal paralysis.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Dalmatian at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Basics of Dalmatian Grooming
On the plus side, the Dalmatian’s short, fine, velvety-smooth coat is easy to groom. Brush it several times a week with a bristle brush, rubber curry brush, hound mitt, or pumice stone to strip out the dead hair and keep the coat gleaming.
On the down side, the coat sheds day and night according to many experienced Dalmatian owners. Be prepared to live with dog hair if you choose this breed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the hanging ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections from setting in. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Children and other pets
Just about every kid recognizes a Dalmatian on sight. His love of activity makes the Dalmatian a great playmate for older children, but his rambunctious nature and swishing tail may be overwhelming to toddlers and young children. With early socialization, Dalmatians can get along fine with other dogs and cats.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
In popular culture
Particularly in the United States, the use of Dalmatians as carriage dogs was transferred to horse-drawn fire engines, although it is unclear why this link was not made in other countries. Today, the Dalmatian serves as a firehouse mascot and is sometimes used to educate the public in fire safety, but in the days of horse-drawn fire carts, they provided a valuable service, having a natural affinity to horses. They would run alongside the horses, or beneath the cart axles. The horses have long since gone, but the Dalmatians, by tradition, have stayed. As a result, in the United States, Dalmatians are commonly known as firehouse dogs. Dalmatians are still chosen by many firefighters as pets, in honor of their heroism in the past. The Dalmatian is also the mascot of the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity. In the past, Pi Kappa Alpha has been known as the firefighters fraternity, and this is why they both share the dalmatian as a mascot.
The Dalmatian is also associated, particularly in the United States, with Budweiser beer and the Busch Gardens theme parks, since the Anheuser-Busch company’s iconic beer wagon, drawn by a team of Clydesdale horses, is always accompanied by a Dalmatian carriage dog. The company maintains several teams at various locations, which tour extensively. According to Anheuser-Busch’s website, Dalmatians were historically used by brewers to guard the wagon while the driver was making deliveries.
The Dalmatian breed experienced a massive surge in popularity as a result of the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians written by British author Dodie Smith, and later due to the two Walt Disney films based on the book. The Disney animated classic released in 1961, later spawned a 1996 live-action remake, 101 Dalmatians. In the years following the release of the second movie, the Dalmatian breed suffered greatly at the hands of irresponsible breeders and inexperienced owners. Many well-meaning enthusiasts purchased Dalmatians—often for their children—without educating themselves on the breed and the responsibilities that come with owning such a high-energy dog breed. Dalmatians were abandoned in large numbers by their original owners and left with animal shelters. As a result, Dalmatian rescue organizations sprang up to care for the unwanted dogs and find them new homes. AKC registrations of Dalmatians decreased 90% during the 2000–2010 period.
A dream day in the life of a Dalmatian
The Dalmatian loves to wake up in the bedroom of his owner. Up and ready for his day, he’ll run outside for an action-filled romp in the yard before coming inside to greet the family. After a nice long run, he’ll await his next command. Running back and forth indoors and out, the Dalmatian will alternate standing guard and chasing random yard vermin. Barking at any strangers, he’ll also enjoy human companionship from his family throughout the day. Once night falls, the Dalmatian will happily snuggle close to his family.
Enjoy that Dalmatian!