Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable breeds, the Dalmatian has become famous for its spotted coat which is said to look like polka dots. The Dalmatian gets its name from the ancient Croatian region of Dalmatia where it is believed that the breed originated. However, it was in the United Kingdom and the United States that the breed was developed into its modern form and greatly popularized. The Dalmatian has been used for a wide variety of purposes throughout history, but is now most commonly found as a mascot or a companion animal. The Dalmatian is also known as the Carriage Dog, Spotted Carriage Dog, Firehouse Dog, Plum Pudding Dog, Spotted Dog, the Dalmatiner, and the Dal.
Much has been speculated about the history of this breed, but in truth almost nothing is known for certain. What is known is that they are not the first of their kind as spotted dogs have been found throughout history and in many different places. Egyptian relics dating back to several thousand years B.C. depict spotted dogs, as do somewhat younger artifacts from Africa, India, the Middle East, and various regions of Europe. Because humans are naturally attracted to differently colored animals, it is very likely that spotted dog breeds have appeared and been developed many times throughout history, any one of which, or none at all may have been the ancestor of the modern Dalmatian breed. Because virtually no dog breeding or importation records were kept until the late 1700’s, the true origin of this breed will likely never be known for certain. It is widely believed that the Dalmatian is a very ancient breed, with origins that go back at least 700 years. Part of the mystery surrounding the Dalmatian is that its spotted appearance and other attributes make it so unique among dog breeds. The Dalmatian does not seem to properly fit into any major breed grouping, and has at different times been classified as a scent hound, sight hound, guard dog, sporting breed, and herding dog.
The earliest record of a dog generally agreed upon to be a Dalmatian comes from around 1360 A.D. It was around this time that a fresco was painted in the Spanish Chapel of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy depincting a dog somewhat similar to the modern Dalmatian; although others have suggested that the breed depicted is actually an early Italian Greyhound. Although it is unclear when, at some point between the 15th and 17th centuries, spotted dogs became associated with the region of Dalmatia, an area composed of a strip of Adriatic coastline and its many nearby islands. Long inhabited primarily by the Croatian people, Dalmatia was until the 20th Century occupied by a series of powers, including the Roman Empire, Hungary, Venice, Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Yugoslavia. Because of its location, Dalmatia has been a borderland for many centuries and for almost 500 years was on the frontline of the endless conflicts between Christian Europe and the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It was during this time that the Dalmatian first came to fame as a dog of war. Croatian, Austrian, and Hungarian troops used the breed in battle against the Ottomans, and later to help patrol and guard the Dalmatian border. It is unclear how this breed found its way to Dalmatia. The most common theory is that the breed was introduced by Romani bands (more commonly but derogatively referred to as Gypsies) fleeing the Ottoman advance. However, this is little more than a story, and the breed may have been developed from local dogs or dogs from another region.
Likely due to their unique appearance, Dalmatians began to appear in both German and Italian art, particularly pieces done by Austrian and Venetian artists. Numerous works from the 1600’s show dogs which may have been Dalmatians, including 'The Boy with Dalmatian' by the Italian Domenichino, painted around 1620. These works, which were done in various locations provide solid evidence that by this time the breed was likely spreading across Europe. A 1687 painting of the French Dauphin (heir to the throne) shows him petting what is quite possibly a Dalmatian. It is widely believed that the Dalmatian was first introduced to England during either the late 1600’s or early 1700’s, although the exact date, along with who was responsible and where the dogs came from has been lost to history. It is most likely that British traders first sighted the dog while doing business in Austria, France, or the Netherlands and were attracted to its appearance. No surviving written records of Dalmatians exist prior to 1737. Bishopric records from the town of Dakovo, located in Northeastern Croatia’s Slavonia region, describe the breed under the Latin name of Canis Dalmaticus.
Unlike British guard dog breeds of the 1700’s such as the English Mastiff, the Dalmatian was a tireless athlete capable of running great distances without tiring. English carriage drivers quickly realized this fact and put the breed to work as a carriage dog usually in teams of two or more. Dalmatians were used by carriage drivers to guard the carriage as well as the horses that drove it. Dalmatians ran in front of, underneath, and to the sides of the carriage as it traveled, depending on the circumstances and the preferences of the driver. Dalmatians served carriage drivers in many ways. When the carriage was in motion, Dalmatians would drive pedestrians from its path, as well as nip at the heels of the horses to make them move faster. Of greater concern to most carriage drivers was the Dalmatian’s ability to drive off strange dogs that might spook or attack the horses.
Although very useful to a carriage in transit, the Dalmatian was primarily kept for its guarding abilities while the carriage was stopped. Theft was rampant in England in the years before modern law enforcement techniques were developed. One of the most common and serious forms of theft was that of horses. Horses were both extremely valuable and very easy to make off with in a hurry. Horse theft became so commonplace that it was necessary for carriage drivers to sleep in a hammock next to their animals. However, this was very dangerous as quiet thieves were very willing to slit a driver’s throat to take his horses or the cargo of his carriage. To combat the rampant lawlessness and thievery Dalmatians were used to defend the carriage and horses whenever it stopped. The Dalmatian was primarily a deterrent and watchdog that would either convince a wrongdoer to try his luck elsewhere or to alert its master that trouble was afoot. When that failed, however, the Dalmatian was more than capable of using violence to drive off a potential robber.
The Dalmatian proved an ideal carriage dog in many ways. The breed was large and powerful enough to act as a guard dog, as well as having a strong protective instinct. The Dalmatian was also capable of keeping up with the carriage on its own, and did not take up any valuable space or weight on the carriage itself. Perhaps most importantly to the wealthy clientele who could afford to own or rent a carriage, the Dalmatian was beautiful and elegant in appearance, always making a splashy entrance. Although naturally gifted with these benefits, English breeders worked tirelessly to improve the breed. The English are given almost universal credit for shaping the Dalmatian into its modern form. They made the dog faster, increased its endurance, refined its appearance, and mollified its temperament. Some say that the English bred a natural ability to work with horses into the Dalmatian; others say that it was already present due to travelling with gypsy caravans or possibly riding into battle alongside Egyptian Chariots.
It is, however, unclear how exactly the Dalmatian reached its modern form. Due to common practices of the time it is almost certain that blood from native British breeds was introduced to Dalmatian lines. Some claim that such crosses were rare, and that the Dalmatian remained almost pure. Others claim that very few Dalmatians were imported to England and the vast majority of the breed’s genetic makeup comes from British Dogs. There is also a substantial debate as to which breeds were used. The probability that the Dalmatian was crossed with the Pointer is very high as the Pointer was both common throughout England and is probably more similar to the Dalmatian in terms of build, appearance, and physical abilities than any other breed. Some fanciers have also suggested that the last surviving examples of the Talbot and Northern Hound were introduced to the Dalmatian. The Talbot was a solid white scent hound used primarily for hunting deer that was common across England for centuries but disappeared at the end of the 1700’S. The Northern Hound was a Foxhound-like breed found in Northern England that was also used for hunting deer and also disappeared at the end of the 1700’s.
By the late 1700’s, the Dalmatian was common throughout England, but especially in the north of that Country. The breed was also imported to England’s North American colonies at a very early time, becoming very popular with carriage drivers across the Atlantic. The much revered George Washington was an early American breeder of Dalmatians. During the 1800’s, America became heavily urbanized. A side effect of this urbanization was the ever increasing danger of fire. Fires that would have once destroyed one or two farm buildings now leveled block after block of apartments. In order to prevent this fire departments across the United States were organized as a defense against this menace. In an age before the invention of the automobile, the only way for firefighters and their equipment to get to a fire in time was by the use of horse drawn carriages. Unfortunately, even the carriages of firefighters were subject to theft. Robbers would steal expensive firefighting equipment and horses from the carriages while the firemen slept, and sometimes even when they were in the process of fighting a fire. Firehouses increasingly turned to Dalmatians to protect their property, and by the beginning of the 20th Century, the breed was almost as ubiquitous a sight in American firehouses as hoses. Although the Dalmatian’s primary role was to stay behind and guard the carriage, there are several records of these dogs braving fires, building collapses, and other dangerous situations to rescue a firefighter or civilian. British firemen also used Dalmatians, but not nearly to the extent as was common in America. American beer-brewing companies also began to use to Dalmatian. Their carriages carried large cargos of beer, a very tempting target for casual thieves (especially ones who were already intoxicated). Dalmatians became associated with a number of American breweries, most notably Budweiser.
The Dalmatian was considered a pure bred even before the creation of pedigrees and kennel clubs. When dog shows became incredibly popular in the United Kingdom in the mid-1800’s, the Dalmatian was a regular participant. This breed was especially favored by those who were the most common participants at early dog shows, members of the upper class who could afford to own their own carriages. The Dalmatian was present at the very earliest dog shows and became one of the earliest breeds registered with the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom (KC). The Dalmatian was also a regular entrant at early American dog shows and was first granted recognition by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1888.
Additionally Dalmatians were one of the first breeds to have a breed-specific club founded to promote and protect their interests and breeding. The Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) was founded in 1905, followed by its British counterpart five years later. However, Dalmatian breeders did not substantially alter the breed after the arrival of dog shows, and the dog retained a great deal of its working ability. From a very early time, fanciers noted that the Dalmatian was a very multi-talented breed and many have experimented with its abilities. Records from Britain and America show that the Dalmatian has performed admirably as a scent tracking hunting dog, a coursing sight hound, a herding dog, a search and rescue animal, a police dog, and a guarding breed, in addition to conformation showing and carriage protection. So many Dalmatians continued to be used as working dogs that in 1914 the United Kennel Club (UKC), which at that point was almost solely dedicated to working dogs, granted the breed full recognition.
The invention of the automobile almost entirely eliminated the need for horse-drawn carriages, and by the end of World War II they had all but been erased from the American landscape. This meant that the Dalmatian was out of work, which throughout the course of history, a breed losing its job usually precipitates a rapid decline in that breeds overall population. Unlike so many other breeds, this did not happen with the Dalmatian. The Dalmatian had become so firmly entrenched in American firehouses that they still maintained the breed as a mascot and companion animal, long after the dog had lost its guarding purpose. Although it may not seem so to outsiders, firehouse Dalmatians continued to serve a valuable role, that of companion, boredom preventer, and stress reliever to firemen.
Perhaps no breed has been so impacted by one work of literature than the Dalmatian. In 1956, Dodie Smith published The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, or the Great Dog Robbery. In 1961, the Walt Disney Company turned the book (with major changes) into a major animated feature, One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The film shows the attempts made by the Dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdita to rescue their puppies from the villainous Cruella De Vil, who intends to turn them into fur coats. The film became a mega-success and continues to be watched by countless children across the world. One Hundred and One Dalmatians exposed decades of children to the breed and many were so charmed that they wanted to acquire one for themselves. Beginning in the sixties many thousands of Dalmatians were bred to satisfy the intense demand for this breed. Unfortunately, many of these breeders cared only for profit and not for the quality of the dogs that they produced, leading to many genetic and temperamental defects. The Dalmatian earned a reputation for being unpredictable, in particular for biting. These problems were made worse by the fact that the Dalmatian is an incredibly active breed which needs more activity than the average family is willing or able to provide. Thousands of Dalmatians were unexercised and bored, leading to even more pronounced behavioral difficulties. The problem was exacerbated, when in 1996, Disney released a live-action remake of the film, starring Glen Close and Jeff Daniels. Despite many warnings from breeders, kennel clubs, veterinarians, and animal welfare organizations that the Dalmatian was not the ideal choice for most families, the film sparked a major craze for Dalmatian puppies. For several years, Dalmatian registrations skyrocketed as families wanted the dog from the movie. Unfortunately, Dalmatian puppies can be absolute terrors, destructive and extremely energetic. They also tend to be very mouthy and nippy until properly trained. This is especially true of the poorly bred Dalmatians that made up the bulk of those purchased during those years, as most respected breeders tried to distance themselves from the film to the greatest extent possible.
Thousands of families decided too late that they could not (or more likely did not want to) handle their Dalmatian puppies. This meant that countless Dalmatians ended up in animal shelters. In normal circumstances, a purebred Dalmatian would be quickly adopted or taken in by a rescue agency. Unfortunately, the breed had acquired such a bad reputation that few were willing to adopt these dogs, and rescue agencies were completely swamped. A huge number of Dalmatians born in the late 1990’s ended up being euthanized, possibly the majority. Although it is absolutely impossible to get reliable statistics, estimates suggest that at least more than half, and possibly as many as three-quarters of those who acquired Dalmatians in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s ended up giving them away within one year. The Dalmatian also acquired a tremendously negative reputation in the media and among the American populace. The breed was seen as hyperactive, destructive, uncontrollable, disobedient, stupid and even vicious. By the early 2000’s, not only had the Dalmatian craze ended, but the breed was significantly less popular than it had been before 1996. Breeders and pet stores could not sell Dalmatian puppies which led to a second round of abandonment and euthanasia when profit-seeking breeders and store owners saw no more value in keeping their dogs. For decades a very popular breed, the Dalmatian fell precipitously in registration statistics (a greater than 90% drop in less than a decade) and unless a turn-around is made quickly could soon become quite rare.
The health of the Dalmatian is of concern to many breeders. The Dalmatian suffers from two serious health defects at high rates, deafness and hyperuricemia. The majority of Dalmatians are deaf in at least one ear, and many are deaf in both ears. Early breeders did not understand this leading to the modern problem. A large part of the breed’s behavioral problems are likely the result of owners of deaf dogs not knowing how to train and control them. Modern breeders better understand genetics and are working to eliminate the deafness trait, although studies of other light-coated breeds suggests this may be difficult. Hyperuricemia is a potentially fatal condition that often leads to kidney failure among other problems. The condition is caused by a faulty gene. Unfortunately, no purebred Dalmatian has the correct gene so it is impossible to breed this out of the Dalmatian without crossing it with other breeds. This was recognized as early as the 1970’s and in 1973 Doctor Robert Schaible began the Dalmatian-Pointer Backcross Project. Schaible crossed a single Pointer with a Dalmatian to introduce the correct gene. All subsequent crosses were made with purebred Dalmatians. By 1985, Schaible was on the fifth generation and his dogs were indistinguishable from other purebred Dalmatians. He convinced the AKC to register 2 of his dogs as purebred Dalmatians, but the DCA was so opposed that their offspring could not be registered. This project continues to be controversial with Dalmatian fanciers, but attitudes have generally softened over time. In 2006, the DCA began discussions to repeat the project, and the AKC formally granted recognition to backcrossed dogs in 2011, most of which were at least 13 generations removed from the original Pointer cross.
The impact of 101 Dalmatians was watched with horror by long-time Dalmatian enthusiasts and breeders. It is their firm belief that the Dalmatian is not a fundamentally flawed breed; but that certain lines have been carelessly bred by disreputable breeders and that the breed is ill-suited to life with many families. Many Dalmatian owners greatly support this belief, even those who made the effort to keep the dogs they acquired in the breed craze of the late 1990’s. Once a Dalmatian exits the puppy stage, breed members that are properly exercised and trained generally make excellent and much beloved family companions. The many misconceptions about the breed such as viciousness and untrainability are disproven by the thousands of firehouse Dalmatians and the many dog sport champions this breed has produced.
Currently, breed fanciers are working to restore the reputation and population of the Dalmatian (although to a much more reasonable level). They are also taking advantage of smaller breed numbers and the presence of fewer disreputable breeders to attempt to eliminate health and behavioral defects from the breed. In 2010, the Dalmatian ranked 69th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations, this after ranking in the top 10 – 15 for most of the 1990’s. The modern Dalmatian remains capable of performing a number of jobs, and these dogs regularly compete at the highest levels of obedience and agility competitions, as well as other canine sports such as Frisbee and flyball. However, the vast majority of American Dalmatians are currently either mascots or companion animals, tasks which the breed is well-suited, given the right owner and proper care.
Although other dogs have spots, no other breed has the unique polka-dotted coat of the Dalmatian. The Dalmatian is so famous for its coat that many Americans assume that any spotted dog is a Dalmatian mix. The Dalmatian is a medium sized dog, and most stand between 19 and 23 inches tall at the shoulder. Although breed standards do not specify an ideal weight, most Dalmatians in good physical shape weigh between 45 and 70 pounds. The Dalmatian is a very athletically capable breed, and most of these dogs are quite muscular and lean, although not exactly thin. The Dalmatian was and is bred primarily for its spotted coat and working ability. As a result, none of its other features are exaggerated in a way that would compromise its athleticism. For example, the Dalmatian is squarely proportioned and most of its physical features are average in size. The tail of the Dalmatian is a virtual extension of the back, which it is carried nearly level with. The Dalmatian’s long tail starts off quite thick and then tapers to a fine point.
As with most of the breed’s physical features, the Dalmatian’s head is proportional to the size of its body. The breed has a very flat head, which ends in a muzzle that is roughly the same length as the skull. The muzzle itself is strong and powerful, with tight fitting lips. The slightly rounded face is noticeably wider than the muzzle, and when combined the two form a light-bulb shape. The nose and eyes of the Dalmatian match its spot color: liver noses and light brown to amber eyes on liver-spotted dogs, black noses and dark brown eyes on black-spotted dogs. Because they match the spots, the eyes and nose of this breed are often unnoticeable at first glance. The ears of the Dalmatian are round in shape and medium in size. They drop down close to the head. Although usually facing slightly forward, this is more pronounced when the dog is at attention. The overall expression of the Dalmatian varies tremendously from dog to do, some look playful and happy-go-lucky, and others appear stern and protective.
By far the most important and noticeable feature of the Dalmatian breed is its spotted coat. The coat itself is short, dense, fine, and close fitting. Ideally, the coat should appear glossy, but this is not always the case. The base coat of the Dalmatian is always white, and in fact these dogs are famously born solid white. The dog has a great many spots over its entire body. Almost all Dalmatians have dark black or liver brown spots which are the only colors acceptable for breeding or the show ring. Occasionally a Dalmatian will be born with sports of a different color such as yellow, tan, or red. While these dogs make fine pets, they cannot be shown and should not be bred. Every Dalmatian has a very unique coat, so it is difficult to generalize about how the spots show up other than to say that the spots are usually smaller on the head, face, legs, and tail than on the rest of the body. Some Dalmatians have only a few larger spots, and some are so heavily-spotted with small spots that they appear solid colored from a distance. Breed standards do describe the ideal pattern however. The spots should be as round as possible, the closer to circular the better. The spots should ideally be small, ranging in size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar. Large patches are highly undesirable unless they are covering the ears or the eyes, and then some fanciers actually prefer them (although some kennel clubs do not). The ideal spots should be quite distinct from each other with a fair amount of white in between, although a very light spotting is not preferred.
It is almost impossible to make generalizations about the temperament of the Dalmatian for at least three reasons. The biggest is that there is a wide gap in the temperaments of well-bred and poorly bred Dalmatians, with the former generally being quite stable and reliable and the latter generally being wildly unpredictable. The second is that the temperament of a Dalmatian is more dependent on training, socialization, and exercise than almost any other breed and thus difficult to predict at birth. Finally, a very high percentage of Dalmatians are fully or partially deaf, which also greatly impacts temperament. It is generally fair to say that most well-bred Dalmatians who receive the proper training and exercise are often among the canine world’s true gentlemen and that poorly-bred Dalmatians or those that have not been properly trained or exercised are highly unpredictable, emotionally unstable, and often hyperactive nightmares. It is of the utmost importance that potential Dalmatian owners make a concerted effort to find a responsible breeder and to carefully select a Dalmatian puppy. It is also very important that they properly train and socialize this breed.
The Dalmatian varies greatly when it comes to affection levels. Some are fawningly affectionate, others are more passive. Some Dalmatians are very needy, and come to think that they are lap dogs, while others are somewhat more aloof. Definitely not a one-person dog, the Dalmatian will form close attachments to most members of a family if given enough time. Owners who keep their Dalmatians past puppyhood very often say that their dog is their best friend. Dalmatians also vary tremendously when it comes to strangers. When properly socialized, Dalmatians range from being politely aloof to extremely friendly with everyone. This is only the case for well-bred dogs; some lines are very prone to aggressiveness or extreme timidity. This alert and excitable breed makes is an instinctual watch dog, and with proper training makes an excellent guard. Owners must be aware that guard dog trained Dalmatians have very low bite inhibition and are generally unfriendly with strangers.
Dalmatians have a mixed reputation with children. Well-bred and properly trained Dalmatians generally get along very well with children, and greatly enjoy playing with them. If all Dalmatians fit into that category, the breed would probably have a very good reputation with kids. Owners must be aware that Dalmatian puppies are probably not the ideal match for very young children as they tend to be wildly exuberant and may bowl over toddlers while playing. It is also true that most Dalmatian puppies tend to be very mouthy, which if uncontrolled can lead to biting. Bite inhibition training is very important even for adults, as this breed was tasked with nipping at the heels of horses. These problems are greatly magnified when Dalmatians are not properly exercised. Such dogs become severely emotionally stressed and often highly unpredictable. Additionally, some poorly bred Dalmatian lines are prone to snappiness and defensiveness even as adults. A word of caution about deaf Dalmatians is necessary. Deaf Dalmatians are inherently more reactive than other dogs as a result of their disability, such as their tendency to snap instinctively when woken unexpectedly. As a result, it is probably inadvisable to keep a deaf Dalmatian in a home with young children.
Dalmatians are generally good with other dogs. When properly trained and socialized, few Dalmatians have dog aggression issues, and most greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog. This breed is not especially prone to territorial, dominance, or possessiveness issues. However, as is the case with all dogs, Dalmatians which have not been exposed to other canines may react negatively towards them and unaltered members of the same sex often have issues with each other. Dalmatians are very highly regarded with non-canine animals. In particular, the breed is known to have a natural affinity for horses. This affinity is so strong that many stables keep the breed to be companions for horses kept in stall in order to prevent them from being stressed. When properly trained, most Dalmatians are also very accepting of smaller pets such as cats, although they may play too rough for their taste. Dalmatians that have not been socialized with cats or other small creatures may very well see them as prey, and it is not unheard of for these dogs to become cat killers.
Training is more important for the Dalmatian than almost any other breed, and has a tremendous impact on their temperaments. The Dalmatian has a reputation for being stupid and difficult to train. However, this is far from the case. Many experts believe that the breed is one of the most trainable of all dogs, and there is essentially nothing that a Dalmatian cannot be trained to do, from herding to circus tricks. This breed regularly competes and wins at the highest levels of obedience and agility competitions. Owners who know what they are doing and are willing to put in the time and effort are likely to end up with a dog that is fabulously well-trained. However, the Dalmatian is not a Labrador Retriever or Standard Poodle, and does please mindlessly or automatically. Dalmatians are more than smart enough to figure out exactly what they can and cannot get away with, and they will live their lives according to those rules. This dog needs a consistent and firm hand in training, because they will choose the inconsistency that they prefer. Dalmatian owners must make sure that they are in a position of dominance and leadership at all times. Naturally independent-minded, Dalmatians will only obey those that they respect. Dalmatians that do not obey or respect their masters are some of the most mischievous and terribly behaved of all dogs. Inexperienced owners or those who are unwilling to make the proper training efforts are likely to have an absolute canine monster. As one would expect, deaf Dalmatians provide many training difficulties, and probably require an experienced and dedicated dog owner (preferably one with previous experience with deaf dogs).
A huge part of the Dalmatian’s negative reputation is that many people are unaware of the breed’s intense exercise requirements. This breed has more energy and athletic ability than possibly any other, save for a few herding breeds and working terriers. Dalmatians were bred to keep pace with horses for hours at a time. These dogs need a great deal of vigorous exercise; a daily walk will absolutely not suffice for this breed. To keep a Dalmatian happy, owners must provide their dog with at least an hour of intense physical activity every day, and this breed will take any longer amount it is provided. Dalmatians greatly prefer to run, and make perhaps the best jogging and cycling companion of any breed, and definitely the best for horseback riders. This breed greatly prefers to have an outlet for its mind as well as its body, and loves running through an agility course or catching a Frisbee. Dalmatians that do not have their exercise needs met almost always develop severe emotional, mental, and behavioral problems. Such dogs almost universally become destructive, often to the point where they destroy every piece of furniture in a house. This breed also very commonly becomes hyperactive, extremely excitable, unpredictable, and snappy. While Dalmatians greatly prefer to have a yard to run around in, they still need regular exercise. Otherwise they will probably destroy the yard. The energy level of the Dalmatian is actually highly desirable for many families. There is no activity that any dog is capable of doing that a Dalmatian isn’t, from mountain climbing to surfing. Active families who enjoy long daily runs or other outdoor adventures find the breed is always ready and eager to accompany them anywhere.
Dalmatians are a very “doggy” dog. They love to roll around in the mud and snow, and will track it in the house. They dig massive holes and tear up flower beds. They bark loudly, jump around, and beg for attention. Owners who think that this breed will be a refined companion such as many toy breed because it looks beautiful will be sorely disappointed. A Dalmatian is not a hamster, cat, nor Yorkshire Terrier, and it is most definitely not a fashion accessory. Those seeking such an animal should not acquire a Dalmatian, both for their own sakes and the sake of the dog. The same applies for families interested in the breed simply because of its starring role in One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Given enough time, most Dalmatians become incredibly beloved by their families. Unfortunately, many are not given enough time because Dalmatian puppies are a handful. Although energetic throughout their lives, Dalmatian puppies are literally constant balls of energy. They are always on the go, and almost always getting into trouble. They are destructive and quite mischievous. A fair comparison is a two-year old child, but with much greater physical abilities and sharp teeth and claws. Owners must be prepared for at least two years of craziness. Those considering breeding their Dalmatian must think long and hard because this breed has one of the largest litter sizes of any breed, usually between 8 and 15.
Dalmatians have very low grooming requirements. They never need professional grooming and only require a regular brushing. However, this breed is a very heavy shedder, and if shedding rankings were made, the breed might even rank in the top ten. Dalmatians shed heavily almost constantly, and their white hair is very noticeable. This problem is magnified many times twice a year when the seasons change. During seasonal shedding, a Dalmatian releases an unbelievable amount of hair, to the point that a hair outline of the dog is visible where it has laid down. Allergy sufferers or those who hate cleaning up dog hair are strongly advised to consider a different breed.
Dalmatians are somewhat mixed when it comes to health. The breed suffers from three very common health problems (some would say endemic), but is otherwise a very healthy breed with very low rates of issues such as hip dysplasia. The three most common health problems experienced by Dalmatians are deafness, uric acid syndrome, and skin problems. Dalmatians have a very long life expectancy for a dog of this size, and with proper care most live between 11 and 13 years. Some breed members tend to live very long lives and it is not all that uncommon for a Dalmatian to reach 15 or 16.
The most serious problem facing Dalmatians is deafness, both bilateral/complete (deaf in both ears) and unilateral/partial (deaf in only one ear). As is the case with all white-coated or piebald animals, Dalmatians are highly likely to be deaf. This problem is likely the result of early breeders who did not identify the problem, especially since without modern testing methods it is very hard to identify a unilaterally deaf dog. Most surveys and studies have suggested that at approximately 12% of Dalmatians are born completely deaf. Although estimates of the percentage of unilaterally deaf Dalmatians varies, most studies place the figure between 50% and 60%. This means that only between 30% and 40% of Dalmatians have normal hearing. Luckily, tests exist that can identify bilaterally or unilaterally deaf dogs from a very early age and all responsible breeders have them performed. There is a dispute as to what should become of deaf Dalmatians. Unilaterally deaf Dalmatians generally make just as good of a pet as a normal dog, and are typically spayed or neutered and then homed. Bilaterally deaf Dalmatians pose severe problems, and most breeder follow DCA recommendations to immediately euthanize all bilaterally deaf Dalmatian puppies. The genetics of deafness in Dalmatians are not properly understood and sometimes litters of two Dalmatians with perfect hearing will produce a deaf puppy. However, breeders are hoping that studies and improved breeding techniques will slowly reduce its occurrence.
Dalmatians have a peculiar tendency, unique to the breed, but universally found within it. These dogs release uric acid directly from the kidneys rather than changing it into a water soluble material. This is caused by a gene lacking in all purebred Dalmatians. Many Dalmatians are unaffected by this, but others experience uric acid syndrome. Uric acid syndrome results in the formation of kidney stones. These stones can be quite painful to pass, and can sometimes result in urinary blockages, infections, and even death. Uric acid syndrome is considerably more prevalent in male Dalmatians then females, likely due to anatomical differences. Since the 1970’s, some breeders have advocating crossing Dalmatians with other breeds to introduce the correct gene into the breed, a process attempted once in the 1970’s. Initially controversial, dogs descended from the original cross have recently been granted full recognition and it is hoped that the uric acid syndrome will eventually be reduced or eliminated from the breed.
Although skeletal and visual problems are relatively rare in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have it tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Those health problems most commonly experienced by the Dalmatian include: