The Dalmatian is a breed of dog, noted for its white coat with either black or liver spots. Although other color variations do exist, any color markings other than black or liver are a disqualification in purebred Dalmatians. The famous spotted coat is unique to the Dalmatian breed; no other purebred dog breed sports the flashy spotted markings. The breed takes its name from the Croatian province of Dalmatia, where it is believed to have originated.
This popular breed of dog is a well-muscled, midsized dog with superior endurance. Known for its elegance, the Dalmatian has a body type similar to the Pointer, to which it may be related. The ideal US Dalmatian should stand between 19 and 24 inches at the withers and weight from 45 to 70 lbs fully grown (the UK standard does not accept such small animals and calls for a height between 22 and 24 inches); males are generally slightly larger than females. The coat is short, dense, and fine. The ground color is white with round, well-defined spots of uniform color, either black or one of the brown shades. Lemon, orange, blue, tricolor, and brindle spots can very rarely also occur, but they are a disqualifying fault according to the breed standard, as are any areas of solid color not the result of heavy spotting. The feet are round and compact with well-arched toes. The nails are either white and/or the same color as the spots. The nose is black in black-spotted dogs, and brown in liver-spotted. The eyes may be black, brown or blue, and may not both be of the same color (mismatched eyes are a major fault for showing), with an intelligent expression. The blue eye is not acceptable in British dalmatians. The ears are thin, tapering toward the tip, set fairly high and carried close to the head.
Puppies are born with completely white fur, though the beginning of spots can sometimes be seen under the skin of a newborn pup. Any areas of color at birth are a “patch”, and patches are a disqualifying fault in the breed standard. Common areas of a patch are one or both ears, head and neck, and rear. Large patches often result from mating with a non-Dalmatian. Spots will become evident after a week or so, and develop rapidly during the first few weeks. Spots will continue to develop both in number and size throughout the dogs’ life, though at a slower pace as the dog gets older. Spots should be well-defined, round, and evenly distributed over the body. Spot size may vary from the size of a dime, to the size of a dollar coin, but the more distinct the spots are, the better. An allowable exception is that spots on the muzzle may be very small, and are called “speckles”.
As a result of their history as coach dogs, the breed is very active and needs plenty of exercise. They are very fast runners, with a great deal of stamina and self-reliance. Given freedom to roam, they will take multi-day trips on their own across the countryside. In today’s urban environment, they will not likely survive such excursions and must be contained. Owners of Dalmatians must be prepared to devote many hours of each day to exercising this high energy breed. They must have opportunities to run about unleashed, or their pent-up energies will become a handling problem.
Their energetic and playful nature make them good companions for children and they have an instinctive fondness for humans, horses, and other Dalmatians. These qualities make them somewhat “unbreakable”, and forgiving of rough handling by children. However, it is imperative that they be socialized with children while still puppies, and also that children be taught the correct way to play with a Dalmatian. These are powerful dogs that are easily capable of injuring a child in the process of innocent play.
They have very sensitive natures and never forget ill-treatment, and cannot be trained by using rough methods. However, their rambunctious and playful personalities necessitate constant supervision around very small children, whom they may accidentally knock over and hurt. Dalmatians are extremely people oriented dogs, and will get very lonely if left by themselves, and should be trained to accept their owners’ absence if they must be left alone. A better option is to provide companions. These dogs crave human companionship and do poorly if left alone in a backyard or basement. Dalmatians are famed for their intelligence, independence, and survival instincts. In general they have good memories and kindly natures. Originally bred to defend carriages and horses, these dogs can become territorial if not properly raised. They are extremely loyal to their owners, and can as a result become quite protective of their human families. Because of this protective instinct, some Dalmatians may develop aggression towards other dogs if not properly trained and socialized while young.
Dalmatians are unique in having facial muscles that permit them to exhibit a behaviour that is called “smiling”. This involves drawing back their lips in what appears to be a snarl, without growling, to indicate submission.
The breed was named in the 18th century after Dalmatia, a province of Croatia (then a part of the Venetian Republic). In 1955, the FÃ©dÃ©ration Cynologique Internationale set the origin of the dogs to Croatia (then a state within Yugoslavia). However, no historical evidence of this breed being present in the Balkans dates before the early 20th century, when they where brought there by England. Because of these inconsistencies, various claims exist about the breed’s origin. Similar dogs are known from archaeological findings and historical sources in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, but it is not exactly known if they are related to the modern Dalmatian. According to some scholars, the name could stem from a 14th century painting in Florence by Andrea Bonaiuti, in which a group of dogs similar to the modern Dalmatians are shown next the a group of friars donning a stoat fur called “Dalmatica”. These dogs were found frequently in the company of Roma people, and are known to have been popular in the Vatican in the 16th century. Some people believe the dogs came from Rajistan with the Roma in the 11th century and were originally harriers in the desert.
The breed’s origins are as a generalized working dog. They were used for so many tasks â€“ herding sheep, hunting rodents or in a pack, and working as a retriever and as a bird dog â€“ that they were never specialized into one particular area.
The Dalmatian’s reputation as a carriage dog developed in Victorian England where it was employed as a fashionable accessory running alongside horse-drawn carriages (therefore also known as Spotted Coach-dog). Carriage dogs were useful for clearing the way in front of the carriage, possibly for helping to control the horses when at a full run (such as for horse-drawn fire engines), and undoubtedly because they were attractive and eye-catching. A well trained carriage dog would be trained to run through the wheel spokes of a moving carriage, requiring a great deal of speed and dexterity.
Particulary in the United States, this use as a carriage dog was transferred to horse-drawn fire engines, although it is unclear why this link was not made in other countries. It is believed that Dalmatians may have been useful to fire brigades as guard dogs to protect a firehouse and its equipment, and as rescue dogs to locate victims in burning structures. As a result, in the U.S., Dalmatians are commonly known as firehouse dogs.
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 magnificent Clydesdale horses, is always accompanied by a Dalmatian carriage dog. The giga-brewer 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.
Dalmatians are a very old breed, often thought to be the very first type of dog for which man made deliberate attempts to selectively breed for specific characteristics. These characteristics were at first appearance, then other attributes such as stamina, endurance, and health. The result is a very prolific and long-lived breed of striking appearance, generally free from ailments common to other dogs such as hip displacia (almost unknown in purebred dalmatians). Most of their health problems result from the onset of old age; the average Dalmatian lives between 11 and 13 years, although some can live as long as 15 to 16 years. Males over 10 are prone to kidney stones and should have calcium intake reduced or take preventive medication. In their late teens, both males and females may suffer bone spurs and arthritic conditions. When mated, Dalmatians average about 8 pups per litter.
The exception to their good health is a genetic disposition towards deafness. Deafness was not recognised by early breeders, and the breed was thought to be stupid. Rather, the breed was so smart that it could overcome its deafness. Even after recognizing the problem as a genetic fault, man did not understand its nature, and deafness in dalmatians continued to be a frequent problem.
Today, however, we know that this deafness is caused the absence of mature melanocytes (pigment cells) in the inner ear. This may affect one or both ears. Moreover, there is an accurate test (the BAER test) which can determine if the defect is present. Animals can be tested from 5 weeks of age. Only those with bilateral hearing (hearing in both ears) should be allowed to breed, although those with unilateral (hearing in one ear only) deafness make fine pets. Since bilateral deafness makes socialization and training of young puppies very difficult, most Dalmatian organizations strongly urge that puppies born with bilateral deafness are humanely euthanized, and breeding from them should not be allowed. Research shows that Dalmatians with large ‘patches’ of color have a lower rate of deafness, and breeding for this trait (currently prohibited in the breed standard) would reduce the frequency of deafness in the breed.
There has been some success in using signed commands rather than vocal one to train deaf dogs. BAER testing is the only way of detecting unilateral deafness, and reputable breeders test their dogs prior to breeding. Research suggests that blue-eyed Dalmatians have a greater incidence of deafness than brown-eyed Dalmatians, although an absolute link between the two characteristics has yet to be conclusively proven; blue-eyed Dalmatians are not necessarily deaf. However, many Kennel Clubs consider blue eyes to be a fault or even a disqualification, and at the very least discourage the use of blue-eyed Dalmatians in breeding programs.
Dalmatians, like humans, the great apes, some New World monkeys, and guinea pigs, can suffer from hyperuricemia. The latter lack an enzyme called uricase, which breaks down uric acid. However, in Dalmatians, the deficit seems to be in liver transport. Uric acid can build up in joints and cause gout or bladder stones. These conditions are most likely to occur in middle-aged males. Owners should be careful to limit the intake of purine by not feeding these dogs organ meats in order to reduce the likelihood of stones.
Backcrosses to English Pointers
Hyperuricemia in Dalmatians (as in all breeds) is inherited. However, unlike other breeds of dog the “normal” gene for uricase is not present in the breed’s gene pool at all. Therefore, there is no possibility of eliminating hyperuricemia among pure-bred Dalmatians. The only possible solution to this problem must then be crossing Dalmatians with other breeds in order to reintroduce the “normal” uricase gene.
This has led to the foundation of the “Dalmatian-Pointer Backcross Project”, which aims to reintroduce the normal uricase gene into Dals by crossing them with English Pointers, to whom they are normally thought to be related and who have the normal uricase gene. This project was started in 1973 by Dr. Robert Schaible. The f1 hybrids did not resemble Dalmatians very closely. The f1s were then crossed back to pure-bred Dals. This breeding produced puppies of closer resemblance to the pure Dal. By the fifth generation in 1981 they resembled pure Dals so much that Dr. Schaible convinced the AKC to allow two of the hybrids to be registered along with pure-bred Dals. The Dalmatian Club of America’s (DCA) board of directors supported this decision, however it quickly became highly controversial among the club members. A vote by DCA members opposed the registration of the hybrids, causing the AKC to ban registration to any of the dog’s offspring.
At the annual general meeting of the DCA in May of 2006 the backcross issue was discussed again by club members. In June of the same year DCA members were presented with an opportunity to vote on whether hybrid’s ban from registration should be lifted. The results of this ballot have not been published as of August 27 2006.
The breed experienced a massive surge in popularity as a result of the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, and especially the Disney films based on the book. After the 1996 live action film 101 Dalmatians was released, the Dalmatian breed suffered greatly at the hands of irresponsible breeders and owners. Many irreputable breeders and puppy mills cashed in on the breed’s enormous surge of popularity, and began breeding high numbers of Dalmatians without first ensuring the health, quality, and temperament of the dogs being bred. Many well meaning people purchased Dalmatians without first being aware the responsibilities that come with owning such a high energy dog breed. For example, Dalmatians, having been bred to run with horses, require plenty of exercise that not all owners could provide. Many Dalmatians were abandoned by their owners, and the breed unfortunately developed an unfair reputation of being ‘difficult’, ‘stupid’, or ‘high strung’. Dalmatians are known as “the watchdogs of the Lord,” and was the animal seen in the vision of St. Dominic.