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Ash here, back with another breed of the week. This week I wanted to talk about a dog that is infinitely recognizable, famous for a great many reasons, and also potentially one of the most misleading dogs that exist. What do I mean by that? Let’s find out!
While Dalmatians are named after the eastern coast of Croatia, called Dalmatia, canine historians don’t think the breed originated there. It’s honestly hard to say where this breed truly comes from, but we know that the Dalmatians we see today were bred almost exclusively in England.
Like the Greyhound, Dalmatians were bred exclusively to run. These dogs started life as coaching dogs, meaning they were trained to run alongside horse-drawn coaches in the era before cars and discourage other dogs and even people from messing with the horses. They were also bred to guard the coach and the horses when the people stopped and got out. You can see very easily how this translates into being a fire house mascot: when fire houses still used horse drawn carriages, it was imperative that their horses be free of distraction and danger. As history turned to motorized vehicles, Dalmatians stayed on to help clear paths in busy streets for the fire engine.
Their fantastic running ability also made the Dalmatian an excellent hunting dog, which was a big draw for English breeders during the 1800s. The AKC recognized the Dalmatian as early as 1888, and there have been internationally recognized breed clubs going back as far as the early 1900s. Clearly this breed is well established and here to stay.
The most recognizable thing about a Dalmatian is its coat, which is always white with black spots. The spots are irregular and can range from just a few sporadic spots to nearly covering the entire dog. Its body type is extremely athletic, with lean muscle and a trim waist, very similar to the body of a Pointer. These dogs have a very alert and “proper” posture, but there’s nothing extravagant about their appearance. Their coat is short and silky, and their bodies are very practical. In other words, the Dalmatian appearance is very much that of a sporting dog – built for speed and nothing else. Many owners comment that Dalmatians look very intelligent in the face, and it’s true – there is something about their practical appearance that makes these dogs look very smart. But one common trait that may surprise you is that Dalmatians are known for “smiling” when they greet their human – an endearingly goofy feature in an otherwise very elegant and fashionable dog.
Dalmatians stand about 19 to 24 inches tall, and weigh anywhere from 45 to 70 pounds. They live between 11 and 13 years.
The Dalmatian personality is where most owners get a huge surprise. After watching 101 Dalmatians or seeing a well-trained fire house mascot, they expect to be getting a dog that will be something like a Labrador in spots. Instead, they get a dog that is known for being a bit temperamental.
First things first, this dog is highly energetic and needs hours and hours of exercise to feel satisfied. Dalmatians can literally run for hours without stopping – it’s what they were bred for. If you aren’t able to offer a Dalmatian ample time for exercise every single day, then there is no doubt you’ll end up with a destructive, cranky dog on your hands. An absolute minimum of an hour per day is required to keep these dogs happy.
Dalmatians aren’t necessarily shy, but they do tend to be very reserved around new people. It’s not hard at all for a Dalmatian to become aggressive, because the breed was made for guarding. Additionally, over-breeding due to the movie popularity caused certain aggressive traits to be amplified, so it’s very important that you research the breeder before you buy. Be sure to find out if either of the parents exhibit aggressive behavior, and look at the litter mates as well. If you can find someone who has an older sibling (a dog bred by the same parents from a previous litter), find out if that dog was easily trained out of any aggression.
Mental stimulation will be important for a Dalmatian as well, but they don’t tend to enjoy toys. If you can train a Dalmatian early to exhaust themselves with a moving toy, such as Kong Wobbler, you’ll thank yourself later.
Dalmatians are very alert, and always on guard. When they are with people they trust, they do tend to be vocal and a bit busy-bodyish. They want to know what’s going on, and they want to tell you all about it. With their person, Dalmatians can be very goofy and silly, even a bit mischievous, but it takes the right owner to get past the somewhat aloof courteousness that many Dalmatians are known for.
All that being said, Dalmatians can be excellent dogs if they are trained well. It’s vital that a Dalmatian be socialized early and frequently, and that they be given very firm training. Their owner should be someone with experience with dogs, and professional training is always a good idea with this breed.
All in all, Dalmatians are high strung and a bit needy compared to other breeds – but earning their trust enough to reveal that goofy and fun side is worth it to many Dalmatian owners. Socialization, good training, and exercise are far more important with a Dalmatian than with a great many other breeds you could choose. It will take effort on the part of an owner to not only make a Dalmatian a good dog, but to keep them that way. This isn’t said to discourage you! By all means enjoy owning this striking dog. But do be aware of what you’re in for before you buy.
Like all pure bred dogs, Dalmatians can be prone to certain health issues. One of the biggest concerns for a Dalmatian is deafness. These dogs are prone to losing their hearing as they get older, which is a genetic trait. Be sure to check that the parents don’t have hearing loss, or that older siblings are not suffering from any signs of deafness before purchasing a puppy from a breeder.
Dalmatians are also prone to urinary tract stones. These are most common in males, and it can be a very serious health problem if not treated immediately. While it’s not exactly a fun thing to keep track of, it’s important that you periodically check that your Dalmatian is urinating properly and frequently. If you notice that they haven’t gone in what seems like an unusual amount of time, or if they are struggling to pee in a consistent stream, you should see a vet.
Dalmatians can also be prone to skin conditions, especially allergies. If your Dalmatian has raw spots, balding areas, or seems especially itchy, it could be an allergy to anything from grass to their food. These dogs are also prone to eye problems, which are sometimes related to allergies as well.
Remember that reputable breeders will tell you if the parents of a dog have any of these health issues, and they should offer you proof that the puppy has been BAER tested for hearing. BAER stands for Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response, and is a basic test that the Dalmatian Club of America sponsors to ensure that breeders are helping to rid the breed of this trait.
Taking your Dalmatian to the vet on a regular basis is very important to ensure you’re catching any potential issues early. Eye problems and skin conditions can easily be treated before they become serious. The urinary tract stones can also be treated before they become painful or potentially dangerous.
Dalmatians have a very short coat that is silky and smooth. It doesn’t require much more beyond occasional brushing with a curry comb or slicker brush to remove any shed hair. However, don’t shirk this duty just because it’s not a huge need. Grooming time is a really good time to keep your Dalmatian socialized and used to being touched, so this can serve another much more important purpose. These dogs can suffer a build up of wax in the ears, which can cause infection, so be sure to clean those at least once a week. They also have very tough nails that need to be kept short. Consider seeing a professional groomer if your dog’s strong nails are black, cutting off your view of the quick that can bleed when nicked. Additionally, Dalmatians should have their teeth brushed about once a week to prevent oral health concerns.
Dalmatians can typically be fed a diet of high-quality dog food just like any other breed. Choose something appropriate for their developmental stage, such as puppy food or adult food, and you’re good to go. However, if your Dalmatian has allergies, you may need to choose a food with a hypoallergenic formula. Additionally, there are many foods that are made for dogs who are prone to urinary tract stones. Talk to your vet about what would be best for your dog.
Once again, I’m going to stress that you are able to provide a Dalmatian with tons of exercise. Going for a walk, or ideally a run, is great as long as you can get in at least an hour a day. Dalmatians do not have a good tolerance for boredom, and they desperately need the activity if you’re going to avoid destructive behavior. Teach your Dalmatian to play fetch, to run obstacle courses, to do acrobatic tricks, to go swimming, or any other activity you can think of, and you’ll have a much happier dog on your hands. Lure Coursing is a great activity for a Dalmatian.
However, be sure that you aren’t taxing a Dalmatian puppy. Like most larger breeds, these pups grow faster than their joints can handle. A Dalmatian should be at least 18 months old before you start training them to be your running buddy.
Introducing a Dalmatian to kids and other pets can be tricky. Most Dalmatians like people once they get to know them. However, very young children should be supervised when playing with a Dalmatian. These dogs are better off with older children who can handle the high energy play time, and who understand when to back off should the dog get agitated. This goes triple for a Dalmatian with hearing problems; being startled by an unsuspecting toddler is asking for a disaster.
Dalmatians can be great with other pets when properly socialized, but keep in mind that these dogs were bred to keep other dogs away from their people. They can get protective, and may not be the best dog to introduce to an established “pack” of existing pets.
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A well trained Dalmatian is a dignified-yet-fun pet to have, but be aware that it takes effort to help these dogs past a few ingrained behavioral concerns. If you are a very athletic person with a lot of time to give and a good handle on dog training, then you’d be a good owner for a Dalmatian. Be aware that kids and other pets could pose an issue, but don’t let that rule this beautiful dog out – you’ll just have to search a little harder to find a healthy puppy from a great breeder.