Welcome to the BarkPost guide to dog breeds where we belly flop straight into the depths of dog breed origin, evolution, and purpose. Follow along each week as we publish new guides that highlight the strangest, most interesting, and most surprising stuff about these creatures who have been our best buds the last 30,000 years.
Intro / Overview
(All dogs are individuals, which means any single dog from any breed can be any number of ways, both good and not so good. Keep that in mind as we discuss breed generalities!)
The uniquely speckled Dalmatian has served many functions over the past 200-or-so years. They have worked as carriage dogs, circus performers, rat hunters, and of course, fire dogs.
Dalmatians are intelligent and multi-talented, but they may not be the right breed for everyone. Bred to be hard workers and protective companions, they are extremely high-energy and wary of strangers.
Dalmatians are also quite headstrong, requiring a firm and consistent hand when it comes to training. This, combined with their high intellect and exercise demands makes them a challenging breed indeed!
However, faithful devotees of the breed report their unparalleled loyalty, unabashed affection and goofy nature. If you love to run, hike, play, and compete, the sprightly, spotted Dalmatian may be the pup for you!
Also Known As...
The Dalmatian is well known as a fearless and valiant Fire House Dog. The breed also has several nicknames including the English Coat Dog, Carriage Dog, Spotted Dick, and Plum Pudding Dog.
Or you could go with a BarkPost recommendation: Domino Dog, Patchy Pup, Cookies & Cream Dream, Peppered Pooch, Dotty Doggo, and Cow-Print Canine.
"The zebra of dogs!"
The Dalmatian's exact history is shrouded in mystery. Experts agree the breed has at least some of its roots in Dalmatia, a southern region of Croatia along the Adriatic Sea. Though clearly named for this region, ancient artifacts and writings also trace the Dalmatian's early origins to the British Isles, Europe, North Africa, and Asia.
The true source of the breed's ancestors, coat pattern, and original function are also not definitively known. Most believe the Dalmatian came about as the result of breeding between Pointers and spotted Great Danes. This could account for their distinctive appearance as well as their sturdy yet graceful build.
While many varieties of dog were custom bred for a specific task, early Dalmatians were used as ratters, draft dogs, entertainers, hunting dogs, and more. Most notably, they served as guardians to both Victorian nobility and European gypsies as they navigated their coaches and caravans.
Dalmatians trotted alongside the carriages, ready to fend off robbers and protect the horses from marauding dogs. The invention of motorized vehicles temporarily put the breed out of work, but they were soon chosen for their most famous role: working as coach dogs for fire engines.
Males and females stand between 19 and 24 inches tall. They have sturdy, athletic bodies perfect for jobs and sports that require endurance.
Dalmatians typically weigh between 48 and 55 pounds with males tending to be slightly larger than females.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes the Dalmatian as reserved, dignified, and aloof with strangers. They are also alert and vigilant, making them dependable watch dogs.
Despite their initial reserve, Dalmatians make bright, loyal house dogs to their humans of choice. Once bonded, they love to make their owners laugh, and cannot get enough attention.
Of course, no description of the Dalmatian personality is complete without mentioning their love of exercise and vigorous activity! These pups make wonderful running companions and excel in canine agility competitions.
Intelligence / Trainability
Dalmatians are highly intelligent, eager to please, and quite responsive to training. However, experts recommend early training and socialization to ensure they know who's in charge. The breed is known to push boundaries and attempt to run the show if strong leadership is not established.
Best Training Techniques For Dalmatians
Although responsive to training, Dalmatians require a unique approach. Their headstrong nature means training techniques must be firm and consistent. At the same time, they are quite sensitive, and may shut down if harsh or negative methods are utilized.
Dalmatian trainers must find a balance, providing lots of positive reinforcement without being too soft.
If possible, socialization should begin as soon as your Dalmatian pup's vaccination schedule will allow. Exposing this naturally suspicious breed to lots of people, places, and other pets will help ensure he or she develops into a confident, well-mannered companion!
Dalmatians may live successfully in almost any environment as long as their specific needs are met. Above all else, they require human companionship and lots of exercise.
The breed is known to develop separation anxiety and depression if left alone too long, so they may not be the best choice for those who live alone and work long hours. In addition, they prefer to get their exercise with a human companion by their side.
This does not mean you have to quit your job or buy a farm in order to have a happy Dalmatian. Just be aware that the breed is prone to emotional and behavioral problems if they do not receive enough exercise and personal attention.
Good For Families & Kids?
Dalmatians typically make wonderful family pets, and are gentle and loving towards children. Their high activity level and sense of humor make them ideal playmates for little ones.
As with any dog, Dalmatians and small children should never be left alone together. Large, boisterous dogs like the Dalmatian may accidentally knock kids over. Similarly, children may accidentally provoke dogs by making loud noises or grabbing ears and tails.
Make sure both children and dogs understand what is expected of them, and always supervise their interactions.
10 - 13 years.
The health of a Dalmatian often depends on the quality of its breeder. Their appearance in 101 Dalmatians and heroic reputation as fire dogs make them desirable pets. Unfortunately, this inspires unscrupulous individuals to over-breed.
There are two main genetic conditions Dalmatians are prone to: deafness and urinary tract stones (kidney and/or bladder). Dalmatians have the highest propensity for deafness of any breed on the planet. About 8% are born entirely deaf while 22 - 24% are partially deaf with hearing in only one ear.
Since dogs rely heavily on their powerful sense of hearing, genetic deafness makes training difficult. These dogs may also snap or bite if startled. However, many trainers have had great success teaching deaf Dalmatians to respond to hand signals.
Dalmatians also carry an unfortunate genetic mutation which makes it difficult for them to process uric acid. Instead of being excreted in the urine, excess uric acid deposits in the bladder and kidneys causing uric acid crystals to form. Over time, these crystals cause irritation, infection, and may develop into bladder or kidney stones.
In addition to these two common issues, Dalmatians are prone to ventricular enlargement - otherwise known as an enlarged heart. Others develop a condition called Waardenburg-Klein Syndrome which affects the pigmentation of their eyes and skin. These dogs may have pale blue eyes or eyes that are two different colors - known as heterochromia.
"High-energy" is hardly strong enough to describe the Dalmatian's zest for life! These tireless pups love to participate in just about any physical activity they can enjoy with their favorite humans.
Whether it is trotting alongside a bike, hiking a challenging trail, or dock diving into a local lake - chances are the Dalmatian is game. They excel at all manner of canine sports including flyball, agility, disc dog, and even nose work.
On the downside, these frisky pups may develop anxiety or behavior problems if their demanding daily exercise needs are not met. Owners who are not active would be well advised to hire a dog walker.
Friendly With Dogs? Strangers? Cats/Other Pets?
As mentioned above, Dalmatians can be aloof and suspicious of strange humans, but how about their fellow canines and other pets?
Some Dalmatians may be timid or even aggressive around other dogs due to their history as guardians and protective coach dogs. Once they feel sure that an unfamiliar dog is not a threat to their home or family, the breed is likely to welcome a new playmate.
When it comes to cats and pocket pets, Dalmatians with a high prey drive may give chase. This is a throwback to their early days as ratters and hunting companions. Luckily their desire to please their humans is usually stronger than their desire to hunt so this behavior can be trained out of them.
...And then there's this doggo!
Coat & Grooming
Dalmatians have short, shiny coats with distinctive spots that usually develop in either black or liver (brown). However, in rare cases, Dalmatians can have lemon, blue, or brindle-colored spots.
What many people don't know is that the pups are born pure white. Their signature spots do not appear until about three or four weeks after birth.
They shed and need a thorough brushing about once a week. The Dalmatian's coat should not be over-bathed - once a month is usually enough. Since the breed has floppy ears, be sure to check them regularly and clean them after bathing or swimming.
Quirks & Fun Facts
Dalmatians have spots everywhere - even inside their mouths!
The breed's popularity exploded in 1956 when the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith was released, and again when the Disney movie hit theaters in 1961.
Dals are natural clowns and once strutted their stuff in the circus ring as performers.
Toys Dalmatians Would Like Best
As we've discussed, Dalmatians are extremely active and intelligent. They need toys that encourage both physical and mental exercise. Balls and frisbees - and other Fetch Toys - are great for fetching and inspiring agility training while Puzzle Toys encourage this bright breed to use their noggins.
They may even enjoy a few Plush Toys to rip and tear in honor of their past duties as prey hunters.
Check out the toys in our post on curbing the craziness of your high-energy dog for some great solutions!
Recommended Diet Or Supplements
Since Dalmatians cannot properly process uric acid, their diet should not be too high in protein. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations. They should also have access to fresh, clean water at all times and relieve themselves frequently in order to flush the bladder.
Some veterinarians recommend using a bladder health supplement to control the amount of bacteria in the urinary tract.
Dalmatians with anxiety issues may also benefit from a natural calming supplement or CBD. As always, consult your vet before administering anything.
This joint supplement is veterinarian-formulated, made with all natural ingredients (glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid), and comes in the form of 150 soft chews. Basically, it looks and tastes just like delicious treats, and it could really help your Dalmatian with their hip and joint issues. ($32.99.)
BARK’s Full Spectrum Hemp Oil is made of organically grown whole plants, grown in Colorado, and is non-psychoactive. It comes in 100mg, 250mg, and 500mg varieties, and can help with joint issues, pain relief, and ease aggression in dogs during stressful situations. ($17.99-22.99.)
Although hip dysplasia is most common in large and giant breed dogs, medium dogs like Dalmatians can also be affected. Even if your pooch is lucky enough to avoid early joint problems, 40% of dogs over 11 have arthritis.
For these reasons, we recommend a sturdy orthopedic dog bed to support your Dalmatian's spine, hips, and other joints.
This ultra plush orthopedic dog bed is great for supporting your pup’s stout body. A high quality combination of ergonomic memory foam and gel foam helps ease body aches, joint pain, hip dysplasia and arthritis. This bed offers the best therapeutic support for your Dalmatian. ($27.99-64.99.)
Notable Rescues To Find The Dalmatian Of Your Dreams
- Dalmatian Rescue of Colorado
- Dalmatian Rescue of South Florida
- Adopt A Spot Dalmatian Rescue
- Dalmatian Rescue of Southern California
- The Dalmatian Club of America's Online Rescue Contacts Directory.
- Adoptable Dalmatians on Petfinder
Notable Instagram Dalmatians
Wiley the heart-nose Dalmatian @hi.wiley!
Khaleesi & Django @khaleesi.django.dalmatian!
***Looking for a gift to blow your Dalmatian's mind? Spoil them with BarkBox! Every month BarkBox delivers 2 original toys, designed in-house, 2 full bags of all-natural treats, and a chew. Sign up here and receive a free extra toy every month. <-- This deal is worth up to $120 in value if you sign up for a 12-month subscription! :)
Featured image via Jackson_the_dalmatian/Instagram