Dalmatian walking along beach in the water
Dalmatian isolated on white

Dalmatian

The famous Dalmatian

Dodie Smith wrote 101 Dalmatians in 1956. It is a story about an English couple living in elegant poverty on the edge of Regents Park in London, and their beautiful, intelligent, endearing Dalmatian dogs. Following the appearance of the book, then the celebrated Walt Disney animated version (which eclipsed its source in popularity), there was a massive surge in demand for the Dalmatian breed. That happened again after the recent re-make. As we all know, Dalmatians are very beautiful and very stylish: proper dog-shaped dogs with lovely spots. Where do they come from and what are they really like as pets, though?

History

It is thought that the breed originally hails from the Dalmatian region of Croatia, which is the source of the first images of dogs with the Dalmatian’s distinctive spotted coat. They became popular in the United Kingdom as carriage dogs in the early 19th century when they were trained to run alongside horse-drawn carriages. In the United States this carriage-dog role developed into a strong association with horse-drawn fire engines. The dogs would run in front of the engine, clearing the way ahead to the fire. They were kept at fire stations as guard dogs, and the association persists to this day: they are still seen as mascots and symbols of the fire fighting service in the US.

Special needs

Dalmatians are nowadays generally classed as ‘companion dogs’. That is, they have no fixed practical use other than their role as ‘man’s best friend’. They have lovely natures generally, but they are definitely not a dog to suit everyone. For a start, Dalmatians need a lot of exercise, at least two hours daily. Without that, they will become unhappy and neurotic. A commitment to providing that level of exercise is the first essential when considering a Dalmatian as a pet. Another consideration that the potential owner should be aware of is the breed’s propensity to shed hair. That happens throughout the year, not just in the springtime, and the short, wiry hairs can be hard to remove from soft furnishings and carpets. If that is a major concern, then it may be a good idea to consider a different breed. Confining the dog to the outdoors or even to a particular area of the house is unkind, because it will be lonely if human activity is centred elsewhere. With its short coat, it is also vulnerable to cold. The shedding problem is reduced but not eliminated by regular weekly or even daily grooming.

Health

The average life expectancy of a Dalmatian is around 12 years. In the main they have few health problems, but the exception to that is the frequent incidence of deafness in one or both ears. The tendency is pronounced, with only 70% of the dogs having normal hearing. An association between deafness and the predominant whiteness of Dalmatian coats has been identified. Dogs with less white and more coloured blotches (rather than spots) are less likely to be deaf; as are dogs with brown rather than blue eyes. Deaf or partially deaf dogs can make perfectly good pets, but obviously one has to be aware of their disability. Reputable breeders will have their dogs’ hearing properly tested, a specialised task. At one time, Dalmatians were thought to lack intelligence because their deafness had not been recognised, an unfair judgment which humans with impaired hearing will be familiar with. You need to check your potential pet’s hearing and, if it is impaired, think seriously about the issue.

Good qualities

Dalmatians are extremely lively, loving and intelligent animals, and their loyalty makes them good guard dogs. They get on well with other animals, hence their historic association with horses. They may be for you if you are happy to give yours at least two hours of exercise a day, and deal with the shedding. Your striking pet will certainly turn heads, and you couldn’t finder a nicer companion.


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