The dignified Dalmatian, dogdom’s citizen of the world, is famed for his spotted coat and unique job description. During their long history, these “coach dogs” have accompanied the horse-drawn rigs of nobles, gypsies, and firefighters.
- AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 62 of 192
- Height: 19-24 inches
- Weight: 45-70 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 11-13 years
- Group: Non-Sporting Group
About the Dalmatian
The Dalmatian’s delightful, eye-catching spots of black or liver adorn one of the most distinctive coats in the animal kingdom. Beneath the spots is a graceful, elegantly proportioned trotting dog standing between 19 and 23 inches at the shoulder. Dals are muscular, built to go the distance; the powerful hindquarters provide the drive behind the smooth, effortless gait.
The Dal was originally bred to guard horses and coaches, and some of the old protective instinct remains. Reserved and dignified, Dals can be aloof with strangers and are dependable watchdogs. With their preferred humans, Dals are bright, loyal, and loving house dogs. They are strong, active athletes with great stamina—a wonderful partner for runners and hikers.
Many AKC breeds have obscure and disputed origins, none more so than the Dalmatian. Researchers have used ancient artifacts and writings to support theories placing the Dal’s birth in the British Isles, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. There is no doubt, however, that by the early 1800s the breed was closely associated with a swath of Central Europe along the Adriatic Sea, the region once known as Dalmatia.
Dalmatians have a job description unique among AKC breeds: coach dog. Their traditional occupation was to trot beside horse-drawn coaches, and to guard the horses and rig when otherwise unattended. Dals were alongside the caravans of the Romani people, commonly known as gypsies, during their ceaseless wanderings around Europe. This association with the peripatetic Romani helps explain why Dal origins are so difficult to pin down—as with the gypsies themselves, the world was their home.
British nobles, too, employed Dals as handsome accents to their livery. The English had a close affinity with the breed and gave it such nicknames as the English Coach Dog, Spotted Dick, and the Plum Pudding Dog (the Dal’s spots resembling the candied fruit and nuts that fleck Britain’s traditional holiday dessert). Back in the 1800s, when horses pulled fire engines, Dals began their long association with firefighters. These days, Dals accompany the famous Budweiser Clydesdales on parade.
Dals entered the AKC Stud Book in 1888. The Dalmatian Club of America holds road trials to test their dogs’ “coach dog” ability.
A high-quality dog food appropriate for the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the Dalmatian needs. To avoid tipping the scales, watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.
The Dalmatian’s coat is a thing of beauty with its colored spots on a sparkling white background, and it doesn’t take much work to keep it in good condition. Occasional baths and weekly brushing with a horsehair mitt or rubber curry comb to pull away dead hairs will keep the Dal looking his best. His nails should be trimmed at least monthly. Because his ears flop down, they should be checked regularly—your breeder and your veterinarian can suggest a good routine and cleaning materials, and will show you how to care for them.
All Dalmatians need regular exercise to stay fit and happy. This exercise can consist of chasing a ball tossed across the backyard, running alongside a biking or jogging owner, or taking a nice, long hike through the woods. Since a puppy’s bones and joints aren’t at their mature strength until two years of age, be wary of strenuously exercising the dog before then. Dalmatians can be very high-energy dogs and can easily get into mischief if they don’t have enough opportunity for physical and mental exercise.
It is very important that you expose your puppy to as many new and unusual but pleasant situations as possible as part of his training. If he understands that new places and people are nothing to be afraid of, it will not only make his life happier but will make life with him much easier for you. He should be taught to behave from the very beginning, but Dalmatians can be very sensitive, so positive, reward-based training is a must. Early socialization and puppy training classes will help to ensure that your Dal grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
If your Dalmatian came from a reputable breeder, you will have a record of genetic health testing done on the parents. Deafness is present in the breed, and responsible breeders will have had the parents tested and will have entire litters tested to be certain that all can hear. A unilaterally hearing dog (deaf in one ear) can usually lead a fairly normal life; a bilaterally (both sides) deaf dog often cannot and will require special considerations. Kidney stones are also present in Dals. Your breeder or vet can tell you what you should feed to avoid the problem. Usually quite healthy, Dalmatians aren’t picky eaters and don’t require a lot of supplements to keep them looking fit.