Dalmatian Dogs

These ‘Firehouse Dogs’ Have a Heroic History

Dalmatian

Americans have long associated Dalmatians as the nation’s fire station watchdogs, accustomed to seeing the uniquely spotted pups sitting outside stations and sometimes accompanying fire fighters during calls.

It may then come as a surprise to many that Dalmatians are not an original American dog breed, but rather of Croatian descent from Central Europe.

And what about those famous spots? The reason behind the Dalmatian’s trademark appearance may surprise you, too.

Dalmatian History

While the exact origin of the Dalmatian is still speculated, it has been widely accepted that the breed came from the region of Dalmatia in the Republic of Croatia.

The breed’s beginnings have been traced back to the Middle Ages, where it is thought that the dogs were used as hounds and as guard dogs during war, guarding the Croatian borders. During the 1800s, the Dalmatian became popular as a “coach” or “carriage dog,” running behind the coach and horses.

By the early 1920s, the Dalmatian became a popular companion throughout Europe, eventually making its way to the United States.

In 1956, English author Dodie Smith wrote The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which, in 1961, was adapted as the Disney film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. In 1996, the film was remade as 101 Dalmatians and the following year developed into a Disney TV series titled 101 Dalmatians: The Series.

Today, Dalmatians are still known to get along well with horses, and have become nearly synonymous with the Anheuser-Busch brand, often pictured in the company’s beer wagon or featured in television commercials with the Clydesdale horses. According to Anheuser-Busch's Web site, Dalmatians were historically used by brewers to guard the wagon while the driver was making deliveries.


If you are considering bringing a Dalmatian home, make sure you have enough time to devote to this companion breed.

Dalmatians and Fire Fighters

 Dalmatian sits on fire engine

With a proven compatibility with horses and the ability to run in line with a carriage, the Dalmatian seemed the natural choice to accompany horse-drawn fire engines. They quickly became valuable team members throughout America’s fire stations, protecting the station and its expensive equipment from vandals.

Trained to run ahead of the fire engines, the Dalmatians were essential in guiding the horses and fire fighters through busy streets to the location of a fire. In addition, the dogs were often used as search and rescue dogs when assistance was needed to locate a fire victim.

Dalmatian Personality

Dalmatians are highly energetic dogs that require daily exercise and mental stimulation to prevent destructive behavior. If you are considering bringing a Dalmatian home, make sure you have enough time to devote to this companion breed. They prefer to keep your company rather than be left outside alone, and while they won’t enjoy lounging on the couch very often, they will tag along at any given opportunity.

Loyal and easy going, Dalmatians will respond well to obedience training and direction. They can be terrific family pets and get along well with children as long as their owners can manage their very active lifestyle.

Dalmatian Appearance

Easily one of the most recognizable dogs in the world, the Dalmatian is best known for its spotted, bright white fur coat.

Dalmatian puppy

With the long, elegant build of a pointer breed, Dalmatians are medium-sized with an athletic build, ranging in size from 50 to 65 pounds.

While the black-on-white spotted Dalmatian has become famous for its distinct markings, the breed can also have brown, dark blue, tri-colored, brindled, lemon or sable colored spots — or, no spots at all. Dalmatians, all of whom are born solid white and gradually develop their spots during the first few weeks of life, can remain solid white.

In fact, the Dalmatian’s classic spot pattern is linked to a genetic urinary tract problem unique to the breed. This incurable condition can be treated and controlled with the proper, veterinary-recommended diet and medication.

Dalmatians are also known for their variance in eye color, ranging from dark brown, amber or blue.

It should also be noted that while the Dalmatian is a short-haired dog, it is known to shed excessively.

Dalmatian Health History

Dalmatian with brown spots

One of the leading health concerns for Dalmatians is deafness, for which they are unfortunately genetically prone.

It has been determined that dogs and cats with white hair coats are prone to  congenital hereditary deafness. Deafness is the result of an abnormality identified within the hearing organ (cochlea) of the inner ear. Specifically, there is an absence of cilia (hairs) and mature melanocytes in the cochlear canal. The cause of these abnormalities within the cochlear canal is unknown but the condition is hereditary. Dalmatians can be deaf in one or both ears.

Dalmatian owners can have their veterinarians conduct a brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER) test on their dogs beginning at the age of five weeks. This test, which is highly accurate, can determine if the genetic defect is present.

If you are thinking about buying or adopting a Dalmatian puppy, ask if the BAER test was performed on the puppy and/or its parents. While this condition is common in Dalmatians, it does not necessarily mean your Dalmatian will become deaf.

Dalmatians also have a congenital metabolic defect that results in high levels of uric acid in the blood. This predisposes the breed to the development of kidney stones urinary bladder stones, gout, bone spurs and arthritis, although the onset of these conditions tends to be in the later years of a Dalmatian’s life. These conditions can be controlled with special diets and medication.

Dalmatians are wonderful, loving and generally healthy pets who can live on average from 13 to even 18 years of age.


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