The Dalmatian is a breed of dog which originated in Croatia, they were used as guard dogs, along the borders of Dalmatia, to this day the breed retains its high guarding instinct. The earliest illustrations of the Dalmatian were found in altar paintings in the small Croatian village of Veli Losinj, these date back to 1600-1630.
When the Dalmatian arrived in England, during the Regency period, they soon became a status symbol trotting alongside horse drawn carriages as well as guarding the stables at night. For this reason the breed was given the epithet ‘the spotted coach dog.’
The dogs with decorative spotting became highly prized, and the breed was developed and cultivated in England. The first official Dalmatian standard was introduced in 1882, and in 1890 when the Dalmatian Cub of England was formed this standard became official.
The breeds unique coat and markings soon became popular throughout Europe, and they were often mentioned by the old writers of Cynology.
Dalmatians were also used by firefighters, especially in the U.S. A, as they were easily trained to run in front of the horse drawn fire engines, to clear a path and guide the horses to the fires. They were also used to protect the firehouse, horses and equipment.
The Dalmatian is medium-sized, well-defined and muscular, with excellent stamina and endurance. According to standard when fully grown the male should be 58-61cm (23-24in) and the female 56-58 cm (22-23in),. The outline of the dog should be square when viewed from the side, the body should measure the same from the fore chest to the buttocks as the height at the withers. The shoulders are laid back, the stifle well bent and the hocks are well let down.
Feet of the Dalmatian are round with arched toes, the claws are usually white or the same colour as the dogs spots, its ears are set high and close to the head, tapering in towards the tip. The most common eye colours are blue, brown and amber, occasionally a dog will have one brown eye and one blue eye, or other combination. The lifespan for a healthy Dalmatian is 10 to 18 yrs, with 12 to 14 yrs being the average.
When they are born, the Dalmatian has no spots, these start to develop after about ten days and continue developing until eighteen months. The spots are usually black or liver on a white background, though there are other rarer colours including blue, brindle and pale yellow. Liver is a recessive colour in Dalmatians, this means that both parents have to have liver spots to produce liver spotted pups, and if both parents have liver spots then all pups produced will be liver. The Dalmatians coat is short, fine and dense, however smooth coated Dalmatians can occasionally produce long coated offspring, these long coated Dalmatians are not accepted in the breed standard.
Like other breeds Dalmatians can suffer from certain health conditions, these include deafness, allergies and urinary stones. Reputable breeders will always have their puppies BAER (Brain stem Auditory Evoked Response) tested, to ensure the stature of their hearing.
Hip Dysplasia is another common ailment, which affects up to 5 per cent of purebred Dalmatians. This causes the dog to experience limping, fatigue, moderate to severe pain and trouble standing. Hip Dysplasia develops over time, the hips will be healthy when born, but then the soft tissue surrounding the joint grows abnormally due to their genetic make up. There is currently no cure for Hip Dysplasia but there are treatments which will slow it down and make life more comfortable for the dog.
The Dalmatian breed experienced a massive surge in popularity thanks to the 1956 novel ‘The one hundred and one Dalmatians’ , which was written by British author Dodie Smith. In 1961 Disney released an animated movie based on the book, and thirty five years later in 1996 they released a live action remake plus a follow up ‘The one hundred and two Dalmatians’.
The downside to this increased popularity, was that some dogs suffered at the hands of irresponsible breeders and inexperienced owners. Many people purchased Dalmatians often for their children, without realising the responsibilities that came with owning such a high energy dog. Dalmatians were abandoned in large numbers by their original owners and left for the animal shelters to deal with. The Dalmatian is a placid and gentle dog which makes an excellent family pet, but it does need regular exercise, care and attention.