Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Most people know a dalmatian when they see one, and that's because dalmatians have all those spots.  Usually, the spots are either black or liver-colored.  But sometimes they can be blue, brindle, mosaic, orange, lemon, or tri-colored (with tan spots on the eyebrows, cheeks, legs, and chest).  When the puppies are first born, they are totally white, but their spots start showing up within a week.  By the time they are a month old, they have most of their spots.  More spots can show up later, but at a slower rate.

Dalmatians have a short coat that is fine and dense.  They shed all year long, and the stiff little hairs can worm their way into fabric and be hard to get rid of.  Brushing a dalmatian at least once a week will maybe help prevent this problem.

An adult dalmatian weighs between 35 and 70 pounds, and can be anywhere from 19 to 24 inches tall.  The males are usually a little bigger than the females.  Dalmatians are muscular dogs with a lot of strength and endurance.  They also have a whole bunch of energy and need regular exercise.  Their eyes can be brown, amber, or blue.  Some dogs have one brown eye and one blue eye.

Nobody knows exactly where the dalmatian came from, but the international dog organization, FCI, has recognized the Republic of Croatia as the breed's country of origin.  I have found a map of Croatia, so you can see where it is, in case you don't already know.  I think this country has an interesting shape, sort of like a warped boomerang.  The pointy southern part that goes down along the coast is where Dalmatia is located.  The best guess about how the spotted dogs were used in Dalmatia is that they were guard dogs and companions for nomads.

After dalmatians were brought to England, that is where the breed was mostly developed.  Starting about 1920, the breed became really popular in much of Europe.  Here are some of the ways that dalmatians have been used as working dogs:

1.  Guard dogs
2.  Hunting rats and vermin
3.  Bird dogs, retrievers
4.  Trail hounds
5.  In packs for hunting boars or stags
6.  Circus dogs
7.  Rescue dogs
8.  Carriage dogs
9.  Firehouse dogs

When dalmatians were used as carriage dogs, they were trained to run ahead of the horses and clear the way for the carriage.  They did sort of the same thing for fire trucks that were pulled by horses.  Also they nipped at the horses' heels to get them to run faster.  Plus the dalmatians acted as guard dogs for carriages or fire trucks or in fire houses, because people sometimes tried to steal the strong, fast fire horses.

After fire trucks started having motors instead of horses, dalmatians stayed in the fire houses as mascots.  Lots of firefighters like to have dalmatians as pets.  Pi Kappa Alpha, which is known as the firefighters' fraternity, has a dalmatian as its mascot.

The Anheuser-Busch Company, who makes Budweiser beer, uses dalmatians on their beer wagons, which are pulled by those great big Clydesdale horses.  There are several teams of Clydesdales and wagons, and they tour around the country, along with their dalmatian mascots.  According to tradition, brewers used dalmatians on their wagons to guard the beer while the driver made deliveries.

Another place you might have seen these spotted dogs was in the two Disney movies.  The first one, 101 Dalmatians, was animated, and it came out in 1961.  It was based on a 1956 novel by Dodie Smith.  The second movie, 102 Dalmatians, came out in 1996, and it had real dogs and actors in it, including Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil.  I only mention Glenn Close because she is one of Mom's favorite actors.

Sadly, after this second movie, lots of people decided they wanted a dalmatian of their very own, so they got a puppy.  Lots of these puppies came from puppymills or backyard breeders, and they went to homes where people didn't know how to deal with such a hyper dog.  So the dogs ended up in shelters or with rescue groups, and it was a bad situation.  Nowadays, dalmatians aren't nearly as popular.  In fact the number of AKC registrations for the breed between 2000 and 2010 dropped 90%.

But dalmatians can still be good family dogs, even though they are a high-maintenance breed.  Because of their energy, they need about 30 or 40 minutes of vigorous exercise every day.  They are smart and easy to train, so they can learn to do agility or flyball  or other fun stuff like that.  They can also be trained to go jogging or run along beside a horse and rider.

The lifespan of a dalmatian is about 11 to 13 years, but some can live to be 15 or 16.  Older dogs can get bone spurs and arthritis, but they don't often have hip dysplasia.  About 10% have hypothyroidism.

One bad genetic problem in this breed is deafness, either in one ear or both.  Only about 70% of dalmatians have normal hearing.  At first, breeders didn't realize the dogs were deaf, and they thought they were just kind of stupid.  But even now, after they know about the deafness, they are not trying too hard to breed away from it.  And this is because the dogs least likely to be deaf are the ones that have big patches of color instead of all those little spots.  But the breed standard calls for little spots, and dalmatians with great big spots can't be shown.

The Dalmatian Club of America says that deaf puppies should always be euthanized.  They should never be sold or even placed in pet homes.  Dogs with blue eyes are more likely to be deaf than dogs with brown eyes, so some kennel clubs say that blue eyes are a fault or even a disqualification.  And some clubs discourage the use of blue-eyed dogs for breeding.

So anyway, that's all I'm going to tell you about dalmatians, but I hope you have learned a little something.  What I have learned is that I'm glad I'm not a blue-eyed, deaf dalmatian puppy!


  1. I love dalmatians. In fact, several years ago I thought seriously of purchasing a Dalmatian...but somehow ended up with a Chihuahua!! LOL!! Thanks for writing about them! I also learned today that I've been spelling "dalmations" wrong for many years.
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I used to spell "dalmations" wrong too! But now I know better because of the spell check on my browser. When my mom used to be living with my other Aunt Patti, they were seriously thinking about getting a dalmatian. But then they got a Lakeland Terrier ("terror") instead.
    Love, Piper

  3. Dear Piper-

    I have a few friends that are dalmatians. They go to visit the Alzheimer's facility with us. My mom wants to take a sharpie marker and connect the dots, but the dalmatian owner won't let her do that.

    Your friend,
    Zest! superstar in training

    1. I never thought about connecting the dots on a dalmatian, but it is an excellent idea, and a good way to create Art. I am shocked that the dalmatian owner won't let your mom do it!

      Your friend, Piper