- Height: 19 to 23 inches at the shoulder
- Weight: varies
The Dalmatian is highly active and intelligent and needs lots of exercise to stay happy. A former circus performer, he’s great at learning tricks and loves to show off his talents.
Unique spots are the Dalmatian’s calling card, but his running ability is what made him famous. Bred to be a coaching dog, he ran alongside carriages or horseback riders for miles, discouraging stray dogs from interfering with the horses, alerting the coachman to the presence of approaching highwaymen, and guarding the carriage at rest stops. No fashionable lord or lady went driving without a pair of the flashy dogs by their side, and later the Dalmatian’s talents were adapted by firemen, who kept the dogs to clear paths through town for their horse-drawn fire engines.
The Dalmatian has a romantic and exciting history — not to mention those spots! — but he has health and temperament issues that must be taken into account.
The Dalmatian is a smart dog with a sly sense of humor. He’s a clown and will do anything to make you laugh. And he has a tendency to greet people with a big, happy smile.
Thanks to his coaching heritage, the Dalmatian has an endless capacity for exercise. He loves to go jogging: Don’t be surprised if he noses his way into your dresser drawer, pulls out your jogging shorts, and brings them to you as a not-so-subtle hint. His high activity level makes him an excellent companion for people who spend their time training for marathons, going for long bike rides, or skating along beach boardwalks. He can get enough exercise in his own yard if it’s big enough, has a picnic table or other obstacles for him to jump, and contains plenty of toys. Of course, he’d really rather be out doing something with his people.
The Dal loves attention and has a strong desire to please, so it’s not unusual for him to excel in canine sports such as agility and flyball. He’s also great at performing tricks — not surprising considering that he was once a favorite circus dog. If you can teach it, your Dal can probably do it.
It’s important to Dalmatians to be part of the family. They like to be with their people and know everything that’s going on.
What’s the downside? That depends. If you’re active and athletic, there might not be one. If you acquire your Dalmatian from a good breeder who will be there to serve as a resource, and if you socialize your Dal and train him with fun and positive methods, he can be the perfect companion… as long as you don’t think a little dog hair is a big issue.
Dalmatians shed. A common joke among Dalmatian owners is that the breed sheds at only two times: during the day and during the night. Dalmatian hairs are stiff and weave themselves into fabric, and they’re not easy to remove from clothing or furniture. Weekly brushing of the smooth, dense coat helps to remove the dead hairs before they land in the house, but you’ll never be entirely free. On the upside, the Dal’s coat isn’t oily, so it doesn’t tend to have an odor, and it sheds dirt easily. It’s also soft and velvety to the touch, and that makes up for a lot.
Like most dogs, Dalmatians become bored when left to their own devices. They can easily become noisy or destructive if they don’t have other dogs to keep them company and don’t receive much attention from their people.
Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Dalmatian needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Dalmatian who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
Other Quick Facts
- Because of their heritage as coaching dogs, Dalmatians get along well with horses and make good companions for riders.
- The Dalmatian’s spots may be the result of a mutation in a gene for a ticked coat, but no one is really sure where they come from. The spots today are now larger and less ragged around the edges than those seen in pictures of early Dalmatians.
- One of the British nicknames for the Dalmatian is Plum Pudding Dog, because his spots look like the plums in a Christmas pudding.
- The Dalmatian is prone to inherited deafness and urinary stones.
- The Dalmatian was once a popular circus dog.
The History of Dalmatians
Dalmatians were born to run. Bred to be coaching dogs, they ran alongside carriages or horseback riders. Their job was to discourage stray dogs from interfering with the horses or carriage, to alert the coachman or rider to the presence of highwaymen, and to guard the carriage at roadhouse stops.
When horsedrawn fire engines came into use, Dalmatians became associated with firehouses, clearing a path for the engines as they raced to a fire. After motorized vehicles took the place of those that used horsepower, Dalmatians remained as firehouse mascots, although it’s rare to see one at a modern firehouse.
The Dalmatian takes his name from Dalmatia, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, in what is now Croatia, but there isn’t any evidence that the breed originated there. Dalmatians are known to have traveled with the nomadic Rom, and it’s hard to say where they might have first been bred. Development of the modern Dalmatian took place mainly in England. He has been used as a hunting dog and may be related to the English Pointer.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Dalmatian in 1888, and the Dalmatian Club of America was formed in 1905. The breed currently ranks 69th among the breeds registered by the AKC.
Dalmatian Temperament and Personality
Lots of people — adults and children — fall in love with the Dalmatian whenever 101 Dalmatians is re-released, but the cartoon image is very different from reality. This is a highly energetic, athletic dog who can run for hours given the opportunity. A daily walk or run of a half-hour to an hour is a reasonable minimum to meet his exercise needs.
The Dalmatian is an excellent watchdog, alert to everything going on around him. If he sees something interesting, he’ll want you to know about it.
In public, the Dalmatian tends to be quiet and reserved but should never be shy. With his family he lets his clownish side show. He’s courteous toward guests but will be protective if the situation calls for it.
The most important thing to know about a Dalmatian is that he wants and needs to be where the people are. Dals like to be involved in everything that’s going on in their family. They do best with older children who can stand up to a rambunctious spirit, but they’re fine with toddlers as long as both are supervised. They can get along with cats and other dogs, especially if they are raised with them.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Dalmatian, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
What You Need to Know About Dalmatian Health
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
Among the health problems in Dalmatians is a unique uric acid metabolism that predisposes them to stones anywhere in the urinary tract. The stones can cause urinary blockages, most commonly in males. It’s essential to notice whether a Dalmatian is urinating regularly and to provide him with plenty of fresh water at all times. Dalmatians are also prone to genetic deafness. All puppies should be BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) tested to make sure they can hear. The Dalmatian Club of America has a foundation that sponsors grants and activities to aid research to reduce deafness and find a solution for the uric acid stone problem.
Dalmations are also prone to allergies, skin conditions, eye problems and laryngeal paralysis.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Dalmatian Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Dalmatians can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and hearing evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). An eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) is optional.
Breeders must agree to have all test results — positive or negative — published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Don’t fall for a bad breeder’s lies. If the breeder tells you an animal doesn’t need the tests because there’s no problems in the line, her dogs have been “vet checked,” or gives any other excuse for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and the most common causes of death.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Dalmatian at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Basics of Dalmatian Grooming
On the plus side, the Dalmatian’s short, fine, velvety-smooth coat is easy to groom. Brush it several times a week with a bristle brush, rubber curry brush, hound mitt, or pumice stone to strip out the dead hair and keep the coat gleaming.
On the down side, the coat sheds day and night according to many experienced Dalmatian owners. Be prepared to live with dog hair if you choose this breed.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the hanging ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections from setting in. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Finding a Dalmatian
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Choosing a Dalmatian Breeder
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many health problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Dalmation and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Dalmatian Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the DCA’s ethical guidelines, which prohibit the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and call for the breeder to take back a dog he has bred at any time in the dog’s life if the owner can’t keep it.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the DCA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Dalmatian puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, performance titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Dalmatian might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
Adopting a Dog From a Dalmatian Rescue or Shelter
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Dalmatian in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Dalmatians available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Dalmatian. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Dalmatians love all Dalmatians. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Dalmatian Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Dalmatian rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Dalmatian home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Dalmatian, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Dalmatian to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.