The Dalmatian. 

Dollie spreadThese gregarious dogs probably have had as many different roles in past history as they have spots!  This Holidays 4 Dogs breed article will take a more in-depth look at this striking and energetic dog.

One might think by their name that they originated in Dalmatia – an historical area of Croatia – and although there has been fervent disagreement about this, most breed historians believe that this wasn’t so.  Spotted dogs have been known throughout Asia and Africa and have also been painted in Egyptian friezes, so many claim this is an ancient breed.  They are reputed to be closely linked to pointer type dogs and in England in the 1700’s there was a dog called a Bengal Pointer which, even up until 1993, very much called into question the dog’s Croatian origins.

More reliable sources suggest this dog originated in the Mediterranean region, spreading to India and Europe, quite possibly amongst gypsy communities – which would certainly support the fact that this dog, even today, is sometimes referred to as a carriage dog.

DSCI0047These dogs have had a varied past; in the Middle Ages they were a hound dog and still today, they retain a strong hunting instinct.  As sporting dogs they were used as retrievers, trail hounds and were often hunted in packs bringing down wild boar and stags.  By the 1800’s they were well known as carriage dogs and there are numerous paintings of spotted dogs accompanying all kinds of horse drawn carriages – most famously horse drawn fire apparatus carriages where they were used to help clear a path – being known in the past for their strong guarding instincts it is likely they were quite successful in this role and became known as ‘fire dogs’.  Since fire equipment and the horses used to pull the carriages were expensive, these dogs would reside on firehouse premises to guard this valuable apparatus.

Because of their quirky appearance and ability to travel with carriages, they were often seen in circuses and their working abilities transposed easily to learning tricks and skills to entertain audiences.

It is really somewhat surprising that this dog is classified by the UK Kennel Club as Utility – which refers to non-sporting dogs.  In reality this breed has a strong sporting past, although these days they are not seen in the field and are generally bred purely as pets and show dogs.  Although they are seen sometimes in agility, it is a shame these dogs are generally regarded as companion dogs because they do have a strong sporting background and require an active and varied lifestyle.03 Charlie 2

Indeed, these dogs need plenty of exercise and are well suited to country life.  Being bred to run alongside carriages they have vast amounts of stamina which needs channelling and if they do not receive enough mental and physical exercise they can become rather highly strung and difficult to handle.  From puppy-hood they need firm handling and solid boundaries and plenty of early socialisation with as many varied situations as possible. They do not fare well being left alone for long periods and can be noisy and destructive.

They are an intelligent breed and do very well with being given a job to do, be it agility or even obedience.  Because of their endurance for travelling at moderate speed over reasonably long distances, they would make very good running or cycling companions – see our other Holidays 4 Dogs article about jogging or cycling with your dog.

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The Dalmatian tends to shed all year round but they do so more profusely twice yearly and they can produce a great deal of hair and dander!  However, unlike other breeds such as Labradors they have less of a doggy odour and regular brushing will help to manage the constant shedding.

Generally a healthy and robust breed, they do unfortunately suffer from deafness and all puppies should be hearing tested at around 6 weeks of age.  This test – Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) – is an electrodiagnostic test where they activity in the brain is tested in response to an auditory signal which is then recorded on a computer screen.  All Dalmatians should be tested and it would be unwise to purchase from a breeder who does not carry out this important screening.

All in all, these dogs can make great family pets as long as they can be provided with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.  They are a versatile breed and have the ability to turn their paw to all-sorts of activities – ideal for owners who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with a four legged companion who possesses very striking looks with a personality to match.

Andrea Gordon.