Breed Group: Non-Sporting
When well-bred, taught manners and given a couple of brisk daily walks, a Dalmatian’s natural exuberance and high activity level both inside and out is a delight. A well-trained, well-bred Dalmatian is confident and loving. Poorly bred dogs or those without training can be skittish, aggressive, or just obnoxious. Although they are loving with family, they usually prefer one family member over others. They are affectionate with children if raised with them but their size and activity level makes them too much for toddlers. They love horses and make a reasonable companion for most pets including other dogs. But birds and yard creatures will likely be fair game. Dalmatians are active dogs that require human companionship. They do not do well if left to themselves in a yard. They are happiest with owners who will regularly take them jogging or at least for long, vigorous walks. If they do not get the exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship they need they will become hyperactive and destructive. Young Dalmatians are especially exuberant and seem to enjoy digging great holes in the yard. Though nervous, shy dogs are more prone to barking, most are not overly vocal; however, they still make good watchdogs. Their acceptance of strangers varies from enthusiastic to reserved with some having reasonable protective instincts.
Dalmatians are medium-large dogs averaging 19 to 23 inches tall weighing between 40 and 60 pounds. They are best known for their dramatic white coats with black- or liver-colored spots. They have a short coat that needs minimal care except for regular brushing. They shed continuously and in huge amounts during their seasonal shedding which occurs twice a year. Though many love to play in the snow, the breed is somewhat sensitive to cold weather and should not be left outside. They do fine in warm or temperate weather.
Extensive socialization is required to make sure a Dalmatian has a stable personality that is free of aggression or shyness. As a result of irresponsible breeding practices, many have behavior problems which create additional training challenges. The breed requires careful research of the breeder, the puppy’s parents, and the individual dog. Use the personality test to help you choose a friendly pup. Not innately driven to please their owner, Dalmatians are intelligent but think for themselves. Only gentle, positive reinforcement should be used during training as they tend to develop anxiety or neurotic behaviors if pressured by harsh training methods or excessive repetition. A well-bred dog in skillful hands can learn almost anything. But owners who do not understand leadership and training are apt to find a Dalmatian a difficult handful. As a result, they are best avoided by inexperienced dog owners.
Deafness is a major concern in the breed. An estimated 10-12% are totally deaf, with another 22% deaf in one ear. Puppies should be given the BAER test for deafness and come with a printout showing normal hearing in both ears. Because a Dalmatian’s urine contains an excess amount of uric acid, they are prone to Urolithiasis. Provide a regular supply of fresh water and a dog door to give free access to the yard in an attempt to partially offset their inability to process uric acid. Some recommend a low-protein diet (less than 17%). Hypothyroidism is another concern with about 1 in 10 dogs suffering from the problem. The breed is also prone to skin allergies, especially to synthetic fibers in carpet and upholstery. Glaucoma can also be a problem. A Dalmatian has a lifespan of about 10-12 years.
Ranking 77th in popularity, about 1,000 Dalmatians are registered every year. Their popularity surged after they were featured in the movies which, predictably, led to an increase in poorly bred dogs. Seek out a responsible breeder who only breed dogs with good temperaments and tests for genetic (especially hearing) problems.
The breed’s origins are unclear and may date back to ancient Greece or Egypt. The name comes from Dalmatia, Yugoslavia, although the breed did not originate there. In the Middle Ages, they were used as a hound. They then became popular in 19th century Europe by running with carriages protecting the horses. Dalmatians were used similarly in the US when fire trucks were horse-drawn. Although fire trucks no longer use horses, the breed is still associated with firehouses.
Notable Dalmatian owners include Dick Clark, Charles Osgood, Richard Simmons, Eugene O’Neill, Michael J. Fox, John Tesh, and Adli Stevenson. The National (US) Breed Club is the Dalmatian Club of America.