Dalmatians: Ancient Breed to Modern Versatility Companion

Dalmatians: Ancient Breed to Modern Versatility Companion

From the October 2018 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe. 

The Dalmatian breed is easily identifiable by almost anyone of any age, but how much do you really know about it? This article seeks to highlight its possible origins, capabilities, key points of the AKC standard and the health of  the breed.

Where Did  Dalmatians Originate?

“A good deal of uncertainty as to the origin shrouds the undoubted antiquity of the Dalmatian dog.”—Herbert Crompton, 1904.

Most canine historians link the origination to Dalmatia, a state in modern day Croatia. However, there is little evidence that the breed was ever really there! The name may have come from a religious vestment—a tunic type garment called a Dalmatic developed in Dalmatia that sometimes was trimmed in ornamental bands of ermine—a 
spotted creature.

The earliest illustration of a spotted dog dates back to 3000 BC in the tomb of Redmera at Thebes. It is unlikely that this was a Dalmatian, but it may have been a forbearer of the breed we  know today.

1700 BC—A fresco at Tyrnia, the  birthplace of Hercules, depicts a stag hunting scene with a large number of dogs very closely resembling Dalmatians.

1556—a print was published of a “recently imported Indian dog” that was white and covered in small black spots.

Romany Gypsies May Have Played A Role

Some evidence exists that Dalmatians were a favorite of Gypsies who migrated from the Upper Himalayas into Western Europe in the late 15th Century. Dalmatians hunted, guarded, and because of their striking appearance, provided moneymaking entertainment for their Gypsy masters. Their association with the nomadic Gypsies may well explain why they appear in so many geographic regions historically with no one single source of origin.

What We DO Know

1560—Dalmatians were imported from France to England

1665—Dalmatians were used in Italy as hunting dogs dating at least from the early 1600’s.

1780—Dalmatians were kept as “coaching dogs” by genteel houses.

1780—The first printed use of the word Dalmatian in the English language.

1787—George Washington purchased a Dalmatian stud dog.

1862—Dalmatians were first “shown” in a dog show in England.

1888—The first Dalmatian was registered with the AKC.

1904—The Dalmatian Club of America was founded.

1906—The first Road Trial for Dalmatians was held in America.

Hunting Dogs? 
Coaching Dogs? 
Firehouse Dogs?

Dalmatians were used as hunting dogs by Gypsies, in Italy, in France, in Spain, and in the US by none other than George Washington.

Their coaching heritage developed largely in England. They served multiple purposes in this role as companions for the horses, guards for the coach and its cargo, and status symbols for the owners.

Their position as a Fire House dog is uniquely a US phenomenon and dates back to the days when fire trucks were horse drawn wagons. The Dalmatians cleared the way for the fire wagons running ahead and sounding the alarm.

One thing is clear. The Dalmatian is a versatile, highly trainable breed that likes to have a job! They are also an intelligent and affectionate breed, which means constant companionship, love and attention—often expressed by following their humans from room to room.

Dalmatians are one of the first breeds of dogs children are able to identify by name due to the popularity of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and “Marshall the Fire Dog”. The Dalmatian’s most unique physical feature is, of course, his spots. “Any color markings other than black or liver are disqualified. Spots vary from the size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar. Patches are a disqualification. A patch is a solid mass of black or liver hair containing no white hair. It is appreciably larger than a normal sized spot. Patches are a dense, brilliant color with sharply defined, smooth edges. Patches are present at birth. Large color masses formed by intermingled or overlapping spots are not patches. Such masses should indicate individual spots by uneven edges and/or white hairs scattered throughout the mass.” While the AKC breed standard places the highest weighting on “color and markings”, Dalmatians are much more than just spots! In fact, adding together other factors in the standard such as hindquarters, forequarters, proportion, feet and gait—the factors that contribute to balanced movement—movement is actually the most important characteristic of the Dalmatian.

“The Dalmatian is capable of great endurance, combined with a fair amount of speed.”

Dalmatians are medium in size, usually between nineteen and twenty-three inches when measured at the shoulder. “Any dog or bitch over 24" at the withers is disqualified. The overall length of the body from the forechest to the buttocks is approximately equal to the height at the withers. The Dalmatian has good substance and is strong and sturdy in bone, but never coarse.“Males and females vary in weight, but the most common range is 40-60 pounds. Their bodies are athletic with short coats requiring little maintenance beyond the occasional bath and brushing.

Of both sporting and working heritage, Dalmatians are eager participants in a wide variety of different performance events: agility, rally, barn hunt, lure coursing, dock diving, road trials of up to 25 miles with horses, scent work, farm dog, and obedience. Some are certified therapy dogs. And every single one of them is dependable and sensible enough to let you know when guests or the mailman arrives—even before the doorbell rings. The Dalmatian does 
it all!

Dalmatians are good competitors in the Non Sporting Group historically placing 37% of the time in the group ring. Last year the breed finished 138 new AKC Champions and 93 Grand Champions. The breed enjoyed seven BIS wins, six RBIS wins, and 17 NOHS BIS wins in 2017. However, companion events are an ever-increasing endeavor for Dalmatian owners producing 831 new Obedience, Rally, Tracking or Agility titles last year. The Dalmatians themselves are delighted that so many of their owners are helping them demonstrate their versatility!

Today, there are 28 active regional Dalmatian clubs that host a variety of competitions throughout the year and around the United States. The Dalmatian Club of America has approximately 800 current members.

The Dalmatian, as noted at the outset, has been around for hundreds of years. It is a relatively healthy breed with few widespread life-threatening issues. However, all responsible breeders work toward genetic health for the breed, investigating potential sires and dams for sound temperaments, as well as testing hips, eyes, ears, and thyroid. Congenital deafness in one or both ears at birth is the most common health anomaly in the breed, and all 
responsible breeders conduct a BAER hearing test on all their litters.

The Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) places a strong emphasis on preserving the health of the Dalmatian. The DCA encourages all breeders to secure CHIC numbers for their breeding stock and offers generous cash bonuses to breeders of the National Specialty Futurity winners whose sire and dam have their CHIC numbers.

Through the Dalmatian Club of America Foundation (DCAF), DCA partners with the AKC Canine Health Foundation to sponsor research into emerging health issues. Since it’s creation in 1995, DCAF has funded nearly a half million dollars of health research projects. DCAF also sponsors the James W. Smith Memorial Health Clinics annually at the DCA National Specialty offering participants a convenient and economical way to complete health testing and pays the OFA submission fees for full litter submissions of BAER test results and full litter DNA blood samples for the CHIC DNA Database. There are more than 1,300 Dalmatians in that database available to genetic 
researchers worldwide.

When you consider the Dalmatian—whether looking for your next breed or preparing for your next judging assignment—consider this uniquely spotted breed as a strikingly beautiful ancient dog built for endurance, capable of great athleticism, devoted to its people and eager to please. 

*Portions within quotations are direct quotes from the AKC standard.



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