Spot What Makes the Dalmatian Such a Special Pup

Updated January 27, 2022
dalmatian puppy sitting in the arms of young woman

The Dalmatian's distinctive spotted coat sets them apart from any other breed. The classic look of these sporting dogs has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.

Origin and History

Dalmatians are one of the oldest dog breeds known, although their exact origins are somewhat obscure. The earliest recorded history of the breed places them in regions of Asia and Europe, particularly in Dalmatia, and it's from here that the breed takes their name.

Historically, dals have been known as coaching dogs, running around and beneath carriages, following their master's travels. They are also known as the fireman's friend and once traveled along on runs in the days of the horse-pulled fire wagon.

Today, the Dalmatian is perhaps most easily recognized as one of Disney's perennial stars. Unfortunately, the amount of attention this has brought to the breed hasn't exactly been a blessing. Each time a new movie is released, Dalmatian mania begins anew and people eager to cash in on the craze produce a flood of litters without much thought about conformation and temperament.

Some buyers, infatuated with the trained dogs they see on the screen, rush to purchase pups. Many quickly become disillusioned with their new pets when they realize how much time and energy it takes to raise them. Far too often, these hastily purchased pets wind up in shelters seeking new homes.

Breed Characteristics

Dalmatian Dog Sitting On Purple Flowers

Sadly, indiscriminate breeding and impulse buying have both taken a heavy toll on the breed, giving them an unfair reputation as hyperactive and unreliable. In reality, Dalmatians are neither of these things when they are properly bred and handled.

Appearance

Dalmatians are sturdy, balanced dogs who should carry themselves with poise and dignity. Individuals range from 19 to 24 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh approximately 50 to 70 pounds.

This breed is very intelligent and energetic, and requires a good deal of daily exercise to remain physically fit and well adjusted.

The dal's spots are their glory, but it's interesting to know that these dogs are completely white at birth. Spots begin to show a short time later. Spotting may be either black or liver, but any other colors are considered a fault. Patterning is also very important because it gives these dogs their distinct appearance. Spots range from dime-sized to 50-cent pieces and should be well defined and distributed evenly over the white background. Patches are considered a disqualification in the breed ring according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Temperament

Dog licking face of young woman

Temperaments range widely, depending on whether an individual is the product of a responsible breeding program or a puppy mill. Dals are naturally high-energy dogs, requiring a lot of positive early supervision to channel that energy into good behaviors and away from destructive ones.

Generally speaking, males tend to be a bit easier going than females, who are more territorial. Both sexes are rather reserved around newcomers. This natural tendency makes dals fairly good watchdogs.

Dals have the potential to make great family members. However, it's important to supervise pets and young family members in the correct way to play together. Dalmatians generally do not react well to surprises, and even the most well-meaning child is apt to receive a nip if they get too rambunctious or sneak up behind the dog unannounced.

Training

Dalmatians require training in order to become well-behaved family members. They can be stubborn, so if you don't give them continuous, intensive training, you might end up with an uncontrollable adult. That being said, they are also incredibly intelligent and eager to please, so if you are consistent and patient, you will have a well-behaved dog in no time.

When they're young, Dalmatians require early socialization that includes exposure to a variety of people, sights, sounds, and experiences. It is important that you make sure these experiences are positive. Socialization is necessary for your Dalmatian puppy to develop into a well-rounded adult dog. Socializing your dal will also help with their training process.

Exercise Requirements

Portrait Of A Dog On Field

Meeting your dog's exercise requirements is something you must be ready for. Dalmatians have such high energy levels that they require at least two hours of exercise per day. Provide at least two walks, ideally with an opportunity for your dog to run in a safe environment. In addition, for mental stimulation, your Dalmatian requires plenty of play or training sessions.

Health

Dalmatians are prone to developing several health conditions:

  • Urolithiasis: The Dalmatian is prone to developing urinary stones due to the formation of the urinary tract. Instead of urea or allantoin, a Dalmatian's urine includes uric acid. The salts of uric acid are what cause stones to develop. Large stones will become lodged in the urethra, whereas small stones, sometimes known as gravel, may flow through the urine. If the urinary tract becomes fully obstructed and is not treated quickly, the situation might be fatal.
  • Skin allergies: Dalmatians are known for environmental and food-based allergies.
  • Hip dysplasia: A genetic condition where the femur doesn't fit properly into the pelvic socket of the hip.
  • Iris sphincter dysplasia: Bright light sensitivity, poor night vision, partial or total blindness, and cataracts are all symptoms of this genetic ocular condition.

Deafness in dals is well documented, with around 18 percent of the breed affected. Whether or not affected dogs make suitable pets is a point of contention among breeders. Some believe deaf dogs can still make good pets in adult homes, but are perhaps not suited for homes with children.

Deaf dogs tend to overcompensate for their disability by becoming more protective, and sometimes this is expressed as aggression. A sleeping dog, startled awake, may have a tendency to lash out instinctively, causing injury to whoever is near. For this reason, some breeders believe that all deaf Dalmatians should be euthanized.

Lifespan

A Dalmatian's typical lifespan is between 11 and 13 years, while some can live up to 15 or 16 years.

Grooming

Dalmatians are tidy dogs with dirt-repellent fur and little or no "doggy" odor. It's not uncommon for these dogs to roll about in muck before drying into a completely clean pup.

Despite their short fur, they are known for shedding excessively. Brush your Dalmatian once a week using a medium-soft rubber curry brush to remove the dog's fur before it lands on your clothes, furniture, and all throughout your home. Only give your dal a bath three to four times a year, unless they get into an incredibly dirty situation.

Fun Facts About the Breed

Everyone thinks they know the Dalmatian if they've watched a certain Disney movie, but there's more to these dogs than cartoons and TV shows:

  • Spotted dogs running with chariots have been seen painted on the walls of Egyptian tombs.
  • The Dalmatian is the only dog breed bred specifically for "coaching," which entails dashing alongside a stagecoach and clearing crowds out of the way so that the horses can pass.
  • Each Dalmatian's spot pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.
  • Budweiser keeps three Dalmatians to travel with the famous Clydesdales, maintaining the tradition of coach dogs.
  • George Washington was a huge fan of the breed.
  • You can even find spots in a dal's mouth if you open it up.

Purchasing or Adopting a Dalmatian

Dalmatian puppy is running on the grass in the garden

If you're looking for a Dalmatian puppy, a good place to start is the Dalmatian Club of America (DCA). The club has a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $800 to $1,000, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $1,500.

Rescue Organizations

If you prefer a rescued dog, the DCA lists breeders who are involved in rescuing dals. You can also contact these breed-specific Dalmatian rescues:

Is the Dalmatian Right For You?

Dalmatians have many fine qualities, including devotion to their owners, but they are definitely not the breed for everyone. If you find yourself undeniably attracted to those spots, take a step back and do your homework first. Visit several breeders and spend time with both puppies and adults. Then you'll have a much better idea of what it takes to raise a healthy, energetic pup into a well-behaved member of your household.

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Spot What Makes the Dalmatian Such a Special Pup