The Dalmatian – Dogster


The handsome, spotted Dalmatian is one of the most easily recognized breeds in all of dogdom. Friendly, intelligent and, above all, versatile, he has held many jobs and performed them all with gusto. Enjoy these eight fun facts about the universally popular Dalmatian.

Dalmatian history

This breed’s origins can be traced back to present-day Croatia and the historical region of Dalmatia. The Dal’s ancestors are believed to have been several breeds of pointers, as well as the Harlequin (white with torn black patches) Great Dane. The first known written reference about the breed goes back to 1375, when Peter, Bishop of Dakovo, spoke of hunting dogs from Croatia with short, white hair and covered in black spots. He referred to the dogs as Canis Dalmaticus. An altar painting and a fresco depicting the breed were found in Croatia dating back to 1600 to 1630. Numerous church chronicles mentioned the breed. Dalmatians became a status symbol during the Regency period, trotting alongside horse-drawn carriages. This relationship with horses earned the breed the nickname of “Spotted Coach Dog.” Dalmatians were also used to guard the stables at night. The breed was cultivated primarily in England. The first unofficial breed standard was written in 1882, and 1890 saw the formation of the Dalmatian Club in England. From the 1920s on, the Dalmatian’s unique appearance triggered his distribution and growing popularity throughout Europe.

How big is a Dalmatian?

The Dalmatian’s height is 19 to 24 inches at the shoulder. Dalmatians are medium to large dogs, weighing from 45 to 70 pounds.

What is the Dalmatian’s temperament?

The Dalmatian’s temperament is affectionate, playful and loving. The breed does have a protective side and a high energy level. They need mental stimulation and regular activities to keep them busy and out of mischief, so that can be anything from competitive Agility and Rally to accompanying their owners jogging, swimming and camping. Dalmatians are versatile and adaptable, making them good at dog jobs. Life expectancy for the Dalmatian is 11 to 13 years.

Is a Dalmatian a good family dog?

Dalmatians are great with active families or singles who will give them an outlet for their high energy. They are generally good with young children but adult supervision is needed. Dalmatians are not good apartment dogs as their need for exercise and mental stimulation is too great. They are highly trainable. The Dalmatian will bark to alert you of something going on. Some individual dogs can be more vocal than others.

Dalmatians typically make good travellers. Get him accustomed to car travel early. Crate training is essential for safe car travel, hotel and motel stays, overnight visits to the veterinarian, etc. The Dalmatian is No. 49 in the American Kennel Club list of most popular breeds in 2021, based on annual registrations. (There are 200 recognized breeds in all.)

Is the Dalmatian easy to groom?

Yes. The Dalmatian’s coat is short, dense, fine and close-fitting. Shedding is on the high side, and of course those white hairs will be noticeable on your clothes, rugs and upholstered furniture. Frequent brushing will cut down on loose hair in the house. Here are our simple tips for cleaning up dog hair.

Dalmatians as hunters, firehouse and Budweiser beer dogs

A Dalmatian dog raising its paw
The vast majority of Dalmatians has black spots, but we also see Dalmatians with liver-brown spots (and brown noses to match; black-spotted Dals have black noses). Dalmatian puppies are born with solid-white coats and their first spots usually appear within 10 days. © Patricia Doyle/Getty Images

The Dalmatian’s versatility has played a great part in his global popularity. Back in the old country, they were able hunters, dogs of war, and guarded the borders of Dalmatia. Sportsmen have used the breed as bird dogs, trailing dogs, retrievers, and in packs to hunt wild boar and stag. Their strong hunting instinct has also served them well exterminating rats and vermin. Their intelligence along with their flashy markings made them popular circus dogs down through the years.

In the USA the Dalmatian is probably best known for his association with firefighting. Dals and horses are very compatible so the dogs were trained to run in front of the carriages to help clear a path and ably guide the horses and firefighters to the fires. Horses could easily become nervous at the scene of a fire so the dogs were used to calm them and watch over them. The horses were eyed by potential thieves so the dogs were kept in the firehouse as a deterrent. Once horse-drawn fire engines were replaced with steam- and diesel-powered vehicles, the Dalmatian was no longer needed, but many fire stations have continued the tradition of keeping the dogs as mascots.

The Dalmatian is also associated with Budweiser beer and the Busch Gardens theme parks, since the Anheuser-Busch company’s famous beer wagon, drawn by a team of Clydesdale horses, is always accompanied by a Dalmatian. Anheuser-Busch keeps teams of horses at various locations, which tour widely. Historically, brewers used Dalmatians to guard the wagon while the driver was making deliveries.

Dalmatian nicknames

No breed has as many nicknames as the Dalmatian. The English were the first to develop and cultivate the Dalmatian breed. Given the breed’s many jobs and dramatic appearance, it’s little surprise that the colorful Brits came up with nicknames for him like:

  • English Coach Dog
  • Carriage Dog
  • Plum Pudding Dog
  • Fire House Dog
  • Spotted Dick

Dalmatians with liver-brown spots

While the vast majority of Dalmatians has black spots, we also see dogs with liver-brown spots (and brown noses to match; black-spotted Dals have black noses). The breed standard describes the spots of either color as round and well-defined, the more distinct the better. They vary from the size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar. Dalmatian puppies are born with solid-white coats and their first spots usually appear within 10 days. The spots continue to develop until the dog is about 18 months old.

Dalmatians and The Hundred and One Dalmatians novel and films

Few breeds have had the global media exposure that the Dalmatian has. British author Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians caused a meteoric rise in the breed’s popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, in a classic one-two punch, the Walt Disney studios gave us the full-length animated film, 101 Dalmatians, in 1961, followed in 1996 by a live-action remake. The movies unleashed a craze for the breed, and many impulsive dog lovers rushed out to buy a Dalmatian without adequately researching the needs of the breed.

When lap-size puppies quickly grew into energetic, adolescent Dals in need of training, exercise and time, many were turned in to dog shelters and rescues. Thankfully, the mad buying spree eventually ran its course, but the Dalmatian craze certainly gave dog lovers food for thought. Never bring home a dog because you saw one just like it in a movie, video or ad. Research the breed’s grooming, training and exercise requirements first. Here’s out list of the top family dog breeds.

Celebrity Dalmatian owners

Given the Dalmatian’s sleek appearance and flashy coloring, it should come as no surprise that the breed has been a popular companion to performers, artists and fashion designers past and present. The list of Dalmatian devotees who have shared their homes with one or several is impressive, and includes Paula Abdul, Kurt Adler (conductor, Metropolitan Opera), Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Ingrid Bergman, Valerie Bertinelli, Ariana Grande, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Richard Chamberlain, Pablo Picasso, Wolfgang Puck, David Niven, Michael J. Fox, Yves St. Laurent, Edith Head and Marc Jacobs.


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