Athletic, intelligent, and versatile
The striking spotted Dalmatian sports one of the most unique coats in the world of dogs. Although they are perhaps the most easily recognizable dog breed, thanks in part to their spots and to Disney movies, the breed's origin is quite mysterious. There are different clues that the breed started in the British Isles, Europe, Africa, or Asia. 1 Few breeds have such disputes over their start, but by the early 1800s, the Dalmatian was tightly associated with Central Europe, particularly by the Adriatic Sea in the region known as Dalmatia (now a part of the Republic of Croatia); hence the name the breed carries to this day. 2
On top of the Dalmatian’s famous coat and obscure beginnings, the breed also had a very unique job: a coach dog. Thanks to their stamina, size, and love for horses, the athletic Dalmatian enjoyed life as a carriage dog who protected their travelling families from thieves. When the breed arrived in the United States, they became a firehouse mascot due to their skill set since that was back in the day of horse-drawn fire engines. The Dalmatian’s versatility was noticeable even then, as they would often help firefighters locate and rescue victims. To this day, there’s not much a Dalmatian can’t do. From ratting to scent detection, agility to therapy dogs, they often have as many talents as spots.
The breed is medium in size. The ideal height for the Dalmatian is 21-23 inches or 53-58 cm at the shoulder for females and 22-24 inches (56-61 cm) for males. There are two acceptable colours in the breed – white with black spots or white with liver spots. Ideally, the distinctive spots should not intermingle but be as round and well-defined as possible, ranging from a dime to a half-dollar in size.
To learn more about this outgoing and active member of the Non-Sporting Group, I asked Heather Parsons of Bedlam Acres Dalmatians to tell us more. Heather and her husband have been in Dalmatians for several years and welcomed their first litter this year.
What initially drew you to the Dalmatian?
I wanted a moderate-sized dog with lots of versatility and energy. I am very active and love being outside hiking, biking, etc. I wanted a dog that would be eager to join me in many different activities. I have been training and trialing dogs in various performance sports for the past 25 years, so I also wanted a dog who would be able to compete in different events.
Describe the Dalmatian’s personality?
They can be standoffish, but this should never equate to fearful or aggressive. They get along well with other dogs and other animals. I'd describe 4 of my 5 as generally "disinterested" in strangers. They're happy to meet people and be pet, but won't necessarily initiate an interaction. The 5th is a wiggly, spotted ball of love for everyone. They are easy to take out in public as they are happy to interact when people stop us to visit, but otherwise will ignore most people we pass.
Dalmatians are a fun (and sometimes challenging) combination of clever, mischievous, and athletic. They ABSOLUTELY can be trained not to get onto and into everything, but they do have a stronger tendency to be mischievous monkeys than many breeds. It is not uncommon for me to find a Dalmatian walking around up on my counters.
They are typically a very “Velcro” breed, wanting to be with you wherever you are. They are snuggly and extremely loving. This does not and should not equate to a predilection for separation anxiety. A well-bred Dal should be able to be left alone and be comfortable and relaxed. Dalmatians are always up for any adventure. They are extremely clever and always eager to learn.
How much exercise do they require?
Although energy levels vary between individuals and different lines, most Dalmatians could be described as medium-high energy. One of my five would be content with daily leash walks, the other four would NOT.
Dals make great running partners. With their history as a dog bred to run alongside a carriage, their endurance is outstanding. They love to run and thrive with safe off-leash opportunities.
Can they live in an apartment?
Properly exercised, I find our crew quite chill in the house. They like to play with their toys and rough house, but then will settle down quite nicely and relax on the couch while we watch TV. They could absolutely be an apartment dog if an owner was willing to put the time and effort into ensuring their needs are met.
I have a friend with a beautiful Dalmatian who describes them as “outside=go and inside=woah” and that is pretty accurate!
Tell me about the coat and grooming requirements. Is shedding excessive?
They shed like fiends; there will be Dalmatian hair in my coffin! Their coats are easy to care for; grooming is minimal even to prepare for a conformation dog show. They will get filthy on a walk, then an hour later their coats will look pristine again (probably because they shed all of the hair out with the dirt!).
Any health issues?
Any Dalmatian not part of the LUA/pointer backcross program will have a genetic predisposition to forming urate urinary crystals and stones. In the vast majority of well-bred Dalmatians, this increased risk can be managed with appropriate diet, sufficient water, and regular trips out to urinate.
The Dalmatian Backcross project (LUA or Low Uric Acid Dalmatians) began in 1973 with an outcross of a Pointer and a Dalmatian in an effort to correct the genetic predisposition to forming urate urinary crystals and stones. The resulting dogs were eventually recognized by the American Kennel Club, although they do have a unique registration prefix. LUA Dalmatians are simply registered as Dalmatians by the Canadian Kennel Club without a unique identifier.
It is important to note that the LUA/backcross program has successfully eliminated the increased risk of urate urinary crystals and stones but does not have any impact on the two most common urinary crystals/stones; struvite and calcium oxalate. LUA Dalmatians will still have the same risk of urinary issues involving struvite and calcium oxalate as any other dog (or Dalmatian).
Deafness continues to be an issue in the breed, but good breeding practices are making a significant improvement. This is linked to the extreme white piebald gene, so it will always be part of the breed.
Blue eyed Dals have a stronger expression of the extreme white piebald and will be at higher risk of deafness. The CKC standard lists blue eyes as a fault for this reason.
Despite their genetic abnormality that increases the risk of urate urinary crystals/stones (same as Egyptian Mau cats!) Dalmatians are a healthy breed overall.
Copper Storage Disease has been found in most, if not all, lines if you look far enough back. At this time there is not a genetic screening test, so the best way to improve the chances of avoiding CSD is for breeders to be honest about producing it so pedigrees can be tracked.
Allergies are very common in poorly bred lines, but are not a significant issue in well-bred Dalmatians. The world’s top veterinary dermatologists agree that allergies have a genetic component, Dalmatians with allergies should be removed from the breeding pool.
How long do they usually live?
The average lifespan is around 12-13 years, but it is not uncommon to see Dalmatians at 15 or older.
Which dog sports are they involved in?
Dalmatians are extremely versatile. They are a great owner-handled Conformation breed as their grooming prep is minimal, and there are a lot of owner-handlers in the sport. Many Dalmatians are Agility stars, many are on Flyball teams, they are excellent Rally and Obedience dogs, they LOVE Lure Coursing and Sprinter, they have excellent noses and excel at scent sports, many love the water and are impressive Dock Divers, they are powerful dogs who can pull impressive weights at weight pull competition – they are truly a jack of all trades dog!
Are Dalmatian easy to keep with other dogs?
Yes, they are playful dogs who enjoy the company of other dogs. Although some lines have some same-sex aggression, many Dalmatian owners have multiple Dalmatians and/or multiple dogs of other breeds with great success.
How are they with children?
Like any dog, a Dalmatian should always be supervised with children. Their natural exuberance could result in them knocking over a small child by accident. Children who have been taught how to appropriately interact with dogs and Dalmatians who have been properly socialized with children can be great together.
Who makes an ideal Dalmatian owner?
Dalmatians can be a handful. They are often high energy and athletic, so they, like all dogs, require exercise and training. They should be well socialized to combat their natural tendency to be standoffish. They can absolutely be a first time dog for an owner who is prepared for the work and committed to put in the necessary time and effort. The ideal owner is one who doesn’t mind finding Dalmatian fur everywhere, all the time, who enjoys being outdoors and active, and who has a sense of humour as Dalmatians are natural clowns!
Anything you would like everyone to know about Dalmatian?
A well-bred Dalmatian is an absolute joy. Unfortunately, like many breeds, our breed is plagued with many backyard or just mediocre breeders who are breeding dogs with poor temperaments and health. It can be harder to find a great Dalmatian breeder than some of the other, more popular breeds, but, fortunately, there are many great breeders out there! Anyone considering a Dalmatian should take the time to really get to know breeders and their dogs and verify health testing, temperaments, etc.
The Dalmatian might be the breed for you if:
The Dalmatian might not be the breed for you if:
- You love the outdoors and being active.
- You are wanting to get into Conformation with an easy-to-prepare breed where an owner-handler can be competitive.
- You are interested in trying out different dog sports and activities.
- You don’t enjoy being active and outdoors year round.
- You have a pristine house and loathe finding dog hair.
- You’re looking for more of a couch potato than an adventure buddy.
Thanks to the help of CKC Member and Breeder Heather Parsons, I’m able to share this information with you.
If you are interested in adding a Dalmatian to your home, you can contact Heather by emailing email@example.com You can also find lots of information and Dalmatian breeders in your area on the Dalmatian Club of Canada’s website: https://www.dalmatianclubofcanada.ca/
1 American Kennel Club,
2 Ibid., American Kennel Club