The Dalmatian: Beyond Dogs101

One of the great things about Animal Planet’s hit show Dogs101 is that it will hopefully help people considering a purebred dog to understand how carefully they should research the breeds they are most interested in. Choosing a dog is a long term commitment (hopefully at least 15 years). As a follow up to some of the dogs featured this season I want to comment a bit further on the particular breeds.

The first dog on season two was the Dalmatian which was ranked the 74th most popular purebred in America in 2008 according to the AKC. This is compared to a ranking of 30th in 1998. This peak of popularity was probably due in great part to the 1996 release of the movie 101 Dalmatians. Unfortunately, many of those who chose this type of dog as their canine companion after seeing them on the big screen didn’t do adequate research beforehand and many Dalmatians ended up in shelters and rescue groups across the country.

The Dalmation is obviously a flashy looker. But, more importantly people should understand the general activity level, temperament, health and grooming needs of this type of dog. Dalmatians tend to be high energy dogs of about 50-75 pounds. The Dalmatians short coat can be deceiving. They are actually year round, heavy shedders. The quality of the hairs is such that they tend to do an excellent job of sticking into clothing and upholstery. So, if you are considering a Dalmatian you should be prepared to set aside some time for pretty constant clean up.

One of the unfortunate health issues Dalmatians may be prone to is deafness. Scientists have determined that this is due to the absence of mature melanocytes in the inner ear. The BAER test can determine if this defect is present. So, if you have decided to contact a reputable breeder for a Dalmatian, be sure they test their breeding dogs and pups. With that said, two of the loveliest Dalmatians I have worked with had bilateral deafness. They were both adopted from Dalmatian rescue organizations.

It is believed the Dalmatian originated in Dalmatia (a region of the Republic of Croatia) and was primarily a dog of war. The breed was cultivated in England as a guard dog and was also used for hunting of birds, boar and stag. It is important to consider the dog’s origin and the tasks it was developed to perform (although for the Dalmatian, the origins are somewhat up for debate) since hundreds of years of breeding for a certain type of temperament will certainly still play a part in some of the characteristics you will see in current dogs of this type.

The Dalmatian became the go to mascot for firehouses because one of their first jobs was as a coach or carriage dog that would run along side the coach (consider how much energy this type of dog was bred to have!) and serve as a guard dog for the carriage passengers. In the U.S. this carriage work was transferred to horse-drawn fire engines and to protecting firehouses and now Dalmatians are often ’employed’ as good will mascots for firehouses.

So, while some may on first impression think of a Dalmatian as simply a flashy, playful, firehouse mascot or movie, many of the dogs I have worked with have a strong temperament, are inclined to guard their family and home and may not be quick to make friends with people and dogs outside of their immediate social circle. However, they can be exceptional companions for the person who wants to commit to early and ongoing socialization and to providing this active dog with loads of mental and physical exercise.