Dalmatians: A Guide to the Breed
The Dalmatian is an ancient breed whose heritage is hotly disputed. Many believe that it dates back to 2000 BC. C. and has passed the centuries relatively unchanged. Paintings of Dalmatians running alongside chariots have been unearthed in Egyptian tombs, as well as in remains from ancient Greece and Rome. Some believe that the breed originates from Dalmatia, Croatia, but there is little evidence to prove this. Over the years, Dalmatians have been used for a wide variety of jobs, including war dogs, border patrols, sheep herders, chariot pullers, circus performers, and training dogs. The Dalmatian breed has always been closely associated with and retains a great affinity with horses. They became popular with the aristocracy after the breeds’ introduction to Britain in the 18th century, and were often raced alongside ornate carriages. His strong-bodied athletic build and boundless energy and stamina reflect these years as a dog trainer.
Dalmatians were also adopted by fire departments in the 19th century and were trained to run through the streets clearing paths and guiding horse-drawn water carts and firefighters to fires. They were also sometimes used as rescue dogs to locate victims in burning structures. Dalmatians are good watchdogs and were employed by fire departments to protect the fire station and equipment. As fire trucks were often the target of thieves. As a result, many firefighters in the US today keep Dalmatians as pets and they are commonly known as fire dogs.
To this day, the Dalmatian retains his protective instincts, but while he is friendly and loyal to those he trusts, he is often aloof toward strangers and other dogs. The breed also has a strong hunting instinct which makes it an excellent exterminator of rats and vermin, in the past they were used as hunting dogs, hounds and retrievers, as well as in packs for hunting deer and wild boar.
The Dalmatian breed had a massive surge in popularity as a result of the 1956 novel ‘The One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ by Dodie Smith and later due to Disney and the live action movies that followed. But the breed suffered when unscrupulous breeders began to breed in large numbers without ensuring the dog’s health, quality and temperament.
Although Dalmatians are relatively easy to train, as they have a willing nature and an eagerness to please, many well-intentioned owners have purchased Dalmatians without knowing the responsibilities and commitment required. Since dogs were originally bred to run with horses, they have high energy levels and stamina and need frequent exercise. As many owners found themselves unable to provide proper care, many Dalmatians were abandoned and left in animal shelters. This left the breed with a bad reputation for being difficult to manage.
Most health problems in Dalmatians are a consequence of old age and they can live up to 15 or 16 years. Although the only common problem found with the breed is deafness, this occurs in several types of dogs that have light pigmentation, including bull terriers, poodles, boxers, and border collies. Puppies can be tested after five weeks to see if this defect is present and reputable breeders test their dogs before breeding. Research shows that Dalmatians with larger color spots at birth and brown eyes instead of blue generally have fewer hearing defects.
Another health issue with the breed is kidney and bladder stones which occur due to a lack of an enzyme called uricase which is not present at all in the Dalmatian gene pool. Males over the age of 10 are prone to kidney stones and should take preventative medications. Owners should be careful to limit intake of purine which is present in organ meats and animal by-products.
In America, the Dalmatian is associated with Budweiser beer and the ‘Busch Gardens’ theme parks, as Anheuser-Busch’s famous horse-drawn beer cart is always accompanied by a Dalmatian carriage dog. The brewer maintains several touring crews and claims that historically brewers used Dalmatians to guard wagons while drivers made their deliveries.