Origin: It is believed that the Dalmatian has its origin in the region of Dalmatia in Yugoslavia that was once a part of Austria. They first appeared at a dog show in Britain in 1860 and in the USA in 1926 – when the Dalmatian Club of America held its first National Show. Dalmatians were bred as coach dogs – to run alongside horse drawn coaches for hours – as guard dogs. This is evident from early engravings that show spotted dogs accompanying Egyptian chariots. They therefore potentially have immense stamina – traits that impressed the English aristocracy. The valuable contents of the coach could now be left under a trusted guard dog! The Dalmatian is also famous as a fire station dog. Here they were kept to control vermin, but soon they were seen running alongside the fire engines.
Positive characteristics: A very intelligent dog. They love people. They easily sulk when reprimanded, but will be out of their skins if praised. They are extremely good watchdogs – not the constantly barking type. They do well in multi-dog households. Never shy or aggressive, Dalmatians tend to be aloof with strangers.
Possible negative characteristics: As puppies, Dalmatians are sometimes difficult to house train. They may be quite destructive if bored. Dalmatians can be headstrong and stubborn. For this reason they need firm training and discipline as puppies during the imprintation period. Failing to do this, one may end up with an unmanageable adult. Males may have an independent streak and will need positive enforcement training as opposed to scolding and telling them what not to do. They tend to snap at unruly children that tease them which require that children should be taught how to approach and treat all breeds of dogs. Dalmatians shed lots of hair throughout the year – but healthy specimens do not have the typical dog odor. Therefore daily brushing is essential. Because Dalmatians love to swim, special attention should be paid to ear health as constantly wet ears predisposed to a higher risk foe ear infections. Because of their short hair coat, Dalmatians may be more prone to pneumonia in cold climates.
Common health problems: All Dalmatians may run the risk of expressing the genetic problem of deafness. This is because all Dalmatians carry this gene. About 8% of all Dalmatians are born with bilateral deafness (deaf in both ears), and another 22% are deaf in only one ear (unilateral deafness). The reason for deafness is as a result of distortion of the organ of Corti, the nerve cells that detect sound in the inner ear.
Dalmatians do poorly if only kept as outdoor, garden dogs. They have very sensitive skins that can easily contract soil bound pathogens like fungi (ring worm). The urinary system in all Dalmatians is unique. Instead of the urine containing urea, it contains uric acid due to the deficiency of an important enzyme that converts uric acid to urea. Uric acid crystals cause problems in males because the urethra (tube that takes the urine from the bladder for excretion) is very narrow as opposed to that of the female. Stones get stuck easily in the male dog and the obstruction can cause a ruptured bladder and death if not attended to timely by a veterinarian.
How to prevent problems: When purchasing a puppy, make sure that both ears can detect sound. A reputable breeder will not sell or give away deaf puppies. Deaf dogs need very special attention as they cannot hear sounds that spell eminent danger – like approaching cars. When testing for deafness, remember that noises should be made that do not cause vibrations – typical if one claps ones hands or stamps on the floor. A special test for deafness, the Brainstem Auditory Evoked response (BEAR test) is the most reliable test to detect deafness. Consult your veterinarian in this regard. Note that hearing tests should be done after the age of 5 weeks – when the ear canal in a pup is fully open. Dalmatians should be fed a diet that does not contain excessive or poor quality protein. Feeding organs like liver or lamb, poultry or eggs are ideal protein sources for the diet of Dalmatians because they are low in purines, the precursor of uric acid. Excellent commercial diets exist that are formulated to limit the risk of uric acid bladder stones as well as ensuring skin health – which makes the light, unpigmented parts of the skin less susceptible to infections.