Proportions and Colors: This popular breed of dog is a well-muscled, midsized dog with superior endurance. Known for its elegance, the Dalmatian has a body type similar to the Pointer, to which it may be related. The coat is short, dense, and fine. The ground color is white with round, well-defined spots in either black or liver (brown). Lemon, orange, blue, tricolor, and brindle spots can also occur, but they are a disqualifying fault according to the breed standard. The feet are round and compact with well-arched toes. The nails are either white and/or the same color as the spots. The nose is black in black-spotted dogs, and brown in liver-spotted. The eyes are brown or blue, or rarely a brown-blue combination (a blue eye is a major fault in the UK, because of its link with hereditary deafness), with an intelligent expression. The ears are thin, tapering toward the tip, set fairly high and carried close to the head
Puppies are born completely white and the spots develop later. Puppies can be born with patches, but patches are a disqualifying fault in the breed standard for show dogs.
An Active Dog: As a result of their history as coach dogs, the breed is very active and needs plenty of exercise. Their energetic and playful nature make them good companions for older children and teens, but may be a little too rough in play for younger children and toddlers, and as with all dogs, must be supervised when in the company of such. Dalmatians are quite affectionate and, if not provided with constant companionship, there is a risk they may become depressed. Like many intelligent dogs, they need to be kept stimulated or they may attack items lying around (especially those that smell like their owners). Dalmatians are famed for their loyalty, good memories, and kindly natures, although occasionally male Dalmatians can be aggressive towards other male dogs.
They Smile? Some dalmatians exhibit a behavior that could be called "smiling". This involves drawing back their lips in what appears to be a snarl, without growling, to indicate submission.
Deafness: Some Dalmatians have a tendency towards hereditary deafness, as is the case with many mostly white or all-white dogs, particularly if they have blue eyes. This is thought to be related to lack of melanin pigment in the inner ear and was also noted by Charles Darwin for blue-eyed white cats. There is even a human analog called Waardenberg's syndrome.
There is an accurate test (the BAER test) which can determine whether an individual can hear in both ears, only one or neither. Animals can be tested from 5 weeks of age. Only those with bilateral hearing (hearing in both ears) should be allowed to breed, although those with unilateral (hearing in one ear only) deafness make fine pets. Since bilateral deafness makes socialization and training of young puppies nearly impossible, most Dalmatian organizations strongly urge that puppies born with bilateral deafness are humanely euthanized. BAER testing is the only way of detecting unilateral deafness, and reputable breeders test their dogs prior to breeding. There is a strong link between blue eyes and deafness, and in the UK blue eyes are a major breed fault, although they are accepted in the US. It is believed this is one reason why the level of deafness is higher in US dalmatians than in their British cousins. Information from Dalmatian clubs can usually address this issue for new owners.
Genetic Disorder: Dalmatians, like humans, the great apes, some New World monkeys, and guinea pigs, can suffer from hyperuricemia. The latter lack an enzyme called uricase, which breaks down uric acid. However, in Dalmatians, the deficit seems to be in liver transport. Uric acid can build up in joints and cause gout or bladder stones. These conditions are most likely to occur in middle-aged males. Owners should be careful to limit the intake of purine by not feeding these dogs organ meats in order to reduce the likelihood of stones.
Dalmatian History The breed was named in the 18th century after Dalmatia, then a part of the Venetian Republic. In 1955, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale set the origin of the dogs to the former Yugoslavia (and Croatia claimed it in 1994). However, no historical evidence of this breed being present in the Balkans dates before the early 20th century, when they were brought there from England. Because of these inconsistencies, various claims exist about the breed's origin. Similar dogs are known from archaeological findings and historical sources in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome, but it is not exactly known if they are related to the modern Dalmatian. According to some scholars, the name could stem from a 14th century painting in Florence by Andrea Bonaiuti, in which a group of dogs similar to the modern Dalmatians are shown next to a group of friars donning a stoat fur called "Dalmatica". These dogs were found frequently in the company of Gypsies, and are known to have been popular in the Vatican in the 16th century.
The breed's origins are as a generalized working dog. They were used for so many tasks – herding sheep, hunting rodents or in a pack, and working as a retriever and as a bird dog – that they were never specialized into one particular area.
Fireman's Best Friend? The Dalmatian's reputation as a firehouse dog appears to be rooted in its popular use as a carriage dog; that is, a dog whose role was to run alongside, and sometimes even under, horse-drawn carriages (therefore also known as Spotted Coach-dog). Carriage dogs were useful for clearing the way in front of the carriage, possibly for helping to control the horses when at a full run (such as for horse-drawn fire engines), and undoubtedly because they were attractive and eye-catching. This use might have transferred to horse-drawn fire engines, although it is unclear why this link is made in the United States and not other countries. It is less well known that Dalmatians were also used as guard dogs, protecting a firehouse and its equipment from its rival firehouses.
Mascot: The Dalmatian is also associated, particularly in the United States, with Budweiser beer and the Busch Gardens theme parks, since the Anheuser-Busch company's iconic beer wagon, drawn
by a team of magnificent Clydesdale horses, is always accompanied by
a Dalmatian carriage dog. The giga-brewer maintains several teams
at various locations, which tour extensively. According to Anheuser-Busch's website, Dalmatians were historically used by brewers to
guard the wagon while the driver was making deliveries.
Big Responsibility: The breed experienced a massive surge in popularity as a result of the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, and especially the Disney films based on the book. After the 1996 live action film 101 Dalmatians was released, some people bought the dogs without first thinking through the responsibilities of ownership. For example, Dalmatians, having been bred to run with horses, require plenty of exercise that not all owners could provide. It is not clear whether these concerns turned out to be true, although there is evidence that problems occurred in 1961 when the first animated film, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, was released.
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