Get to Know the Dalmatian: A Frisky, Freckled Friend

Let's talk Dalmatians. Today, you'll find out what lies beneath those distinctive spots!


If you’re seeing spots before your eyes, chances are you’re in Dalmatian land! He has the most distinctive coat pattern of the dog world, but nobody really knows why the Dalmatian’s spots are like they are. And actually, there’s a lot of mystery around the Dalmatian…

Dalmatian spots are not present at birth, so puppies are born white except for any colored patches. The spots only appear after a few weeks of age. In contrast, patches of color are there at birth. Patches, which are large areas of color with smooth boundaries, are caused by a different gene than are spots, which are usually small areas of color with irregular boundaries. Sometimes spots will grow together and form larger areas, but you know they’re spots, rather than patches, by their irregular boundary between colored and white areas, and because white hairs are often seen within them. The spots are thought to be caused by the same gene responsible for ticking — tiny flecks of color — in other breeds.

Dalmatians with patches can’t be shown at conformation events, but can compete in all other events.

The spots can be either black or liver, but should not be both.

Dals are one of the few breeds commonly seen with one or two blue eyes.

Although named for Dalmatia (in Croatia), the Dalmatian’s actual place and time of origin are unknown.

The breed gained fame as a coach dog in Victorian England, running with the coaches to protect the horses from stray dogs. They also worked as coach dogs for horse-drawn fire engines, leading to their role as firehouse mascot. There’s a myth that Dalmatians were bred to be deaf so the sirens from fire engines wouldn’t bother them. Not true!

The AKC recognized the Dalmatian in 1888.

The 1996 Disney movie 101 Dalmatians fueled a huge surge in popularity. When the movie’s sequel came out, it included disclaimers asking viewers not to get a Dalmatian on impulse. The sequel caused a much smaller surge. Dalmatians have experienced a huge plummet in popularity since then.

They are currently the 65th most popular AKC breed.

The Dalmatian is in the AKC Non-Sporting group.

Although Dals have won the Non-Sporting group seven times at the Westminster Kennel Club show, none has ever won Best in Show.

Dalmatians compete in Road Trial events, in which they run off-lead beside a horse or buggy for up to 25 miles.

Dalmatians have the highest rate of deafness of any breed. Some people believe those with a patch on their ears are less likely to be deaf, at least in the colored ear. Deafness is associated with large areas of white in many breeds, whether or not ticking is present.

Dalmatians also have the highest incidence of urinary stones, because they have a genetic condition causing high uric acid. In 1973 a geneticist crossed a Pointer with a Dalmatian and then crossed the offspring with low uric acid levels back to Dals for several generations. In an unusual step, the AKC recently allowed the descendents of these “LUA” dogs to be AKC registered.

Dal owners include Pablo Picasso, Rock Hudson, Dick Clark, Michael J. Fox, Gloria Estefan, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Alexander, Charles Osgood, Richard Simmons, John Tesh, Brian Wilson, and the Anheuser-Busch beer company.

Do you own a Dachshund? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis; and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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