Dalmatian: The Ultimate Guide


The Dalmatian has always been a beloved family dog, but thanks to Dodie Smith and Walt Disney, they became one of the most popular dogs in the world in the latter half of the twentieth century.

After all, they took center stage in the book, The Hundred And One Dalmatians, and the film based on it, 101 Dalmatians, both of which endeared the breed to parents and children everywhere.  And, due to their distinctive spotted coat, the Dalmatian is also one of the most instantly recognizable dogs in the canine pantheon. 

Dalmatian

Lively, energetic, and with an unmistakable spring in its step and a taste for adventure, the Dalmatian is a dog that adores spending time with its family. As affectionate as it is playful, the Dalmatian is a working dog with an endless capacity for exercise and an exuberant spirit that means it’s always ready to follow your lead and do whatever you want to, whenever you want to. 

And, like us, you probably fell head over heels in love with the breed as soon as you saw Pongo and Perdita on the big screen, and vowed then and there, that one day you’d own your very own Dalmatian.

That’s why we decided to compile everything that we’ve learned, and know about this incredible breed into this handy, go-guide to the Croatian native that’s even more wonderful in real life than on the silver screen. It’s time to lose yourself in a miasma of black and brown spots, and discover everything you always wanted to know about the mighty Dalmatian…

Dalmatian Key Facts 

Before we submerge ourselves in all things Dalmatian, it’s probably prudent to focus on some of the more basic aspects of the breed, and the key facts that you’ll need to be aware of before you start calling, and talking to some of the members of ADBA (the American Dog Breeders Association) about finding your very own Dalmatian Puppy. 

Some of the core things that you’ll need to be aware of, and know are how long the newest member of your family will get to spend with you, how much exercise he’ll need to be the happy, healthy dog he was meant to be, and how much it’ll cost you to keep him in the manner to which he’d like to become accustomed. And that’s where we’ll begin, by answering those nagging questions and filling in all of the basic Dalmatian blanks. 

Average Lifespan

The Dalmatian’s zest for life is incomparable, and the breed tries to cram as much as they possibly can into the twelve to sixteen years that they live. 

Minimum Exercise (per day)

Their energy levels are sky-high, and to help your boy burn off and use it all up, he’ll need at least two hours of exercise every single day, which should, ideally, be split into two separate outings, one in the morning and one in the evening. 

Coat Length

Dalmatians are a short-haired breed (long coats are a recessive gene that’s all but been eliminated by breeders) whose fur is soft and shiny and usually no more than two to four inches long. 

Minimum Cost Per Month

By the time you’ve factored insurance payments and added their food costs up, the minimum amount that a Dalmation will cost you every month is between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and fifty dollars. 

Appearance

The Dalmatian is a muscular, slender-bodied dog with an upward curving tail, and has a rounded, powerful head with floppy ears. It has a smooth, shiny white coat that is adorned with a random pattern of spots that can be either black or white. 

Size

According to the people who know these things, that is the AKC (the American Kennel Club) the Dalmatian is classified as a medium-sized dog. Admittedly, they’re on the large side of medium, but they are, nonetheless, medium-sized dogs. 

Average Height

Again, according to the American Kennel Club, a Dalmatian should be between twenty-three and twenty-four inches tall at the withers (the space immediately between the shoulder blades on the dog’s back). 

Average Weight

And the average weight for a Dalmatian according to the AKC should be forty-five to fifty-five pounds,  

Temperament Of The Dalmatian

Dalmatians are affectionate, playful, energetic, and intelligent dogs that are outgoing and friendly and have boundless enthusiasm for everything that they do.  It’s these breed-specific qualities that make them ideal family dogs. 

Apartment Living

They’re high-spirited, energetic dogs that don’t really get on well with the limited space that most apartments offer. If they don’t get enough exercise, they’ll try to burn their boredom off by charging around inside, and the last thing that you want is a Dalmatian bouncing off the walls of your apartment. 

And even though they’re not usually very vocal, if they do succumb to boredom or have any pent-up energy left, they can start barking, and when they start, it can be difficult to get them to stop barking. Which isn’t ideal for your relationship with your neighbors. 

Good For Novice Owners

If you asked any veterinarian if they thought that a Dalmatian was a good choice of dog for a first-time owner, they’d all give you the same answer. A resounding no. They’re strong and can be stubborn and wilful which makes them a handful for inexperienced owners. Unless you know what you’re doing and have experience of working dogs, you might want to steer well clear of a Dalmatian. 

Sensitivity Level

They’re incredibly sensitive dogs, and used to be called “highly strung” by people who were unfamiliar with the breed. Dalmatians should be rewarded with positive reinforcement and treat-based training and shouldn’t be chastised too harshly, and should never under any circumstances be physically punished. 

Tolerates Being Alone

Dalmatians can be prone to separation anxiety if they’re left alone too often or for too long, and this can manifest itself as destructive behavior. If you are going to leave your boy by himself, you’ll need to let him slowly get used to the fact that you will always come back. It will take time, but it’s worth doing if you don’t want to come home to find all of your furniture ripped to shreds. 

Tolerates Cold Weather

As long as it doesn’t get too cold, a Dalmatian will be fine, but if the temperature passes zero and continues to plummet, if you’re going to take your boy out for a walk, you’ll need to make sure that he’s wearing a coat and is wrapped up warm. 

Tolerates Hot Weather

They were bred in one of the warmest countries of Europe and are used as fire fighting dogs. Dalmations thrive in warm weather, and provided it doesn’t get too hot (we’re talking the kind of hot where the asphalt starts to melt), they’ll be fine. If it does get too hot, keep your boy indoors and let him camp out in front of the AC. 

Affectionate With Family

Dalmations are wonderfully affectionate dogs and love to cuddle up on the couch or snuggle up with you in bed. They can be clingy and love to be the center of attention and will always let you know when they want to be made a fuss of. Which, in case you’re wondering, is all the time. 

Kid-Friendly

The breed loves children, and if they’re not properly socialized with other dogs and people from an early age, they can become over-protective of the youngest, and smallest members of their “pack”. In other words, they’re great with kids. 

However, as they’re so energetic and like to play, they can easily knock toddlers over while not meaning to hurt them. That’s why it’s probably better to wait until your children are a little older before adding a Dalmatian to your family. 

Dog Friendly

As they’re not overly aggressive dogs, as long as they’re properly socialized, Dalmatians should be able to get along with any, and all dogs. And as long as they’re introduced early enough, they can also happily live with cats. 

Friendly Toward Strangers

They love people, and as long as they don’t think that the strangers are any threat to their family, then the worst thing that a stranger has to fear from a Dalmatian is being licked and kissed to death. 

Health & Grooming

Dalmatian

Even though they tend to be a hardy and generally healthy breed of dog, there are some health issues that can and do plague them. But before we discuss them in a little more depth, let’s talk about the impact that a Dalmatian can have on your life and the lives of your nearest and dearest.

Shedding

Dalmatians shed. They shed all year long, so you can expect to vacuum up a lot of spare and excess fur if you invite a Dalmatian to live in your home. 

Drooling

The good news though is that they’re not droolers. For the most part, they manage to keep their drool inside their mouths, but you might find a tiny puddle or two on the floor while they’re patiently waiting for their dinner. 

Grooming

For a short-haired breed, they need to be groomed a lot. If you want to keep your furniture and floor as fur-free as you possibly can, you’ll need to brush your best pal two or three times a week. 

General Health

Dalmatians are tough, resilient working dogs and their relatively long lifespan is a result of this. Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry too much about a Dalmatian’s general health. 

Common Health Problems

  • There are a number of common health problems with the breed, and while they can suffer from hip dysplasia and Iris Sphincter Dysplasia (which is a genetic ocular sensitivity to light), there are two health issues that Dalmatians are highly likely to inherit. 
  • They have a unique urinary tract, which makes them prone to urinary tract stones (Urolithiasis), which can be controlled by diet and medication and they are also prone to hereditary deafness.
  • Eight percent of all Dalmatians are born deaf and twenty-four percent of all Dalmatian puppies are born without hearing in one ear. It’s a genetic problem that can occur in any, and all Dalmatians. 

Potential For Weight Gain

Even though they’re not particularly susceptible to obesity because of their high energy levels, just like any other dog, Dalmatians can get a little too chunky if their diet isn’t closely monitored. So keep a careful eye on what your boy eats. 

Trainability

Dalmatians are working dogs and they can be stubborn and single-minded, so it’s important to ensure that you enroll them in obedience and socialization classes as early as possible and start their training as soon as you bring them home so that they have a clear idea of what you expect from them, and what the everyday boundaries are. 

Easy To Train

Dalmatians can be difficult to train because of their stubborn nature, but as long as you’re patient, take it slowly and reward them with positive affirmations and treats when they make progress you’ll get there eventually. It’ll be hard work, but it will be worth it. 

Intelligence

They’re incredibly bright dogs and fast learners, who can and will adapt to new situations quickly as long as you train them properly. Always be positive, always reward good behavior, and don’t chastise them for too long when they’re naughty. They’re bright dogs and they can, and will remember how you treat them. 

Potential To Bite

If they’re socialized from an early age, as they’re not aggressive dogs, Dalmatians are unlikely to bite anyone unless they perceive them to be a threat to their family or they feel as though they are in imminent danger and have no other choice. 

Tendency To Bark Or Howl

Dalmatians aren’t especially vocal dogs, and unless they’re excited, warning their family about possible danger or in distress (which includes being left alone for too long) they won’t bark. They’re not noisy dogs and they won’t turn your neighbors against you by barking at all hours of the day and night. 

History

The first historical written record of a Dalmatian dates back to 1374, when Peter, the then Bishop of Dakavo, mentioned a spotted white hunting dog from Dalmatia, one of the four original provinces of Croatia, that he referred to as Canis Dalmaticus or Dalmatian Dog.

But it wasn’t until Thomas Bewick published A General History Of Quadrupeds in 1790 that the Dalmatian was actually called a Dalmatian for the first time. 

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the Dalmatian graduated from hunting to running alongside the coaches of the wealthy, as their owners used the dogs to display their riches and show off to the other members of the aristocracy.

While it’s uncertain when the Dalmatians initially arrived in America, the first Dalmatian Club was formed in England in 1890 and thereafter soon set the unofficial standard for the breed. 

Throughout their long history, Dalmatians have played a number of different roles, having been hunters, coach runners, dogs of war who defended the borders of Dalmatia, firefighters, and companion dogs, before graduating to become the humble, and much-loved family dog that they are today. 

Costs

While they are expensive, Dalmatian puppies are nowhere near as expensive as a lot of designer, purebred dogs are and can be.

Dalmatians tend to cost anywhere between eight hundred and fifteen hundred dollars depending on the bloodline of the dog and who the breeder selling them is. There is, however, a much more affordable, and arguably ethical way to give a Dalmatian a home and that’s through adoption. 

While they don’t appear in shelters very often, there are a number of rescues devoted solely to Dalmatians, who would love to hear from you if you’re thinking of giving a home to a Dalmatian who desperately needs one.

As we always say, it won’t just be the dog that you rescue who will be forever grateful to you if you adopt them, your bank balance will be too as it’s far more affordable to adopt than it is to shop. 

Dalmatian Fun Facts

  • Dalmatian puppies aren’t born with spots. When they’re born, Dalmatians are completely white and their spots don’t begin to appear until they’re between three and four weeks old. So, you don’t know what a Dalmatian is going to look like for the first month of its life. 
  • Their reputation as fire fighting dogs stems from the early days of the fire service when Dalmatians were used to guard the horses that pulled fire fighting carriages and stop them panicking while the crews were busy putting out fires. Their natural affinity with horses from their days as coach runners made Dalmatians perfect for the role. 
  • Beer and Dalmatians go together like peaches and cream thanks to the breed accompanying the Budweiser carriages that are pulled by horses in Busch Gardens. It’s an association that has stuck, and probably always will. 
  • And of course, there’s the book, The Hundred And One Dalmatians, and film, 101 Dalmatians, that ensured that the breed became the most famous dog in the world during the latter half of the twentieth century. 

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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