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Dalmatian Dog Breed Information: Facts, Pictures & More

Thinking about adopting a Dalmatian, but aren't sure what to expect when welcoming one into your home? In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about the breed, including puppy costs, nutritional needs, lifespan, temperament, and the ideal family for this breed.

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: June 11, 2021 | 15 min read

Dalmatian

Thanks to Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, Dalmatians have become one of the world’s most recognizable breeds. They are also known as Carriage Dogs, Spotted Coach Dogs, Firehouse Dogs, and Plum Pudding Dogs. As that last name suggests, Dalmatians are most known for their spotted coat and sleek physique.

Dalmatians are a very peppy and energetic breed, made to keep up with coaches and horses for miles on end. These days, they are mostly companion dogs, perfect for energetic families and those who prefer the great outdoors. Dalmatians have several quirks to their breeding and character that may make them a challenging pet and companion. This is where proper preparation comes in. Knowing about these quirks is the first step to learning how to manage them.

If you’re looking to welcome this breed into your life, look no further! In this article, we’ve compiled all the important things you need to know about your new furry friend before taking them home, where they’ll quickly find a spot in your heart!

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight45-70 Pounds
    • height iconHeight19-24 Inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan11-13 Years
    • color iconColorsWhite With Black, Liver, or Brown Spots
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Spotted Dog Standing in Grass
The Dalmatian is an ancient breed, crossing many borders around Europe.

The true origins of the breed are unclear. Many believe the origins of the Dalmatian reach as far back as Ancient Egypt, where spotted dogs were depicted in paintings, chasing chariots. Though there are multiple reports of such dogs, most official sources peg the origins of the breed a little later, in the 17th to 18th century. The United Kennel Club believes the Dalmatian came from India, while the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) pegs the breed’s origins in Croatia.

The FCI states that the first depictions of spotted Dalmatian dogs arose in the Djakovo Diocese of Croatia, where spotted black and white dogs are mentioned in church documents by Bishop Petor Bakic in 1719. Spotted dogs were again mentioned by Andreas Keczkemety in 1737.

At the time, the dogs were called Canis Dalmaticus. These dogs appeared in other church chronicles and paintings from the 17th-18th century. Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant observed these dogs and described them in his Synopsis of Quadrupeds in 1771, while natural history author Thomas Bewick referred to these dogs as Dalmatian or Coach dogs in his 1790 work, A General History of Quadrupeds.

As the breed spread across Europe, they soon became a common sight amongst horse carriages in Great Britain, especially during the Regency era. They were meant to protect the horses and cargo within coaches.

In 1890, the first Dalmatian Club was started in England, and this unofficial standard was transferred onto the official standard used by the club. The FCI also published its own official standard in 1955 under the name Dalmatian Hunting dog. Over time, the name was shortened to Dalmatian.

United States & Pop Culture Popularity

The breed also became popular in the United States, where they were used to guard stables and horses used to pull firefighting carriages along. Dalmatians soon became a mascot for firefighters and became a fixture of many fire stations. To this day, these pups can be seen in many fire stations in the US as a mascot.

In 1956, the novel 101 Dalmatians was published, resulting in a surge of popularity for the breed. The surge only increased with Disney’s 1996 animated adaptation. This resulted in many dogs suffering from poor ownership, with many ending up in shelters. Fortunately, many breed enthusiasts and kennel clubs banded together to save the Dalmatians in shelters.

These days, Dalmatians enjoy being a mascot for firefighting and Budweiser. They also enjoy exploring the wild with a hiking buddy, playing with kids in family homes, and running and playing outside. While they may have a history that’s a bit steeped in mystery, these dogs have certainly found their place in the home.

Temperament

Happy Spotted Dog Laying on its Back
Dalmatians can be very lively, spirited companions.

In owning a Dalmatian, you’ll find it may be difficult to determine their temperament. Dalmatians’ personalities can vary widely throughout the breed. Good breeders will ensure that both the parents of your new puppy will have good, even temperaments. Moreover, they will also provide a loving and engaging home environment to their dogs.

This is important because a dog’s disposition is based on genetics and its environment. If a Dalmatian has been poorly-bred, they’ll often be tenser, ill-behaved, andmore prone to aggression. It’s important to train your Dalmatian thoroughly to ensure they don’t hurt anyone with their protectiveness!

At their best, they are wonderful, dignified dogs. They are quite reserved around others while in public, but their loving and playful personality shines through at home with their pack. Greeting family friends may be surprising; Dalmatians are happy to jump up to meet someone when they know their family trusts them.

With that said, they are also very alert dogs. Their keen senses and protective instincts make them natural guardians of the home. Their intelligence and love of fun allow them to enjoy challenging activities like agility courses and competitive obedience.

It’s necessary to mention that Dalmatians are prone to hyperactivity. This may come as no surprise to you, given how much exercise they need. This can make them a bit overbearing. When properly bonded to their family, they will require a family member to be around them throughout the day.

They will love nothing more than following you around, except going outside to play with you! For this reason, they make great companions for larger families, especially those with other pets. However, since this breed is large and sometimes intimidating, ensure everyone is properly socialized before allowing more free interactions.

Size & Appearance

Spotted Dog Standing in the Snow
This medium-sized breed can stand up to 24 inches and weigh up to 70 pounds.

The Dalmatian is a poised, active dog. They have a generally rectangular body, with a prismatic head and hanging ears. They’re a medium-sized breed, standing at around 21 inches in height; males are generally a bit larger than females. Their body structure is lithe but sturdy, allowing them to engage in the athleticism they’re known for.

The AKC lists their noses as either being black for black-spotted Dalmatians and brown for liver-spotted ones. Having incomplete nose pigmentation is a fault against the breed standard. You will often find Dalmatians with brown or blue eyes, or sometimes a combination of the two.

Dalmatians have powerful legs that are smoothly muscled. Their feet are fairly compact, with heavy footpads. The tail is straight, tapers down, and ends around the hock. It doesn’t curl up over the back, though it does have a slight curve at the tip.

Coat & Colors

Three Spotted Dogs Standing on a Sidewalk
Black is the most common color of spots, but they can also be liver-colored.

Though there are many other dogs with spotted coats, the most iconic and recognizable spotted coat is that of the Dalmatian. The fur itself is short and shiny all around, which lends itself to relatively easy grooming – if you can get past the shedding! This unique set of spots also make for some really creative Dalmatian mixes.

Dalmatians have two accepted colors: black and liver-spotted. Black is self-explanatory, with a white coat speckled with black spots. Liver-spotted refers to medium-brown spots over a white coat. Professional breeders say the spots must be evenly distributed throughout the body; the fewer spots that touch, the better! The AKC breed standard, however, excludes dogs with both black and brown spots on their body, also called tricolor.

Some Dalmatians come with larger spots, also known as patches. These patches may appear anywhere on their body, but people usually take note of when the patch appears on the ears. A patch may also appear over an eye, affectionately called a monocle.

Professional dog breeders are quite particular about the spots on a Dalmatian! The fussiest say ears must not be patched and monocles must not be allowed. The AKC states that spots on the head, legs, and tail are fine, though they should be less spotted than the body.

Exercise Needs

Liver-Spotted Puppy Playing Outdoors
Even from a very young age, Dalmatians are very active and energetic pups. 

There’s no going around it: Dalmatians require a lot of exercise. They need around two hours of exercise per day to be properly stimulated, both physically and mentally. The good news is, that these pups aren’t typically hard to please! They will be happy taking a simple walk or chasing a ball around.

As they are very athletic, this breed also makes a great hiking and backpacking companion. Just make sure you take all the necessary precautions before taking your dog out to the trail! Dalmatians are also good swimmers and enjoy some time in a pool under supervision.

You’ll find your Dalmatian is great at sports. They are popular choices at frisbee events. They are also usually trained for carting events, where dogs are tested in their ability to keep up with horses for long distances. You’ll find they do excellently here, as this activity is in their blood!

While your Dalmatian may be a spotted bouncing ball of energy from puppyhood, it’s important not to overstress them. A Dalmatian’s joints and bones are not at their peak until they are two years old. Puppies may be fine with around an hour of exercise and should not go on long hikes or do strenuous sports until they are old enough.

Living Requirements

Spotted Dog Resting Its Head on a Sofa Arm
These highly active pooches need plenty of space to stretch their legs and rest their heads.

Given their history as cart-watchers, Dalmatians are highly active. They must have lots of space to roam around; they quickly get bored being indoors! A Dalmatian may not be very happy in a tiny apartment and may act out in boredom.

The best home for this breed will have a large enough yard for playtime. A bored Dalmatian lacking in exercise may tear up furniture or run indoors and hop onto furniture. Fortunately, they do not bark as much as other dogs, though they may bark to pass the time if they are bored.

Training

Spotted Dog Running an Agility Course
Dalmatians are trainable, but can often be stubborn.

As with most other dog breeds, Dalmatians require proper training and socialization from a young age. This way, they won’t be too wary of other dogs as an adult. It’s best to do this as early as possible to curb any possible stubbornness.

Dalmatians tend to be independent thinkers; if they do not have you in high regard, they will likely do as they please instead of listening to commands. Fortunately, most Dalmatians are agreeable and friendly, open to new places and situations. Dalmatians respond well to positive training and learn quickly with the right amount of praise and treats.

Dalmatians are disproportionately affected by deafness, which may be harder to train and may have behavioral problems related to wariness. In this case, it may be best to contact a behavior specialist and/or a dog trainer who has worked with deaf Dalmatians before. Dalmatians with blue eyes tend to have a higher likelihood of being born or becoming deaf later in life.

Health

Spotted Dog Standing in the Woods
Deafness and kidney stones are the two biggest health concerns for Dalmatians.

Like many other dog breeds, there are common health problems in the breed. They are known for being susceptible to genetic deafness and kidney stones. It’s important to understand how to handle these conditions to ensure the best quality of life for your dog. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Deafness

Around 15-30% of Dalmatians are in some way affected by deafness. In fact, at least 5% of Dalmatians are born deaf in both ears. This is caused by their patchy piebald gene, which is also responsible for their coloration. This gene creates melanin inside a dog’s ears, which interferes with their hearing. There is currently no treatment available for genetic deafness; the condition is lifelong.

It may be difficult to detect deafness in a puppy through casual testing. Because of this, the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER Test) was developed. In this test, sounds are created in either ear, and brain responses are measured through electrodes attached to a dog’s scalp.

There is a debate on whether or not deaf Dalmatian puppies should be put down. The general advice for all Dalmatian owners is to keep deaf dogs from breeding to ensure fewer puppies are left handicapped. However, a deaf Dalmatian can still be as loving and friendly as any other Dalmatian, if a bit harder to train.

Deaf dogs may also get snippy, as they find it harder to determine friend from foe. Owners of deaf dogs must be careful to keep Dalmatians away from the road, as they cannot hear incoming cars. It’s important to do proper research on caring for a deaf dog to ensure they are well-adjusted to life in a hearing world.

Kidney Stones

Dalmatian livers have trouble processing uric acid, which results in high levels of uric acid in their bladders and bloodstream. This means the breed is susceptible to kidney stones and other problems related to high uric acid levels. Kidney stones in Dalmatians are typically removed through dissolving medications or surgery.

To combat this, many vets will recommend a low-sodium, low-protein diet. Dalmatians must also be encouraged to urinate as much as possible to flush out excess uric acid. This means that Dalmatians must always have a good supply of freshwater.

There is a new study that advocates for the removal of the uric acid gene by breeding Dalmatians with an older version of the breed more strongly related to pointer dogs. There is very little information on whether or not the large kennel clubs accept this back-breeding, but only time will tell.

Nutrition

Spotted Dog Eating Dog Food
Low-protein and low-purine diets with plenty of fresh water are recommended for Dalmatians.

As mentioned, Dalmatians have trouble processing uric acid. This means Dalmatians thrive most with lots of water and a specialized diet. Replacing water frequently will encourage your dog to drink more; watching you change the bowls will certainly get their attention!

A good idea to increase a Dalmatian’s water intake is to feed them wet food. Another option would be to pour water onto dry food. There is no need to let the dog food soak, as the Dalmatian will take in the water while eating. As with any dog, trying out different options is best to figure out which diet option works best for them.

To keep uric acid levels low, Dalmatians may be fed low-protein diets. However, ensuring they get all the nutrients they need without feeding them too much protein can be a challenge. Some owners opt for vegetarian diets. This is not recommended as Dalmatians need sufficient amounts of protein to work and play, and it may be hard to find a balance when feeding them only vegetarian food.

Food Choices

When it comes to food choices, Dalmatians are best suited to low-purine foods. These may be hard to find, as not all large dog food brands stock low-purine options. Some dog owners also take to making their own dog food from scratch to ensure they can fine-tune their dog’s diets.

For particularly sensitive dogs or dogs already suffering from gout and kidney stones, a prescription diet may be in order. A vet can help direct dog owners toward a diet that will work in their furry friend’s best interest. These may be more expensive than regular diets. However, they are necessary if a dog requires a specific set of nutrients to stay healthy. Vitamins as supplements are also a good option to ensure complete nutrition.

Treats can be given as a reward for good behavior. However, beyond their health problems, Dalmatians are also prone to obesity. Obesity can open the door to many preventable diseases. As pet parents, you should do your best to ensure your Dalmatian stays fit and trim. Consult your veterinarian for advice on giving treats, as well as portion sizes.

Grooming

Spotted Dog With a Red Collar
Despite having a shorter coat, Dalmatians do shed quite a bit.

Dalmatians don’t have as many high-maintenance grooming needs as fluffier dogs. While it’s always a good idea to let a groomer handle their hygiene, it’s very much feasible for pet parents to keep their spotted babies looking and feeling pristine, even without professional help!

Dalmatians have short, dense coats. While this makes them easy to brush, it can be difficult to keep them properly groomed. This is simply because they shed year-round! Frequent brushing is ideal for this breed. Brushing gets rid of shed fur and helps distribute natural oils along the body. The oils ensure their fur is properly hydrated and gives off a smooth shine, which is very important for the Dalmatian breed standard! Brushing is always best done with a moderately stiff brush or a grooming mitt.

A Dalmatian also needs bathing now and then. Before bathing, it is a good idea to go over their fur with a high-velocity hair dryer to get rid of any loose dirt or dust. Carding the dog’s fur with a stiff brush is also a good idea. Bathing is best done with a mild dog shampoo. Some dogs may be irritated by sulfates in dog shampoos, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, so it is best to go for a sulfate-free shampoo. After a bath, a Dalmatian’s fur will also benefit from a hydrating or conditioning spray.

Dalmatians need cleaning for other parts of their body, too. Their ears need regular cleaning to ensure they do not get clogged up with dirt. It is also important to keep their nails trimmed. This breed runs a lot, and running with long nails can get uncomfortable. Brushing your Dalmatian’s teeth a few times a week, or as often as possible, is the best choice for their dental health.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Spotted Puppies in a Basket
Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a pure-bred Dalmatian puppy.

Since most health problems Dalmatians have are linked to genetics, it is important to adopt from a responsible breeder. A good breeder will be able to provide all their papers, so any genetic issues can be caught beforehand. They will also offer specific information regarding the Dalmatian’s parents: how they look, socialize, and behave in the home.

Good breeders also facilitate the initial training and socialization of small dogs. They will often allow you to visit your puppy in the weeks before they’re ready for adoption. They work closely with vets to ensure vaccinations and deworming are up-to-date; ask your groomer about health certificates as soon as possible.

While there are many great breeders out there, unfortunately, many purebred dogs are born at puppy mills and puppy farms. Mothers at puppy mills are forced to give birth over and over again, often with fatal results. Puppy mills also tend to take poor care of puppies, resulting in poorly adjusted adults. Many online sellers of dogs also tend to acquire their dogs from mills and farms, so always be wary of online sellers!

You will be able to find good Dalmatian breeders by asking your veterinarian; local dog show enthusiasts will also help. Take the time to go over your options and see what each breeder offers. Getting complete papers and preliminary vet care is important; besides them being necessary to have, these documents also prove your puppy’s breeder loves the dog enough to actually get them the care they need!

Rescues & Shelters

Spotted Dog Being Pet by a Human
There are many dogs, including Dalmatians, in shelters across the country who need a second chance in life.

As mentioned earlier, the 1996 release of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians caused a boom in the adoption of the breed. That was more than 20 years ago, so some of the hype has already died down. However, shelters still acquire Dalmatians from various situations and origins, all of which need a home.

It is always a good idea to check your local rescue shelter for a dog who will be a good fit for your home. Adopting a dog means you get a pet for a lower cost, and a previously abandoned animal gets the love and care they deserve.

Usually, the adoption fee includes vaccination and neutering fees. A competent dog shelter will also have background information regarding each individual in the shelter, as well as care information for each one. Many shelters also can direct dog owners to vets they work with, some of whom may be familiar with the exact dog you are adopting.

One must always be prepared for the types of dogs a shelter may have. Shelters don’t always offer puppies; most dogs in shelters are senior dogs aged nine and older. Though senior dogs may be prone to a variety of health problems, they are beautiful dogs who have mellowed out nicely.

Many deaf dogs are also left at shelters since no Dalmatian breeder will want anything to do with a deaf dog. Though they may act differently from most dogs, they also need a loving home. Bringing these dogs with special needs into your family may have them a bit shy and reserved for a while, but enough positive reinforcement and genuine love will have them coming out of their shells in no time!

As Family Pets

  • These are energetic dogs that need 90-120 minutes of daily exercise.
  • Dalmatians are friendly, outgoing dogs.
  • They will typically get along well with other people and animals.
  • The breed was initially created to keep up with carts and to protect cargo.
  • This means they can walk for long distances; their stamina is amazing!
  • Dalmatians shed year-round and require daily brushing.
  • This may spell trouble for kids and adults with asthma.
  • This breed requires regular access to water as they have difficulty processing uric acid.
  • These are strong dogs that can knock down small children if overexcited.
  • Children must always be supervised when they are playing with a Dalmatian.

Final Thoughts

Dalmatians are great, lovable dogs, but they have several quirks that may catch new dog owners off-guard. They are headstrong and energetic; they need a lot of exercise and playtime to stay happy. Their health problems may pose a challenge to their owners. However, being equipped with the information necessary for their proper care will make helping them so much easier.

When adopting or buying a Dalmatian, be ready for the long walks, diets, and energy they are going to bring into your home. They will also need your unconditional companionship, praise, and love even when they get in trouble! In return, you’ll find your Dalmatian’s unwavering love and loyalty make caring for them incredibly rewarding

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