The Dalmatian is a large breed, perhaps one of the most popular recognisable breeds in the world, distinctly characterized by well-defined spots of uniform colour throughout the body. The body of a Dalmatian is well-muscled and athletic and is covered by short, dense and fine coat that has a white base colour with well-defined spots of either black or liver. It features straight, long front legs and muscular back legs with round, compact feet, well-arched toes and thick pads. The nails are either white or the same colour as the spots. The muzzle features either a black nose (in black-spotted dogs) or a brown nose (in liver-spotted dogs). The eyes can be black or brown and cannot be of the same colour. The highly set thin ears tapers toward the tip and carried close to the head. It has a long arched neck and a tail that is tapered at the tip which is usually carried slightly upward in a curve. An average Dalmatian dog stands between 20 to 24 inches (50 - 60 cm) while a Dalmatian bitch is slightly smaller typically reaching a height of 20 to 22 inches (50 - 55 cm). The Dalmatian standard calls for a breed of up to 55 pounds in weight.
Although it is one of the most popular canine breed, the exact origin of the Dalmatian is unknown. Many works of art portray the Dalmatian as a prized breed but fails to provide concrete evidence as to the exact time and place of its origin. Like many ancient dog breeds, the Dalmatian's history and origin has different versions. It may have come from the word "Dalmatia", a province of Croatia (then a part of the Most Serene Republic of Venetia) but there is no solid proof that the Dalmatian was present in this region before the early 20th century. It may also been named after a Serbian poet who goes by the name of Jurji Dalmatin who subsequently raised and bred two Turkish dogs given as a gift which became the ancestors of the breed. Some scholars point out that the name probably originated from a painting by Andrea Bonaiuti showing a group of dogs similar to the modern Dalmatian with a group of friars in stoat fur clothing called "Dalmatica." Archaeological findings from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome have also provided evidence of ancient dogs similar to the modern Dalmatian but the relationship is rather obscure. It is said that the spotted Great Dane have played an important role in the development of the Dalmatian's ancestors, or that the existence of the Bengal pointer in England in the 1700s had major influences in the Dalmatian's ancestry. Although the breed's origin is quite unclear, it is certain that the Dalmatian was bred as a generalized working dog, used for many tasks including sheep herding, retrieving, ratting, circus entertaining, gaurding and scenting during the World Wars it saw service as a messenger.
However, the most famous role of the Dalmatian was that of a carriage dog that began in Victorian England running alongside horse-drawn coaches probably to clear the way in front of the carriage or to help control the horses when at full run (i.e. in horse-drawn fire engines.) The popularity of the Dalmatian declined after the automobile was invented. Today, it is one of the most popular breeds in the show ring, as well as in the household.
The Dalmatian loves human companionship and has a tendency to develop handling problems if constantly left alone. It has a good memory and can become territorial or dog-aggressive if not properly trained and socialized early.
Gentle training is required for the Dalmatian due to its sensitive nature and good memory. Early socialization with children and other animals is imperative to develop a breed-friendly Dalmatian and a less territorial dog.
Although the Dalmatian is a constant shedder, the short coat is very easy to maintain. Weekly brushing to remove loose and dead hair is sufficient. The Dalmatian is a naturally clean dog and does not have a doggy odour so bathe only when absolutely necessary. A diet with a mixture of lamb, poultry, and white rice is ideal food for a Dalmatian. Avoid feeding foods that contain soy, beef, or horse meat by-products as well as wheat, oats, and yellow corn.
The Dalmatian is generally a robust and healthy breed, living between the age of 10 and 12 years although some can live past 12 years. Most of the known health problems that affect the Dalmatian are results of old age. Dogs that are 10 years and older are prone to kidney stones and should have reduced calcium intake. Dalmatians are also prone to arthritis and may suffer bone spurs. The only known genetic problem is deafness, which is caused by the absence of mature melanocytes (pigment cells) in the inner ear.
Being a coach dog has made the Dalmatian a breed with a great deal of stamina, which gives the breed a huge appetite exercise. It is a very active breed, an extremely fast runner with an abundance of endurance. Several hours of exercise a day or several hours of running about unleashed in a safe area will give the Dalmatian its daily dose of physical and mental work out. A home with a medium-sized, fenced-in garden is an ideal place to live for a Dalmatian and is not suggested for apartments.
The playful nature and the instinctive fondness of the Dalmatian for humans, horses, and other Dalmatians makes it an excellent companion for children and other dogs. However, like most puppies, early socialization with children and other animals is very important and care must be taken when the dog is around very small children as its playful nature can easily knock over a small child. Adult supervision is required when it is around small children to avoid accidents in an innocent play.