The Dalmatian's familiar white coat with black or brown spots is truly one of a kind, as the breed is the only one to sport the look. Dals are born without their spots, which begin to appear on their fur at about two weeks of age. Plucky, smart, and energetic, the Dalmatian has been hard at work for centuries, holding jobs such as carriage dog, draft dog, ratter, sentinel, circus dog, and, most famously, firehouse dog. It takes a lot to tucker out a Dalmatian, so the breed is best suited to athletic families who enjoy taking their dog running or biking with them. Without enough exercise, Dals develop destructive habits; with it, they are charming, sometimes goofy company.
Over the years, Dalmatians have been called the English Coach Dog, the Carriage Dog, and the Spotted Dick, after the spotted English pudding. Today, the Dalmatian is still sometimes called the Firehouse Dog, and also goes by the nickname Dal.
The Dalmatian's unique spotted coat is sleek, short, and dense. It lays close to the body and has a healthy sheen. The main color of the Dal's coat is always pure white. The spots may be black or liver (brown), and they should be round, between the size of a dime and half-dollar, and evenly spread over the body.
Average Height: 19-24 inches
Average Weight: 45-70 pounds
Breed Standard & History
Dalmatians are distinguished by the black or brown spots on their white coats. Their demeanor is self-possessed and alert, and they have an intelligent, curious expression. Dals are athletic in appearance, with muscular shoulders and powerful hindquarters. Their feet are round and compact, with thick pads and arched toes. They are fleet and possess a remarkable endurance.
The Dalmatian has a long—and difficult to trace—history. There are images painted in Egyptian tombs of a spotted dog resembling the Dalmatian running alongside chariots, indicating that their ease around horses is an ancient one. But the breed is named for the Dalmatia region along the Adriatic coast, where centuries-old paintings depict them.
In the 1800s, Dalmatians were used as coach dogs throughout Europe, a job that involved running alongside a carriage to protect the horses from packs of dogs and warn of approaching highwaymen. When cars replaced carriages, Dalmatians began assisting horse-drawn fire engines. A firehouse dog's main duties included protecting the horses and clearing the road so the horse-drawn engine could pass. The breed is still connected with firehouses today, often accompanying firefighters on educational outings.
A spike in the Dal's popularity followed the 1961 film 101 Dalmatians, which led to many people owning and later surrendering the breed because it was too difficult for them to manage. This is a high-maintenance, difficult dog, and families should consider carefully before adopting or buying a Dalmatian.
AKC Breed Category
Dalmatians are confident, energetic, and ever watchful. They are outgoing and friendly among friends and family, and warm up to strangers in due time. Though they are all business when there's a job to do, Dal owners say the breed is an entertaining clown at home. They relish attention and want to be involved in all of the activities of the household. Dalmatians are sensitive to unfair treatment, so gentle, patient, consistent training yields the best outcomes.
Are Dalmatians Good with Kids? Dalmatians who are deaf or partially deaf are not a great choice for households with children, because they need special care and must always be approached with care. Dals who can hear enjoy playing with the children in their family, though they need early socialization and training to ensure they are well-behaved. They are best suited to families with older children, because Dalmatians may unintentionally knock over small children during rambunctious play.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect his disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are Dalmatians Good with Other Pets? In order to live peacefully with dogs, cats and other pets, Dalmatians must be socialized with them from an early age. They can sometimes be aggressive with dogs they don't know. Dals are well known for their natural rapport with horses.
Dalmatians are highly protective—of coaches, fire trucks, and their family members.
Are Dalmatians Good Guard Dogs? Dalmatians make outstanding guard dogs and watchdogs. They keep a vigilant eye and ear out for possible dangers, and will bark to warn their pack when people approach and to scare off would-be intruders. With strangers, they are slightly reserved and will become protective only if they sense a threat. Dals will warm up to people who are welcomed by their owners.
Dalmatians are highly energetic. Running down the battery on this breed takes an active family, willing to take turns exercising and playing with their Dal.
- Dalmatians are rambunctious dogs who require an abundance of exercise.
- Prone to destructive behaviors like chewing dog beds if their excess energy isn't spent.
- Can be strong-willed and need firm, consistent training to set boundaries.
- Early socialization with people, dogs, and other animals is important so Dals are peaceable companions.
- Must be watched closely around small children.
- Leaving them alone for long is not an option.
- They require special training and care if they have hereditary deafness.
- At risk of hereditary urinary tract issues that require special attention, including a special diet, plenty of water, and frequent walks.
Dalmatians can handle inclement weather for work, play, and exercise, but they shouldn't live outdoors. Dals consider themselves part of the family and want to be indoors amid the hubbub of the homestead. Though their coat is short, Dals shed abundantly year-round and leave a lot of fur in their wake.
Dalmatians should spend most of the day outside on adventures with their family. This could be anything from a long hike to playing catch in the yard to running alongside you while you bike. At the end of the day, they'll be ready to relax indoors with you.
Dalmatians will misbehave if they don't get adequate exercise—a few, mellow walks a day on a strong leash with a harness won't do the trick. Dals should have one to two hours of vigorous exercise and play each day, and even more if feasible.
These high-stamina dogs don't tucker out easily. They can run for miles next to a carriage, or next to you.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: A healthy Dalmatian will love being your running partner. This breed can handle five-plus miles with ease.
- Hiking Miles: Half-day and full-day hikes—with a few rest stops along the way—are a breeze for this energetic dog.
Dalmatians require about 1½ to 2 cups of high-quality dry dog food each day given in two meals. Talk with your veterinarian about a special diet for your Dalmatian that may help with their unique urinary tract issues.
Dalmatians become frustrated fast when left home alone for extended periods of time, and will develop nuisance barking, destructive chewing, and possibly separation anxiety in response. They also need to walk frequently because of their urinary tract issues. You can leave your Dal alone for a few hours, however. Training him to happily spend a little time in a dog crate will make this easier, as will vigorous exercise beforehand.
Health and Grooming
Brushing two or three days a week, and a monthly bath keeps the Dalmatian's short, sleek coat clean and healthy. Wash dirt from your Dal's ears about once a week with a dog-friendly, gentle cleanser, and clip his toenails once a month to prevent cracking. Brush your Dalmatian's teeth several days a week.
Common Health Issues
Dalmatians may be prone to a number of breed-specific health concerns—some serious—including:
- Hereditary deafness—About eight percent of Dalmatians are born deaf in both ears, while an even greater percentage are born deaf in one ear.
- Urinary tract stones (Urolithiasis)—Dalmatians have a unique urinary tract that makes them prone to stones. They need plenty of water, frequent walks, and possibly a special diet to manage the condition.
- Hip dysplasia
- Skin allergies
- Iris sphincter dysplasia—a disorder that can cause light sensitivity, night blindness, and total or partial blindness.
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Dalmatian by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Dalmatians are smart dogs who are both eager to please and headstrong. They will learn basic commands with ease, but may decide to ignore them. Dals need gentle, yet firm training so they know the house rules are non-negotiable.
Dalmatians love activities that let them show off their mental and physical agility. They are eager participants in agility training and most dog sports. You may even have 'Carriage Dog' trials in your region where Dals return to their roots and run alongside horse and buggy.
Sporting Dog Training
Dalmatians are not natural gundogs.
Dalmatian owners say the breed sheds a lot and consistently throughout the year. Your vacuum cleaner will rarely return to the storage closet.
Yes. With their urinary tract issues and high energy, this is a decidedly high maintenance breed. A lot of thought should go into the decision to bring a Dalmatian into your home. Do you have the time to walk them multiple times a day, and make sure they get more vigorous daily exercise as well? Do you have the patience for daily training and socialization sessions with your headstrong pup? If you answer no to any of these questions, this breed is not for you. If you answer yes to them all, you can look forward to adventures with a boisterous, charming dog.
Dals have an increased risk of hereditary deafness compared with other breeds. About 30 percent of Dalmatians are deaf, either fully or partially. Caring for a deaf or partially deaf Dalmatian is even more challenging than one that has normal hearing. They require special training that ensures they don't startle, which could result in a bite. Often training involves hand signals and a gently vibrating collar to grab their attention. There are niche rescues for deaf Dalmatians, who can be difficult to place.