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A Dalmation walking on leash.

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Non Sporting Group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height — 19-24 inches
  • Weight — 45-70 pounds
  • Coat length & texture — Short, sleek hair
  • Coat color — Born white, Dalmatian puppies will develop their signature color spots a few weeks after birth. Black and white spots are the breed standard for adult Dalmatians, though occasionally you may see tan, liver, or brown spots.
  • Exercise needs — Active
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Only when necessary
  • Life span — 11-13 years
  • Temperament — Highly energetic, loyal, and playful
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — Croatia

Dalmatian fun facts 

  • The Dalmatian is one of the world’s most recognizable breeds. Aside from their famous black-spotted coats, Dalmatian dogs turned into celebrities with their appearance in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.
  • Throughout their history, the Dal has had a variety of unique jobs. Known as “coach dogs,” they would guard horse-drawn carriages for Romani tribes. The wandering nature of this breed makes their specific origins tricky to pin down.
  • Dalmatians were also a popular breed in Victorian England.  They earned affectionate nicknames such as “Plum Pudding Dog” and “Spotted Dick” for their unique coats.
A Dalmation leaning up against a railing.

Dalmatian temperament and characteristics 

Dalmatians are full of energy and playfulness, and are also extremely intelligent. They love to make their humans happy and can be real goofballs, excited to make you smile. Because of their strong desire to please, they are very trainable with positive reinforcement and plenty of praise. Dalmatians can be a great addition to a home with children, but this powerful muscular dog has extremely high energy that may make them better suited to homes without small or young children. Historically trained to be guardians, Dalmatians are genetically predisposed to be excellent watchdogs. They are highly alert, loyal and protective. With proper training and socialization from the puppy stage, the Dalmatian dog can get along very well with other dogs or cats in the home.

Common Dalmatian health problems 

Like most breeds, a well-cared for Dalmatian is a generally healthy dog, but they’re not immune to possible health issues. Speak with your pup’s breeder or shelter to help  determine if your puppy may be prone to certain genetic health concerns.

  • Hereditary deafness. An inherited trait of all Dalmatian bloodlines, around 8% of Dals are born completely deaf, while 22-24% are deaf in one ear. A BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test should be performed after a puppy is five weeks old to test for deafness.
  • Urolithiasis. Dalmatian dogs are susceptible to urinary tract stones, caused by a buildup of uric acid resulting in crystallized stones which may pass through the urine or get lodged in the urethra if the stones are too large. Your dog should drink plenty of water and a healthy diet low in purines to help prevent this condition. Pet owners can also consult with their vet to maintain a more alkaline urine level via diet and supplement control.
  • Skin allergies. Allergies that affect the skin are common with Dalmatians, and can be caused by either reactions to certain foods, topical substances such as bedding or shampoo, or inhalants, such as pollen or dust. Identifying the cause of the allergies is the first step to treating the allergy and determining what treatments may be necessary.
  • Hip dysplasia. A common problem in large breed dogs, hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip socket that can cause painful arthritis and can result in costly surgeries. A healthy diet, active lifestyle and confirming if your Dalmatian may be genetically predisposed to this issue can help prevent problems with this condition.

Cost of caring for a Dalmatian

Dalmatians can be a loving and loyal addition to the family, but any potential pet owner should take into consideration the cost of caring for your Dal. If you choose to adopt a deaf Dalmatian, you probably won’t incur extra costs, but may need some specific training with hand signals for your pup. If your dog has food allergies, a special diet may cost more than standard high-quality dog food. Not taking precautions with your dog’s joints can result in some heft costs. Orthopedic surgery for hip dysplasia can total more than $4,000 per affected leg.

You can help to greatly offset medical expenses for your Dalmatian with pet insurance. Securing a pet insurance plan early ensures large dog owners get the most benefit from their pet insurance. In any case, Dalmatian  owners will want to make sure they budget well for pet costs through every stage of their dog’s life. Starting a pet savings account can also help in financial planning for your pooch.

A Dalmation puppy sleeping.

History of the Dalmatian

The origins of the breed are somewhat mysterious. Dalmatian dogs were first spotted traveling in nomadic Romani tribes, guarding their caravans and horse-drawn carriages. The name Dalmatian comes from Dalmatia, a province on the Adriatic coast, now known as Croatia. Known affectionately as a “coach dog” or “carriage dog,” the Dalmatian continued their legacy of protecting humans in England, where the breed was used to clear paths alongside trails for horse-drawn carriages or otherwise run alongside and protect the carriage. Because of this, the Dalmatian is known to have a natural affinity to horses, which has led to them being the poster dog alongside Clydesdale horses in the famous Super Bowl Budweiser commercials.

When Dalmatians came to the United States, they gained popularity protecting firehouse equipment. Before automobiles, Dalmatians would run along horse-drawn fire engines and even rescue people from burning buildings. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1888, and the Dalmatian Club of America was formed soon after in 1905. While these loyal guardians are now mostly faithful companions, many fire stations still have Dalmatians as firehouse dog mascots to represent their proud legacy.

Caring for your Dalmatian

Bringing a new puppy into the home will add plenty to your to-do list! First, you’ll want to make your first trip to the vet and schedule your dog’s vaccinations. To protect your furniture and other valuables, you’ll also want to puppy-proof your home and prepare for teething. And while the thought of losing your pup is something no one wants to think about, FidoAlert provides a free Fido ID and tag so you’re prepared just in case. Below you’ll find some basics to help care for your new Dalmatian family member.

Exercise

The high energy Dalmatian needs plenty of physical exercise to have a happy and fulfilled life. If you’re a runner or jogger, the Dalmatian is a perfect companion to bring along with you on runs. Be sure not to take your dog running until they’ve reached two years of age to ensure their hip joints are completely developed. Because Dalmatians are very intelligent, they would be a great dog to participate in dog sports such as flyball or agility training. Long walks through wooded trails are also a great option for this breed, but always be sure whether walking or running your Dalmatian is leashed, as they are prone to take off running on their own. Despite their independent and adventurous spirits, Dalmatians crave human companionship and need plenty of special attention along with lots of physical and mental stimulation with their humans to be happy.

A Dalmation running and playing with another dog.

Grooming

Dalmatians are known for their beautifully-spotted short coats. Not only are their unique spots an eye-catching feature, but their hair is silky and velvety to the touch. They also produce little to no “doggy odor.” However, Dalmatians are excessive shedders and will need a good brushing weekly with a medium-soft rubber curry brush. As long as you keep your Dalmatian well brushed, you shouldn’t have to bathe them more than a couple of times a year. While your Dalmatian’s active lifestyle may help naturally file their nails, if they aren’t filing down on their own you should plan to trim their nails once or twice a month. And brushing your pup’s teeth a couple of times a week will help fight plaque and tartar buildup, prevent heart issues later in life, and keep your dog’s breath smelling fresh.

Diet and nutrition

Because Dalmatians are prone to urolithiasis, feeding your Dal a diet low in purine to help maintain a healthy uric acid metabolism is important. You should plan to feed your Dal 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality dry dog food per day, spread out over two meals. Because the Dalmatian breed is such a high energy dog, be sure to feed them food with high-quality protein. Treats are an excellent way to train and bond with your Dalmatian, but be sure to watch how many you give them per day to prevent dog obesity. Table scraps or human food should be sparingly given ,if at all, due to the high fat and sodium content. Of course, always be sure to consult your veterinarian on portioning or other dietary considerations for your Dalmatian.

Training your Dalmatian

Dalmatians are an excellent breed choice for a more experienced dog owner. They are extremely smart and also highly active, which can be a challenging combination for a new dog owner. Your Dal puppy’s training should start from the day they come home with you. Since Dalmatians can be stubborn, establishing rules and boundaries early on will help set them up for success. While firm and consistent training is necessary, Dalmatians are also sensitive dogs and do not respond well to negative reinforcement or harsh behaviors. The breed is known for its excellent memory, which also means they don’t forget when they are mistreated. Lead your pup with lots of positive reinforcement in training, plenty of rewards and praise for good behavior, and you’ll have a best friend for life.

A Dalmation training in a yard.

Breeds similar to the Dalmatian

Not quite sure that a Dalmatian is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • German shorthaired pointer. Another highly active breed, this dog makes an excellent hunting companion and is also a little easier to groom.
  • Rhodesian ridgeback. The beautiful, sleek Rhodesian ridgeback has minimal grooming needs and a calmer temperament than the typical Dalmatian.
  • Boerboel. This breed is significantly larger than the Dalmatian, on average about 50 lbs. They are known to be more independent and protective.

Frequently asked questions

Is a Dalmatian a good first dog?

While a popular family pet, Dalmatians are better suited for more experienced dog owners because of their high energy, intelligence, and tendency to be stubborn.

On average, how many spots does a Dalmatian have?

No two Dalmatians are alike, so there is no common number of spots on a Dalmatian’s body.

Are Dalmatians usually deaf or blind?

While all Dalmatians are not deaf or blind, the breed does have a genetic predisposition to congenital deafness, with about 20% of the breed experiencing deafness in one or both ears.

Are Dalmatians dangerous dogs?

No! With proper training and early socialization, a Dalmatian dog can be a friendly and well-tempered pet.

Are Dalmatian puppies born completely white?

Yes, when Dalmatians are born they are completely white. The Dalmatian puppy develops spots about 2-3 weeks after they’re born.