by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 17, 2009)
The spotted dog figuring so prominently in the art of ancient Egypt and Greece mayor may not have been the ancestor of the Dalmatian, but we do know that the breed stems back to very early times. He has passed through many evolutions in type during the centuries, but, in all, has about as straight a record as any dog.
It is known that he was found in many sections, perhaps because he was a favorite with the Romany gypsies whose endless wanderings carried them to far places. His first proved home was Dalmatia, a province of Austria on the Eastern shore of the coast of Venice, and it was from this section that he received his official name.
There have been many names that have applied to this versatile dog. Count Buffon, for some strange reason, called him the Bengal Harrier. The noted writer, Youatt, claimed that he was of the same stock as the Danish dog, now the Great Dane, differing only in size. The English had a number of nicknames for the breed, among them being "English Coach Dog," "Carriage Dog," "Plum Pudding Dog," "Fire House Dog," and "Spotted Dick." He was also called the "Talbot," which supported the theory that he was descended from the Old English hounds.
The Dalmatian, as we know him today, is definitely not a hound, but James Watson, in his The Dog Book, pointed out that even in the early days the interpretation of the term "hound" had wide latitude. Yet the Dalmatian has been used as a sporting dog in practically every manner in which sporting dogs are employed. He is still a good tracker, a better than fair retriever, and, given a reasonable amount of proper training, can generally be developed into a gun dog of no mean ability, as many of them are easily taught to point.
His great versatility goes beyond the sport of hunting, for the Dalmatian has been used in practically every role assigned to useful dogs. He has been a draft dog and a shepherd, a sentry and a guard. He has even occupied the spotlight of the stage and circus, and has acquitted himself with credit in every task presented. He played a prominent part in the various aspects of war work during World War II, and his record in obedience trials is outstanding.
As a coach dog the Dalmatian stands pre-eminent. Early Egyptian art pictures him following a chariot. His love for accompanying horses on the road is an inbred instinct, developed over hundreds of years. And in the days of coaching he lent dress, distinction, and dignity to any equipage, whether he trotted under the rear axle, under the front axle, or assumed a difficult position under the pole between the wheelers and leaders. As an affectionate and faithful companion, of extremely clean appearance and habits, the Dalmatian has won the respect of all dog lovers.
In the early days of coaching, the old fashion of cropping the ears close to the head was followed and the trade-mark of the Dalmatian was a padlocked brass collar. The practice of cropping the ears has, to the betterment of the welfare of the dog and the improvement of his looks, long since been abandoned.
The Dalmatian is one of the most unusual and distinctive of all dogs in appearance. Clean limbed, with his clearly defined round spots of black or liver standing out boldly against a pure white background, he makes an imposing sight whether alert or in repose.
The puppies are born pure white, but the spots develop quickly. Much attention is paid to the markings nowadays. Heavy tickings are not to be desired, nor are solid-colored ears. Patches are definitely frowned upon.
The dog is bred for road work, and for this he is admirably equipped. His lines denote extreme endurance. He has a happy disposition, makes friends readily, but his true affection and real loyalty belongs to his master or his master's family. The Dalmatian is not a noisy, quarrelsome dog, but is rather one of quiet dignity, ready to meet friendly advances half-way, yet always remembering his responsibility for guarding the person and property of his owner.
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