The Dalmatian is most well known for its role as a carriage dog. The Dal used to run along with the horse and carriage and performed a guarding as well as decorative function. It is said that the Dal has a natural empathy with horses and used to sleep in the stable at night guarding both horses and carriage. Dalmatians are considered to be an endurance breed, capable of trotting in a smooth effortless fashion for miles and miles. They should have a balanced steady temperament ( and not be hyper or scatty). Although some may seem to be that way, in my view (and experience) that can be attributed to either bad breeding or bad owners (or both).
Dals are extremely intelligent (they have been used as guide dogs for the blind attesting to their steadiness and trainability). There are also several Dals in NZ who have achieved Grand Champion status in competitive obedience and agility. The breed is known as a "companion" dog meaning that they do best when living in the house as a member of the family. They thrive on human company and can be great fun (always ready for a game or walk or even trip out in the car). It's not what you are doing that is important - more that they can keep you company when you do it.
Generally they are excellent with children. They can be boisterous (like any breed), especially when young and depending on what age etc your kids are, knocking them might be an issue. This would be the same for any breed and it would fall to you to teach the new pup some ground rules (like no jumping up etc). They do cover this sort of thing at puppy training classes. Like most things, common sense applies. If you have raised children then you can raise dogs. Consistency in the messages you send are the key.
They get along with most animals and do not have a high prey rive. That said, they are naturally curious and will want to chase anything that runs away from them so you will need to reprimand them firmly the first time so they know that no, you can't chase the cat etc. Most Dals I know live in a home with cats and get along fine.
Regular exercise is definitely required although this does not mean hours and hours or long distances. Just a daily 30 -40 minute walk is quite adequate (but they will of course take more than this if on offer).
They are great house dogs, having no doggy odour and will happily watch tv with you on a sunny day if that’s what you want to do (or go for a drive or anything at all really). Being with you is the key thing for them.
So, to answer some common questions:
1. Lifestyle block - excellent for Dalls, lots of room to run around.
2. What sort of family dog Dalmatians make? - Excellent (but I would say that). Seriously, they are extremely adaptable and will fit in with just about any lifestyle.
3. Do they require constant company? - No, in fact I work full time 5 days a week. But when I get home, it is dog time and they all get taken for a run and receive a fair bit of attention. When I got my first Dal years ago, it was 2 years before I got another so he had to manage on his own during the day. Just make sure they are secure and I think you'll find they pretty much sleep all day until someone gets home.
4. Are they generally submissive? - Some are, some are not, like all animals, there are differences in personality traits like dominance etc. In any given litter there will be a range of behaviours displayed from very laid back placid babies (who are happy to be turned upside down and lie on their back) to quite dominant stroppy ones who struggle in the same situation. Most reputable breeders know their puppies and will match the puppy up to the home i.e., older couple looking for quiet pet would get a more placid easy going puppy whereas a young family might like something more outgoing and bouncy.
5. Good with kids - absolutely. Dals that bite are almost unheard of. Although common sense is required. No dog should be left unsupervised with children.
4. Training - Dals are extremely intelligent. This can make training somewhat of a challenge as they don’t like repetitive instructions and are easily bored. It's like any breed though in that you should teach a puppy the basic ground rules and stick to the same commands and be consistent in the messages you send.
Common health questions:
1. Sunburn - I've always heard that this can be something to be aware of in dogs with pink testicles or un pigmented noses and faces. However in the all the years that I've had Dals I haven't had any issues or even been required to put sun protection on any of my dogs. Even so, I do keep an eye on them all through the summer months. So I wouldn't say it was a common issue for most Dalmatians and haven't heard of any actual cases where it was. Just common sense on this one.
2. Excema - Yes, this can definately be a problem in some particular lines. Across all Dals? - no, but it does crop up. I've had 2 litter siblings who went through a period from about 8 to 18mths where they were quite reactive to environmental things and would come up in lumps or get the itches (none of the other litter mates had any issues). This sometimes can be an adolescent thing that they grow out of and in this case that turned out to be true. I had to keep a close eye on them (more so over the summer) during that time and as soon as they started scratching or licking I would give them Polaramine (an antihistimine) and treat the red bits with aloe vera type gels. Since turning 2, neither of them have had an issue since. They are now over 6 years old. Besides that I also have a have a 4 year old bitch at home who suffers from periodic ear infections and periods of itchy skin. I keep a close eye on her checking weekly and keeping her ears clean, this seems to keep things under control. Again, from what I know none of the rest of her litter had any problems.
3. Lifespan - Dals average between 10 and 14 years of age.
5. Deafness – Dalmatians are prone to deafness which is present at birth. All reputable breeders will euthanise deaf puppies. It’s not common but does happen from time to time. All my breeding stock are BAER hearing tested at Massey university and all puppies are BAER tested at 6 weeks of age. Pups are also subjected to range of health checks before they leave home. They are wormed from 2 weeks of age, flea treated and vaccinated up to date of departure.
7. In respect to differences between males and females, in my view - there aren't any. I know in some breeds people will contend that dogs are more affectionate than bitches or that bitches are more sooky. In my experience I have not found this to be true. I have had really sooky girls that like to lie around all day and have also had bitches that were more independent in personality and liked to be busy all the time. Same goes for the boys - had some who were soft as and bonded very closely, and then some who were more outgoing. I've found it really does depend on the lines and who the parents are.
Dogs do tend to be slightly larger than bitches though.