In 1961, Walt Disney entertained movie goers with the adorable animated film, “101 Dalmatians,” which was based on a 1956 children’s novel, “The Great Dog Robbery , ” by Dodie Smith. In 1996, a remake of the movie came out and people rushed out to get their own white and black spotted puppy. Unfortunately, as the pups grew into adults, many owners discovered Dalmatians (Dals) didn’t fit their lifestyle and shelters were overwhelmed with unwanted dogs. For the right owner, this breed is a wonderful family pet and a perfect companion animal for horses. Because of an innate ability to calm horses, the Dalmatian has an extraordinary reputation as a carriage dog and firehouse dog that’s second to none.
No one knows where Dalmatians originated. The common belief is Dals came from a region of Croatia along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea called Dalmatia, which was at one time a Roman province. However, according to the American Kennel Club, this is wrong and only proves how little is known about where this ancient breed came from. The existence of Dalmatians have been found in early writings, in tomb paintings showing spotted dogs running behind Egyptian chariots, and in an Italian fresco dating back to around 1360. Images of Roman and Greek chariots have also been found with spotted dogs following behind. There’s evidence of spotted dogs in Asia and Africa and this breed has been associated with Romany people, Gypsies, who took their dogs with them as they moved through India, all around Europe, and finally into England.
The first mention of the name Dalmatian came from Thomas Bewick , an English ornithologist and wood engraver, in 1791 when there were no spotted dogs living in Dalmatia. There is no actual evidence that proves Dalmatians originated in Dalmatia, but the breed was imported to the region by an English ship owner in 1930. One thing that is known for certain, the breed was mostly developed in England where the dog was given a variety of nicknames: Spotted Dick, English Coach Dog, Ladies Dog, Carriage Dog, Fire House Dog, and Plum Pudding Dog.
Over the centuries, the Dal has been used as a war dog, guard dog, border sentinel, draft dog, shepherd, rat catcher, circus performer, cart dog, bird dog, trail hound, retriever, and hunting dog. But, it’s the breeds’ natural calming affect around horses and his seemingly unending stamina that made him famous as a carriage dog and fire house dog, a trait discovered in the early years of the breed.
Dalmatians became associated with high society in England, Wales, and Scotland during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Dogs were trained to trot alongside or under the rear or front axle of carriages carrying women as guardians to protect riders from robbers. However, dogs accompanied wealthy men, as well. The term “coaching” is used to describe how Dalmatians position themselves at the rear of a horse and off to the side as they run with the horse.
In the 1700’s, English stagecoaches utilized teams of two Dalmatians that ran on each side of the coach to chase off other dogs that ran after the horses to scare them. Sometimes the dogs would run under the rear axle of the coach. It wasn’t uncommon to cover 20 or 30 miles a day, and the Dalmatians had no trouble keeping up with the pace of the team of horses. The dogs were also used to protect the coach from highwaymen, and guard the coach and personal luggage of riders during stops. Dals slept in stables with the horses to prevent horse thieves from stealing them, which was a huge problem. The bond Dalmatians share with horses is as strong and true today as it was in the past.
Teams of fire house horses were hearty and spirited animals that often got bored waiting at the station for a call to come in and then hours waiting around at a fire. Dalmatian ran ahead of a team racing to a fire to clear a path as they raced down a street. At the fire house and scene of a fire, the dogs guarded the equipment and wagon. kept the horses calm, and provided them with company. Dalmatians are extremely loyal to their owners and can be fierce and determined when necessary. No thief dared to enter a firehouse or attempt to steal equipment with Dalmatians on guard.
Dalmatians and Clydesdales are a treasured tradition at Anheuser-Busch and featured in TV commercials. Dals were used by breweries in the days of horse drawn wagons to stand guard while deliveries were made to businesses. Today, Dalmatians no longer run alongside beer wagons – since the 1950’s, they have an honored spot on the wagon. At Anheuser-Busch stables, Dalmatians can be found living with the Clydesdales.
Dalmatian pups are born white and their spots don’t start to appear until they are around two weeks old. This is an intelligent, muscular, alert, energetic, affectionate, friendly, and outgoing dog who loves to have fun with his family. Dals have an amazing memory which makes them easy to train. They get along well with other pets and children, but like any dog, never leave young kids unsupervised. Because of their strength and stamina, a Dalmatian may not fit into your lifestyle. It’s important to find a responsible breeder if you think a Dalmatian is the right pet for you because of health concerns in the breed.
The Dalmatian is a working dog; brave, loyal, and capable of doing a variety of jobs. They excel at obedience, in the show ring, in agility, and in “road trials” that showcase the remarkable relationship Dalmatians have with horses.
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