What Were Dalmatians Bred To Do Originally?

© iStock.com/Eugen Fedorov

Written by Sharon Parry

Updated: July 6, 2022

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The distinctive spotted coat of the Dalmatian dog breed is hard to miss and is instantly recognizable but what were Dalmatians bred for? Whilst their early history is uncertain, many experts believe that they are descended from Cretan Hounds and White Antelope Dogs. It was soon discovered that these dogs had a natural affinity with horses and once carriage travel became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, they were an obvious choice as carriage dogs.

They would run alongside the carriages of aristocratic and wealthy travellers and their role was to protect both the humans and horses and from attack by wild animals and highwaymen. This was a role that they excelled at thanks to their long legs, endurance and obedience. Once horse-drawn fire trucks were introduced in the 1800s, Dalmatians were the obvious choice to calm the horses, move crowds out of the way and protect the truck whilst the fire-fighters were doing their job.

These days, Dalmatians are still retained as firehouse mascots and are highly valued as loyal companions to the firefighters. They do not always accompany the fire trucks when they are called out but they deter vermin and guard the firehouse.

Fact TypeValue
Preferred TemperatureWarm climate
General health4
Energy Level4
Exercise needsModerate 30-60 minutes daily
Friendly with other dogsModerate – Average relations with other dogs
Family and kid friendliness 5 – Extremely good with children
Trainability and obedience4
TemperamentSensitive and energetic
Yappiness and barking Low – rarely barks
Tendency to chew2
Pure bred cost to own$800
Dog groupNon-sporting
Used for huntingNo
Hypoallergenic (non shedding)NO
Life span5
Female Weight45 lbs
Female Weight60 lbs
Male Weight45 lbs
Male Weight60 lbs
Separation anxiety High – Likely to suffer from separation anxiety

Dalmatian Introduction

Dalmatians are famous for their spotted coats and appearance in Disney films! But there is a lot more to this elegant dog than a distinctive appearance. The breed has a long history as carriage dogs and an association with romanies, aristocrats and firefighters.

They are a graceful and elegant dog who stand around 20 inches tall and have a muscular and athletic build. They have incredible stamina and are muscular and strong with an effortless gait that allows them to cover long distances. Most of the time these dignified dogs are reserved but their inbuilt protective instinct can show itself too. They are highly dependable watch dogs but can be quite aloof with strangers, preferring the company of their own human family. Their ideal household has an active and outdoors lifestyle and plenty of time to spend with this bright and loving pet.


Dalmatians are graceful and athletic dogs.

©iStock.com/Irina Nedikova

Dalmatian fun fact

Dalmatians guard firehouses whilst the firefighters are out fighting fires! The web is full of cute pics of Dalmatians riding in fire trucks.

The Different Types Of Dalmatian And Dalmatian Mixes

Types of Dalmatians

There is only one Dalmatian breed but there is some variation in the coat. Most are the classic black and white combination. There is a genetic variation that produces liver and white dogs.

Some more rare variations are blue, brindle, and even ‘lemon’ Dalmatians who have orange spots. But the rarest of all is the tricolor Dalmatian. They have both black and tan spots.

Another rare trait is a long haired coat. Most Dalmatians have short coats but the ‘LCs’ have longer hair – this is also caused by a recessive gene mutation.

Dalmatian mixes

  1. Bodacion (Border Collie/Dalmatian)
  2. Pitmation (Pitbull/Dalmatian)
  3. Goldmation (Golden Retriever/Dalmatian)
  4. Dalmachshund (Dachshund/Dalamatian)
  5. Dalmador (Labrator/Dalmatian)
  6. Beaglemation (Beagle/Dalmation)
  7. Dalmatian Spaniel (English Springer Spaniel/Dalmatian)
  8. Sharmatian (Shar Pei/Dalmatian)
  9. Bullmatian (Bulldog/Dalmatian)
  10. Dalcorgi (Corgi/Dalmatian)
  11. Australian Shepherd/Dalmatian
  12. Dalusky (Husky/Dalmatian)
  13. Bassamatian (Basset Hound/Dalmatian) 
  14. Dalmoodle (Poodle/Dalmatian)
  15. Jack Russell Dalmatian

Owning a Dalmatian: 3 pros and cons

Affinity with horses
Dalmatians have a natural affinity for horses and get on very well with their equine friends. In the past, Dalmatians were kennelled in stables.
Timid and shy
Dalmatians have a tendency to be quite timid and shy and to be frightened of new people and situations.
Ideal jogging buddies
These guys have amazing endurance. If you love to walk, hike or jog they will be by your side and keep up with you all day.
Easily bored
Dalmatians do not like to be left home alone and can get easily bored. This can result in destructive behavior and you may return to find your pillows chewed.
Get on with other animals
Dalmatians are incredibly easy going when it comes to getting on with children and other pets in the family – they will even tolerate cats!
Can’t cope with the cold
They have a thin coat and can get very cold in winter months. They prefer a warm climate and you will have to invest in a winter coat for them.
dalmatian in winter coat

Dalmatians are not dogs built for the cold so you may want to invest in winter clothing for them if you live up North.

©iStock.com/:undefined undefined

The Best Food For a Dalmatian

The nutritional needs of Dalmatian pups are very different to that of adults. Therefore, you should choose a suitable puppy food and then transition your dog once they reach maturity. By giving your dog the best nutrition at all life stages, you offer them the best chance of living a long and happy life. Here are some factors to bear in mind when choosing a food for your Dalmatian.

Food for Dalmatian Puppies

Dalmatian puppies need a food with plenty of high-quality protein from real meat or meat meals. Protein is essential for growing bodies, especially muscle. It can also be broken down to provide energy. However, some sources of protein lead to higher levels of purine in the body. Many Dalmatians have a genetic mutation that means that they are more likely to get urine stones. Therefore, proteins that lead to lower purine levels are recommended including chicken. Fiber is another important nutrient as it supports a healthy digestive system. Pups will also need plenty of omega fatty acids to support brain and eye health as well as a healthy coat. Avoid foods with cheap fillers because these do not offer much in the way of nutrients but can trigger food sensitivities.

Food for Dalmatian Adults

Adult Dalmatians also need a food with low purine levels so foods based on chicken protein are best. It also needs to be a high quality protein that delivers a blend of DHA and EPA to keep their heart healthy. A range of antioxidants provided by fresh ingredients will support their immune system and help to prevent diseases such as arthritis. Dalmatians need plenty of calcium to keep their bones healthy. Avoid foods with too much sugar and with high carb levels in general as this can lead to obesity. However, Dalmatians are usually active dogs and need enough calories to maintain that activity.

Overall, here at A-Z animals we say that the best dog food for Dalmatians is Instinct Raw Boost Whole Grain Dry Dog Food, Natural Kibble with Omegas + Freeze Dried Raw Dog Food.

Firstly, the freeze-dried, raw boost of healthy protein from chicken keeps purine levels low but is less processed than many other kibbles so it is tastier and more nutritious. It also contains probiotics to support the immune system and maintain a healthy digestive tract. There are no corn, wheat, soy, potato, peas, lentils, by-product meal, artifical colors or preservatives. Therefore, it is suitable for most dogs with food sensitivities.

Dalmatian Size and Weight

Dalmatians are classed as a medium sized breed. A male Dalmatian grows to around 23 inches in height (measured to the shoulder) whilst females are slightly shorter at 22 inches. Fully grown males and females both reach around 60 pounds. You can expect a pup of seven weeks old to weigh around 12 pounds. Dalmatians are considered fully grown at 16 months of age.

Height (male)24 – 27 inches
Height (female)22 – 25 inches
Weight (male)90 – 135 lbs
Weight (female)80 – 100 lbs

Dalmatian Common Health Issues

In general Dalmatians are very healthy and enjoy an active lifestyle. However, as with most pure bred dog breeds, there are some health issues that you should be aware of. Some of the most common are detailed here.


This is likely to be the single biggest potential health issue facing your Dalmatian. At one time, it was estimated that 30 percent of Dalmatians in the US were congenitally deaf – this could be in one or both ears. However, careful breeding practices have reduced the prevalence of this condition a lot in recent years. A recent study has shown that 17.8 percent of Dalmatians suffered from deafness and only 4.4 percent are deaf in both ears.

Looking after a deaf dog is extremely challenging and is not something that you should rush into. Avoid unscrupulous breeders who offer deaf Dalmatian pups at reduced prices. Puppies can have their hearing tested from around five to six weeks of age using a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response test and you should ask your breeder for evidence that this has been done. Deaf dogs feel extremely vulnerable and are often involved in attacks on other dogs, aggression towards humans and resource guarding. They also require special training techniques and you are likely to need support from a dog trainer who has experience in training deaf dogs.

Bladder stones

Nearly every Dalmatian is prone to developing bladder stones. This is because the breed has a genetic mutation that alters the way in which their bodies metabolize and excrete purines. Purines are found in meat and meat products and are broken down by the body to form uric acid. This is passed out of the body as a waste product in urine. There is a complex chemical pathway involved in breaking down purines and Dals lack the ability to perform all the stages.

This results in a build up of uric acid in the urine and this can crystalize to form stones called urate stones. Around a third of male Dalmatians will develop urate stones that are serious enough to require medical attention. Female dogs are not affected so often and this is thought to be because their urethras are wider and allow the stones to pass out of the body without causing too many problems.

Urate stones can be successfully treated with a combination of diet and medication. In serious cases, surgery is needed

Eye Problems

Dalmatians can also suffer from a few congenital eye problems. One involves the iris sphincter muscles which are the muscles that contract to make the pupil smaller and reduce the amount of light entering the eye. These muscles are not formed properly so too much light bounces off the retina. It can make bright sunlight very painful for the dogs and they are often squinting when they are outdoors. It occurs most often in liver spotted Dalmatians.

Entropion is another eye condition found in Dalmatians. Here, the eyelids roll inward which causes the eyelashes to rub against the cornea (the outer lining of the eye) causing tiny cuts and scaring. It can be seen in upper and lower lids and may affect one or both eyes. The eyes can look very red and swollen and will water a lot. Surgery may be needed to correct the condition.

Dalmatian Temperament

The Dalmatian temperament has evolved within their role as carriage dogs and relates back to what they were originally bred for. Therefore, they are highly intelligent dogs and exceptionally hard workers. However, they have an in-built suspician of new things and can appear timid in certain situations.

If you are taking on a Dalmatian pup, it is essential that you work hard to expose them to a lot of different sights, sounds and people in as many different environments as you can. This will help them to deal with new experiences as they get older. With the correct socialization, Dalmatians can be very outgoing dogs.

Once the shyness is dealt with, the best word to describe the Dalmatian temperament is goofball! They have a crazy sense of humor and are great fun to be around. However, they have a gentle side and many have found work as therapy dogs. It helps if they are introduced to other pets and younger children when they are pups.

How To Take Care Of A Dalmatian

Dalmatians are relatively easy to look after and train but it is still possible to get things very wrong!

Dalmatian Maintenance And Grooming

How much does a Dalmatian shed? Don’t be fooled by your Dalmatian’s neat and short coat. – these guys shed quite a lot. If you don’t groom them at least once a week, your furniture and rugs will be covered in prickly hairs. The best plan is to groom them outside if you can. You can use a rubber curry comb, a bristle brush or a horsehair mitt. All of these will remove loose and dead hairs, massage the skin and distribute oils to keep the coat in top condition. The occasional bath is also a good idea.

If your Dal has an outdoor lifestyle, they may not need their nails trimming but you should check them regularly just in case. Also, all dogs are at risk of dental disease so make tooth brushing part of your grooming routine. Dalmatians have floppy ears and they can get dirty which can lead to ear infections.

Dalmatian Training

Dalmatians are sensitive dogs and will never respond well to harsh words or physical punishment. Use only positive training techniques on them where you reward them for good behavior. They respond well to training with treats and clickers. Dals are intelligent dogs and are fast learners who also love to learn new tricks.

Dalmatian Exercise

Dalmatians were bred as carriage dogs and are happiest when they are running long distances. They need a lot of physical exercise to keep them happy. Ideally, they will live with a family that enjoys lots of strenuous outdoor activities that they can join in with.

They also love to play fetch games and excel at organized dog sports including agility, rally lure coursing. Their favorite, however, is road trials with horses. Watch out that they do not get too cold outside in winter months as they only have a single coat.

They will tolerate city living in an apartment but will need at least an hour and a half of vigorous exercise a day so it helps if you live near a dog park!

Dalmatian Puppies

Dalmatians usually give birth to between six and nine puppies but it can be as many as 15! Dalmatian pups also need exercise but be careful not to overdo it because you can damage growing joints. It is important to start socialization early and expose them to lots of different experiences so that they do not grow up to be timid dogs.

dalmatian puppies

It’s important to socialize your Dalmatian puppies early, so they don’t grow up to be timid.


Dalmatians And Children

Dalmatians are very easy going dogs and will tolerate children of all ages. They are likely to be best buddies with your kids. Having said that, it is always wise to monitor a dog when they are with very young children.

Dogs similar to Dalmatians

Other similar dog breeds to the Dalmatian include the English pointer, the Border Collie, and the Boxer.

  • English pointer – Dalmatians and Pointers have a lot in common which is not surprising because they are thought to be distant cousins. They have a similar size and build and are both very loyal to their owners.
  • Border collie – Border collies are also highly sensitive and intelligent dogs. They also have very high energy levels and need a lot of exercise to keep them happy and healthy.
  • Boxer – Boxers were also bred as watchdogs so they share several traits with Dalmatians. Both breeds are very protective of their owners.

Popular Names For Dalmatians

A lot of the most popular Dalmatian names are inspired by the 101 Dalmatians movie. Here is a selection:

  • Pongo
  • Perdita
  • Prince
  • Missis
  • Patch
  • Cruella De Vil
  • Anita
  • Jasper

Famous Dalmatians

Without doubt the most famous Dalmatians are those immortalised in the Hundred and One Dalmatians story. It started off as a book by Dorothy Dodie published in 1956 who based the canine character of Pongo on one of her own Dalmatians. Other famous Dalmatians in the story are Missis and Perdita.

The Walt Disney Animation Studios film ‘101 Dalmatians’ was made in 1961 bringing the dogs to a wider audience and this was followed by further successful films in 1996 and 2000.

Other famous Dalmatians are those that featured in the Budweiser advertising campaigns and those owned by Eddy Van Halen (Sherman), Brian Wilson, Michael J. Fox and John Wayne.

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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