Dalmatians are medium-sized, short coated dogs. The accepted size in the USA is between 19-24 inches at the shoulder. Weight ranges from 40-70 pounds. Females are generally smaller than males. Today, many Dalmatians are much larger than the accepted breed standard. Males can be seen as large as 27 inches and weigh 90 pounds. In Great Britain, Dalmatians are usually larger than in the States. The Dalmatian is built for long distance endurance. It is well-muscled, without being coarse, with a capacious, deep chest. The coat is quite short and predominantly white with distinctive round spots in either black or liver (brown). The spots range in diameter from the size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar. Some Dalmatians have one or more 'patches'. These are large unbroken areas of black or brown, which are silkier in texture. Although the spots are already present as skin spots at birth, Dalmatians are born with pure white fur, unless patched. These patches are silky large areas of black or brown. Patches disqualify a Dal from the conformation show ring, but have no impact on the dog's quality as pet. Many pet owners find patches to be very attractive. Other physical disqualifications in the US breed ring are over size (over 24") and undersize (under 19"). Other (disqualifying) spotting colors are tri colors and lemons. Tri coloration is where both black and liver colored spots exist on the same dog. Lemon spotting is a faded beige or orange-beige coloration.
Characteristics and Temperament
The Dalmatian is an active, energetic dog that enjoys lots of exercise. Dalmatians are people-like and people oriented. They do best when given the opportunity to spend lots of time with and around their families. Dalmatians are rather sensitive, too - they can sulk when scolded, and "talk" up a storm when they're happy or want your attention. If a Dal is what you crave, be prepared to make him a part of your life, both outdoors and indoors. Dals love to play ... and play ... especially as youngsters. Bred to run for hours under, or alongside the axle of a horse-drawn coach, most Dalmatians do not tire easily. However, they do poorly as full-time outdoor dogs. Their sensitive skin and short hair does not allow them to handle weather extremes well, and they will pick up fungi from moist soil and grass; not to mention fleas and ticks!
Carefully bred, Dalmatians are "up" dogs, as bold as their unique spotting exemplifies! They are the clowns of Dogdom. But parents with small children (under 6 yr.) should be aware that Dals are very exuberant and will want to consider their potential reaction when the dog accidentally knocks a child down. Mind you, small children must be taught not to poke at eyes or pull tails; both Dal and child need to learn proper behavior! Because of their intelligent and exuberant nature, early obedience training is *essential* for Dalmatians. Dalmatians usually get on well with other dogs and are great in multi pet households. It is desirable to socialize puppies with children, adults, and with other dogs from an early age. Dals can also get along splendidly with cats if introduced appropriately. A well-bred Dalmatian may be aloof with strangers, but never shy or aggressive. Once they get to know a stranger, that person may be treated to the full toothed smile or, "smarl" - a combination of a smile and a snarl that can be disarming to one unfamiliar with the ways of a Dal! Dals can also be very vocal. They coo and grunt and will give you a whistling yawn when attempting to avoid a scolding! As former guard dogs, Dalmatians make good watchdogs. Sensible and alert, they are usually not hysterical "yappers" but will bark only when necessary.
Are Dalmatians stupid? Definitely not. On the contrary, they are extremely intelligent and creative! They are often smart enough to recognize a situation where the owner is unable or unwilling to enforce a command. They ARE often headstrong. If you do not give them consistent, firm training and boundaries as puppies, you will wind up with an unmanageable adult. Dalmatians may also be easily bored. Males, in particular, may have an independent streak. For these reasons, Dalmatians often respond best to more positive training methods, as opposed to methods which rely primarily on scolding and telling the dog what NOT to do.
The AKC has placed Dalmatians into the "Non-Sporting" group. Breeds with assorted "talents" are placed in this selective group. Dalmatians have been used as hunting dogs, as soft mouthed retrievers, as pointers, herding and even as watch dogs. During both World Wars and during Vietnam, Dalmatians were used to guard the camps of US soldiers. Dalmatians are also excellent tracking and Search and Rescue dogs. Their strong "scenting" tendencies can be traced back to the introduction of the white Pointer, far back in the Dalmatian's lineage.
In keeping with their early utilization as carriage dogs, Dalmatians have earned the titles of Road Dog (RD) and Road Dog Excellent (RDX) from The Dalmatian Club of America (DCA). Road trials are held in conjunction with the DCA National Specialty and with some other regional Dalmatian club specialties. The Road Dog titles are earned by dogs who accompany horses or carriages for distances of 12.5 miles (RD) and 25 miles (RDX), (~20 and 40 km) and perform some off-leash obedience work. Competitors need not be members of these clubs. In fact most are pet owners who enjoy working with horses and their dogs.
Dalmatians also can do well in obedience competition, when given positive training. Some folks say that to own a Dalmatian requires a sense of humor; which certainly helps in obedience competition! Many Dalmatians successfully complete their Companion Dog (CD) and Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) Obedience degrees; some also have completed Utility Dog (UD) and Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) degrees and one or two have completed Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) degrees as well.
Obedience training methods that work best with the Dalmatian minimize repetition and maximize variety. Dalmatians get bored easily and will then begin to *modify* the exercise to introduce some excitement! Dals do not generally respond well to harsh, inflexible training methods. Praise, play and food reinforcement ensure better results.
Dalmatians also enjoy agility as it suits their athletic natures. They make excellent hiking and backpacking dogs. Many Dals are talented flyball and Frisbee retrievers since these skills add a bit of whimsy and "theater" to their repertoire.