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Known to millions worldwide through the movie "101 Dalmatians", the Dalmatian is one of the best loved dog breeds. With its iconic spotted coat and cheerful personality, it's hard to imagine a dog better suited to being a well-loved family pet or the perfect show dog. Opinions vary as to its origin, but what is universally agreed is that it was bred as a carriage dog, intended to accompany a fast-moving horse-drawn carriage during the 19th century, and was also nicknamed "The Fire Dog" as it was used to run ahead of early fire engines. Today's Dalmatian retains the vitality and stamina needed for these activities. The Dalmatian belongs to the Utility class.

Physical characteristics

The Dalmatian is a medium-sized breed, standing at around 58-61cms (23-24 inches) for the dog and 56-58cms (22-23 inches) for the bitch.

The Dalmatian is commonly supposed to have black spots on a white coat, but in fact a variety of colours can be found in this breed, including liver, blue and tricoloured. However, only liver and black are acceptable for show dogs, and the spots should be very well defined, less than 3cm in diameter and evenly distributed. Puppies are born pure white, only developing their spots at a later stage. The coat should be beautifully glossy, as well as short and thick.

Its heritage as a carriage dog has given the Dalmatian an elegant bearing, with beautiful lines and superb muscle tone. It has a long flat skull and strong muzzle, and the nose colour should match the spots in black and brown varieties. Eyes should be dark and the tapered ears should lie close to the head. The Dalmatian has a deep chest with well sprung ribs to ensure it has good lung capacity and the legs should be straight and true, with the elbows kept close to the body. The tail should have a springy upward curve.


The Dalmatian has boundless energy and loves human company. It needs at least 2 hours of vigorous exercise each day and does not do well if left alone for long periods, sometimes developing poor habits such as digging large holes or exhibiting nervous excitement. It's also important to keep them well stimulated in the home, perhaps with toys to interact with or active play sessions.

Care and welfare

Naturally, the Dalmatian needs to have a regular healthcare routine to ensure it stays fit and healthy. As well as regular exercise, it will need its coat groomed daily; the coat sheds all year, but especially readily twice annually, so regular brushing will keep it in tip-top condition. A weekly check to identify any problems such as ear infections should be done, so any issues can be dealt with immediately.

Health issues

Around 10 percent of Dalmatians are born deaf, so it's important for the breeder to carry out BAER testing to see if any puppies in each litter are affected. Spaying or neutering are recommended for deaf puppies to avoid passing on the condition. The Dalmatian can have up to 15 puppies in a litter, so it's essential that breeding is carefully managed. It is recommended that breeding bitches should be older than two years, should only have one litter annually, and not have more than four in a lifetime.

The Dalmatian also has a higher than normal level of uric acid, making it susceptible to urinary stones and blockages; owners should be alert for any problems as this can have serious consequences. The Dalmatian can also be prone to allergic reactions and skin problems arising from synthetic fibres.