The Dalmatian is a breed of medium-sized dog, noted for its unique black or liver spotted coat and mainly used as a carriage dog in its early days. Its roots trace back to Croatia and its historical region of Dalmatia. Today, it is a popular family pet and many dog enthusiasts enter Dalmatians into kennel club competitions.
The Dalmatian is a medium sized, well-defined, muscular dog with excellent endurance and stamina. When full grown, according to the American Kennel Club breed standard, it stands from 19 to 23 inches (48 to 58 cm) tall, with males usually slightly larger than females. Both the AKC and The Kennel Club in the UK allows height up to 24 inches (61 cm) but that isn't ideal. The outline of the dog should be square when viewed from the side: the body is as long from forechest to buttocks as it is tall at the withers, and the shoulders are well-laid back, the stifle is well-bent and the hocks are well-let down. The Dalmatian's feet are round with well-arched toes, and the nails are usually white or the same colour as the dog's spots. The thin ears taper towards the tip and are set fairly high and close to the head. Eye color varies between brown, amber, or blue, with some dogs having one blue eye and one brown eye, or other combinations.
Dalmatian puppies are born with plain white coats and their first spots usually appear within 3 to 4 weeks after birth, however spots are visible on their skin. After about a month, they have most of their spots, although they continue to develop throughout life at a much slower rate. Spots usually range in size from 30 to 60 mm, and are most commonly black or brown (liver) on a white background. Other, more rare colors, include blue (a blue-grayish color), brindle, mosaic, tricolor-ed (with tan spotting on the eyebrows, cheeks, legs, and chest), and orange or lemon (dark to pale yellow). Patches of color may appear anywhere on the body, mostly on the head or ears, and usually, consist of a solid color. Patches are visible at birth and are not a group of connected spots and are identifiable by the smooth edge of the patch.
The Dalmatian coat is usually short, fine, and dense; however, smooth-coated Dalmatians occasionally produce long-coated offspring. Long-coated Dalmatians are not acceptable in the breed standard, however, these individuals experience much less shedding than their smooth-coated counterparts, which shed considerably year-round. The standard variety's short, stiff hairs often weave into carpet, clothing, upholstery and nearly any other kind of fabric and can be difficult to remove. Weekly grooming with a hound mitt or curry can lessen the amount of hair Dalmatians shed, although nothing can completely prevent shedding. Due to the minimal amount of oil in their coats, Dalmatians lack a "dog smell" and stay fairly clean relative to many other dog breeds.
Dalmatians usually have litters of six to nine pups, but they have been known to have larger litters on occasion, such as a massive eighteen puppy brood born in January 2009 (all were healthy).
Dalmatians are a relatively healthy and easy to keep breed. Like other breeds, Dalmatians display a propensity towards certain health problems specific to their breed, such as deafness, allergies and urinary stones. Reputable breeders have their puppies BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) tested to ensure the status of the hearing on their pups. The Dalmatian Club of America lists the average lifespan of a Dalmatian at between 11 and 13 years, although some can live as long as 15 to 16 years. Breed health surveys in the US and the UK show an average lifespan of 9.9 and 11.55 years, respectively. In their late teens, both males and females may suffer bone spurs and arthritic conditions. Autoimmune thyroiditis may be a relatively common condition for the breed, affecting 11.6% of dogs.
A genetic predisposition for deafness is a serious health problem for Dalmatians; only about 70% have normal hearing. Deafness was not recognized by early breeders, so the breed was thought to be unintelligent. Even after recognizing the problem as a genetic fault, breeders did not understand the dogs' nature, and deafness in Dalmatians continues to be a frequent problem.
Researchers now know deafness in albino and piebald animals is caused by the absence of mature melanocytes in the inner ear. This may affect one or both ears. The condition is also common in other canine breeds that share a genetic propensity for light pigmentation. This includes, but is not limited to Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Poodles, Boxers, Border Collies and Great Danes.
Typically, only dogs with bilateral hearing are bred, although those with unilateral hearing, and even dogs with bilateral deafness, make fine pets with appropriate training. The Dalmatian Club of America's position on deaf pups is that they should not be used for breeding, and that humane euthanasia may be considered as an "alternative to placement". Deaf Dalmatian puppies can be difficult to home, due to increased aggression and difficulty in managing behavior. Dalmatians with large patches of colour present at birth may have a lower rate of deafness. Selecting for this trait may reduce the frequency of deafness in the breed. However, patches are a disqualifying factor in Dalmatian breed standards in an effort to preserve the spotted coat (the continual breeding of patched dogs would result in heavily patched Dalmatians with few spots).
Blue-eyed Dalmatians are thought to have a greater incidence of deafness than brown-eyed Dalmatians, although a mechanism of association between the two characteristics has yet to be conclusively established. Some kennel clubs discourage the use of blue-eyed dogs in breeding programs.
Hip dysplasia is another disease that affects nearly 5% of purebred Dalmatians, causing those to experience limping, fatigue, moderate to severe pain, and trouble standing up. Most Dalmatians who eventually develop hip dysplasia are born with normal hips, but the soft tissues surrounding the joint grow abnormally due to their genetic make-up. The disease may affect both hips, or only the right or left hip, leading afflicted dogs to walk or run with an altered gait.
Dalmatians, like humans, can suffer from hyperuricemia. Dalmatians' livers have trouble breaking down uric acid, which can build up in the blood serum (hyperuricemia) causing gout. Uric acid can also be excreted in high concentration into the urine, causing kidney stones and bladder stones. These conditions are most likely to occur in middle-aged males. Males over 10 are prone to kidney stones and should have their calcium intake reduced or be given preventive medication. To reduce the risk of gout and stones, owners should carefully limit the intake of purines by avoiding giving their dogs food containing organ meats, animal byproducts, or other high-purine ingredients. Hyperuricemia in Dalmatians responds to treatment with orgotein, the veterinary formulation of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase.
Dalmatian-Pointer Backcross Project
Hyperuricemia in Dalmatians (as in all breeds) is inherited, but unlike other breeds, the "normal" gene for uricase is not present in the breed's gene pool. Therefore, there is no possibility of eliminating hyperuricemia among pure-bred Dalmatians. The only possible solution to this problem must then be crossing Dalmatians with other breeds to reintroduce the "normal" uricase gene. This led to the foundation of the Dalmatian-Pointer Backcross Project, which aims to reintroduce the normal uricase gene into the Dalmatian breed. The backcross used a single English Pointer; subsequent breedings have all been to purebred Dalmatians. This project was started in 1973 by Dr. Robert Schaible. The first cross (F1) hybrids did not resemble Dalmatians very closely. The F1s were then crossed back to purebreds. This breeding produced puppies of closer resemblance to the pure Dalmatian. By the fifth generation in 1981, they resembled purebreds so much, Dr. Schaible convinced the AKC to allow two of the hybrids to be registered as purebreds. Then AKC President William F. Stifel stated, "If there is a logical, scientific way to correct genetic health problems associated with certain breed traits and still preserve the integrity of the breed standard, it is incumbent upon the American Kennel Club to lead the way." The Dalmatian Club of America's (DCA) board of directors supported this decision, however it quickly became highly controversial among the club members. A vote by DCA members opposed the registration of the hybrids, causing the AKC to ban registration to any of the dog's offspring.
At the annual general meeting of the DCA in May 2006, the backcross issue was discussed again by club members. In June of the same year, DCA members were presented with an opportunity to vote on whether to reopen discussion of the Dalmatian Backcross Project. The results of this ballot were nearly 2:1 in favor of re-examining support of the project by the DCA. This has begun with publication of articles presenting more information both in support of and questioning the need for this project. In July 2011, the AKC agreed to allow registration of backcrossed Dalmatians.
In 2010, the UK Kennel Club registered a backcrossed Dalmatian called Ch. Fiacre’s First and Foremost. Several restrictions were imposed on the dog. Although the dog is at least 13 generations removed from the original Pointer cross, its F1 to F3 progeny will be marked on registration certificates with asterisks no progeny will be eligible to be exported as pedigrees for the next five years, and all have to be health tested. UK Dalmatian breed clubs have objected to the decision by the Kennel Club.
The Dalmatian Heritage Project
The Dalmatian Heritage Project began in 2005. The goal of the project is to preserve and improve the Dalmatian breed by breeding parent dogs with the following traits:
· Normal urinary metabolism
· Bilateral hearing
· Friendly and confident
All puppies in the Heritage Project are descendants of Dr. Robert Schaible's parent line. Today, "Dr. Schaible’s line produces the only Dalmatians in the world today that are free of a metabolic defect that can lead to urinary tract problems."