The Dalmatian has spots because humans decided he should. Selective breeding can produce a dog that looks like anything from a hairless rat to a lumbering lion. Someone in Croatia decided that white dogs sprinkled with round black spots would be cool and set about creating them.
The Dalmatian is probably one of the oldest designer dogs, since he has the same general body shape as other bird dog types from much the same area of Mitteleuropa -- the vizsla, the weimeraner and the German shorthaired pointer -- updated with a jazzyy paint job. He's still a work in progress, too -- the black-and-white color scheme is being supplanted by the currently more popular liver (brown)-and-white.
Somewhere along the line, though, he took off on a tangent and specialized in the horse-and-carriage trade. He became a coaching dog, running in front of, alongside and behind horse-drawn vehicles, or even underneath them. Far from just a fashion accessory, his mission was to lead the way and defend them against road agents and footpads. He even slept in the stables with the horses. After all this, when he came to America, he was a natural to become the firehouse dog we recognize, and he's still coaching along with the Budweiser Clydesdales.
If ever there was a tireless dog, the Dalmatian is it. If you're a marathon runner or just a morning jogger, he'll be right there with you. If you have kids (not toddlers) who like to play outdoors, he's ready. His strong point is not speed, but stamina -- as long as he's a mature, healthy dog, you'll quit before he does. He's a good choice for the interactive canine sport of agility. When work's done, though, he likes to relax the same way you do, so don't banish him to the basement or a kennel -- he's a family dog.
The Dalmatian is slick-coated and easy to groom, but frustrating, too, because no matter how much you brush, he still sheds year round. Go over him with a hound glove, followed by a damp cloth, to minimize this. As a known former of kidney and bladder stones, he has some special dietary needs, including a relatively low-protein diet and especially a low-purine one -- keep him off wild game and beef, concentrating on chicken, turkey and non-meat protein in the form of eggs and cheese. Add water to his food until the dry stuff floats, sort of like milk on cereal, to get more water into him and help reduce stone formation.
The formation of urinary tract stones is one of several genetic complaints the Dalmatian is heir to as a result of breeding for color. They also tend to have allergies and skin problems. Up to 10 percent of puppies are born deaf and another 22 percent can hear in only one ear. If a special (BAER, or brain-evoked auditory response) test reveals abnormal hearing, don't breed your dog. He'll be just as good a pet, and you can have the fun of teaching him to work on hand signals.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images