His unique spots are the Dalmatian's calling card, but his running ability is what made him famous. Bred to be a coaching dog, he ran alongside carriages or horseback riders for miles, discouraging stray dogs from interfering with the horses, alerting the coachman to the presence of approaching highwaymen, and guarding the carriage at rest stops. No fashionable lord or lady went out driving without a pair of the flashy dogs to accompany them, and later the Dalmatian's talents were adapted by firemen, who kept the dogs to clear a path through town for their horse-drawn fire engines.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Dalmatian is a smart dog with a sly sense of humor. He's a clown and will do anything to make you laugh. And he has a tendency to greet people with a big, happy smile.

Thanks to his coaching heritage, the Dalmatian has an endless capacity for exercise. He loves to go jogging--don't be surprised if he noses his way into your dresser drawer, pulls out your jogging shorts and brings them to you as a sort of subtle hint. His high activity level makes him an excellent companion for people who spend their time training for marathons, going for long bike rides, or skating along beach boardwalks. He can get enough exercise in his own yard, if it's big enough, has a picnic table or other obstacles for him to jump, and contains plenty of toys, but he'd really rather be out doing something with his people.

The Dal loves attention and has a strong desire to please, so it's not unusual for him to excel in canine sports such as agility and flyball. He's also great at performing tricks, not surprising considering that he was once a favorite circus dog. If you can teach it, your Dal can probably do it.

It's important to Dalmatians to be part of the family. They like to be with their people and know everything that's going on.

So what's the downside? That depends. If you're active and athletic, there might not be one. If you acquire your Dalmatian from a good breeder who will be there to serve as a resource, and if you socialize your Dal and train him with fun and positive methods, he could well be the perfect companion. Just as long as you don't think a little dog hair is a big issue.

Dalmatians shed. A common joke among Dalmatian owners is that the breed sheds at only two times: during the day and during the night. Dalmatian hairs are stiff and weave themselves into fabric, and they're not easy to remove from clothing or furniture. Weekly brushing of the smooth, dense coat helps to remove the dead hairs before they land in the house, but you'll never be entirely free of them. On the upside, the Dal's coat isn't oily, so it doesn't tend to have an odor, and it sheds dirt easily. It's also soft and velvety to the touch, and that makes up for a lot.

Like most dogs, Dalmatians become bored when left to their own devices. They can easily become noisy or destructive if they don't have other dogs to keep them company and don't receive much attention from their people.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Dalmatian needs to live in the house. It's an unhappy Dalmatian who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

Health Issues Common to Dalmatians

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.

Dalmatians have health issues that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. One is a unique uric acid metabolism that predisposes them to developing stones in the kidney or bladder. The stones can cause urinary blockages, most commonly in males. It's essential to notice whether a Dalmatian is urinating regularly and to provide him with plenty of fresh water at all times.

Dalmatians are also prone to genetic deafness. All puppies should be BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) tested to make sure they can hear. The Dalmatian Club of America has a foundation that sponsors grants and activities to aid research to reduce deafness and find a solution for the uric acid stone problem.

The Dalmatian Club of America participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Dalmatian breeders who want CHIC certification must test breeding dogs for eye disease, hip dysplasia and heart disease and agree to have test results published in the CHIC database. For more information about Dalmatian health, visit the DCA's website.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Entropion High $300-$1,500
Panosteitis High $200-$800
Atopic Dermatitis High $100-$1,000
Deafness High $100-$300

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Dalmatian Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Start your search for a good breeder with the Dalmatian Club of America, and choose one who is committed to following the DCA's ethical guidelines.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Dalmatians aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Dalmatians can live 10 to 16 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.

Puppy or adult, take your Dalmatian to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Dalmatians

Pet insurance for Dalmatians costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Dalmatians are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Dalmatians are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Dalmatian is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.