Are Dalmatians good family dogs?

Can you resist those spots?
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Man's best friend can be a family's best friend, too. If you plan to add a dog to your household, you have lots of varieties to choose from. At last count, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized 161 dog breeds, and that doesn't count the additional 49 breeds recognized by the U.K. Kennel Club or all the loveable mutts out there looking for good homes [sources: AKC, The Kennel Club].

If you think a distinctive appearance, energetic personality and unwavering loyalty make for a great canine pet, a Dalmatian could be the perfect dog breed for your family. The Dalmatian is an old breed, so old, in fact, that no one knows for sure where or when the Dalmatian's distinctive spots first developed. We do know that Dalmatians are valuable working dogs. They have a long association with firefighting, but before that, they were popular carriage dogs. They'd run alongside the carriages of wealthy English lords, calming the horses and standing guard. Back when fire trucks were horse powered, hiring a few Dalmatians to help control and relax horses reluctant to approach burning buildings must have seemed like a perfect pairing of brains and brawn. It didn't hurt that Dalmatians have a great deal of stamina and are powerful, agile runners in their own right.

Although Dalmatians are probably most famous as firehouse mascots, they're good overall canine workers who've assisted man in lots of ways over the centuries. They've been used as hunting dogs, retrievers and guard dogs during wartime. Being able to perform widely different tasks and do them well requires dedication and intelligence. It also takes a willing temperament and an ingrained desire to please.

Dalmatians make good family dogs in many circumstances, but like all dog breeds, they have strengths and weaknesses. Dalmatians are intelligent, playful, active, protective, gentle, social and relatively non-aggressive. They're patient and generally good with children, too.

When Dalmatians are left alone too much or improperly socialized, their impressive intelligence can lead to digging, scratching and chewing. Their protective inclinations can result in nipping, barking and even snapping if they're confronted with unfamiliar people and haven't been taught how to behave. The Dalmatian is one breed that really benefits from time and patient instruction. This dog can rise to almost any challenge if given affection and a learning, loving environment.

Potential Problems With Dalmatians

While Dalmatians are overall great pets for your family, there are a few drawbacks to calling one of these furry friends a part of your family. Here are some of the issues that may arise with Dalmatians:

Health problems - Most purebred dogs have at least a few genetic weaknesses. In Dalmatians, there are two major genetic conditions to watch out for: It's estimated that around 30 percent of Dalmatian puppies suffer from hearing loss. In extreme cases, the puppies are completely deaf. In others, they may have unilateral hearing (they can only hear in one ear). Dog breeders use a test to check a Dalmatian's hearing at around seven weeks of age. It's called a BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test, and should be part of a Dalmatian puppy's wellness check. The other genetic anomaly is an inclination to develop hyperuricemia, a build-up of uric acid that can lead to bladder stones, kidney stones and gout. The condition presents itself more frequently in males than females and can be controlled, at least partially, through diet [source: McCoubrey].

Obesity - Most Dalmatians love to eat. If they're getting plenty of exercise, this won't be a problem, but for older dogs, a big appetite can lead to weight gain and many of the health problems that plague overweight humans.

Shedding - Don't let a Dalmatian's short hair fool you, short-haired dogs shed just like long-haired dogs, and Dalmatians shed all year long. The hairs are stiff, too, and can weave their way into carpet, upholstery, draperies and clothing in a way that's difficult to extract with conventional vacuuming.

Hyperactivity - Vigorous, social dogs like Dalmatians are happiest when part of an active family. Dalmatians are so active, in fact, that they can sometimes be too intense for toddlers that may become alarmed by all the frenzied motion. This isn't always a problem, but it's something to consider.

No dog breed is all things to all families. Traits like enthusiasm and energy that may make a Dalmatian the perfect pet for your household, would make him a poor choice for the dedicated couch potato owner who wants a laidback dog that thinks Frisbee chasing is a big yawn. If you can give your Dalmatian lots of attention, some useful activities to keep him interested and room to run, you'll be rewarded with years of faithful and loving service.

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Sources

  • American Kennel Club. "AKA Meet the Breeds - Dalmatians." 9/6/89. (8/3/11). http://www.akc.org/breeds/dalmatian/
  • AKC. "Why Purebred?" (8/3/11). http://www.akc.org/press_center/facts_stats.cfm?page=why_purebred
  • DCA. "The Dalmatian Club Of America's Informational Brochure Regarding Dalmatians." 1994 (8/3/11). http://www.thedca.org/redbook.html
  • The Kennel Club. "Breed Clubs." 8/7/06. (8/3/11). http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/1772
  • Melina, Remy. "Why Are Dalmatians the Official Firehouse Dogs?" Life's Little Mysteries." 5/19/11. (8/4/11). http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/dalmatians-official-firehouse-dogs-1707/
  • McCoubrey, Kathy. "Is A Dalmatian Right For You?" Dalmatians US. 1997 - 2004. (8/3/11). http://www.dalmatians.us/dal4you.htm
  • Sullivan, Alison. "Dalmatian - Breed Profile." Rescue Every Dog. 2001. (8/3/11). http://www.rescueeverydog.org/Dalmation_breed.html
  • Pet Sugar. "Dalmatian Trivia." 8/2/11. (8/3/11). http://www.petsugar.com/Dalmatian-Trivia-9277730