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Dalmatians: The Firehouse Icon and Star of the Silver Screen

Dalmatians are readily identifiable and little else is more iconic than those white coats peppered liberally with black, or in some cases brown, spots. The beauty of the breed even inspired one villainess to attempt making a fur coat out of some 101 of the dogs. With a sleek silhouette and handsome look, Dalmatians are indeed quite eye-catching and striking animals, and it is widely accepted that their origins began in Dalmatia, Croatia.

Originally, Sparky was bred to be an undercarriage dog, meaning he would happily lope alongside and under horse-drawn carriages to keep the horses calm, and he retains that affinity to this day. He became known as a firehouse dog exactly because of this breeding; back before coaches were motorized, Sparky would accompany the fire carriages to a raging scene, where the dog was put in charge of maintaining horse morale, as it were, so the horses didn’t spook and run away with the water. Sparky also ran ahead of the horses, to clear a path and act as a guide to the fire. Even when a fire wasn’t burning, the good dog would guard the horses from thieves, and see to it that equipment wasn’t stolen while fire fighters slept. Easy to understand now why such a loyal and useful creature was kept around as mascot even after horses were no longer used.

Iconic Features
Dalmatians have a definitive look about them, with expressive, intelligent faces. They are medium-sized dogs with a well-muscled physique, bred to have almost bottomless stamina and endurance. All puppies of this breed are born white, spots slowly coming in over a course of weeks. While black and liver brown spots are the most commonly seen, spots occur in other colors, too, including lemon, orange, brindle, tricolor, and blue. Eyes are often bright blue, amber, or brown and it’s not uncommon for Sparky to have both blue and brown. Dalmatians stand between 19 and 24 inches, depending on sex, and they weigh between 35 and 75 pounds, full grown. They are a slender, good-looking breed.

Possible Health Issues
This breed has a relatively high percentage of deafness in puppies, 10%-12%, and they should be BAER-tested at 6 weeks old, with deaf puppies being spayed or neutered. Breeding deaf Dalmatians is avoided, but raising a well-adjusted dog that is deaf is very possible. Uric acid levels in this breed are higher than any other breed, so Sparky is prone to urinary stones, which can cause blockage. They are susceptible to skin allergies from synthetic fibers, as well.

Temperament and Personality
Dalmatians are highly energetic dogs and they don’t like to laze about. They get bored easily, needing the attention of a human pack member, and definitely need lots of exercise. Boredom can lead to barking and hole digging, while being ignored or left as an outside dog can lead to behavioral issues. Certainly, if you live in an apartment, are not inclined to high activity yourself, or have children under 10, Sparky is not for you. The Dalmatians’ need for high activity levels does not mix well with younger children, who run the risk of being bowled over often. Older, well-behaved children would be fine.

Sparky needs a lot of training, from early in life, and a lot of socialization (which all dogs need); he is headstrong and independent, will know when a human is not strong enough to lead the pack, and he’ll exploit it. This does not mean he’s a conniving dog, it just means he’s a dog. That’s what they do, as it is the order of things in their world. Sparky needs a firm, commanding voice, not a screamer and not a mouse. Even when well trained, Sparky is apt to push the envelope and see how much he can get away with. Not unlike a human child, if you give him an inch, he will try to take a mile, and he’s smart enough to do it. Dalmatian puppies are boundless in curiosity and shoe-chewing energy, and many new owners lose heart with their often destructive nature, not realizing baby Sparky needs schooling that early. He does, and it is wise to provide it.

Dalmatians are high-maintenance dogs, even in their shiny spotted coats. They shed a lot, year-round, and need to be groomed regularly unless you like hair explosions. They can be trained in to making excellent watchdogs, too. They demand a lot of attention and activity, but are loyal, highly intelligent companions who will stand or run beside you for all their 15 years.

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