The Dalmatian is one of the most widely recognized dog breeds in the world so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the origins of this most distinctive of dogs is still shrouded in mystery up to this day. One theory has it that the name Dalmatian was given to the dog breed by one Thomas Bewick in 1791. According to excerpts from “Anecdotes of Dogs” compiled by Edward Jesse, Thomas Bewick adamantly insists that the Dalmatian Dog hailed from a region called Dalmatia which today is to be found in Croatia. Adding weight to his claims is the fact that the Dalmatian Dog used to be called Dalmatinac.
However there appears to be evidence to refute Bewick’s claims. As far back as 3,700 BC, king Cheops (or Khufu) was known to have owned a spotted pet dog; the first spotted dog on record. More compelling evidence perhaps is a 1700 BC fresco from Tiryns that illustrates a boar hunt with black and liver spotted hounds which today can still be found in the National Archeological Museum s. In Greece, Crete and Egypt are to be found numerous ancient friezes and murals depicting spotted white hounds (with liver or black spots sometimes both). Around 400 BC a spotted Cretan Hound was commonly employed in hunting antelope. That hound was later crossed with the White Antelope Dog from ancient Egypt creating a distinctly colored hound that loved running alongside horses.
As to how the Dalmatian Dog came to be named as such is a whole new twist altogether in an already highly convoluted and controversial history. Strangely enough the origins of the Dalmatian name in many respects resembles the controversial manner with which the Labrador Retriever, a Canadian dog breed that originated from Newfoundland, came to be associated with England and subsequently called the “Labrador” by an Englishman.
As things stand today the Dalmatian dog is widely associated with England and in fact got its name from Thomas Beswick, yet another Englishman. Apparent association of the Dalmatian with the region that bears the same name did not occur until around 1930 when the Consul General of Monaco to Great Britain who also happened to be a member of the British Dalmatian Club, took a pair of Dalmatian dogs to Dalmatia as a present for his stepfather Bozo Banac. Bozo Banac had previously expressed an interest in breeding the dogs there.
There is actually good reason to believe that the name Dalmatian is in all likelihood a corruption of the term “Damachien”; a term by which the dogs were known at the time and which in English translated as Deer Hound (a mix of the Latin and French words “Dama” and “Chien” which respectively mean Deer and Dog).
The preeminent French Naturalist Buffon also dipped his toes in the fray and referred to the Dalmatian dog in his writings circa 1749-1767 as “Le Braque Bengale” (hound of Bengal) which he later modified to the Harrier of Bengal in 1790. Strangely enough though there is no compelling evidence to associate the Dalmatian with India.
Thus as is abudantly evident, despite its distinct appearance the Dalmatian is a dog breed whose precise origins have eluded historians the world over to this very day. And when all is said and done it does not seem unreasonable to conclude that the Dalmatian is one dog breed with a highly spotted past indeed!
The Multi-Purpose Dalmatian Dog
Over the course of its history, the Dalmatian dog has adorned many hats of occupation which include the following: retriever, birddog, ratter, war dog, shepherd etc. But it was as a coach dog in Victorian England that the Dalmatian found its true calling. As a coach dog the Dalmatian served both a practical and aesthetic function.
The practical purpose of the Dalmatian as coach dog was to ward off marauding dogs and any other animals from harming or disturbing the coach horses. As for the aesthetic aspect, well let’s just say it looked cool to have those spotted dogs trotting by the carriage and quite likely it was probably a mark of affluence to have such dogs accompanying one’s carriage.
From the 1880s the Dalmatian was selectively bred for its fondness and affinity to run beneath horse drawn carriages, the ideal dogs being those that ran close to the hooves of the rear horses. However with the rise in popularity of the automobile the Dalmatian lost its prominence in society though it continued as a coach dog for horse-drawn fire engines, a tradition that transitioned into the Dalmatian being adopted as the contemporary mascot for firehouses.
The Dalmatian dog breed was formerly recognized by the AKC in 1888 but due to intense selective breeding for its characteristic spotted pattern soon enough the breed was plagued by genetic urinary problems; namely a predisposition to uric acid stones (kidney stones). To correct this problem the Dalmatian dog breed was subsequently crossbred with various Pointer breeds!