Ancestry of the Dalmatian

Paintings and engraving of spotted dogs which could be the Dalmatian  have been found in the tombs of ancient Egypt and in Germany and France during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Spotted dogs  were found in Denmark during the same time period.


More than likely, the dog’s ancestry originated somewhere near the Mediterranean or the Adriatic Sea.  It’s a popular believe that its ancestry began in Dalmatia, an Adriatic coastal region in what was formerly Yugoslavia and is now Croatia.  A statue of a spotted dog was found in the Mycenea ruins, but it may have been the spotted mastiff, not the Dalmatian. The Mycenea ruins are located in Greece, approximately 90 kilometers south west of Athens.

C.H. Lane, British Dogs (Edited by W. D. Drury) 1902 believes the breed’s ancestry did indeed originate in Dalmatia. “It’s reasonable to assume that he is a native of Dalmatia, on the eastern shores of the Gulf of Venice, where, we have been assured, by some of the older writers on dogs, this variety has been domesticated for at least two hundred years.”

Traveled with Gypsies

The Dalmatian, as we know it today, gained its popularity when it reached the shores of England. Some speculate that Dalmatians arrived in England with traveling bands of Gypsies. Dalmatians were quite trendy at the time for their clown like antics and may have been sold, traded, or exported from the country.

Arrival in the U.S.

The Dalmatian’s ancestry in the United States can be traced as far back as George Washington, who bred Dalmatians. It wasn’t until the late 1880’s, though, that a Dalmatian was registered in the American Kennel Club Stud Book.

Coach Dogs

The Dalmatian’s recorded ancestry with firemen is noteworthy and began in the days of stagecoaches. Horse theft was common, and stage coach drivers devised a method to protect their horses. They strung a hammock between two stalls at night and then slept behind their horses to guard against thieves. If the drivers owned a Dalmatian, though, they could sleep in more comfortable quarters. When Dalmatians became attached to a team of horses, no thief would dare take the risk.

Firehouse Dog

As the number of horses grew here in this country, the number of Dalmatians grew with it. Since every firehouse back then had a set of fast horses to pull the pumper wagon, it became common for each group of firemen to keep a Dalmatian. Today’s firemen no longer use horse-drawn wagons, but the Dalmatian is a long-standing tradition which ties us to the nostalgia of yesteryear.

Today’s Dalmatian has lost the opportunity to run with carriages and fire engines, but he still loves to run, and that is what he is built to do.

Scholars may disagree on his ancestry, and his history is certainly a mystery. BUT, no one an dispute his energy level, his stamina, and his passion for running!

photo credit: Eric Fischer

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