Officially named after Dalmatia, a region in Western Yugoslavia on the Adriatic sea and at one time part of Austria, the Dalmation is a actually a pretty ancient dog breed. These dogs were known in other parts of the world long before they acquired their breed name of Dalmation.
Researchers have found specific references to the Dalmation as a dog breed since the mid 18th century. Prior to that, they have also uncovered several types of unique art like engravings, paintings, models and early writings that reference spotted dogs of the same size throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. We also know that ancient gypsies traveled with spotted Dalmation-like dogs, which adds to the lore surrounding the widespread popularity of the breed.
Later, Dalmatians became favorites of the British upper classes who took holiday in Europe and would often come back accompanied with beautiful spotted dogs. Soon Dalmations became a prominent feature in carriage processions of the British aristocracy. The dogs were taught to walk behind the rear axle of the coach, or trot beneath the pole separating the horses. The grandest dogs were trained to lead the procession, impressively trotting along ahead of the first horse.
In 1860, Great Britain held its second dog breed show. Among the five breeds represented was the Dalmatian, and all indications are that this was the breed’s initial appearance in dog show competition.
A gentleman named Fred Kemp, a long-time Dalmation owner and past President of the British Dalmatian Club, is often credited with the existence of the Dalmation after World War I. The breed may not have survived the war had it not been for him. Mr. Kemp kept Dalmation dogs alive in his kennel through the difficult and dangerous period between 1914 and 1918, ensuring new breeding stock after the war.
After World War I the Damlation dog breed leaped ahead in popularity in Great Britain – the numbers increasing from the two Dalmatians registered with the British Kennel Club in 1918 to 125 by 1925 and to 889 by 1932. By the time the Dog Shows resumed in1934, 199 Dalmatians were entered into the 15 different classes for the breed.
The Dalmatian is probably best known for the role of being a “firehouse dog”. We speculate this started with the dogs being used as ratters and vermin killers (a role at which they excelled), and later transitioning into the role of firehouse mascot and trademark. Dalmatians can still be seen grandly riding on fire trucks, and are adored in this role by adults and children alike.
However, the Dalmatian is not just a “firehouse dog”. He is also a working dog who has known many roles – as a sentinel in war times, as a draft dog on farms and ranches, and even as a shepherd dog. You may have also seen them as “clown dogs” in circuses and sideshows because of their popularity, showy appearance, intelligence, and general aptitude. All in all, the Dalmation is truly a versatile dog breed.