Monday, January 21, 2013

Dalmatian history and vintage photos

January 22nd is National Polka Dot Day and that means it's a good day to celebrate Dalmatians.
Who doesn't love a spotted pup?

A Dalmatian named Timmy was my very first dog.
Dr. Barkman and Timmy 1952
My grandfather, William McNally, was a New York City fireman, so all the family dogs were Dalmatians.  Teddy is in the picture below.  Note my grandmother's matching spotted dress.  (Read more about spots, dots and quilts at my sister's blog, Barbara Brackman's Material Culture.)

Grandpa's dog Smokey, 1940

Documentation about the breed's origin and purpose is spotty.  
Dalmatian 1790

Whether Danish or Croatian, guard dog or field hound, the elegant pooch has always filled the role of companion.
1865 (Library of Congress)


Although Dalmatians are surely descendants of hunting dogs, hunters were not fans.  In 1785, a piece in the Sportsman's Dictionary described methods for choosing the best pup in the litter:

“Those that are spotted with a dun colour are esteemed of little value, being faint of heart, and cannot endure much labour...  But if white-hounds are spotted with black, experience tells us they are never the best hare hunters.  Choose the one of black, brown, or one colour and drown the rest...the spotted are not much esteemed."   

The author added, perhaps as an after thought, "Though of hounds, the spotted are to be valued.”
A spotted hound

By the mid 1800s the under-employed Dalmatian found a noble profession in firefighting.

Moving slightly ahead of the horses, dogs cleared streets, giving coaches quicker access to fires.

But snobby huntsman still couldn't say anything nice:
"The Coach Dog was never fit to be the pet of any one but a stable man.  It is simply a show dog possessed of a cross disposition, but handsomely marked and the continuation of a fad that made it an appendage of a rich man's establishment."

Success is the best revenge.

Victorian dog breeders in the UK fancied the Dalmatian. Claiming the much-maligned dog as their own, breeders shot back,
 “So now, the evil forebodings as to the forthcoming extinction of this clever and interesting animal are like to come to naught."  
1905 Kennel Club Ch. Rugby Bridget
Photo: Leighton's New Book of the Dog (1907)

And as they say, the rest is history.

Find out why Dalmatians need their spots:
Genetic deafness and its relationship to skin pigmentation


  1. I didn't realize that they ran in front of the trucks to clear the way, fun fact.
    They seem to be a lot of varieties and sizes.


  2. I've never met a Dalmatian that hasn't had just the loveliest of natures!!! They are a special and goregous breed!!! Love the photo of the Mother and her babies!!!!!