Dalmatia - the sunny coast in the south of Croatia? 101 Dalmatians - a pack of spotty hounds immortalised by Disney? Is there a connection? Indeed there is...
In 1994, the World Canine Federation recognised the breed as native to Croatia. Throughout the centuries, writings from travelling dog lovers from all over Europe mention their encounters with the elegant spotty dogs of Dalmatia. Some specialists think that the breed’s ancestors may have come from Ancient Egypt, where they were guard dogs of the Pharaohs. Others think that the breed originates from the Mediterranean region. One thing’s for sure – in the Mediterranean landscape where scrub stands out almost black against the white chalk hillsides, the Dalmatian’s black (or chocolate brown) and white spots help conceal it from enemies. Dalmatians have been bred in Croatia ever since the 14th century.
You would hardly guess from their loveable appearance that the Dalmatians’ past is connected with the blood sports of war and hunting. They worked as carriage dogs, able to run alongside the horses for hours, loyally protecting their masters from ambush. Their strength and speed made them excellent gun dogs and hunting dogs. Grace, strength and stamina led to their adoption by the nobility as personal guard dogs, but they also travelled the world with Roma families and circuses, attracting attention with their looks. That’s how, experts believe, the breed became popular worldwide, and probably how it eventually found its place in the United States fire services as a carriage dog and mascot.
In the frontier zones in Croatia, they were much used in the army, and sometimes taken away by foreign armies in the aftermath of battle. This is probably how the breed crossed the Channel to England during the Napoleonic wars, where it was taken to the heart of that nation of dog lovers. By the late 18th century, the Dalmatian was being selectively bred in England, and standardised a hundred years later. It’s partly thanks to this care and to cooperation with Croatian specialists that in 1999, Croatia became the official home of the Dalmatian and the country responsible for the selection and breeding of the pedigree.
So, despite the cute cartoon, don’t be surprised if your Dalmatian, normally friendly and loyal, occasionally shows a bit of a temperament. All those years of hunting and shooting must after all leave their mark. But don’t worry – his bark’s probably worse than his bite.