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Dalmatian

The instantly recognizable Dalmatian is one of the most popular breeds worldwide, but its origin has remained a subject of debates for many years, with the majority of theories being famously flawed. Although it is presently recognized as a Croatian breed, the Dalmatian's ancestry has been linked to a variety of countries, from India, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Austria, Yugoslavia, Albania, Italy, France, Denmark and many others, as well as having many names throughout the centuries, before being assigned the one it bears today. Regardless of what some authors and breeders decided to suggest as the breed's history over the years, it should be noted that the Dalmatian was developed, standardized and named in England. Some believe that the spotted hounds depicted in Egyptian tombs clearly show a Dalmatian dog, but apart from the superficial similarities in terms of markings, those dogs have absolutely nothing in common with the Dalmatian. It is known that some of the spotted hounds were imported to Greece from Egypt, where they were influential in the development of the Cretan Hound and other breeds used for hunting deer, but these dogs were certainly not Dalmatians. Others claim that the Dalmatians existed in India, where they were used as war dogs against the Persian or Turkish forces, depending on the source and the chosen chronology. It has also been suggested that the nomadic Gypsies were the ones responsible for spreading the Dalmatian westward while leaving India, explaining the existence of these dogs in many countries. Whether the dogs came from India due to the wars or nomadic migrations, they were also to be found in Turkey, from where they were supposedly taken to Greece, then Albania and finally Dalmatia. It has even been suggested that the Dalmatian is one of the Albanian types of the ancient Alaunt, but this theory is generally disregarded for obvious reasons. The Dalmatian has been linked to the Bengal Harrier in the past, even though these two breeds have nothing in common, apart from their supposed Indian roots. Another romantic theory proposed by some fanciers gives the Dubrovnik sailors the credit of spreading the breed to all sides of the world via their merchant ships. There is also the mention of Roma gypsies again, which are thought by some to had taken these dogs from the Balkans to Spain, from where the breed was taken to France and England. Whether there is some truth in any, none or all of these theories is uncertain, but most of them are based on assumption and not proper research, making a great number of the proposed histories of the Dalmatian breed hard to be taken seriously.

The great Illyrian tribes of the Balkans were known for their dogs and at one point a hunting breed known as the Dalmatinski Gonic existed, but this was a cross between the old Dalmatian Ragusa Watchdog and the Old Bosnian Greyhound, bearing no resemblance to the modern Dalmatian breed, although giving some base for the ties with the region of Dalmatia on the Yugoslavian Adriatic coast, presently occupied by Croatia. These large hunters known as Dubrovnik Hounds were valued by the Serbian nobility and were bred to a fairly consistent type in the 12th century, but by the 1500's they lost favour of hunters, thanks to the establishment of other breeds. The famous Serbian poet named George Dalmatin was given two Turkish spotted dogs from Bohemia as a gift in the 1570's, using them as the foundation for his breeding programme and the establishment of his personal breed, which he named after himself as the Dalmatin or the Dalmatian Bird Dog. Through crosses with the hunting breeds of Istria and Bosnia, Dalmatin created a moderately successful working dog with a pleasing appearance, but the breed was no match for the established hounds of the Balkans and the programme was ended. The remaining population of these Dalmatin Bird Dogs was then crossed with larger working dogs and were used as watchdogs and reportedly service animals and wardogs in regional conflicts in some parts of Croatia, before eventually vanishing. Many working dogs from the Balkans were taken to Italy and it is assumed that some of the leftover Dalmatin's hounds found their way across the Adriatic as well, as evidenced by their appearance in some Italian paintings. From Italy, the breed is believed to had been introduced to Corsica, where it became known as the Corsican Hound, before its arrival to France. Whether the hunting dog known as the Damachien was the same breed as the Corsican-Dalmatian Hound isn't clear, but the similarities in the names have served as basis for their connection at the time, even though the Damachien name is of Latin/French origin, meaning "Deer Dog", leading some to again trace the Dalmatian's origins back to Greece and their Egyptian-influenced deerhounds.

When the Damachien dogs were introduced to England, they were also known under the name Gaelic Dog, among others. These dogs were then crossed with the English Pointer, but when their hunting abilities weren't satisfactory, some blood of the old White English Terrier was added into their gene pool, before the breed became a common coach dog in the 1700's, employed to run alongside the carriages and protect it. Some believe that the similar colouring found in certain Pointer strains is a direct influence of the Dalmatian, whereas others point out that it existed long before these crosses were made and generally dismiss the Dalmatian's influence altogether. Chances are that these two breeds were mutually influential at this point, but it's more likely that it was the Dalmatian who was shaped by the Pointer blood much more than the other way around. During this time, some specimens were reportedly taken to the American continent, where they were noted for their appearance and character, with one or two of them being owned by George Washington. The Dalmatian was initially known as the Spotted Dick, Plum Pudding Dog, English Coach Dog and under other names in Britain, but its appearance wasn't uniformed, because of the many matings with the Great Dane, earning the Dalmatian yet another name, this being the Little Dane or the Harlequin Dane, which is thought by some how the colouring became associated with some strains of the Deutsche Dogge breed. This early variety of the Dalmatian was used in the creation of the English Bullterrier, only to be enriched with the blood of that breed soon after, transforming it into a smaller and leaner dog, with higher drive and improved endurance, as well as the right size to run under the carriage. Further crosses with the English White Terrier and the Pointer resulted in a refined appearance, which helped popularize these coach dogs and inspired the formation of the modern breed, which was given the name Dalmatian, for reasons unknown. A number of fanciers believe it was a corruption of the Damachien name, while others suggest that the breed creators were able to trace its roots to the ancient dogs of Dalmatia. Whatever their reasons for naming this English breed a Dalmatian, the breed developers were successful in establishing an energetic, resilient and handsome dogs, whose appearance hasn't changed since the mid-17th century, when it was first exhibited at a British Dog Show in 1860.

The Dalmatian was famous for its impressive stamina and the close relationship it would form with the horses, commonly being kept in the stables during the night. This led to the employment of the dogs by the British firehouses, which were initially valued for their calming effect on their working horses, but were later also used to accompany the fire-fighters, eventually earning the nickname Firehouse Dog, which is still commonly associated with the Dalmatian breed today. The breed soon became popular outside England, with a steadily growing population in the United States, where the Dalmatian Club Of America was formed in 1905, as well as being common in many European countries in the late 19th century and spreading all over the world over the 1900's. Based on its name and a clearly fabricated history, the Dalmatiner was internationally recognized by the FCI as a Yugoslavian breed, which it remained until the country's disolvement. Although the Croatian enthusiasts presently claim that this is their indigenous dog, it is worth mentioning that the Dalmatian was actually imported into Yugoslavia in the 20th century, where the local population never accepted its name before the 2nd World War, when the breed's popularity began to grow, with the introduction of Yugoslavian Dog Shows and the formation of Kennel Clubs. In fact, up until the 1990's, a great number of Yugoslavians weren't at all convinced that this breed had anything to do with Dalmatia, but with the civil war and the demise of the country, also came ethnic interests and today the Dalmatinac is celebrated in Croatia as a national treasure.

Greatly popularized by the famous Disney animated film, the Dalmatian can be found in almost every country around the globe. This popularity also led to overbreeding, resulting in numerous health and behavioral problems. Although the Dalmatian is generally an even-tempered, playful and obedient pet, many neurotic and vicious representatives can be encountered, earning the breed a reputation as an unstable fear-biter in some countries. Among the health issues associated with the breed, the most severe are deafness, blindness, skin allergies, urinary tract infections and kidney disease, some of which are believed to also be responsible for temperament problems in Dalmatians. However, when bred properly and raised, trained and socialized responsibly, the Dalmatian makes a wonderful family companion, service dog and property guardian. Sometimes unfairly described as stupid, the Dalmatian is actually quite smart and trainable, but this can be a very stubborn and overly energetic breed, needing firm handling and a lot of excercise. The breed moves very well and has a recognizable gait. Capable of great speeds, famously tireless and highly driven, this handsome spotted breed is occasionaly seen as an Agility contestant, as well as competing in other sports where its athleticism can be appreciated. The body is compact, muscular, straight-backed and lean, with a deep chest, strong neck and long sturdy legs. The head is somewhat similar to that of a Pointer, but with gentler facial features and a softer stop.

The coat is short, flat and smooth, always white in colour, with the trademark small spots all over the body. The puppies are born white, with the spotting appearing later on. Even though the Dalmatian's most common and recognizable colouring is white with black spots, differently coloured markings exist too, such as dogs with brown, liver, yellow, blue, brindle and grey spots, as well as some uniform white dogs seen on occasion, but only representatives with the black or liver spots are accepted for Show, with all others disqualified. The average height is around 22 inches.

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