I’ve written a few blog posts in which I have argued that Dalmatians are not actually from Croatia. I’ve pointed out that a lot of the supposed depictions of Dalmatians were rather dubious, and genetically, Dalmatians fit with pointing gun dogs.
Well, it turns out that there might be actually be something the Croatian origins of the Dalmatian after all. Some Croatian researchers, Bauer and Lemo, looked into the history of dogs in that part of Croatia. They found that a type of now likely extinct sight-hound was almost always black and white with some dappling, and some of them actually looked more like scent-hounds than sight-hounds.
However, that is far from the best evidence. Lots of dogs have dappling, and the Dalmatian dappling is very distinct. The authors discuss two of these sight-hounds. The male was black and white, and the female was ocher and white and had a habit of vomiting for her puppies, which the authors believe doesn’t exist in “thoroughbred dogs.” (Which is news to me. I’ve seen golden retrievers vomit for puppies, and Miley even vomited for a visiting laika puppy.)
I think the sight-hound discussion was pretty much a non-sequitur, because dapples and roaning are so common in many breeds that it cannot be used to determine any kind of relationship.
However, the best evidence the authors provided is that a type of scent-hound that is still used in Croatia also shares an unusual metabolic trait with the Dalmatian. Unless they are part of that well-known outcross program that introduced normal uric acid levels through a single cross with a pointer, Dalmatians have high uric acid levels. Their livers lack an enzyme for metabolizing certain proteins, and this is actually pretty unusual in the dog world.
The problem with this assertion is that it’s actually not “proteins” that Dalmatians have trouble metabolizing. It is something called a “purine.” Uric acid is a purine, and the liver in normal dogs converts uric acid to a water soluble substance called allantonin. Dalmatians can’t convert uric acid to allantonin, which the authors do recognize. It may just be a mistranslation on their part.
The authors claim that only the Istrian hound, which does look like a lot like a red and white Dalmatian, shares this trait, but the authors apparently don’t realize is in the West, the other breed that gets these uric acid stones fairly often is the English bulldog. In bulldogs, it is caused by exactly the same purine metabolism issue, and the inheritance is the same in both breeds.
So the claim that only the Istrian hounds have this trait is simply false.
It is possible that the Dalmatian and Istrian hound share a common ancestor. Perhaps there was a black and white version of this hound that was spread to France and the Low Countries and then to England. This dog was then crossed with setters and pointers and bulldogs to make the modern Dalmatian breed.
But this is idle speculation. Until someone does an actual DNA study on Dalmatians that uses a large enough sample of nuclear DNA from a variety of Croatian and non-Croatian breeds, including pointing gun dogs, the case that Dalmatian and the Istrian hound are derived from the same root stock in Balkans is still an extraordinary claim that needs extraordinary evidence.
The best evidence that Bauer and Lemo provided is depiction of a dappled hound in eighteenth century painting in Dubrovnik.
Maybe this dog actually is a Croatian Dalmatian or the Croatian proto-Dalmatian.
I don’t know.
But I do know that Croatia, like just about every country that was part of the former Yugoslavia, has had a resurgent nationalism for about the past 20 years.
The dog called a Dalmatian is popular all over the world, and it makes sense that the Croatian nationalist zeitgeist would look to this breed as a symbol of something from Croatia that hit it big on the international scene.
I think it is important for us to remain skeptical about claims about Dalmatians actually coming from Dalmatia. It simply doesn’t fit what we already know about this dog– many individuals readily point and long-coated individuals are not unknown– to make us assume that this name means anything.
Nice try, though.