Posts Tagged ‘Dalmatian’

Istrian smooth-coated hound.

Istrian smooth-coated hound.

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.

dubrovnik hound


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.





Read Full Post »

As I have noted several times on the blog, I have seen no convincing evidence that Dalmatians are from Croatia. Almost all the evidence I’ve seen points to them being unusual offshoots of the pointer/setter/HPR family.  At first, I thought Dalmatians were the creation of British nobles from the eighteenth century.

However, I’ve come across some interesting paintings by Frans Snyders,  Flemish painter from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. These paintings show a dog that looks a lot like a Dalmatian.

snyders dogs fighting dalmatian

snynders boar hunt dalmatian

Now, one must be careful before jumping to conclusions about these dogs. After all the dog below the “Dalmatian” in the second painting looks a lot like a golden retriever cross.

So maybe Dalmatians were derived from pointer-type dogs that got used to hunt big game in the Low Countries. This part of the world was dominated by Spanish Empire for a time, and it would have made sense that Spanish pointing-type dogs would have made an appearance there.

Seeing as virtually every strain of continental pointer is used to do boar hunting, it would make sense that this Flemish breed would have a similar use.

So maybe these dogs are the first Dalmatians.

Who really knows?




Read Full Post »


Dalmatians are a breed that drives me crazy in many ways.

One of them is I don’t believe for a second that they are from Croatia, Ancient Greece or Egypt, or Neptune. All of the images of supposed Dalmatians from Croatia that date from several centuries ago are very unconvincing. The paintings I’ve seen show dogs that would clearly be called proto-Great Danes, Istrian hounds, or perhaps something akin to a Croatian podengo.

My own take is that these dogs are nothing more than aberrant pointer or pointer-setter crosses that became fashionable running along coaches of country gentlemen in England during the middle part of the eighteenth century.

I don’t have much evidence for this theory, other than the genetic studies on Dalmatians have nested them within the pointing gun dog breeds.

We have no smoking guns in the form of pedigrees or kennel records.

Now, if the dubious breed origins story about this breed weren’t  enough, there is another myth that has long existed about Dalmatians.

Dalmatians, of course, are famous in several Disney movies, including the original animated 101 Dalmatians film, its live action version from 1996, and the live action version’s sequel.

These films were said to have caused a massive boom in Dalmatian popularity. AKC registrations skyrocketed. Puppy millers made great fortunes selling the puppies to families who wanted them.

And then when the families discovered that Dalmatians are very high energy dogs and some of them are somewhat aggressive and are inappropriate as family dogs, the shelters filled with lots of poorly bred and poorly socialized dogs.

But did Disney really deserve the blame?

Well, Chris, over the BorderWars blog, has decided to test this hypothesis empirically.

Using the time in which Disney released its films and AKC registration statistics, Chris tried to figure out if any correlation existed between the release of these movies and a rise or fall in Dalmatian statistics.

He found no correlation.

Despite the prevalence of claims that Hollywood drives fads in dog breed popularity, there’s little evidence that this is true. In fact, actual data sharply contradicts the unthinking mantra that popular movies make for popular breeds. The converse is the more likely scenario: already popular dogs get featured in moves. Hollywood mostly follows trends, rarely does it set them.

The often repeated conventional wisdom is that Dalmatian puppy popularity spiked following releases of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians: from the original in 1961 through the re-releases in 1969, 1979, 1985, and 1991; and the live action film in 1996 and its sequel in 2000 with a TV show between them.

The registration data just doesn’t support the idea that every time Disney comes out with a Dalmatian movie the breed experiences a popularity boom as we see just as many declines in popularity or stable runs of popularity as we see increases. If Disney is a factor at all, it’s clearly contingent on a other factors coming together that simply aren’t present during most of their releases.

So Disney gets blamed for a whole series of welfare issues that it didn’t likely cause at all.

To be honest with you, having known a few Dalmatians over the years, I know they aren’t what I like in a dog.

Even if they do look like snow leopard pointers.

Which I think is a better name for them.

Read Full Post »

Yes. Most of the breeds we have today can be found in Ancient Egyptian art.

Like this obvious Dalmatian:

All they did was breed for floppy ears and a straight tail to make the modern variant.

But the ancient Egyptians clearly had them.

And they are clearly a breed of truly ancient origin!

Read Full Post »

Sacramento Indian with dogs

This painting is by Charles Christian Nahl is considered California’s first major artist. He was trained at the Kunsthochschule Kassel, but when political unrest hit his home land of Hesse, he left for America, eventually settling California during the Gold Rush.

These dogs are very interesting.

The one on the right is a patched Dalmatian.

The other, well, it has some spots on it, which appear to be brindle. I could be ticked in the same way Dalmatians are, but it could also be a brindlequin.

I’d like to know what you think.

Brindle spots do occur in Dalmatians, but modern Dalmatians are not merles or harlequins. There may have been merle or harlequin dogs that were called Dalmatians. It could also be an unusual double merle with brindle patches.

This dog could also be a merle cur of some sort, but it does look a lot like a Dalmatian in terms of its general body shape.

So if you have any ideas about what this dog might be, please leave them in the comments.


Read Full Post »

I rest my case. Dalmatians are clearly within the pointer family. Just need some DNA analysis to prove it conclusively.

See earlier posts:

Read Full Post »

(Source for image)

This bitch is quite “Dalmatiany.” One could be forgiven for mistaking this dog for a liver-spotted Dalmatian with patches on the ears, even though the body spots aren’t quite right.

Compare this dog with Wootton’s “Grey-spotted hound.”

As I’ve noted in earlier posts, the origin of the dog we call the Dalmatian is likely within the pointer family– and it is a creation of eighteenth century England, not some fantastic place.

Not Ancient Egypt.

Not Bengal.

And not Croatia.  All evidence I’ve seen that this dog originated there is even weaker than the the evidence pointing to Egypt or India.

Read Full Post »

Freckled Dalmatian

This Dalmatian’s name was Perry, and he belonged to someone named J. Dickman Brown.  He was featured in the entry for his breed in Harry Woodworth Huntington’s My Dog and I (1897).

This Dalmatian’s ticking is quite different from the classic type, but we still don’t know the exact genetics of how it differs from classical ticking.

This dog appears to be very similar to a classically ticked dog, such as this Braque du Bourbonnais or Wootton’s “Grey spotted hound,” which was clearly a pointer of some sort.

In the Huntington’s text about the Dalmatian, he recognizes that the dog looks like a pointer of some sort but then gives the standard saw about how Dalmatians came from Timbuktu or Outer Mongolia, which are only slightly more fantastic places than what Huntington actually says or that all breed experts, including the FCI, seem to parrot. As I noted earlier this week, it is much more likely that the Dalmatian is actually a British invention from the eighteenth century that was derived from aberrant pointers or pointer crosses.

This particular dog is quite robustly built. Indeed, he’s a touch portly. Modern Dals are built on more gracile lines. This more robust form might suggest that these dogs were crossed with bulldogs or the heavier English setter of eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Read Full Post »

This painting is by John Wootton, an English painter who painted many sporting scenes.

I don’t agree that this dog is a hound for several reasons.  The most of obvious signal that this dog is not a hound is the grey partridge (“Hungarian partridge”) displayed in front of the dog. This suggests that the dog was a bird dog. The tail appears to be docked, which was a common practice in English pointers in the early years.

And if this is a representation of an English pointer, it would be a very early specimen. Many of the earliest records of pointers in England date to the early part of the eighteenth century, suggesting that many of the ancestors of today’s English pointers were brought back from Spain or France after the War of Spanish Succession. Of course, there are records of pointers existing in England before this time, but the pointer really didn’t become common as a hunting dog for the shoot estates until the eighteenth century.

The dog strongly resembles a Braque du Bourbonnais, but it is the wrong color. Blue roan or blue-ticked is not a color associated with that breed– at least in its modern incarnation. Many members of that breed are also naturally short or bobtailed, and this dog doesn’t appear to have that feature. It looks docked in the same way that that German short-hair or a vizsla would be.

The fact that this dog is referred to as a hound also suggests a French origin. The term for pointer in French is “braque,” but braque sounds similar word in German, which is “Brache.”  Brache always refers to several breeds of German scent hounds. Perhaps there was some confusion about what this dog actually was. After all, it was a common practice for the English to breed smooth-coated pointers from Europe to foxhounds to give them more speed and harder drive.

However, if this dog is an English pointer, it also suggests something about the origin of the Dalmatian. There is an official story about origin of the Dalmatian, but almost all of it is speculative and dubious.  I don’t think for one minute that this dog is Croatian. William Jardine thought the dog was derived from a single import of a peculiarly marked hound from India, but judging from Jardine’s description in The Naturalist’s Library (1840):

From the general structure of the animal, we are of opinion it should be placed with the hounds; but though a very handsome variety, inferior to none of the above in elegance of form and beautiful markings, it is, with some dissent however, said to be without powers of nose or much sagacity, and therefore invariably entrusted to the stables, where it familiarises with horses. Having, in the general description of dogs, noticed the print of a specimen brought from India, with a white fur marked with small black spots, small half dejected ears, and a greyhound-like form, we have there expressed the suspicion that our present coach-dog may be derived from that individual, or from his breed, and we have accordingly given a representation of it.

Dalmatian dogs they are not, although a Turkish grandee might well have possessed specimens of the dog in that country. We figure it accordingly (pg. 193-194).

It is unlikely that any one dog from India could have founded the whole population of Dalmatians, but it makes a whole lot more sense that all of the dubious claims about spotted white hounds in Croatia.  There is a native Croatian hound that clearly would have fit any of the descriptions of these hounds from that region that might be confused with a Dalmatian.

The FCI gave the Dalmatian’s patron country status to Croatia based upon the work of Thomas Bewick, who depicted a Dalmatian in his General History of Quadrupeds in 1792. (Its ears appear to be closely cropped.)

Bewick claimed the dogs were from Dalmatia, but keep in mind that Bewick was not a particularly educated man, who was never formally educated. He was apprenticed to an engraver, and that is how he made his living. He did read books by the leading naturalists of the day, and he did spend a lot of time in nature. But he could have been told  just about anything about the origins of coach dog, and he would have not any way of verifying it.

And yet this is how we base our understanding of the Dalmatian’s origins.

Look at the engraving of the Dalmatian that Bewick did in 1792 and compare it to Wootton’s “Grey-spotted hound.” They have very similar features– including the spots. Jardine clearly states that Dalmatians had some affinity with greyhounds.  Bewick’s dog has some affinities with the bulldog but also has the something like a greyhound’s head. Both bulldogs and greyhounds can have something like these ticked markings. This dog looks like a blend between the pointer in the Wootton painting and those two breeds.

My educated guess is that the Dalmatian’s origins are in England in the middle of the eighteenth century with pointer or setter crosses to bulldogs, foxhounds, or greyhounds. The Dalmatian started out as a mongrel pointer. The modern Dalmatian often exhibits the extended stalking behavior we see in English pointers, and there may have been some addition of English setter to the breed, which perhaps the origin of the long-haired Dalmatians.

I don’t know why the historical research on the Dalmatian is so flaky. It is one of those breeds that has an impossibly fantastic origin theory that one has to question it.

But then I guess you couldn’t call them “Dalmatians” and keep a straight face.

Dalmatians are likely an English breed that dates to the eighteenth century. They likely are derived from unusually colored pointer crosses.

That theory seems far less fantastic, and although somewhat speculative, it is more likely to be correct than the claim that these dogs are from Croatia, Ancient Greece, or Bengal. The model requires fewer dubious assumptions. Therefore, it is more likely to be correct.

Read Full Post »

I love this dog:


The chicken was on the owner’s property. TS, Mr. Chicken.

Look how proud he is with that bird in his mouth!


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: