Will a Dalmatian Fit Your Lifestyle?

By Chris Jackson

As little as ten years ago, a Dalmatian was a rare sight; then two things happened. The Walt Disney movie was re-released and was made available on video tape. In addition, the fashion and advertising industry discovered how much these dramatically marked dogs could enhance an outfit.

Result: instant fame.

Adults were attracted to a beautifully marked dog and children just dreamed of one of those cute, talking puppies coming to live with them.

So, do you want a Dalmatian? Will you like living with this kind of dog? Well, that depends...

Dalmatians are wonderful dogs. They are very loyal to their owners, friendly and inclined to be clowns much of the time. They are also very energetic, very playful, very intelligent and very stubborn.

For the owner who understands what the breed is really like, a Dal can be a great addition to the family. For the owner who does not have a clear understanding of the breed, a Dal can be the worst kind of nightmare.

As with almost every other purebred dog, the trick to knowing whether they will fit into your life is to know what they were bred to do in days gone by. Dalmatians had enough energy to run with a coach or horses all day. They were often used to guard the horses in their stables and in fire houses. To guard, they required an intelligent nature and to run all day, they required an extremely high energy level.

To this day, these two characteristics influence the breed. They make the Dalmatian an exuberant, vibrant, energetic animal who is very smart, thinks independently and is stubborn. These dogs need a great deal of physical and mental stimulation and challenge, without which, they can easily become bored and very destructive. So, you need to have the time available to train and provide exercise for your Dalmatian and you also need to know that a fully grown Dal can weigh from 50 to 70 lbs.

Given what has already been said about the high activity level of the breed, it may sound surprising to say that Dalmatians do very well as house dogs. Living with a Dal as a house dog is fun if (please note the if) they have an outlet for all that energy. They thrive on that one-on-one contact with their humans and love being involved in lots of different activities. But, it is very hard for them to live comfortably in a house where there is no fenced yard. For a growing puppy, leash walks just won't satisfy the need. This leads us to the first question you should ask yourself when you are thinking of buying a Dal...

Do You Need A Fenced Yard?

Definitely, if your family has two working parents and children. Sometimes, in a situation where the household consists of runners or active, older teens, a Dal can do okay without a fence but someone has to provide that dog with a safe energy outlet.

When a Dal is not being given enough mental or physical stimulation, one of three things will usually happen: the dog will be very destructive; or, the dog will be given up for adoption by the age of 6-9 months because the family cannot live with it; or, the owners and the dog are constantly at odds with each other and that is not what owning a companion pet is supposed to be.

If you don't have a fence, consider these questions: Do you really LIKE walking in the snow/rain at the crack of dawn for "potty" duties? Without a fence, are you willing to take the risk of having your dog stolen, or perhaps wandering off and getting lost or hit by a car?

Leaving a dog out on a chain is inhumane because the dog cannot get enough exercise. He or she develops the bad habits of barking or digging constantly and is unprotected from other animals and humans who do not mean well. Do you really want that for your friend?

Your children just love the movie, "One Hundred and One Dalmatians". They watch it all the time and have all kinds of Dalmatian stuff in their room. Well, children also love "The Lion King" and they may have several "Symba and Nala" stuffed animals. But would you want them to have a pet lion cub? Of course not! This leads us to the next question about Dals...

How Old Are Your Children?

If the children are under the age of 5 years, you will find that a growing Dal puppy or even a young adult Dal will not be a good mixture with those kids. Once again, we have that high energy level coming into the picture. A lively, boisterous, growing Dal puppy can be SCARY to a young child when he or she is knocked over for the umpteenth time. Yes, your children may love the movie, but when they are confronted with a normal, active, boisterous Dal, they are very often overwhelmed and not at all comfortable. In reality, a living Dalmatian, unlike the cartoon pups in the movie, grows up, DOES NOT talk and IS a lot of work!

Another consideration with small children is that they require a great deal of time and so does the growing Dal puppy. This is a combination which can be very hard on Mom. Think about it! Did you plan to have TWO small children at the same time, or just ONE?

All those who will share a home with a Dal should be a part choosing that dog, so, the next question...

Where Do You Live?

If you rent, share with a friend, or live with your parents, we'd like you to consider the following:

Please make sure your landlord or roommate approve of your having a large dog. Also, think about what will happen if you have to move. What will you do if you discover that many places do not accept dogs over the weight of 35 lbs? Also, what will you do if the rent for the few places who do accept large dogs is much more than you can afford?

If you live at home with your parents then it is the owner of the home who must be involved in the decision to buy a Dal — right down to having an understanding of what the breed is like. Chances are you will be gone during the day, to work or to school, and perhaps gone many evenings to school, on dates or to other social events. Someone has to be responsible for raising that puppy or caring for the needs of the dog and it's probably Mom. So, Mom needs to know all about Dalmatians too.

Next question...

Do You Have Allergies?

If the answer is "Yes" then you should know Dals shed all the time and many people who have allergy problems cannot live with these dogs.

So, now that you've found out what Dalmatians are like, you just know you'd love to have one. But...

Where Do You Buy Your Puppy?

You stand the best chance of getting a puppy who is not deaf, who has good health and stable temperament if you consult with an experienced, knowledgeable, reputable breeder. A good breeder knows the history and health of his/her own dogs and will be there for you should you need help and advice as you raise the puppy. A good breeder cares about the breed, first and foremost.

You want a Dal, but not a puppy. So...

What About An Adult Dalmatian?

Adopting an adult Dalmatian can work very well for many people. Adult dogs who need new homes range in age from older puppies to mature dogs. The reasons why a dog may need a new home are varied. They include: owners who did not investigate the breed properly before buying and now find that the Dal is too much for them; divorce; allergies, illness or death in the family; major life or job changes; relocations; and owners who find their dog to be an inconvenience. The sources to get an adult Dalmatian include:

  • Clubs or Individual Rescue programs who locate new homes for displaced dogs and who work hard to fit the right dog with the right family.
  • Breeders who may have retired champions, dogs who have not fulfilled their show potential, or dogs of their own breeding who have lost their homes.
  • Newspaper ads from individual owners. These adoptions can sometimes be "iffy" because the information about the dog may not be accurate.

The trick when considering an adult dog is to go slowly and make sure the dog you adopt will fit your family and your particular lifestyle.

Dalmatians are the perfect pet for some homes and definitely not the right pet for others! Please consider this information before you bring a Dal into your life. In this modern world, very few of our dogs have horses and carriages with which they can run all day. And our dogs rarely guard stables anymore. It is necessary to consider very carefully just where and how we expect a Dalmatian, or any dog, to fit into our lives. Without this forethought, we are not being fair to ourselves, our family or the dog.


Chris Jackson has shown, bred & lived with Dalmatians for over 25 years. She was Rescue Chairman for the Central Maryland Dalmatian Club and the National Chairman of Rescue for the Dalmatian Club of America for many years.  (Individuals and Clubs wishing to reprint and distribute this article may do so freely, please keep it fully intact, no edits, and with credits and this paragraph attached.)