It is astounding how much of the history of this most ancient of breeds can be traced, even so far back as 3,700 BC, when the builder of the Great Pyramid, King Cheops or Khufu, owned a spotted pet dog. Not typical of today’s Standard perhaps but, nevertheless, the first spotted dog on record.
More realistically, 1700 BC is important as the date of the fresco taken from Tiryns to Athens, which is exhibited nowadays in the National Archaeological Museum. The fresco shows boar being hunted by both black and liver spotted hounds, the spots obviously valued as they have been painted on with the greatest care. In Greece and Crete wall paintings and friezes depict liver and black spotted hounds, some with both colours (the original tri-colour?) and in Egypt, where spotted dogs are found on murals as well as decorating the tombs of grandees.
When I was working on “Dalmatians Today”, Colonel David Hancock most generously allowed me to quote from his book “Heritage of the Dog” and he filled in some immensely important factors concerning the evolution of our breed and the origin of the name. There is no room to quote from this at length, but he tells of a time around 400 BC when the spotted Cretan Hound, was used for hunting antelope, and later, crossed with the White Antelope Dog from Ancient Egypt, produced a hound which instinctively ran alongside the horses and also ran free, hunting, principally fallow deer.
Later, in the 16th century, the style of hunting changed and the spotted hounds were no longer required, but retained their love of running with horses. Thus, they attracted the attention of young British aristocrats travelling abroad, and many fine specimens returned to this country with their new owners, who found them to be ideal carriage dogs, with their strong feet and legs and their kindness with horses. Gypsies and wandering players in various parts of Europe also adopted a number of spotted dogs, attracted by their unusual appearance.
As to the name Dalmatian, there was no connection with Dalmatia until 1930, when Vane Ivanovic, Consul General of Monaco to Great Britain and a member of the British Dalmatian Club, took a pair of Dalmatians to Dalmatia as a present for his step-father, Bozo Banac, who had expressed a wish to introduce them there. More likely, the name is a corruption of “Damachien” as they were then known (Dama being Latin for Fallow Deer and Chien French for hound or dog).
Why the spots? Only two reasons normally exist in nature for distinctive colouring; to attract or to camouflage. Dalmatians do not need spots to attract! However, when considering camouflage in desert conditions, the background coat blends into light sand without difficulty, the spots being absorbed by surrounding stones, which would have made them invaluable when hunting over desert conditions. It can, therefore, be assumed that spotted dogs were bred with spotted dogs to fix the markings, and hence the breed has come down through the ages with an astounding lack of change.
Interest is now running high to preserve the heritage of Dalmatians and horses working together, instigated initially in America, arousing interest elsewhere and now gathering momentum in this country.
The purpose of Carriage Dog Trials is to demonstrate the use of pure bred Dalmatians as a companion to man, in one of the roles they have been bred through the years to perform. It is a performance event with endurance and obedience that provides a means of determining the degree to which the qualities necessary to be a good carriage or road dog are present. It is essential that the dog demonstrates willingness and enjoyment of his work throughout. This exactly reflects the character of our dogs and brings the history of this ancient breed up-to-date.
Credit: thanks to Patches Silverstone for allowing us to use extracts from her book “Dalmatians Today” . Patches gave enthusiastic support to the first carriage dog trials for which we were very grateful.