There is no question that the Dalmatian is one of the most recognizable of all dog breeds. The iconic black spots and white coat have found a home in fire stations and children’s movies, making this breed one of the most widely known and publicly appreciated. While Dalmatians are praised for their beauty and appreciated for their guarding ability, their most prominent trait often goes unnoticed in today’s world of electric cars and modern technologies. Dalmatians are known to form surprisingly strong bonds with horses. Throughout history, the Dalmatian has run alongside horses and kept them calm and focused in a way that no other breed has. The two friends share a long history, and their roots are deep. Here are some reasons that the Dalmatian might have developed such a special working relationship with horses.
The Root of the Behavior
The Dalmatian traces its lineage back to what is now Croatia, but Dalmatians have been recorded in history as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. In those ancient times, the Dalmatian was a war dog and a hunter. It is thought that Dalmatians and horses learned to work together while charging into battle and hunting game. Horses—which generally require the companionship of either another horse or some other species—took to Dalmatians as well as they might have any other dog breed. What stands out with the Dalmatian in particular is the breed’s ability to run and endure. Few other dogs can keep pace with horses, and fewer still found themselves in the company of horses as frequently as the Dalmatian.
As wars died down and civilizations settled, both horses and the Dalmatian took on a new role as a symbol of social status, particularly in England. Horses were used to pull the carriages of the rich nobility, while Dalmatians continued to run alongside the horses as a sign of the owner’s wealth and prosperity. Throughout the day, this constant companionship echoed the days of hunting game and going to battle, but it was at night that the bond deepened even further. Dalmatians are prized for their guarding abilities, as well, and after spending the day running the streets of England, both horse and Dalmatian would settle in for a night of rest in the stables.
After such a long history of consistent friendship, horses and Dalmatians have developed a mutual affection that seems to bring out the best temperaments of both when the two are together. Dalmatians have been shown to calm horses that are distressed and can lead horses into situations that they would otherwise hesitate or refuse to go into. This trait gave Dalmatians an entirely new role in society, when in the early days of firefighting the firemen’s gear and equipment were pulled in horse-drawn carriages. On the other hand, horses provide Dalmatians with the physical and mental stimulation that they need to live ideal, healthy lives. Throughout history, it has truly been a wonderful friendship.
Encouraging the Behavior
Due to the vast popularity of Dalmatians—particularly around the time that Disney’s 101 Dalmatians was released—the breed became especially desirable in homes in the late 90s and turn of the century. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t always as compatible with Dalmatians as horses are. Many Dalmatians that were taken into homes were not a good fit, making life difficult for both owner and dog. Dalmatians require a lot of exercise over long periods of time, and also require more companionship than is standard across breeds. If you own a Dalmatian or would like to own a Dalmatian, make sure that you are able to be as good a friend to your dog as a horse would.
Today, there are many individuals interested in preserving the heritage of Dalmatians and horses. Ranchers and recreational equestrians seek out Dalmatians to run alongside horses, and the Dalmatian’s abilities as a guard dog often comes in handy, as well. There are other dog breeds that work effectively with horses, but Dalmatians in particular have something special with horses. Competitions have been held to honor the legacy of the Dalmatian as a carriage dog, featuring long distance running alongside horses and demonstrations of obedience. As the world moves away from horsepower and open spaces, it is important that horse owners and dog owners alike help these two animals keep up their friendship.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Since the Dalmatian breed has been around so long, genetic tendencies and health risks tend to be prevalent across all members of the breed. Deafness is the most common genetic defect among Dalmatians, affecting an estimated 30% of all Dalmatians. Some Dalmatians will develop hip dysplasia in their lifetimes, which could be the result of a history of running over long distances without properly resting. This does not generally affect a Dalmatian’s ability to run, but deafness may inhibit a Dalmatian’s ability to receive and follow commands. In general, Dalmatians are extremely alert and intelligent, another feature which may make them so amenable to horses. The ideal home for a Dalmatian would be one with a warm climate and a large, wide-open yard. Of course, having a horse would also be high on the list of a Dalmatian’s ideal home.
Few animal friendships have formed as closely and as consistently as the relationship between a horse and a Dalmatian. From the ancient days of war and hunting to modern day running and working together, the horse and Dalmatian continue to be friends. There’s a lot of history between them, and with the help of modern day dog and horse owners, always more to come.
By a Australian Shepherd lover Jonah Erickson
Published: 04/06/2018, edited: 01/30/2020