What’s more natural than a Dalmatian at a fire hall?

One of the most recognizable dogs in the world is the Dalmatian with their many spots and that are often linked in imagery to fire stations and, of course, the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians.

The history of the Dalmatian however, goes back centuries to the first known written information in 1374, when Bishop Peter of Đakovo (a region of Croatia) mentions the hunting dog from Croatia.

The origin of the breed can, in fact, be traced back to the historical region of Dalmatia in what is today Croatia where it was a hunting dog thought to be a descendent of the pointer and spotted Great Dane.


Locally, Gerry Knight of Port Elgin, who is an expert on the breed, has recently acquired Bella, a beautiful little female Dalmatian bred by Tiffany Shaw of Clairity Kennel in Flesherton.  “I knew as soon as I saw her that she would be coming home with me,” said Knight.   “My former dog, Cinders, was also very feminine looking and her ancestry went back to the British Official Breed Standard established in 1890.”

              Gerry Knight and her Bella ‘baby’

Bella was introduced when she was three months old to Rob Atkinson, Fire Prevention Officer of Saugeen Shores Fire Service, and seemed naturally at home in the fire station environment.

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Although spotted, Dalmatian puppies are born with plain white coats with their first spots usually appearing within 10 days and, although spots may be visible on their skin from birth, they continue to develop until around 18 months old.

Spots usually range in size from 2 to 6 cm (1.25 to 2.5 in), and are most commonly black or liver (brown) on a white background. Liver is the recessive colour in Dalmatians, meaning that both parents have to “carry” the liver gene to produce this colour of pups. If both parents are liver, then all puppies will be liver-spotted. A dog who is dominate black is defined as being BB, a dog who is black spotted but carries liver is Bb and a liver dog is bb. Black spotted dogs always have black noses, and liver spotted dogs always have brown noses.

Dalmatians do not have that ‘doggie’ smell and stay fairly clean relative to many other dog breeds as evidenced by Bella, who is velvety soft with no odour and keeps her paws clean.

During the early 1800s, the Dalmatian became a status symbol often seen trotting alongside the horse-drawn carriages and, those with decorative spotting were highly prize and were also used to guard the stables at night.

In Croatia, they were used as hunting dogs and dogs of war, guarding the borders of Dalmatia. To this day, the breed still has that guarding instinct.  Although friendly and loyal to those the dog knows and trusts, he or she is often aloof with strangers and unknown dogs. With a strong hunting instinct, they have long been known as an excellent exterminator of rats and vermin. In sporting, they have been used as bird dogs, trail hounds, retrievers, or in packs for wild boar or stag hunting.

“Even now,” says Knight, “Bella has that pointer instinct and will immediately stop and point.”

When it came to the early fire stations, Dalmatians were best known for working for the firefighters in their role as escorts and firehouse mascots. Since Dalmatians and horses are very compatible, the dogs were easily trained to run in front of the carriages to help clear a path and quickly guide the horses and firefighters to the fires.  

Dalmatians are also often considered to make good watchdogs and, therefore in the past, may have been useful to fire brigades as guard dogs to protect a firehouse and its equipment including the fast and powerful horses that could be a tempting target for thieves. At fire scenes, they were also a natural comfort to the horses.

Today, Dalmatians like Bella, are considered wonderful pets with their no odour, loyalty, velvety coats and intelligence.