Dalmatian Decisions
Decisions, Decisions. . .
What Will It Be?

Male Or Female?
Many puppy buyers know exactly what they want, and only a female puppy will do, while others are equally certain they will only consider a male. This is often based on what the family has owned in the past. "We've always had females, and they're the best!" But if they've never owned a male, how do they know? Long-time Dalmatian breeders were polled on which they would choose if they could only have one Dalmatian as a pet. About 65% said they would choose a male, but those who preferred females felt very strongly that females made better pets.

In general, we find that males are sillier, more eager to please, and slower to grow up and act like adults. Females grow up more quickly and are often more likely to become Couch Potatoes - but that's not necessarily a negative trait. It depends on what you want of your dog, and environment influences that to some degree. Males are more likely to do some "testing" as adolescents, pushing to see how far they can bend the rules. On the other hand, they often seem to be more tuned into their owners and are more willing and less independent. Since all responsible breeders sell companion dogs on spay/neuter agreements, the inconvenience of a female coming into heat is not a concern.

Males are generally larger, and may be somewhat more work to raise. A male may require more discipline, exercise and patience, as well as a sense of humor. We feel the end result justifies the effort, and would choose a male Dalmatian, BUT we've owned some wonderful females!

Black or Liver?
Although Dalmatians are generally thought of as black spotted, many Dalmatians actually have liver spots. Liver is a dark chocolate color and is the same color seen on red Dobermans, chocolate Labradors and liver Springer Spaniels. It's just "the other color". Liver Dalmatians have brown noses and gold eyes, rather than black noses and brown eyes. (Either color may come with blue eyes.) Thanks in part to Disney Studios, many Dal owners are not even aware of the fact that liver Dalmatians exist. Although the book "The 101 Dalmatians" by English author Dodie Smith included liver Dalmatians, the Disney animated movie only portrayed them as black and white. (The subsequent movie which uses live dogs includes liver Dalmatians.)

Liver is not new and Dalmatians have always come in either color, but until recently they were rather uncommon. Livers are currently very popular in the show ring (the top winning Dalmatian in history is a liver female) and increasingly popular as pets. We've bred and shown liver Dals for over 30 years and are delighted with the current trend. We also have black spotted Dals, but wait until you see our liver Dals before making up your mind!

Livers and blacks come from the same litters and are routinely bred together, which does not result in black and liver spots on the same dog. Liver is a recessive gene, which means that some black spotted dogs carry the liver gene and can produce liver pups, but liver bred to liver only produces liver. For two black dogs to produce liver, both of them must carry the liver recessive gene. There is no difference in health or temperament, as color is strictly a cosmetic feature. It's a bit harder to breed good liver spotting for the showring, but the best marked livers are quite spectacular. We refer to them as "brownies" and most of our personal dogs are brownies. For more information on Dalmatian colors, check out our color page.

Bi or Uni?
The terms "bi" and "uni" refer to whether the dog hears in both ears or only in one ear. Deafness occurs in this breed (and quite a few others) and is related to the white coat color (referred to scientifically as "extreme white piebald"). About 10% of the breed is deaf in both ears. Responsible breeders normally euthanize deaf pups at an early age, as they rarely make satisfactory pets. An additional 20% of the breed hears unilaterally - in one ear. These dogs make perfectly satisfactory pets and are not handicapped in anyway. Most owners never notice that their dog only hears in one ear, but if you observe a uni dog closely you will note that he does not have "directional hearing" - he can hear all the sounds and voices, but he can't immediately identify the direction the sound is coming from.

There is a great deal of controversy about whether uni dogs should be used for breeding. The Dalmatian Club of America has been gathering statistics for many years, and the numbers show that unilateral dogs generally produce more deaf offspring than do bilateral dogs. However, deafness is a characteristic that can be identified at an early age (before the pups are old enough to sell), and some of the very best dogs in the breed are unis. This is a subject for breeders, but does not really affect the average pet owner.

Pet or Show?
There is no point in looking for Show Quality unless you actually plan to show your dog. Most breeders expend an enormous amount of time and money to produce their best show prospects and have no desire to sell such pups to homes where they will not be shown. All breeds have a written breed standard against which dogs are judged at dog shows. Responsible breeders are not breeding to produce pet quality dogs as a money-making activity and normally find that raising dogs properly is a losing proposition. They are breeding for Better Dogs. They are trying to produce dogs with perfect markings, superior construction and correct breed type, free from any inherited health problems, and with flawless dispositions. They spend much time planning their breedings, test their dogs to insure that they are free of hereditary health problems, and spend much money on stud fees and shipping to breed their females to the most suitable stud dogs. The goal in breeding is that each generation should be better (sounder, healthier, closer to the standard, more trainable) than the previous one.

The things that make a dog Pet Quality rather than Show Quality are often features that only other show people would notice. Things like a little too much pink on the nose, a few too many or few spots, a tail carried a bit too high, the shape of the foot or the alignment of the teeth might keep a dog from being considered Show Quality, but would not prevent him from being a handsome healthy pet. When a pup is sold as a show prospect, the breeder guarantees that the dog has the potential to win in the show ring and will be suitable for breeding. Sometimes a dog has a flaw that may be outgrown, but rather than keeping the pup long enough to make sure that it happens, the breeder will let the dog go as a pet if there is a good home waiting. The buyer pays a pet price for a dog that may actually turn out to be better than its littermates.

The average "puppy raiser"(as opposed to a responsible breeder) has absolutely no idea what constitutes Show Quality, so do not be taken in by that. Unless a person is involved in showing, they will have no idea what a show potential pup should look like. Remember too, that the term Pick of Litter is relative. The least good dog in a well-bred, carefully raised, top quality litter is usually a far better bet than the "pick" from a poorly bred, badly raised litter which contains absolutely nothing of quality.

1999-2000 Sue MacMillan. Please request permission before recopying this article.

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