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Hereditary Deafness

Hereditary deafness is a condition prevalent in Dalmatians. This is a polygenic problem, which means that it CANNOT currently be bred out of the breed. ALL Dalmatian bloodlines suffer from deafness. There are some individual dogs who produce few deaf puppies in their offspring. Approximately 8% of the breed are born completely deaf, and another 22% to 24% are born with unilateral hearing, or hearing in one ear only. Normal puppies will have hearing in both ears, known as bilateral normal hearing. All puppies are born with their ear canals closed; these should be open at 12-16 days. The deafness is characterized by the permanent deterioration by the age of six weeks in the organs of Corti, the group of nerve cells inside the cochlea that detect sound. The loss cannot be reversed or corrected.

All Dalmatian puppies should be definitively tested for deafness. Stomping on the floor, clapping hands or rattling keys make for unreliable hearing tests, since deaf pups can pick up the vibrations. A deaf puppy will compensate for the hearing loss, thereby making it difficult to detect. A scientific test, known as the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test, should be administered, in order to objectively determine the hearing status. This test may be done after five weeks of age. It measures the brain response to auditory stimuli in each ear. The test can detect any impairment or loss of function in either ear. The equipment required to complete the BAER test is expensive and is generally located at veterinary teaching schools or through specialty vets. It is not available in all areas. If a breeder tells you this is the case in your area, confirm it by calling other breeders and/or some local vets. Since there are about 3 unilaterally deaf Dals for every totally deaf Dal, the BAER test is important for identifying dogs that appear to hear normally but that would, unknown to the breeder, pass on a genetic defect.


A reputable breeder will know that BAER testing is the only reliable method of testing hearing. The breeder should have the test conducted on both the sire and dam as well as all the puppies in every litter. A reputable breeder will also not sell or give away deaf puppies. A written purchase contract between the puppy buyer and the seller is highly recommended when you purchase any pup. Buyers of pups that have not been BAER tested should insist that the purchase contract have specific conditions for dealing with a deaf puppy. The contract should allow the buyer to exchange the pup for one who can hear or your money should be refunded.

The adoption of deaf dogs is a controversial issue. Some deaf dogs do live long lives as beloved family members (as one of our faq authors can attest) and some deaf dogs do develop dangerous behavior problems which force the owner to make the difficult choice between controlling the deaf dog's environment 100% of the time or euthanizing the dog (to which another of our faq authors can attest). Deaf dogs can be trained to respond to hand signals, but because the dog can only see the signals if he/she is looking at you, deaf dogs must be kept under strict control at all times. In addition, deaf dogs cannot hear danger sounds such as car horns honking and require extra security measures for their own safety.


The Dalmatian Club Of America strongly opposes placement of completely deaf puppies, a stance that is supported by many experienced breeders and by some former owners of deaf dogs. This position is taken because these groups feel that deaf dogs are more likely to develop behavior problems and, in particular, bite humans, than are hearing dogs. They feel that deaf puppies should not be sold or given away, but euthanized as soon as their deafness is confirmed. There has been no scientific study which can give guidance as to whether deaf dogs are more likely to bite than are hearing dogs. The position taken by this group is presumed to be based upon their many years of collective experience. Many people who oppose the adoption of deaf dogs also feel that the extra effort and commitment which a deaf dog requires is more than most pet owners are prepared for and that because of this a deaf dog may be more likely to be subject to a life of neglect, abuse or of bouncing from home to home.

There is a group of deaf dog owners who participate in a mailing list; to join the mailing list just send an email to deafdogs - The instructions for joining the mailing list are also located in the deaf dog web page whose address is shown in the reference section. This group feels strongly that deaf dogs are no more likely to have behavior problems than hearing dogs. Many members enjoy the challenge of training their deaf dogs. They feel that problem deaf dogs are those whose owners did not initially realize they were deaf and did not have the inclination to properly train them or are dogs who would have developed problems even if they had been able to hear. These successful deaf dog owners report that the rewards of owning and caring for their deaf dogs make the extra commitment worthwhile.


Until a thorough scientific study is carried out, following equivalent groups of deaf and hearing Dals through their entire lives, it is impossible to know which of these positions is correct. It is certain that ownership of a deaf dog will require a strong commitment on the part of the owner in ensuring the safety of the dog and in finding qualifed help with training. In addition, should the owner ever be forced to give up the dog, it will be very difficult to find a new home for it. Many Dal rescue groups are currently overwhelmed with homeless adult Dals who have no special needs; trying to find homes for deaf dogs is out of the question for many.

Dogs with hearing in only one ear (unilateral) make perfectly acceptable pets and are generally indistinguishable from dogs with hearing in both ears. While the genetics of the inheritance of deafness are not completely understood, in general, dogs with unilateral hearing should not be used for breeding because they pass on an highly increased probability of complete deafness. Responsible breeders frequently sell unilaterally deaf animals with a spay/neuter contract to insure that affected dogs are not later bred.


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Breed History

No breed has a more interesting background or a more disputed heritage than that dog from long ago, the Dalmatian. His beginning is buried so deep in the past that researchers cannot agree as to his origin. As to the great age of the breed, and the fact that it has come through many centuries unchanged, investigators are in complete agreement.

Models, engravings, paintings and writing of antiquity have been used with fair excuse but no certainty to claim the spotted dog first appeared in Europe, Asia and Africa. Perhaps some of the divergencies in opinion as to the original home of the Dalmatian can be accounted for by the fact that the dog has frequently been found in bands of Romanies, and that like his gypsy masters, he has been well known but not located definitely in any one place. Authoritative writers place him first as a positive entity in Dalmatia, a province of Austria on the Eastern shore of the coast of Venice. Though he has been accredited with a dozen nationalities and has as many native names -- he is nicknames by the English, the English Coach Dog, the Carriage Dog, the Plum Pudding Dog, the Fire House Dog and the Spotted Dick -- it is from his first proved home that he takes his correct name, the Dalmatian. We find references to him as Dalmatian in the middle eighteenth century. There is no question whatsoever that his lineage is as ancient and his record as straight as that of other breeds.


His activities have been as varied as his reputed ancestors. He has been a dog of war, a sentinel on the borders of Dalmatia and Croatia. He has been employed as a draft dog, as shepherd. He is excellent on rats and vermin. He is well known for his heroic performances as fire-apparatus follower and fire-house mascot. As a sporting dog he has been used as bird dog, as trail hound, as retriever, or in packs for boar or stag hunting. His retentive memory has made him one of the most dependable clowners in circuses and on the stage. Down through the years the intelligence and willingness of the Dalmatian have found him in practically every role to which useful dogs are assigned. Most important among his talents has been his status as the original, one and only coaching dog. The imaginative might say that his coaching days go back to an engraving of a spotted dog following an Egyptian chariot! Even the practical minded will find no end of proof, centuries old, of the Dalmatian, with ears entirely cropped away and padlocked brass collar, plying his natural trade as follower and guardian of the horse drawn vehicle.


He is physically fitted for road work. In his make-up, speed and endurance are blended to a nicety. His gait has beauty of motion and swiftness, and he has the strength, vitality and fortitude to keep going gaily till the journey's end. The instinct for coaching is bred in him, born in him and trained in him through the years. The Dalmatian takes to a horse as a horse takes to him, and that is to say, like a duck to water. He may work in the old way, clearing the path before the Tally Ho with dignity and determination or following on with his ermine spottings in full view to add distinction to an equipage. He may coach under the rear axle, the front axle or most difficult of all, under the pole between the leaders and the wheelers. Wherever he works, it si with the love of the game in his heart and with the skill which has won him the title of the only recognized carriage dog in the world. His penchant for working is his most renowned characteristic, but it in no way approaches his capacity for friendship.

There is no dog more picturesque than this spotted fellow with his slick white coat gaily decorated with clearly defined round spots of jet black or, in the liver variety, liver brown. He does not look like any other breed, for his markings are peculiarly his own. He is strong bodied, clean cut, colorful and distinctive. His flashy spottings are the culmination of ages of careful breeding.


His aristocratic bearing does not belie him, for the Dalmatian is first of all a gentleman. He is a quite chap, and the ideal guard dog, distinguishing nicely between barking for fun or with a purpose. His courtesy never fails with approved visitors, but his protective instinct is highly developed and he has the courage to defend. As a watchdog he is sensible and dependable. Hs is not everyone's dog -- no causal admirer will break his polite reserve, for he has a fine sense of distinction as to whom he belongs. Fashion has not distorted the Dalmatian. He is born pure white, develops quickly and require no cropping, docking, stripping or artifices of any sort. He is extremely hardy, an easy keeper, suited to any climate. He requires only the minimum of care for he is sturdy and neat and clean.

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