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Why do Dalmatians Have Spots?

If you are wondering why do Dalmatians have spots you are likely an inquisitive person with a great thirst for knowledge, because not many people ask this question, they just take those trademark Dalmatian black spots for granted. Looking beyond the obvious answer that Dalmatian dogs have spots just because they were made this way doesn't cut it for those looking for a more-in-depth answer. For sure, that jazzy coat didn't pop out of nowhere, so how did those spots appear in the first place?

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Not All Spots are Created Equal

To better understand a Dalmatian's spots, let's first take a look at what the breed standard says. According to the American Kennel Club, a Dalmatian's ground color is pure white. When it comes to spots, it's not like any spot will do. The only accepted spot colors are dense black or liver brown. Any other color of spots are means for disqualification in the show ring. The spots must be round, well distributed, well-defined, and the more distinct they are, the better. Distinctive spots are preferred over spots that intermingle. The spots should vary in size from the size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar and usually appear to be smaller on the Dalmatian's head, legs and tail compared to the rest of the body. According to the Dalmatian Club of America, liver spots are less common than black, as they're triggered by a recessive gene.

On the Spot Genetic Engineering

Among all the dog breeds populating this planet, the Dalmatian is the only spotted breed. Humans have been genetically experimenting with dogs for a very long time, creating hunting dogs, herding dogs, lap dogs, and guardian dogs and creating more than 400 breeds. Through centuries of selective breeding, dogs were crafted to look and act as humans wanted with great variations in size, colors and temperaments. Most likely, along the lines of breeding this dog's ancestors, some mutation must have occurred. Speculation has it that pointers and the spotted great dane may have contributed to the Dalmatian's coat. Regardless, some breeder must have liked the look of a spotted dog and simply selectively bred for that trait with success. For science junkies, this study goes into details explaining how the Dalmatian's distinctive coat pattern is the result of the interaction of several genes.

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Easy to Spot Dogs

While the Dalmatian has a history of a multi-purpose dog serving as a war dog, a retriever, a draft dog, a ratter, a shepherd's dog, a bird dog, and even, a circus dog, many fans of this breed will remember Dalmatians as popular coach dogs, stylish escorts meant to keep strange dogs from harassing and scaring off the horses. While their spots weren't purposely created for this task, they sure fit this purpose well. Other than attracting Cruella de Vil, those vivid spots sure helped them stick out of the crowd whether they were clearing the crowds out of the way so horse-drawn carriages could pass or protecting the aristocrats on board.

Touching a Sore Spot 

As appealing as a Dalmatian's coat is, it comes with some drawbacks. The same genes responsible for the coat are also what may predispose this breed to deafness. To be exact, the issue seems to stem from the extreme piebald (sw) pigment genes. Fact is, despite the black spots, Dalmatians present a coat pattern that is the result of the extreme piebald allele along with ticked and non-flecked. Deafness in piebald animals is linked to the absence of mature melanocytes in one or both ears. Generally, the more extreme the whiteness, the greater chance for deafness. According to veterinarian Dr. George M. Strain at Louisiana State University, eight percent of all Dalmatians in the US are bilaterally deaf and 22 percent are unilaterally deaf.

Did you know? Dalmatian puppies are born completely white, without any spots showing. The spots are actually present at birth but they're on the skin and not visible and generally only show up once the pups are 2 weeks old. As the pups mature, the spots become fully visible as black hairs replace the white hairs. Soon, the spots spread all over the body and that may even include inside their mouths!

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