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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fire Dogs

Why are Dalmatians known as “fire dogs”?

The origin of the Dalmatian breed can be traced back centuries.  Originally from the Island of Dalmatia, which is a region of Croatia that lies along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, these mild-tempered dogs were first brought to England in the early 17th Century.  It was soon discovered that these dogs had a calming effect on horses, which were obviously the primary mode of transportation in those days.  Horseman would keep Dalmatians in the barns where strong bonds would be established between horse and dog.  When the time came to enter into battle, Dalmatians would run alongside the horses keeping them occupied and distracted from the chaos unfolding around them.
As time passed, Dalmatians continued to be utilized as transportation evolved from horseback to wagon and then stagecoach.  Because of the Dalmatian’s tendency to take up position to the horse’s flank and run alongside them, the breed became known in many cultures as “Coach Dogs”.  If you look at a Dalmatian you will see that they resemble a greyhound in their design (the dog, not the bus).  They are a very physical breed with a muscular body and can run great distances without tiring.  It was a common sight throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to see a pair of Dalmatian dogs traveling with stagecoaches and covered wagons to “run interference” and protect the horses from snakes, wolves, and other potential threats.  At night the dogs would sleep with the horses to watch and warn of impending horse thieves.
As the fire service evolved from hand-drawn to horse-drawn fire apparatus, the evolution of the Dalmatian’s role was a natural one as well.  The dogs would keep the horses company in the “fire barn” during long stretches of inactivity, and then spring to action along with their equestrian counterparts when the fire bell rang.  Just as they had for centuries, the dogs would run alongside the horses as they responded to the call for help.  Instead of protecting against wolves, snakes and other threats, however, the Coach Dog’s role was now to keep the horses focused amid all of the blaring bells and whistles while at the same time maintaining an eye out for curious children who may tend to wander in the path of a responding steamer fire engine.  At the scene of a fire, the dogs would once again keep the horses calm and focused in the midst of the chaos taking place around them.
It is because of this long history that the Dalmatian remains indivisibly tied to the fire service today.  While the horse-drawn steamers have long since been replaced by modern mechanical fire apparatus, the tradition of these valuable team members lives on.   
While most people are familiar with the black and white variety, Dalmatians can also have red spots or liver (brown) spots as seen here.  Liver spotted Dalmatians usually have blue eyes as opposed to the dark brown found in black-and-white varieties. 
Did you know that the Dalmatian’s skin is the same color as its spots?  So, if a Dalmatian ever goes bald it would still look like…a Dalmatian!