About the Dalmatian
The Dalmatian is a beautiful, intelligent dog that has either black or liver spots with eyes that are brown, blue or amber coloured. They are a healthy breed and live up to 15 years.
Dalmatians are people-like and people oriented. They do best when given the opportunity to spend lots of time with and around their families. Dalmatians are wonderful family dogs, and are great in multi-pet households. Dalmatians can also get along splendidly with cats if introduced appropriately.
The Dalmatian is an active, energetic and creative dog that enjoys (and requires) lots of exercise. Dalmatians love to play ... and play ... Bred to run for hours under or alongside the axle of a horse-drawn coach, Dalmatians do not tire easily. However, they do poorly as full-time outdoor dogs. Their sensitive skin and short hair does not allow them to handle weather extremes.
"What you must never accept is injustice in any form. You
must make it visible, bring it into the light."
- from the movie "Gandhi"
- from the movie "Gandhi"
Webster's Dictionary defines a myth as "a fictitious story, or unscientific account, theory or belief." Many negative warnings and stories surrounding deaf dogs have a myth-like quality. Handed down from person to person, they are dutifully recited each time the subject of the deaf dog is raised. One by one, we will expose these myths to the harsh light of fact, facts drawn from the actual experiences of those who share their lives with a deaf dog.
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Deprived of the ability to hear, the deaf dog spends each day jumping out of his skin, startled by everything that crosses it's path. If you walk up behind a deaf dog, it startles. If you touch it when it's not looking at you, it startles. If you wake it when it's sleeping, it startles. Over time, these constantly startled dogs develop fearful, aggressive personalities. They will bite when startled, or attack for no reason.
Perhaps no other myth has caused more damage than this one. Its apparent logic is what makes it so seductive. It seems to make sense, and is therefore seldom questioned. This myth assumes that "being startled" is a permanent condition, that the deaf dog is perpetually startled, and that he will always respond by becoming fearful and aggressive. But the actual experience of deaf dog owners tells a different story.
The truth is that deaf dogs adapt to their hearing loss, and become comfortable with their surroundings. In the same way a hearing dog can be startled by a loud noise, a deaf dog can be startled by an unexpected touch. Owners report that their dogs' responses to being touched unexpectedly range from a "YIKES" response, where the dog may jump, to a "huh?" response, where the dog simply turns and looks. Some may be momentarily disoriented when awakened, but few become aggressive or bite in response.
Further, a deaf dog can be desensitized to the startle effect of being touched unexpectedly or awakened from sleep. One owner calls this "working on sneaking up behaviors." This is done by first walking up behind the dog when he isn't looking; touch the dog, then immediately pop a treat in the dog's mouth when he turns around. The dog quickly associates good things (i.e., the treat) with being touched unexpectedly, and learns to respond happily. This exercise would not be possible if all deaf dogs responded to unexpected touch by biting their owners! Not all deaf dogs require this type of conditioning, but it is helpful for the more sensitive ones.
A deaf dog can also be conditioned to wake easily in response to a gentle touch. Start slowly by first placing your hand in front of the sleeping dog's nose, allowing him to smell that you are near. Next lightly touch the dog on the shoulder or back, pretend you are trying to touch only one or two hairs with your fingertips. Then gently stroke the dog with two fingertips, then with your entire hand. Most deaf dogs will awaken during some part of this exercise. When they open their eyes, their owner's smiling face and perhaps even a treat rewards them. In a matter of weeks, the dog becomes accustomed to waking up when the owner places a hand in front of his nose, or lightly touches his shoulder or back. Waking up becomes a gentle, positive experience.
Deaf dog owners do take special measures to alert the dog to their presence before walking up to, or touching the dog. Many will wave their hands in the air, flip a light switch on and off, lightly blow on the back of the dog, or toss a ball or small stone near him. Or they simply wait until the dog turns toward them. The care that owners exercise in waking, or walking up behind a deaf dog is not born from a fear of being attacked or bitten. Rather, it is an act of compassion, which acknowledges the special needs of the dog. Deaf dog owners don't work to create a dog that will never be startled, but to condition the dog and teach it to respond in a positive manner to unexpected events. The end result is a well-adjusted, happy dog.
But what happens before the deaf dog is conditioned to respond positively to situations where it is startled? Will it bite or attack? Deaf dog owners adamantly tell us that this is not the case. Prior to any desensitization exercises, a deaf dog will respond to be being startled in the same way a hearing dog would--he is momentarily distraught. His age, breed and previous life experiences will influence his reaction. Then the moment passes, and he returns to his normal "pre-startled" state.
In October of 1997, the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF) began conducting a survey of deaf dog owners. Among other things, the survey asked about aggression and situations where the dogs had been accidentally startled. DDEAF will make these survey results known when they are tabulated. The preliminary results show what Lindsay Patten, founder of the Deaf Dogs Mailing List has known for years "…very few of us are having problems with our deaf dogs, other than the typical dog problems all dog owners face, like housebreaking, chewing or digging."
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Because a deaf dog cannot hear an approaching car, a honking horn, or his owner's verbal command, he is more likely to be hit by a car, and killed, than a hearing dog.
This myth implies that the majority of dog owners allow their dogs to roam, unsupervised, without a leash. While this may be true for the dog living on a 20-acre farm, it is certainly not true for the city-dwelling/suburban dog. In fact, most cities have leash law prohibiting such activity.
It also implies that the hearing dog has a survival advantage because it can hear the approaching car, and easily move out of its way. But dogs are not born knowing that the sound of an approaching car, or honking horn, is synonymous with pain and possible death.
Experience has shown that ANY dog wandering off leash, in close proximity to cars, is at risk. Even the best-trained hearing dog may run into a car's path if he's chasing a cat or a squirrel. Because of this uncertainty, many dog owners do not allow their dogs off leash unless they are in an enclosed area. It is a cardinal rule of deaf dog ownership to NEVER allow the dog to roam off leash. A small percentage of rural deaf dog owners do allow their dogs off leash in certain circumstances, but they are the exception. Most deaf dog owners simply never take the chance.
But what about accidents? What if you drop the leash on your daily walk or your dog squeezes through an open door? It should be noted that not all dogs bolt the minute they are free. The following exercise can condition any dog not to run if the leash is loose and dragging. While walking your dog, let go of everything except the handle of the leash. Let the rest of the leash go slack and drag on the ground. If the dog tries to bolt, he receives a correction when he reaches the end of the leash. Eventually, he will pay no attention if the leash goes slack and drags on the ground.
A deaf dog can also be easily trained to sit and wait before being release to walk through a door. One of the best ways to reinforce this is not to take the dog for a walk unless he sits and allows you to put on his leash. The dog quickly learns "no sit, no leash, no walk." Deaf dog owners have also reported success in using a vibrating collar as a signal for the dog to come.
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Even if your deaf dog currently shows no signs of aggressive behavior, he will suddenly become aggressive when he reaches 3 years of age. The deaf dog is an accident waiting to happen.
It's unclear how this myth evolved, but evolve it did. It is ludicrous to believe that your loving family pet will suddenly become aggressive on its third birthday. A quick look at canine development also suggests that this theory is inaccurate. All dogs go through an "adolescent period" which can start as early as 5 months (in small breeds), and last as long as 3 years (in larger breeds). Canine adolescence is marked by such behavior as refusing to perform previously learned commands, forgetting housebreaking, excessive chewing, and generally being a bit of a brat. Most dogs are through the worst of their adolescence by 2 years of age, but some dogs will remain in this phase for an additional year. A dog that is 3+ years of age, has generally outgrown most of the annoying habits of the adolescent, and is usually a joy to live with!
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The deaf dog is an incredible challenge to raise and train because they cannot respond to verbal commands. They can be trained to respond to hand signals, but because the dog can only see the signals if it is looking at you, deaf dogs must be kept under strict control at all times.
Dogs are postural creatures, tuned into the world of body language. In training any dog, visual signals are more effective than voice commands. A voice command is an additional aid, not a mandatory requirement. People talk, dogs don't. Though we all know this, we tend to forget the full implications of this statement. We place importance on our tone of voice and the words we use when speaking to our dogs. We seldom realize the additional messages communicated by our bodies, and the way those messages are interpreted by our dogs.
Dogs do not rely heavily on the spoken word. They use their bodies to communicate intent, dominance, submission, and a wide variety of emotions. True, they may growl, bark or whine, but these are an additional, or secondary, means of communication. A dog may bark while playing, or while chasing a cat over the fence. His body languages, and subsequent actions, are needed to interpret the true meaning of his bark. Our dogs are always "reading" us, and place a higher value on our body language than the words we speak.
Nor are dogs born with an innate understanding of the steady stream of babble we direct at them daily. Over time, a hearing dog learns to associate words with events and, eventually, these words become meaningful to the dog. A deaf dog is just as capable of making these associations, albeit he will be learning based on visual cues.
Challenge is in the eye of the beholder. The trainer of a deaf dog will have to learn techniques designed for a visually oriented dog. This is not a difficult task, but if the trainer cannot make this adjustment, he will fail. Surely, this is not the fault of the deaf dog. Resources abound to assist the deaf dog trainer in this process. All that is required is a willingness to learn.
It's also wrong to assume that if a deaf dog isn't looking at his owner, he's unreachable and out of control. Many dogs pick up movement and signals with their peripheral vision. Well trained deaf dogs make eye contact with their owners on a regular basis, keeping track of them, repeatedly checking in. As the deaf dog matures and his training progresses, getting his attention becomes less and less of an issue.
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There are a few special owners with deaf dogs who are functioning well, but they are the exception. And in most cases, these owners would not recommend to others the knowing adoption of a deaf dog.
The Deaf Dog mailing list has more than 600 members (1/01), and approximately 1,000 former members. Many list members own more than one deaf dog. The Kushti Dalmatian Club in the UK has placed more than 300 deaf dogs. These numbers suggest that there are more than a "few special" owners and deaf dogs in the world.
Dalmatians are short haired, and shed excessive amounts of fur!! They are not outside dogs, as they can be sunburnt in strong sun and get chilled easily in the cold. The shedding is definitely a problem, for housekeeping and allergy concerns, but fortunately the hairs will vacuum up easily. Be sure that you will be happy with a dog that sheds this much BEFORE you get a Dalmatian. Adding a teaspoon of corn oil to each meal, may help reduce shedding.
Dalmatians can have skin allergies. As is with people, environmental components, fleas, foods, soaps, and many other things can cause allergies in Dalmatians. Signs include frequent and excessive scratching, reddening of skin, sneezing, nasal discharge, hives and bronzing. "Bronzing" is the brownish red tinge on the fur and skin created by untended allergic reactions. If your suspect your Dalmatian has allergies, take your Dalmatian to your vet for diagnosis and treatment.
The Dalmatian has a urinary system unique among dogs. The condition urolithiasis occurs when sand, stones or calculi are formed in the urine from salts of uric acid. Large stones can lodge in the urethra, and small stones, may pass with the urine. Complete blockage of the urinary tract by stones is fatal if not treated promptly. Signs of urinary problems include: frequent and difficult urination, excessive straining, passing little urine, blood in urine, loss of "housebreaking" and behavioural changes.
All Dalmatians are susceptible to urinary stones. Dalmatian owners should take care to seek out a diet which does not contain proteins high in purines. Organ meats, especially liver, and beef, are major sources of purines and should be avoided. Lamb, poultry, eggs and most vegetables are lower in purines.
Adequate water should be provided at all times. Dalmatians should also be given frequent opportunities to urinate in order to flush their urinary tracts of any crystals. Regular urine samples should be checked by your veterinarian. See your vet immediately if you suspect urinary problems.
Feeding your pet the proper diet is one of the main components of responsible dog ownership. This is especially true when owning a Dalmatian. Excessive purine protein can give rise to crystals or stones, leading to urinary tract blockages. This is extremely painful and life threatening for your pet. It is important to note high purine foods, in order to feed your Dalmatian properly. There are many high quality dog foods commercially available, discuss your dog's nutritional needs with your vet.
This is by no means a complete list. Please see your vet to ask about specific foods for your dog.
Ah yes, we have all heard the rumours...Dalmatians are "hyper", "crazy" dogs that do not stop moving! Dalmatians are active, energetic dogs that enjoy lots of exercise and when properly exercised, they are a joy to have in your home. Unfortunately, many people run out and impulsively get Dalmatians without really thinking about the time involved.
For a young Dalmatian (under 4 years old), you would expect to spend 1-2 hours of your day exercising your dog. This does not mean sending your Dalmatian out in the backyard alone or with the children. It means 1-2 hours of interactive exercise with a responsible adult! Walking, jogging and play at off-leash dog parks are all acceptable ways to exercise your Dalmatian. Without this exercise Dalmatians will chew, dig and come up with their own creative ways to burn off the energy. I guarantee you will not like their solution!
Do you have 1-2 hours, each and every day to exercise a dog? You really have to consider this before getting a Dalmatian. Your Dalmatian will live to be 12-15 years old and 1-2 hours a day for 15 years (sun, rain, snow and sleet) is a substantial part of each day, for a long time. Dogs are constantly turned over to pounds and shelters because owners no longer have time for the dog. Please decide if you have the time before you commit to an animal.
Positive reinforcement is the best way to train your Dalmatian. Let's think about it in human terms ... you wouldn't want to be smacked or screamed at everytime you did something wrong. You would feel discouraged and eventually angry.
Now think about how you would feel if you were never recognized or praised for any positive action you performed. Don't lie to yourself. You would be upset, resentful and again, angry. So why, do people continue to train dogs with negative techniques? Dogs may not feel things EXACTLY the way we do, but the analogy is still valid. Studies have shown that positive reinforcement is the best and most effective way to teach.
What is positive reinforcement training? It is rewarding a dog for doing the right thing and ignoring or reshaping undesirable behaviors. For example, when teaching a dog to sit, you can stand there all day and yell "Sit", but if he has not been taught what the word means it will be ineffective. Positive reinforcement uses a toy or treat, to shape the behavior. If you move the treat towards the dog's nose and he sits, he gets praise and the treat. If he gets up to get it, nothing is said to correct him but he also does not receive the treat. Repetition will teach the dog to sit every time the treat comes towards his nose. Now you add a word to tell him what he is doing, just as he performs the action - "Sit". Soon he will understand the connection between the word and the action. Now he will get a treat only after he complies with the verbal command.
Seek out instructors who are well-versed in positive reinforcement or clicker training techniques. Visit the class. Look for a place where the handlers use treats, toys, buckle collars or clickers. The dogs will be happy and eager. Positive reinforcement training allows the dog to learn to think on his own.
Dalmatian owners everywhere will remember shopping for their first Dalmatian. The first innocent trip to the pet store where they bought the first toys. Intensive thought went into the colour and attractiveness of the toy, then home they went. Imagine their surprise when the toy only lasted one hour (if that)!
Veteran Dalmatian owners know that little survives the jaws of a Dalmatian. Dalmatians need to chew, especially when they are young, so providing them with toys that can take their jaw power is important.
Over the years I have found some favourites:
In an emergency, first aid could make the difference between life and death. As prevention of illness and injury is a primary focus of pet first aid courses, first aid training should result in a reduction of unnecessary injury and illness.
There are courses available through various organizations. Call your vet for information.
Courses should include:
The sole responsibility for the interaction between the family dog and the children falls on the parents. A family dog can be a wonderful experience or a terrible nightmare. A wonderful experience will occur when:
You will notice that the key to success is the parents. Dogs are not toys for children. They are living creatures with needs and emotions, whose only ability to communicate is through body language. This includes biting!
Here is a list of what NOT TO DO with a family dog
Here are some suggestions to help you be successful