Don’t Blame BYBs for Dalmatians Either

The reason why numerous breed-in-movie-equals-doom stories persist is the arrogance of breed elitists who lament the idea of the unwashed masses finding out about their precious breed and ruining their fun by getting involved or buying dogs from their competition or the favorite bogeyman “backyard breeders” and “puppy mills.”  Attention-seeking money pit operations like the HSUS also perpetuate these memes to drive donations and latch on to the reflected glow of media attention.

In the case of the Dalmatian the “breed ruined by Disneymantra is actually a cover story perpetrated by the breed club and fancy to mask their own culpability in ruining the reputation of their breed by producing unsatisfactory dogs.  And let’s be clear, it’s not this blog that is ruining the Dalmatian’s reputation. The internet’s opinion of them today is perfectly aligned with the New York Time’s characterization of them back in 1997.

We know that Dalmatians were not ruined by unscrupulous fringe breeders and mills, their genetic problems are universal and saturated in the breed: the genetic predisposition for deafness, the uric acidosis, and the temperament issues are all due to their unique coloring, founder effects, closed registry genetic degradation, and  placing cosmetics above health.  These problems plague the cream-of-the-crop Dalmatians just as much as any produced by scapegoat BYBs.  Blaming the nebulous backyard breeders for the inherent genetic problems in the breed is like blaming a used car lot for the Ford Pinto. Sure, they’re selling defective products, but they didn’t create the defect and the swankiest dealership in the country is still selling defective goods.

The appeal of Dalmatians is pretty obvious: they have a unique coat pattern that defines the breed.  And some claim that the Disney marketing machine has also created an enduring and repeated demand for the dogs too.  I’ve already cast doubt on that claim showing that Disney magic has a poor track record if we’re to believe it’s the cause of Dalmatian popularity.

The downside of Dalmatians aren’t as obvious from the outside but are well known now.  They are deaf, they are unhealthy, and they are mean.  The reports of the Disney Disaster almost always include blame laid at the feet of “popularity” and “backyard breeders” ruining the breed.

That 1997 New York Times article, After Movies Unwanted Dalmatians, follows this pattern:

In the movie, the Dalmatians are cute and fun. But at home, they shed, tend to snap and sometimes bite, and often do not particularly like children, former owners complain.

Overbreeding is suspected in genetic defects in Dalmatians like deafness and urinary tract problems. But breeders say buyers would have fewer problems if they bought from reputable sellers and knew what they were getting into.

Notice the explicit statement that the inherent problems of the breed can be avoided or mitigated if you buy from a “reputable” source.  This is nonsense, but it doesn’t stop that line of thought being repeated.

Here are some gems from an article written by Terri Hasse who founded “Save the Dalmations” based on her clearly mistaken belief that the 1996 film would bring popularity and disaster to Dalmatians:

“We began in 1996 when founder Terri Haase and a friend started taking their Dalmatians to movie theaters during the showing of “101 Dalmatians” to distribute educational flyers in an attempt to stop impulse buying of Dalmatian puppies.”

When confronted with the fact that no such increase in registrations happened, Terri blames crypto-BYBs:

It was anticipated that another increase in registrations would take place following the movie, however this does not seem to have occurred. This does not mean that fewer Dalmatians are being bred, but would seem to indicate that responsible breeders as well as puppy mills are not producing as many puppies, since these are the two main groups that register puppies and dogs with the American Kennel Club. Backyard breeders almost never register the puppies they produce and have been primarily responsible for the huge overpopulation of Dalmatians that are now flooding the shelters in the United States of America and in Canada.

Notice that Terri fails to mention that the boom and bust in Dalmatians was perfectly captured by AKC registrations from 1983 through the 1990s, but now mysteriously it’s Backyard Breeders who “never register” who are responsible for a boom that already came and went and isn’t happening again … but it is, you just can’t see it?

AKC Dalmatian Registrations 1983-2003

AKC Dalmatian Registrations 1983-2003

It is asinine to believe that the AKC and whatever people register there were perfectly willing to produce TENS OF THOUSANDS of Dalmatians per year during the last boom, but would be totally unwilling to respond to market forces again.

As the numbers of individual Dalmatian registrations declined, the Dalmatians rank in registrations as compared to other breed registrations has also fallen. Since too much popularity can ruin a breed, the decline in registrations and rank are good indicators of less puppy mill involvement. Hopefully now the responsible, reputable breeders will be able to serve the public’s needs for Dalmatians that are healthier, BAER tested for deafness and of sound temperaments, provided they can educate the public not to purchase Dalmatian puppies from pet stores and backyard breeders.

Remember that the genetic propensity for hyperuricemia, deafness, and unsound temperaments are saturated in the breed due to the universality of their color (extreme piebald) and universality of the uric acid disease gene. There are no HUA Dalmatians that are free from these problem genes and the only saving grace in the breed is that genetics is not destiny.  Extreme piebald in Dalmatians leads to 3 in 10 dogs being deaf in at least one ear, so 7 in 10 escape the predisposition (one of, if not the, worst track record in dogs).  Almost all of them would avoid genetic deafness if they weren’t extreme piebald.  Not all traditional Dalmatians will form urate stones, and diet and water intake can be managed to lessen the risk, but the genes are still there and they will be passed on to the best of puppies.  The same is true of temperament issues caused by deficient melanin.  Does this preclude individual Dalmatians from being nice, well adjusted dogs? No. But it doesn’t help and like the deafness, what percentage of clinically dysfunctional dogs is ok, knowing that we could mitigate almost all that risk by doing away with the extreme piebald?

So even Dalmatians from the super-bestest most reputable show breeder who is just swell have the same genetic predisposition to disease as all other Dalmatians (save the LUA Dals which avoid the urate stone disease but are still just as deaf and just as dingy).  If the public needs a dog that is healthy, can hear, and has a sound temperament, they’d best look elsewhere as there are no Dalmatians that are built to those specs.  If you find a good Dalmatian, it’s only because it beat the odds which are stacked against them by vanity and the obsession with the extreme piebald coat.  It’s even possible that most Dalmatians clear these hurdles and are perfectly wonderful dogs, but that’s no thanks to the breeders who continue to deny that when they are breeding for perfect spots they are also breeding for multiple defects.

The massive marketing efforts of Disney and other companies to promote sales of their spotted merchandise certainly must have influenced backyard breeders into thinking they could make money selling real Dalmatian puppies. The constant flood of cute-spotted-puppy images into the public consciousness also encouraged many families to purchase Dalmatian puppies from pet stores and backyard breeders without any thought given to whether this was an appropriate breed of dog for their lifestyle.

A Dalmatian isn’t an appropriate breed for any lifestyle except masochists.  They’re dingy, they’re unhealthy, they’re defective, and they’re mean.  And when the public found this out they moved on.  It has nothing to do with the “quality” of the breeder who made them.  It’s also amazingly disingenuous to pretend that the FANCY of all groups doesn’t follow fads and breed on the demands of other people’s whims.  That’s the entire point of what they do.  They don’t improve dogs, they respond to fads and enshrine novelty at nearly any cost.

Is all this publicity bad? It has had and currently is having tragic results when uninformed buyers purchase Dalmatian puppies from backyard breeders, unethical breeders or pet stores. Tragic for the Dalmatians, that is, who have been abandoned or euthanized once they grew up and were no longer cute little puppies. For the 1996 release of the “101 Dalmatians” movie, the Dalmatian-owning community in conjunction with a very cooperative press, made a heroic effort to disseminate information to the public about Dalmatians in an effort to reduce impulse buying and indiscriminate breeding of Dalmatians. Despite these efforts, the news from rescue groups and humane societies has been that large numbers of Dalmatians are coming in to them.

The tragedy for Dalmatians is that they are a show creation, made in England and named with almost no actual evidence for an exotic land to the East to give them an exclusive name for their exclusive coat color.  This is no different than the Chinese Cresteds that aren’t Chinese.  By being a breed created around a rare coat color the founding pool was small and the deleterious uric acidosis gene permeated.  This is due to the fancy, not any backyard breeder or pet store.  And the deafness and personality problems are due to the extreme expression of albino-like white on the skin and coat of the dogs.  Again, this comes entirely linked with how ALL Dalmatians look and there is no separating it from their appearance.  No relation to backyard breeders or pet stores at all.

Three things need to happen to improve these statistics. First, the public must be educated about the Dalmatian breed and its needs and to purchase Dalmatians only from reputable breeders or rescue organizations.

Well, I’m doing my part to educate the public about the breed. Stay away.

If you’re not ok with 30% deafness and neurological issues, then there are no reputable breeders who can sell you a Dalmatian puppy that isn’t predisposed to that.  If you’re ok with deafness and muddled brains, but pissing sharp rocks is not ok, then you should only seek out a LUA Dalmatian breeder.

Second, backyard breeders must be put out of business, whether by regulations or by lack of business. The backyard breeders are the true villians in the Dalmatian tragedy, even worse than Cruella DeVil because they are literally responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Dalmatians.

Here’s where Terri Hasse shows us her membership card in AFART, the Authoritarian Fascist Asshole Redirection Team, where idiots deflect blame and responsibility by calling for governmental tyranny to enforce some draconian law on vague boogeymen while avoiding the simple truth that the problem could be solved by a handful of people in the breed club passing an updated breed standard that allowed new blood to be brought in to the breed to displace the disease-linked coat color and replace it with something that is more healthy if not as unique.

We don’t need police and district attorneys to solve the Dalmatian problem.  We need the fancy to pull its head out of its ass.

Third, more inducements to spay and neuter pets are needed to permanently remove the temptation to breed a pet. Reputable breeders should sell their pet quality puppies already spayed or neutered and no pet store should be permitted to sell intact puppies or kittens. If shelters and rescues are required to spay/neuter all animals before placement, why should pet stores, who are fronts for puppy mills, be permitted to sell intact animals?

Nothing like a non-sequitor call for castration of pets!  Again, the only problem Dalmatian genitals is that they are not evolved to pass slushy urine filled with jagged shards of urate crystals.  Note that the AKC had no issue what-so-ever cashing their checks for the 40,000+ Dalmatian puppies being produced at the height of the boom.  And nor were all those dogs magically produced by oops litters and unthinking people who didn’t go for spay-neuter.  They were produced by people who knew exactly what they were doing.

The Dalmatian overpopulation problem is going to be around for a few years more, unfortunately. Rescue organizations everywhere in North America are overwhelmed by the massive numbers of Dalmatians that need assistance. Please contact your nearest Dalmatian rescue and volunteer so that more Dalmatians can be saved. Even though we can’t save them all, it will make a difference to those we can save.

The hilarious part of this ill-conceived comment is that it was written just following the steepest decline in Dalmatian registrations ever.  The “overpopulation” problem wasn’t around for years to come, the bubble had already burst.  Whereas 5 years before this statement the AKC registered almost 45k Dalmatian puppies, they only registered fewer than 5k in 1999, and the numbers would drop to 1k in the following years.  The public rejected these dogs so swiftly that there are fewer Dalmatians registered now than there were in the 1970s and before.


And despite all the hand waving and wailing on my last Dalmatian post, it wasn’t any form of media (be it a Dalmatian movie, an evil NYT report, or a nasty blog written by a snarky Border Collie guy) that did the Dalmatian in. It was wide-exposure combined with their innate deficits.  Who wants dogs that “snap,” “bite,” and “aren’t good with kids?”  Not too many people.  And the same concerns ring true today.  Google compiles the most common search terms and uses this data to predict what you’re searching for, finishing your sentence for you with the most common next words.  When searching for “Dalmatians are” the responses are “born without spots,” “vicious,” “mean,” and “dumb.”  Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Dalmatian’s finer points.  When searching the query “Why are Dalmatians ” the most popular next words are “deaf,” “mean,” “aggressive,” and “fire dogs.”

The results from Canada are not reassuring:


From England:

Why are Dalmatians deaf
Why are Dalmatians mean
Why are Dalmatians aggressive
Why are Dalmatians fire dogs

Dalmatians are born without spots
Dalmatians are dumb
Dalmatians are mean
Dalmatians are vicious
Dalmatians are deaf

From Switzerland:

Dalmatians are born without spots
Dalmatians are dumb
Dalmatians are vicious
Dalmatians are mean

Why are dalmatians deaf
Why are dalmatians mean
Why are dalmatians fire dogs
Why are dalmatians aggressive

In German:
Dalmatiner sind dumm (dumb)
Dalmatiner sind Kampfhunde (fighting dogs)
Dalmatiner sind taub (deaf)

Warum sind Dalmatiner oft taub (often deaf)
Warum sind Dalmatiner taub (deaf)
Warum sind viele Dalmatiner taub (why are many Dals deaf)


From Mexico:

Los Dalamatas son sordos
Los Dalamatas son agresivos
Los Dalamatas son bravos
Los Dalamatas son peligrosos

Porque los Dalmatas son sordos
Porque los Dalmatas son perros bomberos
Porque los Dalmatas son bomberos
Porque los perros Dalmatas son bomberos

Dalmatians are deaf.
Dalmatians are aggressive.
Dalmatians are ferocious.
Dalmatians are dangerous.

Why dalmatians are deaf.
Why dalmatians are fire dogs.
Why dalmatians are firefighters.
Why dalmatian dogs are firefighters.

It’s clear that this breed needs a lot of work to improve its reputation AND to improve its reality, because that’s the really important thing.  What good is it to be thought to be good when the reality doesn’t support this.  It’s better to be a good breed.

Perhaps Dalmatians are doomed to small breed status because the odds that Dalmatian breeders will change their spots is as slim as them changing their dog’s spots.  And that’s the only thing that will improve the deafness and temperament issues save magical genetic engineering that might someday allow the ears and brain to be preserved while the coat color is maintained.  Who knows if that will ever be a reality.  Science might one day save the Dalmatian, but I doubt that the breeders who claim to love them so much ever will.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.