Saturday, 19 February 2022

The Mysterious Origins of the Dalmatian Dog

February 19, 2022 - Is the Dalmatian dog actually from Dalmatia? Inside the history of the spotted black-and-white creature.

We’re all familiar with the unique breed that is the Dalmatian dog, whether it's thanks to a certain popular Disney film, or the countless fabric designs inspired by that distinctive polka-dot pattern. Based on its name, one would believe that the dog originates from the Dalmatian coast. And for Croatians, this would be an honour to have such a beloved dog breed associated with our country. 

But actually, their supposed origins trace as far back to Ancient Egypt. King Cheops, who built the Great Pyramid, was said to have owned one in 3700 BC. Greek frescos from 2,000 years later were seen to depict black- and brown-spotted dogs. From both of these ancient sources, some canine historians point the origins of the Dalmatian to ancient breeding between a Cretan hound (originating from the Greek Island), and a White Antelope dog, resulting in a swift, white dog that hunted deer and ran with horses. In fact, the breed’s name is said to be a version of “Damachien”, a name that blends the Latin term for fallow deer (“dama”) and the French word for dog (“chien”). While some say it is an Egyptian breed, others associate it with being French, Scandinavian, or Italian. Confusing, right? 

Adding to the mystery, the Dalmatian was first determined as a breed in England, as they were brought there from Europe with the purpose of being used as a carriage dog - thanks to their agile and athletic appearance, their natural strength, and their affinity for horses. They were also used as guard dogs, running alongside carriages to serve as protectors, and in the military to attack mounted units, in which they were respected for their battle efficiency. 

These dogs were also a favourite companion of firefighters. Running alongside the horses that pulled their water pumps, they acted like living sirens, barking ahead of the firemen approaching the site, ensuring bystanders kept out of the way. In the United States, the use of Dalmatians in the fire department was especially popular. Even after the horses were soon replaced by shiny red engines, the dogs continued to have a place of honour in the firehouse. 

And, in the spirit of the breed’s playful nature, Dalmatians were circus dogs. Their ability to perform tricks and amuse the audience is owed to their retentive memory, which paired with their natural charisma and distinctive appearance made them natural performers and a hit with the audience. Dalmatians are known for their seemingly endless energy, which may have them appear as goofy as the golden retriever, or similar family dog breeds. But on the contrary, they are quite smart which paired with their strong memory is super helpful when it comes to training.

But the appearance that made them most popular was 101 Dalmatians, the beloved Disney film which helped portray them as a loveable companion and a family dog, which led to a sudden rise of families getting the breed. Loyal and good with children, Dalmatians are highly energetic, playful, and sensitive dogs, to the point where their energy levels may be too high for very small children. As friendly as they may be, their high energy has Dalmatians needing plenty of exercise and activities, otherwise, they are prone to weight gain, anxiety, and even behaviour problems including irritability and aggressiveness (especially with other dogs) as they also tend to bark excessively. And unfortunately, the fad had a side effect of irresponsible breeding and inappropriate adoption, as many were unprepared to handle their high energy. 

But back to its name and supposed origins. Dalmatians are believed to be named after the coastal area of Croatia. They are a popular symbol in Dalmatia; when visiting the region, one can buy souvenirs such as plush toy Dalmatians at any local gift shop. Aside from the theories of the breed being from Egypt, Greece, or France, it could also have come from ​​Roman Illyrian Dalmatia (the northwestern part along the Adriatic Sea) from white hounds with black or brown markings. 

In fact, the first written document about the Dalmatian dog comes from the archives of the Diocese of Đakovo in eastern Croatia, where the Bishop of Đakovo Petar Horvat described the state of the economy in 1374, in which he covered the different livestock including the dogs bred in the area. Among these, the Dalmatian dog is mentioned as “hunting dogs 4 to 5 palms tall (60 to 75 cm), with short white hairs and black round spots on various parts of the body. These freckles have a diameter of about 1 to 2 fingers. That is why it is called “Dalmatian dog” (Canis Dalmaticus).”

Whatever the true history may be, it’s no secret that the region of Dalmatia prides itself on the breed. Everyone likes dogs, so why not use that as a marketing opportunity? In fact, the city of Zadar (located in the very heart of Dalmatia) planned in 2018 to launch the first pedestrian crossing with dots instead of tracks. Led by entrepreneur and tourist guide Sandra Babac, the “Zebra Dalmatinka” came from the need to place a pedestrian crossing as a shortcut between the famous Zadar Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun monuments, and as an opportunity to promote the connection between Dalmatia and the Dalmatian dog, which according to Babac is not used enough to market its supposed country of origin in the world. There have since not been any known updates to this story, but we can only imagine how iconic the attraction could be, and what a brilliant tribute it would make to the four-legged enigma.

For more, check out Made in Croatia.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Old Painting Confirms Dalmatian Breed is Croatian Dog

May the 26th, 2021 - The beloved Dalmatian breed is popular all over the world, having been the star of famous films and regularly appearing as a fire house dog in the USA. Despite its name pointing directly to its place of origin, many still don't realise that Croatia's Dalmatian coast is the origin of this much loved dog breed. One Croatian vicar from Makarska believes he has substantial proof that the spotty, clownish and friendly Dalmatian truly did originate on these shores.

As Morski/HTV/Dnevnik/Ivica Djuzel writes, in beautiful little Zaostrog in Central Dalmatia, they decided to further brand their rich cultural heritage. In the monastery of St. Mary, where the great folk poet Andrija Kacic Miosic spent part of his creative life, hangs a painting with the motif of the last supper from the 18th century. On the floor lies a dog which closely resembles the Dalmatian breed as we know it today. To most, this is proof that the famous Dalmatian breed is definitely an autochthonous Croatian breed.

Various treasures have been kept in the monastery of St. Mary in Zaostrog for centuries, and the great Fr. Andrija Kacic Miosic also created works there. For a long time, these invaluable pictures were hidden away from the public and prying eyes. Then the media got involved in the saga.

''One night someone rings the bell. I come down, to find two young Japanese people saying they'd like to see a picture. I asked them if they wanted to see the whole convent. They replied that they were only interested in the picture,'' Fr. Branko Brnas, the vicar of the Franciscan monastery, begins when in conversation with HRT.

Inside hangs the aforementioned painting with the motif of the last supper from the 18th century, proof is that the famous Dalmatian breed is an autochthonous Croatian breed. Oddly enough, it took a long time to admit that.

The locals then decided to roll up their sleeves and reveal this priceless piece of cultural treasure to tourists and, in accordance with the possibilities, brand the whole place in black and white to resemble this four-legged, fetch-playing global ambassador of Dalmatia. They are aware of the wild popularity of the Dalmatian breed around the world, and they started this branding back last summer.

''We've now launched a year-round project called ''Dalmatian Dog Image In House Village’'. We're continuing with our ''Black and White'' event during the summer in accordance with the epidemiological situation and we want to open the visitor centre after this season,'' announced Bozena Delas.

Local authorities will apply for financial support from available European Union (EU) funds, and local artists and designers also joined in. The bus stops were painted to look like the Dalmatian breed's unusual coat first. The ''Dalmatinac'' (Croatian for Dalmatian) sign will be designed in cooperation with the Faculty of Graphic Arts in Zagreb. The director of the Gradac Tourist Board, Davor Andrijasevic, believes that the Dalmatian's ties to its place of origin are often wrongly forgotten about.

In the municipalities of Gradac and Zaostrog, where 800 thousand overnight stays are realised, they have their own vision of tourist development. The strange and often monotonous days of the pandemic-dominated era awakened some creativity. Now, the first guests have begun to return, with 20 percent better results are expected this summer than last year.

For more, follow Made in Croatia.