I just about fall out of my chair when I turn on the television one evening and happen to catch a feature on the local news about "Dangerous Dogs." Imagine my surprise when a list of the country's ten most dangerous dogs appears on the screen and right up there with those notorious Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers and Chows was the one dog I least expected to find: a Dalmatian. I look at my own Dalmatian sprawled out on a nearby bed with his pink spotted belly soaking up some late afternoon sun. Could this really be number eight on the "Dangerous Dog" list, ranked even more fearsome than the black tongued and curly tailed Chow?
Maybe those lovable Dalmatian puppies in 101 Dalmatians have finally been replaced in the public's perception by the ill-mannered and snarling Dalmatian we saw in The Truman Show. I still find it hard to believe that any Dalmatian is really a dangerous animal though. I realize that all animals can become dangerous when they aren't treated with love and respect. Any animal can become overly territorial and show its teeth when it is nervous and doesn't know what is expected of it. The Dalmatian is probably no different than other dogs in this regard.
Are Dalmatians dangerous though? I guess it depends. They've certainly got a dangerous tail. If you have a Dalmatian in the house, you put your best china on the coffee table at your own peril. Just last week, Spot's energetic tail wagging knocked an alarm clock off a low bedside table and broke it. Over the years, the same tail has made rubble out an assortment of coffee cups, dinner plates, bud vases, china figurines and other objects foolishly left within tail striking distance. The tail always wins too, so just resign yourself to picking up the pieces. Maybe Dalmatians need a big yellow warning sign near their tail similar to those found near aircraft propellers and jet engines. I frequently have to remind small children to stand clear of my dog's tail, knowing that if they don't, they will be whacked senseless.
The tail isn't the only end of a Dalmatian that's dangerous though. You've got to watch out for the other end as well. A well-socialized Dalmatian won't bite the hand that feeds it, but it will bite holes in your socks, your bathtowels and your underwear. It doesn't matter what kind of chew toy you bring home, nothing apparently brings the satisfaction of biting a big hole in a brand new sock. Of course Dalmatian puppies will chew on anything, including the legs of every chair in your house, but luckily their taste for oak and maple furniture subsides after a few years.
Dalmatians are one of the few breeds smart enough to lie. They quickly learn to fake a low pitched 'danger in the back yard' bark whenever you're on an important phone call and really need them to be quiet. If you reward a Dalmatian for barking whenever strangers appear in the yard, it will quickly learn to mimic this distinctive warning bark whenever it is hungry and wants something tasty out of the refrigerator. I'm always surprised when I hear someone tell me that their Dalmatian isn't very smart. I think people often get intelligence and obedience confused. Dalmatians are smart, but it's their stubborn streak that gets remembered. When other dogs are learning to heel and lie still at their master's feet, the inquisitive and irrepressible Dalmatian is learning how to get longer walks in the park, tastier food in his bowl and a more comfortable place to sleep. Sometimes when I watch Spot sitting in his favorite chair, I see this look in his eye that tells me he is once again contemplating the physics of locking and unlocking doors or perhaps mentally memorizing the location of every dead fish in the lakeside park near our house.
My dog understands exactly what door locks are. I see this gleam in his eye whenever the housekeys are inadvertently left at dog level. He'll grab the keys in his teeth and gleefully run around the house with them, knowing that he now has possession the most powerful object in the universe. These strange leather encased metal objects can open doors to the outside and even make cars start. He doesn't know quite what to do with the keys yet, but he does understand their significance.
I guess a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Dogs usually know just enough to get themselves in trouble. A Dalmatian who has been continually mistreated just might decide to show its teeth to the next stranger who comes too close. A Dalmatian who craves stimulation and human contact just might become bored enough to tear up the flower bed and dig a hole under your fence when you decide to leave him alone for the day in your yard. You certainly can't blame a Dalmatian for its independent and stubborn nature. They just think they deserve a lot of attention. When you give them the attention they deserve, their unique independent nature can become one of their most charming personality traits.
Dalmatians love to run as fast as they can. They're going to tug at their leash if you're walking too slow. You can take them to obedience class over and over again, but they're never going to understand why you want to walk so slow. Don't expect them to bring you the paper or fetch your slippers either. They'd rather eat the paper and run around the house with your slippers. I laughed out loud when I discovered I wasn't the only Dalmatian owner who had to put lids on all the trash cans in the house. These dogs have a special fondness for paper, used chewing gum and other things that typically wind up in the trash.
They're not mean though. Respect a Dalmatian's independent nature and you'll find them a continual source of amusement and companionship. If you spot a dangerous Dalmatian, look a little further and you'll probably find an even more dangerous owner. Most problem dogs have very problematic owners. They try to train their dog to be viscous and then act surprised when it turns on them instead. They banish their dog to a doghouse in the back yard and then act surprised when it develops separation anxiety and other behavior problems. You kind of reap what you sow when it comes to owning a dog.
Spot has a new nickname now. When he starts wagging
his tail too vigorously, we tell our friends "Watch out, he's a dangerous
dog." When he's running around the house with a sock out of the laundry
hamper in his mouth, we say "There goes a dangerous dog." Maybe Spot
has led a charmed life. He really hasn't been given much reason to show
his teeth over the years. That's the way it should be though. I may
be wrong, but I suspect that if I'd gotten one of those other dangerous
breeds on the list instead of a Dalmatian, it would be sprawled out
the bed with its pink belly soaking up the afternoon sun, just like
Spot is now. Dogs are dogs. It's the people who own them who are the
If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Spot find the one thing it really needs: a home.
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