Dalmatians are one of the most recognizable dog breeds.
Their white coats with black spots are quite distinctive. Since Disney released the animated version of “101 Dalmatians” in 1961, most people know Dalmatians by name. They were a well-known breed even before that, but were known as “firehouse dogs,” “fire station dogs,” or simply “fire dogs.”
It’s Because of Horses, Not Fires
Dalmatians have been associated with fire stations almost as long as there have been organized fire departments. Though they’re a personable and loyal dog, the association was not because of the bond between man and dog, but because of the bond between Dalmatians and horses.
Dalmatians seem to have an unusual bond with horses. They’re a muscular dog that enjoys a lot of physical activity. They have the strength and endurance to run alongside horses for long journeys without tiring. But what makes them outstanding as a horse companion is the calming influence they have on horses.
As far back as the 18th century (possibly even earlier), carriage owners recognized the bond between Dalmatians and horses. The Dalmatians would run alongside the horses, keeping other dogs from bothering the horses and helping to keep the horses from getting spooked. At night, the dogs would sleep in the stables with the horses, not only keeping the horses calm, but also protecting them from predators and thieves.
Horses Pulled the First Fire Engines, and Dalmatians Helped
When fire departments started using horses to pull their equipment, Dalmatians came along to help the horses. However, the dogs proved their worth in a variety of other ways.
As soon as the fire bell sounded, the Dalmatians would rouse the horses. The dogs would then run out into the street barking to clear the street and warn passersby the fire engine was on its way.
When the horses got out on the street, the dogs would run along beside them, keeping other dogs and people at bay while calming the horses. Horses have an inherent fear of fire; the Dalmatians’ presence made it possible for the driver of the pumper wagon to get the pumper close enough to the fire to be effective.
It Was a Team Effort
Often more than one Dalmatian would be involved. One dog would keep the horses calm while another protected the fire equipment. Dalmatians don’t fall into the same category of guard dog as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Doberman Pinschers, but they can be formidable opponents if challenged.
The horses eventually became obsolete as steam and gas-powered engines became the norm. But the tradition of a Dalmatian in the fire station was slower to die out. The dogs performed some necessary duties: they guarded the fire equipment, both while at the station and on the scene of the fire; they also rats out of the fire stations; and they were great companions for the firefighters in between being called to action. While the Dalmatian is mostly a mascot nowadays, you might still see one of these amazing canines roaming a fire station.
Dalmatians Aren’t for Everybody
A word of warning in case you’re thinking of getting a Dalmatian as a pet; yes, they have wonderful qualities (strong, loyal, good protectors, and loving to their families), but they are a very active dog. A Dalmatian will get bored if he isn’t exercised enough—and a bored dog can be a destructive dog.
So the next time you see a Dalmatian, remember all the help his breed has been to humans in fighting fires. He’s more than just a pretty, spotted coat.