Most people can grasp a decent mental image when someone refers to dalmatians, often due to movies, TV shows, or the stereotyped image of them being firedogs. But not too many people know the answer to the question, “Why are Dalmatians fire dogs?”
Dalmatians have a good track record as carriage and guard dogs and they have a calming effect on horses. They clear paths and guide horses and firefighters quickly to the fire. While the firefighters are extinguishing the fire, the dogs keep the horses calm and guard whatever is in the carriage.
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What is a Dalmatian?
Dalmatians are medium-sized work dogs that have been serving people in one way or another for over 600 years. There’s nothing concrete to tell us their exact origin, but due to an Italian painting that exhibits the breed which dates back to the 1300s, it is assumed they had originated in Italy, more specifically Dalmatian.
What Does a Firehouse Dog Do?
Back in the horse-drawn carriage days, Dalmatians would run alongside or in between coaches carrying the firehouse equipment while in transit to a location. They had proven to have a calming effect on the horses, that would make them more willing to go to places that they’d otherwise resist traversing.
The dogs would stay at a scene for as long as it took to clear up the situation. While at the scene, they would keep watch over the fire equipment, as well as keep an eye on the horses, as they were often strong and expensive breeds- very attractive to thieves.
When spending their hours at the firehouse, they would most often be lounging around with the horses, keeping them at ease and making sure nothing happens to them or anyone else at the station.
Why are Dalmatians and Horses Compatible?
Dalmatians and horses have coexisted while working together for hundreds of years. The rich folks of old would have several Dalmatians running alongside their expensive horses and carriages for security purposes as well as a show of prominence.
This extended relationship has created a bond that isn’t necessarily understood but is demonstrable. Some records go back for hundreds of years that hunters and warriors would have Dalmatians accompanying them almost exclusively for the sake of the horses.
Are Dalmatians Still Used as Fire Dogs?
These days the Dalmatian is more of a symbol or a mascot for fire departments rather than working members of the team. However, there are still a few places that take them along for the ride (inside the truck rather than running alongside it) and have them trained to guard the equipment.
In New York City, there are still a few departments that keep the dogs around for the aforementioned reasons, as well as killing rats and mice that might try to intrude inside the buildings or on the grounds.
Are there Actually Dalmatians at Fire Stations?
As we brushed upon above, there are very few Dalmatians in the fire service stations hanging around these days. However, it wasn’t too long ago that they populated more stations than not.
Everything changes through time, but unfortunately, the high energy requirements of the breed have not. This makes it more difficult for fire station occupants to keep the dog well-occupied and exercised.
Without having to take care of horses anymore, or to guard them against theft as was once the case, the literal need for them declined as the 1900s rolled through. Better and more complex security measures to safeguard equipment were invented as well.
Both of the major responsibilities that the Dalmatian had under control have been replaced, rendering its skillset obsolete. This is a problem that most working dogs have run into as technology (plus bigger and better equipment) has been invented.
This is why the breed has become more of a symbol rather than a literal presence within an overwhelming majority of fire stations worldwide.
Why are Firehouse Dogs Banned in Chicago?
Speaking of firehouse dogs, did you know that some cities take in strays to keep around the station?
Though one instantly assumes that a Dalmatian would wind up being found lounging around the garages or halls of a fire station, it isn’t always the case. In fact, Chicago was one of the cities where strays would be taken in to become firehouse dogs.
The word “was” is there on purpose, because firehouse dogs have been banned in the city of Chicago since April of 2021.
Paramedics and firefighters often used these dogs as a means to provide some emotional comfort, after experiencing harrowing things throughout the day. But the city had decided to remove all dogs from firehouses, due to one dog getting loose from a station, and fatally attacking a family dog being walked nearby.
Either firefighters or paramedics would often care for these dogs, taking them to vets, getting them neutered, fed, trained, etc… Eventually, the lucky dog would wind up finding a forever home with one of the workers, then another would be taken in.
In the case of the attack, an overhead door was left open due to being repaired, and allowed the firehouse dog to roam freely outside of the building. Due to this instance, all dogs were to be removed from and kept out of the 96 firehouses within the district.
The Dalmatian fire dog has a rich and long history that it can be proud of. Though they’ve dived popularity, they are still the first image that comes to one’s mind when thinking of a firehouse-based dog no matter where you’re from.
Why Do Dalmatians have a Bad Reputation? ( Are They Mean? )
In many ways, the Dalmatian has wrongfully earned a bad reputation for itself. They have been considered to be aggressive toward people, but many enthusiasts argue this point.
Any dog that doesn’t receive the proper types of care that are typical or specifically necessary for a breed, can wind up being a problem. Dalmatians have extreme exercise needs, that seems to be without exhaustion.
Most of the time their needs don’t get met in this regard, and become prone to frustration, or destructive behavior due to pent-up energy or boredom.
Often, working dogs that are treated as companion dogs, yard dogs, or in any fashion that doesn’t work the dog’s strengths, problems can occur. When you consider what the Dalmatian has done for work for around 600 years or so, it’s easier to understand how little exercise these dogs are getting compared to what they can handle or require.
Working dogs should always be given ample opportunity to do what their instincts are telling them to do in a controlled and safe manner. It doesn’t matter what the breed might be, a working dog who can exhibit its strengths will be all the happier for it and generally better behaved.
Working dogs are not for everyone, and the Dalmatian is no exception. In fact, due to the high exercise requirements, they’ve become rather rare over the years.
Also, unfortunately, they are the victims of poor breeding practices that have resulted in Dalmatians being born suffering from deafness for no explainable reason- other than genetic problems from poor breeding.
So, buyer beware when looking to pick up a Dalmatian pup. Ensure first that the pup can respond to vocal commands of any kind, or responsive to finger-snapping- whatever you’d think would grab its attention audibly.