Have you ever wondered Why Dalmatians are the Traditional Firehouse Dogs? The development of this tradition is quite interesting, and in the USA has some of its roots in the “Old West” stagecoach days. However, the history of the breed goes back much further, possibly dating back to the days of the ancient Egyptians since some heiroglyphs and engravings have been found that look like Dalmatians. The breed apparently got its name from the Dalmatian coast area of Croatia. An article about their history and this tradition was written in the May/June 1992 issue of Reminisce Magazine, and is reprinted on the Toledo Firefighters Museum website, ToledoFireMuseum.com. Here are some interesting excerpts from the article that explain Why Dalmatians are the Traditional Firehouse Dogs and how this tradition began:
…Why do Dalmations and firehouses go together like smoke and fire? The answer is interesting, and one you’ll likely recall every time you see the Dalmation/firehouse combo from now on.
It all began in the days of stagecoaches. Horse theft was so common back then that many stagecoach drivers strung a hammock between two stalls at night, then slept behind their horses to guard against thieves.
But, if the driver owned a Dalmatian, he could sleep in the house or the stagecoach hotel. Why? Because it was observed that Dalmatians formed an amazingly tight bond with horses. When they became close as with a team, no stranger would dare lay a hand on them.
Once the knowledge of this trait spread, more coach drivers went to great lengths to get Dalmatians to watch their teams. In fact, this practice became so common that Dalmatians were first called “coach dogs”. They were used by coach drivers centuries ago in England, Scotland and Wales.
Horse’s Best Friend?
“Dalmatians have always gotten along well with horses,” says Esmeralda Treen of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a recognized authority on the breed. “Horses are gregarious and feel the need for company. You can’t leave them alone too long. Dalmatians take to horses and become ‘companions’. Back in the stagecoach days, the ‘Dals’ would run alongside the coaches, or under the rear axle of the moving coach. They’d keep up with the team as far as it ran, sometimes over 20 or 30 miles a day.
“When the coaches reached the inn, the coachman left the dog to guard the team as well as luggage in the coach,” Esmeralda explains. “IF the coachman stayed to guard, a robber would sometimes distract him in conversation while others pilfered the goods. They couldn’t pull that ruse on the Dal, since they’re very alert dogs.”
When horse numbers grew here in the New World, the number of Dalmatians grew with it for the same reason they were popular in the Old Country. And, since every firehouse back then had a set of fast horses to pull the pumper wagon, it became common for each group of firemen to keep a Dalmatian.
Again, the spotted dogs not only guarded the firehouse horses, they kept them company during their long, boring waits between fires. And, when they took off for a fire, the dog would run alongside the pumper.
The horses are gone from the fire stations today, but the Dalmatians aren’t. The tradition has been carried on, and it may be as much for the looks and appeal of these beautiful dogs as it is for their nostalgic tie to yesteryear….
There is more in the article concerning facts and myths about Dalmatians — one myth dispelled is that they are all deaf, and can therefore tolerate the sirens. There was a fireman in my church in a town I used to live in who said their firehouse’s Dalmatian would come running at just the whisper of his name. And he also said that the dog “owned the station”, but that’s another story. Read the complete magazine story here for more information about Why Dalmatians are the Traditional Firehouse Dogs.
Have you ever heard of the apparent instinctive bonding Dalmatians have with horses, or seen it first-hand? If so, share with our readers below.