Dalmatian Spots - Everything You Need To Know

The spotted coat of a Dalmatian is unique and obviously the most eye-catching and appealing feature of the breed. Like snowflakes, all Dalmatian spots are different in their size, shape, number and even color. Breed standards describe the Dalmatians as having a pure white coat with dense spots, black or liver colored, which are round, well-defined and not running together. Spots should be even in distribution and around 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter, with extremities like the head and tail having proportionally smaller spots.

Why do Dalmatians have spots?

Dalmatian spots serve absolutely no evolutionary purpose! They just look awesome. Many wild animals such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, deer and even frogs have spots of varying types and shapes. Many of these animals have evolved over time to have spots that serve as an evolutionary adaptation to their environment. The dappled sunshine that reaches through the forest canopy is mimicked and camouflaged in having a spotted coat. Alternatively, spots can indicate to other animals to avoid those animals due to some level of danger (toxicity or an indication as being a predator). This is a curious thought in observing other dogs’ interactions with Dalmatians, as there are some dogs who do not like them, singling them out in social interactions or acting more defensive around them. Just as curious, Dalmatians seem to recognize something in their uniqueness and perhaps just a stereotype formulated by Dalmatian owners, but they seem to love meeting other Dalmatians too.

Unlike the natural evolutionary processes of wild animals, the Dalmatian is a domesticated species which has been manipulated over generations and selected for spots by humans as a desirable breed characteristic. There are only a few domesticated animals that have been bred and selected for aesthetic qualities of spotting like the Dalmatian, namely the Appaloosa horse. Pigs, cows, cats and fish can be white with black patches, which is a result of having the same piebald spotting gene variant, but none are so spectacular and perfectly circular as the spots of the Dalmatian. The spots of the Dalmatian are formed from the interaction of several genes, including the piebald, ticking and flecking loci, all of which contribute to creating this unique spotted coat.

Are Dalmatians born with spots?

Dalmatians are not born with their spots on their fur, they are born with pure white fur. Dalmatian spots start to appear on their fur at around ten days old. The number and position of spots are actually set from birth, their skin is pigmented black or liver in the positions where the spots will go on to form in the hairs that grow from these skin cells. Only a few days in a breeder can check to assess color, black or liver spotted with good confidence. Indeed, the majority of Dalmatian noses are wholly black or brown, so these spots on puppies (and those potentially found on the ears) give an early indication of the color of the Dalmatian before spots have even appeared on their fur. As young as four weeks old spots are very clearly defined and very easy to choose a pup based on the number of spots and positions they take up (some people like lots of spots, some like fewer).

There is, however, an exception to this developmental rule. Dalmatians that have patches are born with them already on the fur. Although an unfavorable outcome for Dalmatian breeders as a breed standard, being born with a patch does have its advantages: you can identify from birth the color the Dalmatian will be very easily (black or liver spotted, matching the patch) and patches are popular amongst the public, identifying from birth those that may be sold to a family home rather than kept for showing or breeding purposes.

Can Dalmatians get more spots?

Dalmatians have primary spots which are large and regularly distributed, developed on their skin from birth and growing into the fur soon after. As a puppy grows and gets bigger, so too do the individual spots getting bigger with their skin. Despite spots getting bigger and having some greater coverage, the majority of spots are set from birth and it is not common to grow many more spots throughout their adult life. It is easy to identify from the first few weeks how many spots a Dalmatian will have and choosing a pup can be based on these spots accordingly.

Secondary to these spots, Dalmatians can develop smaller spots all over their body throughout their lifetime. These spots, called ticks or flecks, are smaller and less common, almost like getting freckles. It is important to note, however, spending time out in the sun will not increase the number of spots on a Dalmatian and is dangerous for a predominantly white coated animal, risking sunburn. Secondary spots tend to start developing a bit later at around three months old and are most noticeable on extremities like the tail and legs. Flecks are generally considered an undesirable type of spotting as a breed standard, although are not necessarily a fault or a sign of breed impurity and are reasonably common in small numbers. As they reach old age, smaller spots, particularly around the muzzle, will turn to white. Some senior dogs also start having more flecks appearing across their body.

Especially after reaching full growth at around 2 years of age, it is not very common for Dalmatians to get any more spots over their lifetime. 

How many spots does a Dalmatian have?

An odd question but one that you will find is always asked when people meet your Dalmatian on the street: “Have you counted how many spots they have?” followed up with “I bet there are a hundred and one”. Well the answer to this if you are a Dalmatian owner is that there is no Dalmatian willing to sit still long enough for a count to occur. The more direct answer is simply that no two Dalmatians are the same, some have few spots and some have many spots. As long as the spots are evenly distributed around the body, it seems that an average of anywhere between 50 and 250 spots is the going rate.

What color Dalmatians can you get?

The breed standard only recognizes two different colors in Dalmatians, which are black and liver (chocolate brown) spots. There are a few more colors, although these colors are rare, being caused by recessive color genes and considered a fault in the breed standard.

Tri-Color: Dalmatians can have a tri-color spot pattern, creating lighter colored spots around the muzzle and up the inner side of the legs. Black spotted Dalmatians have a lighter brown tri-color spotting and liver spotted Dalmatians have a lemon/orange tri-color spotting. Tri-color spotting in liver Dalmatians is not as noticeable as in the black spotted. Pigment and shades of tri-colored spots vary depending on the dog displaying the trait and the gene type inherited.

Lemon spotted: Dalmatians can have yellow spots all over their body, which are an orange-lemon type color. Unlike the tri-color, lemon spotted Dalmatians have this one standard spot color throughout all the spots on their body. It is also considered a flaw in breed color, not being recognized alongside black and liver as a standard Dalmatian color. It is the result of having two copies of a recessive pigmentation gene.

Blue spotted: Much less common than even the lemon spotted, there are Dalmatians that feature blue-grey spots. It is again not considered a part of the breed standard and not really sought after as a rare coloring either. It is the result of another recessive copy of a gene, this time involving a dilution factor of the color pigmentation, resulting in a dilute blue color.

Pure white: Dalmatians with no spots are very rare, but still possible in the breed. Unlike other odd color variations that are frowned upon for showing reasons, a pure white animal like this is a true genetic fault, which should not be selected for in maintaining the Dalmatian breed. Pure white Dalmatians can be due to a random event of just ‘very few spots’ or again another associated recessive pigmentation gene, in which case they will very likely have blue eyes and be completely deaf in both ears. Be careful to ask the right questions and ensure testing has been completed on blue eyed or particularly white Dalmatians, for this reason.