Dalmatian origin is a bit mysterious--and a little misleading as well. Dogs of this breed, historians believe, did not originate in Dalmatia, a region in the southern part of present-day Croatia, as the breed name suggests. Dalmatian history is in fact believed to be as old as civilization itself. White dogs with black spots appeared in ancient Egyptian cave paintings, and the breed--or at least a Dalmatian predecessor--is thought to have traveled with nomadic gypsy tribes in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Dalmatians' supposed Croatian origin likely stems from paintings found in that nation in the early 1600s, in which Dalmatians are portrayed. The official breed name was coined in 1790 by English author Thomas Bewick, whose book A General History of Quadrupeds described the "Dalmatian" as a medium-sized dog that was white with black spots.
Whatever the case, dogs of this breed have had a long, versatile working history. They've been utilized as hunters, shepherds, even circus performers--but the breed really grew in prominence in nineteenth-century England, when Dalmatians were known as excellent "coach dogs." Dalmatians would accompany horse-drawn carriages, clearing a path for them and guarding the horses when the carriages were not being used.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Dalmatians have a bit of a different association--with firehouses. These dogs have for decades served as unofficial mascots of American fire departments; the dogs would accompany firemen (first in the horse-drawn fire carriages, then on trucks) to burning buildings, aid in search and rescue, and become firehouse watchdogs during idle hours. The Dalmatian breed was further immortalized in British author Dodie Smith's children's book The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which is the basis for the 1961 Disney film of the same name.
Currently, the Dalmatian population is relatively small worldwide. These dogs are sometimes still used in work capacities, but mainly serve as family pets.