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Telling the difference may be confusing as the word “coach” and “carriage” are interchangeable when describing that wooden structure — not to be confused with a chariot — pulled by horses to carry people. However, my go-to dictionary Merriam-Webster has a variety of definitions. Before coach meant team coach, flying in coach or traveling in a railroad coach, its original definition was “a large usually closed four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage having doors in the sides and an elevated seat in front for the driver.”
A carriage by comparison was first defined as “a large vehicle with four wheels that is pulled by a horse and that carries people.” After that, carriages pulled by horses carried guns in war and eventually were pushed by mothers or nannies containing babies.
According to The New Complete Dog Book (American Kennel Club, I-5, 2015), “In the mid-1800s, the term coach dog emerged after Dalmatians demonstrated an affinity for horses and for accompanying horse-drawn carriages. Coachmen would depend on the dog to keep the horses calm and to guard their rigs when they were away. The breed also played this role with fire apparatus, earning the nickname ‘Firehouse Dog.’ The Dalmatian was well-suited for this job, with his natural endurance and guarding abilities.”
The name of the breed, hails from Dalmatia, on the Adriatic coast. These athletic, intelligent, and adaptable dogs are known for their great endurance for running long distances. And it is the breed’s distinctive spots, either black or liver on a white coat, that are linked to their identification as coach dogs. In my mind the Dalmatian is the definitive “coach dog” among breeds. The Dalmatian Club of America (thedca.org) hosts annual road trials to test Dalmatians ability and offer Road Dog Champion titles.
The event is described as such: A Dalmatian Road Trial is a performance event designed to evaluate the Dalmatian’s ability to “coach,” or follow the horses. Exhibitors compete as handler on horseback or in a horse-drawn cart or carriage, with dog(s) off leash. The Dalmatian Standard of the American Kennel Club states that the Dalmatian “should be capable of great endurance, combined with a fair amount of speed,” qualities essential to his successful use as a horse/rider and horse/coach escort. The purpose of a road trial is to demonstrate the use of purebred Dalmatians as a companion of man in the role that they have been bred to perform. So while a coach is a carriage, it is also the Dalmatian’s ability to follow the horses on the road as an escort.
So what’s a carriage dog? Certainly Dalmatians have alternately been called carriage dogs, but they are not judged on their ability to carriage, but to coach. In my opinion, a carriage dog is one that rides with the driver or passenger in a carriage (or coach) during formal driving competitions. Compare this to a working coach dog on the ground, following the carriage and historically trained to protect it and keep the horse company.
According to the American Driving Society (americandrivingsociety.org) rules: ADS neither encourages nor discourages dogs accompanying an entry. Unless allowed by class rules, dogs are not allowed to run alongside, behind, or under the vehicle during competition. In no circumstances may a dog be tied or in any way attached to the vehicle.
The allowable Carriage Dog Class rules state, “Judged primarily on suitability of the dog to serve as a companion (maximum one dog per vehicle). To be judged both ways in the arena at a walk, slow trot, and working trot. The dog should be standing, lying down, or seated on the vehicle or should run behind, beside, or at the axle of the vehicle.” In addition judging should be based on “60 percent suitability of the dog to serve as a companion.”
So there you have it. Dalmatians are the ultimate coach dog, a working dog who “coach” behind a horse whether mounted or with a carriage. A carriage dog’s main job is to be your companion in the carriage, not follow you and your horse-drawn carriage down on the road. Although, if you wanted to train any breed or mixed-breed dog to do this function, that is certainly allowable under the ADS rules and can be a lot of fun!
Lisa Peterson — lifelong equestrian, dog show judge and award-winning podcaster, communications professional and journalist — writes about horses, hounds and history at lisaunleashed.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.