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The Catahoula Leopard Dog, an American Original

By Ruthie Bently

The Catahoula Leopard Dog originated in northern Louisiana near the area of the Catahoula Lake. Catahoula is a Choctaw Indian word that means “sacred lake.” The “Leopard” in this breed’s name comes from the spots on the dog’s coat. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is known by other names including Catahoula Cur, Catahoula Hog Dog, Catahoula Hound and Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. It was officially named Louisiana’s state dog in 1979 due to its importance to the history of Catahoula Parish. While the Catahoula is not yet able to compete in American Kennel Club confirmation events, it has been designated a member of the Herding Group and has been recorded in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service since 1996.

Early settlers to Louisiana found wild boar and an indigenous Indian dog species. It is hard to prove that the Native Americans in the area had Catahoulas when the first European settlers arrived. During the 1539 expedition of Hemando de Soto, the Spanish explorer and his clerks wrote that the native Indian’s dog looked like a wolf but barked instead of howled. Tales state that the war dogs de Soto brought (bloodhounds, greyhounds and mastiffs) were bred with the native dogs to provide a new breed for the Native Americans. These tales have been passed down from generations of settlers that settled in north central Louisiana, and it is thought that the Catahoula Leopard Dog of today is the descendant of these dogs.

The Catahoula has had its brush with fame throughout our country’s history. According to one report, Jim Bowie and his brother Resin had two Catahoulas as children, and slept with them at their feet. Early in the 1900’s Teddy Roosevelt used them when hunting. There is an annual competition named Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials named for Earl K. Long, a Louisiana governor who collected Catahoulas because of his interest in the breed. The Centenary College of Louisiana voted to make the Catahoula its school mascot in 2007.
An adult Catahoula Leopard Dog weighs between 55 to 80 pounds. The adult male Catahoula is between 22 and 26 inches high at the wither, and the female is between 20 to 24 inches. An adult dog’s weight should be in balance with their height. They are considered mature at two years old. Acceptable breed colors are black, blue, blue merle, brindle, brindle, chocolate, red, red merle, white merle, yellow and yellow merle. Their life expectancy is between twelve and thirteen years. Health issues can include deafness and hip dysplasia, eye problems and cancer in older dogs.

A Catahoula needs minimal bathing unless they roll into something and get dirty. It is a short-coated dog and a weekly brushing is generally enough. They shed constantly, and shedding can be light to average. The exception to this is if the dog is stressed or ill at ease, they will shed more conspicuously when being petted. 

Catahoula Leopard Dogs need companionship, attention and exercise. Good forms of exercise are hiking, running or jogging. If they don’t get adequate exercise, Catahoulas may become destructive diggers or chewers. If not given enough attention and appropriate exercise to its energy level, they will not do well in an apartment. Leaving them alone or tying them up outside can make them aggressive or overly shy. They can live outdoors but need a well insulated doghouse and should be brought inside during very cold weather, due to their single coat.

A Catahoula Leopard Dog needs a strong owner that understands pack hierarchy and can be the dominant leader of the family pack while enforcing the dog’s place in it. They are territorial, independent and protective of their pack members. It is important to socialize this breed at an early age. Catahoulas are affectionate with family members and people they know, but are reserved with all strangers and need to be allowed to approach and smell people they meet.

The Catahoula is a versatile dog. They are good at agility and do well with a job. They’re used for hunting and herding, have been used for sled dog racing in Canada, and are used in Venezuela to herd wild Brahman cattle on the extensive ranches. It is their instinct for working wild herds that makes them so valuable to breeders who require working dogs, and it is this same instinct that proves the purity in a true Catahoula Leopard Dog.

Do you love participating in outdoor activities with a dog, have a strong personality and enjoy a challenge? This American original might be the dog for you.

Photo by Leslie Bickel

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