Sweet and sociable, the American leopard hound has a long, if slightly vague, history as one of the United States' oldest treeing dog breeds. Also known as the leopard cur, American leopard, and American leopard cur, this rare breed has long been enlisted to track and hunt all kinds of tree-climbing game from squirrels to bears. But her high energy levels and strong hunting instincts don't get in the way of her ability to be a loving and affectionate family dog—especially if there are children to play with.
The leopard hound's dense double coat comes in nine different colors and a variety of markings. And while this fur is a cinch to groom, it's also incredibly effective at protecting her while she's trekking through the bush in all kinds of weather. She's also got some remarkably tough feet, which makes her all the better for chasing game across varied terrain.
If variety is the spice of life, the American leopard hound sure likes it hot! The breed typically ranges from 45–70 pounds, but it's not uncommon to find leopard hounds who are smaller or larger. Their low-maintenance double coat feels a little rough on the outside with a fine, wooly undercoat, and it comes in nine official colors, ranging from yellow to red to black.
Around 60 percent of leopards are solid colors, but their fur can also come with cool markings, like white points, brindle, and merle. Her round, wide-set eyes are usually some shade of yellow or brown, but you might also spy an American leopard hound with one—or even two—blue eyes. Her naturally low-set tail can come in any length, and some working dogs may also have their tails docked (though this practice is controversial).
All of that is to say that you might find it a little tricky to identify a leopard by sight. And because they're fairly rare and often live in rural areas, you're probably not all that likely to run into one while out for a stroll.
If you do see a pup that looks like an American leopard hound, there's a good chance she's actually a Catahoula leopard dog. And while they have some similarities (like the possibility of a spotted coat), there are important differences between the American leopard hound vs. Catahoula leopard dog. Catahoulas, the larger of the two, are in the herding group, while American leopard hounds are, well, hounds. American leopard hounds also typically get along more easily with other dogs and new people but may have a higher prey drive than their Catahoula counterparts.
The American leopard hound temperament is one of the things her fans love most about her. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find another treeing dog more eager to please her owners.
"The American leopard hound is affectionate, very intelligent, and they want to be involved with whatever their human is doing," says Rae Owen, a member and moderator of the American Leopard Hound Association. But, she says, due to their watchful and wary instincts, socializing is a must and consistent training is needed. Fortunately, this brainy breed is quick to learn cues with reward-based training.
The leopard hound isn't necessarily a cuddly lap dog, but she does show her family plenty of love and thinks children are the best. In fact, her nature to watch over her family is particularly strong when it comes to kiddos—which isn't too surprising, says Holly Weber, DVM, CVA at Best Friends Animal Hospital in Sarasota, Fla.
"Most hound breeds, including American leopard hounds, are extremely affectionate and good with children, even if the dogs are primarily hunting dogs," she says. "It's important that if you want your leopard to be social to most people, it is smart to start their socialization to people and dogs of all ages and sizes as puppies."
Supervised and controlled introductions to smaller animals are important too, Weber says. "They have a very high prey instinct, which means they really want to chase those squirrels and rabbits," she says. "So if you want your hound to be a pet [vs. a hunting dog], they need to be socialized to small animals, like cats and little dogs, at a young age to help deter that natural instinct." Because they were bred to work in packs, leopard hounds tend to get along easily with other dogs and even other animals they're raised with, but introductions later in life can be a big challenge.
"The biggest thing to keep in mind with any treeing hound is how lovey-dovey they're likely to be indoors—and how incredibly independent they're likely to be outdoors," she says. "Hounds are often described as emotional because they get really excited about specific stimuli. So, while they're really intelligent, they were bred to catch a scent outdoors and follow it until they're successful, so it can be hard to get them back."
This means that, even with consistent positive reinforcement training, off-leash walks might not be the best fit for your leopard.
The American leopard hound is no city slicker. She needs daily exercise (and plenty of it!) to burn off her energy, so her ideal environment is a rural home with a lot of land or a large, securely fenced yard where she can run and play—especially if she's not being worked as a hunter. Homes with shared walls or ceilings can be a problem. "They're going to be loud; they're going to be talkers," Fratt says. As a hound, the leopard has a musical voice, and she's not afraid to use it!
While she can be a wonderful family dog, especially in active families with children who understand how to play appropriately, this is a breed that truly was bred for a purpose—working as a treeing dog and helping her humans on the hunt. So if you're not planning to hunt with her, you'll want to find other activities that allow her to tap into those instincts, Fratt says.
Overall, the American leopard hound wants to be involved in whatever her people are doing. And thanks to the breed's boundless energy, tolerance of hot and cold weather, and unusually tough feet that can handle tricky terrain without getting sore, bringing her along on your outdoor adventures is a no-brainer. But, there's a caveat. "If one of your goals is off-leash hiking, this isn't the breed for you," Fratt says. "They're going to catch a scent out there, and they're going to follow it."
Aside from her higher-than-average exercise needs, the American leopard hound is fairly low maintenance. She's not a heavy shedder and, despite her double coat, grooming is pretty easy. Brush her weekly, bathe her when she manages to get herself extra dirty or smelly, and trim her fast-growing nails regularly—if you hear them clicking on the floor when she walks, it's time for a pedicure. Regular teeth brushing is also important for her health.
If you're in a rural area and your leopard hound has the opportunity to go exploring through the brush, make sure to keep an eye out for insects, parasites (like ticks), debris, scrapes, and wounds in and near her ears, eyes, and paws—and all along her body as well.
Training this bright breed using positive reinforcement should be a fun opportunity to bond, since she tends to catch on quickly and delights in making her people happy. Teaching her to listen for and react to cues when she's on a scent is likely to be your biggest challenge; some American leopard hounds may never quite master that, but it's still worth the effort to work on it consistently. And again, start socializing your American leopard hound puppy early to help her grow into a confident, friendly dog.
With a lifespan of 12–15 years, the American leopard hound is an overall healthy breed, Weber says. But, as with all dogs, there are certain conditions pup parents need to stay vigilant for.
Other issues she mentions relate to the fact that, as hounds, they're running through brush and trees, so flea and tick infestation and associated tick borne illnesses, as well as both superficial and deep wounds they can get from searching through brambles or chasing after wildlife, are all potential concerns.
Of course, it's always a good idea to talk to your vet about your pup's health and daily activities to make sure you're American leopard hound is staying healthy.
Even though the American leopard hound is one of the oldest treeing dogs in the U.S., the breed's origins are far from clear. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), it's believed they were brought over to the New World by Spanish conquistadors, but researchers have a couple of theories about what happened next. Did the conquistadors' dogs mix with native Mexican pooches, leading to the breed that settlers brought to the United States later on? Or did the breed develop solely in the U.S. from various European hound and herding breeds?
The answer is unclear, but experts do agree that leopards became established in eastern North Carolina by the early 18th century. From there, the hounds bounded west to Tennessee, Kentucky, and eventually into Texas and Oklahoma, where they were recognized as the excellent treeing dogs they were bred to be.
However, this didn't exactly lead to widespread popularity, and in the first half of the 20th century the American leopard hound's numbers dwindled so low that breeders began crossing them with other breeds. In 1960, three men who'd each worked to find purebred examples of the breed met and formed the American Leopard Cur Breeders Association, where they began to work to continue and promote the breed.
But wait! This is the American leopard hound, not cur, right? Well, this bit of their history is a little confusing as well. The breed was originally known as the leopard cur or American leopard cur and was recognized as the leopard cur in 1998 by the United Kennel Club (UKC). Ten years later, though, the UKC, along with the breeder association, opted to change the name to American leopard hound, which allowed the dogs to compete in coonhound events. Just four years after that, in 2012, the American leopard hound made its way into the AKC's Foundation Stock Service, which is a step toward eventually being included in the hound group.
- What's in a name? A lot, if you want to compete in certain events! In 2008, the breed's name was changed from leopard cur to American leopard hound in order to let the dogs compete in events that allowed coonhounds.
- The American leopard hound is known for being able to effectively "duck and dodge" in order to avoid injury, according to the AKC, as they fight and hold game at bay.
- These are some seriously tough dogs! In addition to having unusually durable paws that resist injury, even on sharp or rocky terrain, leopards also handle both extreme heat and extreme cold better than your average dog. Still, pet parents need to use good judgement and avoid exposing their leopard hounds to dangerous weather or landscapes; these dogs are so keen to please that they may ignore their own needs in order to make you happy!