Catahoula Leopard Dog
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Native to the lush, damp greenery of Louisiana, Catahoula leopard dogs (sometimes called the Catahoula leopard cur) have been developed as remarkably versatile working dogs. In their home state, you'll find Catahoulas tasked with herding cattle, acting as watchdogs, retrieving waterfowl, and hunting wild hogs.
Aloof toward strangers, Catahoula leopards develop strong bonds with their family units and can make great family dogs. Bred with a strong independent streak, Catahoulas aren't afraid to stand up for themselves and require a bit of patience. But when they're properly trained with positive reinforcement, Catahoulas can be your perfect pup.
Catahoula leopard dogs are striking. Because the primary concern of their breeding stock is their working and herding abilities, appearance is often a secondary concern, which has allowed for a stunning amount of variance from dog to dog, according to the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas (NALC).
Historically, all of today's Catahoulas come from three breeding lines, each of which produced dogs of different sizes and colors. Over the years, those three lines have been cross-bred again and again, resulting in the variation we see today. Coats range from single colors such as black, red, and yellow, to brindle and double-brindle coats. You'll also see coats with the merle or "leopard" pattern that gives the dog his name in shades of black, blue, and red. The variation is so high that two solid-colored dogs who are bred will often result in a litter of brindle or merle-coated Catahola leopard dog puppies.
These dogs typically have a smooth, short coat or a coarse, medium one. The short coat is by far the most common. These coats are very close to the body and glossy, giving the Catahoula an almost painted appearance. Though single-coated, the Catahoula sheds regularly.
In addition to their striking coat colorations, Catahoulas are well-known for their eyes, which frequently come in light colors (or "glass" and "cracked glass" patterns) that appear slate gray, pale blue, or white. The Catahoula also carries the heterochromatic gene, so the breed is frequently seen with two different eye colors.
Catahoulas stand roughly 2 feet tall and are slender, well-muscled dogs. Their faces feature thick, broad muzzles and large, light eyes that give the Catahoula a watchful, alert expression. Most Catahoulas have long, thin tails, but some dogs have bobbed tails that stop after the first or second vertebrae; this is a naturally occurring variation and not the result of docking.
Catahoulas are companion dogs, rather than family dogs, because they are not happy lounging around. They need to be in a setting where they can indulge in their natural inclinations of hunting and herding.
If you don't happen to live on a ranch or in the woods, Catahoulas will do well in houses with large, fenced yards or other places where they can get about an hour's worth of strenuous exercise every day. They also do well in agility, herding, and obedience competitions that help keep both their bodies and minds active and engaged. Their ideal pet parent is patient, confident, and able to offer their dog plenty of exercise.
Catahoulas are bright dogs who pick up on instruction fairly quickly, as long as positive reinforcement is used. And while they form deep bonds with their family, Catahoula leopard dogs have a naturally suspicious view towards strangers. Unless they're socialized well during puppyhood, they will probably sound off when someone new approaches.
Catahoula leopard dogs aren't city pups. Apartments are particularly bad choices for them, but anything that doesn't have a good-sized, fenced yard is going to mean more oversight from you to ensure their physical needs are being met. If you're a camper, hunter, hiker, or runner, these active, loyal dogs are going to love to go along with you. According to the NALC, they're excellent swimmers. And, of course, if you've got a ranch or farm and something for them to herd, you've found your new best friend.
Catahoula leopards do best in single-animal households, though they can be trained to tolerate other dogs if they are socialized as puppies. They can also be trained to live with cats they are raised with, but neighborhood cats and small animals in the yard are probably going to be seen as something fun to chase.
RELATED: How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat
How well Catahoulas live with children will depend largely on how old they are. Smaller children will run the risk of being accidentally knocked over by the active Catahoula. But older children, especially ones who camp or hunt, will love them as companions.
Catahoulas' short, single coats will shed regularly, so brushing them a couple times a week will help keep hair off everything you own. It can also act as a great bonding activity with young pups and their family units.
Along with brushing, don't forget to trim their nails. Baths are going to be strictly as-needed (which could mean they're pretty frequent, especially if you have a pup who loves to run around outside 24/7). Keep their ears checked and clean so they don't get infected, and give their teeth a regular brushing, too.
Like all dogs, Catahoula leopard hounds thrive with positive reinforcement. These pups tend to have an independent streak, so start consistent training when they're young (and practice your patience!).
Because they were bred to herd and work, these are dogs that need a job to do. They won't be happy sitting inside all day while you're off at work. When you're busy or away from home, make sure your pup has outlets for his big brain like puzzles and toys, and always take him out for a walk, run, or another fun adventure when you return.
The Catahoula leopard is a fairly healthy breed. But, like all dogs, there are some health conditions pet parents need to stay vigilant for.
Hip dysplasia is common in many dog breeds, and the Catahoula is no different. This is a condition where the dog's hip joint doesn't develop properly, leading to an unstable joint. It's typically corrected with surgery.
Another concern is genetic deafness. According to a study by Louisiana State University:
- Nearly 17 percent of Catahoula leopard dogs studied were unilaterally deaf (meaning the dog experiences hearing loss in one ear)
- 22 percent were bilaterally deaf (hearing loss affects both ears)
- Over 38 percent were totally deaf
Catahoulas with predominantly white coloration are the most likely to be affected.
Born and bred in Louisiana, the Catahoula leopard dog dates to the very beginnings of the Louisiana Territory. Though exact origins are as murky as the swamps of the South, it's generally assumed the breed came about when explorer Hernando de Soto and his Spanish conquistadors came to town and bred their greyhounds, mastiffs, and bloodhounds with the dogs owned by the Native American inhabitants, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). From that resulting stock, dogs were additionally crossbred by French fur trappers in the 1700s with their Beaucerons, which has resulted in the dogs we know today.
With an eye towards function over form, Catahoulas have a remarkably varied appearance in coat and eye color, but all share that strong, watchful, working disposition that makes them so handy in herding and hunting.
Originally called the Catahoula leopard cur, the "leopard" descriptor is a reference to the spotted—or merle—pattern the majority of the breed has. That was the name they were developed under when the Catahoula Leopard Cur Association was created in 1976 to help standardize breeding practices and develop the breed standard for kennel club recognition. The name was formally changed to Catahoula leopard dog in 1979 when the breed was adopted as the official State Dog of Louisiana. In 1996, the breed was accepted into the AKC's Foundation Stock Service. The breed was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1995.
- Stemming from their Louisiana heritage, Catahoulas have been featured in several works of fiction centered in and around the bayou, including Southern-fried episodes of "Veronica Mars" and "Bones", as well as in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels.
- Piglet is a Catahoula leopard dog who, with her owner her owner, Lori Wells, of Lancaster, Calif., was recognized by the AKC for her search and rescue prowess.
- A lesser-known cousin to the Catahoula is the American leopard hound. Both dogs share similar looks, histories, and names, but there are differences between American leopard hounds vs. Catahoula leopard dogs. Namely, Catahoulas are larger and have a lower prey drive than American leopard hounds.