CATAHOULA LEOPARD DOG - BREED HISTORY

This is the World Wide Web's very first Catahoula site, originating in 1993.

1-800-The Lost  Missing Children Alert!

 

Left to right: Sunshine, Sugar, & Pete

(Please note: no dog should be allowed to ride loose in the back of a truck as doing so risks injury and/or death to your pet.)

 

Pete and Sunshine (click picture for larger image)
 

The King of the stock dog breeds, most enduring... stamina is their middle name... CATAHOULA LEOPARD STOCK DOGS outwork and outfight all other breeds of stock dogs when protecting their master, livestock, and property. They are the largest and most aggressive of the cattle dogs, bred to handle wild cattle and hogs in the roughest, most remote country. Catahoulas will also hunt coon, bear, or whatever else they are introduced to. These dogs are not good city dwellers... they need several acres to roam to be happy. A farm or ranch is really their element.

Catahoulas are bred to go and find livestock in swamps, hilly canyons, thickets or forests, or mountains. They will trail, nose to ground, but prefer to throw their heads up and "wind" their prey, taking the shortest route to find, gather up or bunch, and circle and bay the quarry until their master
can reach them to take control.

Preferred size from 20-26", weight 50-90 lbs, with a few individuals larger although most males average 60-70 lbs in lean working condition, & about 24" tall. Short haired, long tail, natural flop ear (like a Dalmatian ear), they come in every color of the rainbow, but are best known for a blue/grey base with black/liver spots ("blue Leopard"), tan legs and face, white toes and chest. Many variations on this general pattern. Spots occur in all colors. Blue/glass or parti-colored "marbled" or "cracked"eyes are common in every litter. Often a dog will have eyes of two different colors.

Catahoula Leopards are extremely agile and athletic, territorial, protective of "their property". They are more primitive psychologically than most breeds and need consistent obedience reinforcement. The owner must understand the Alpha concept and stay in control at all times, but still be loving to the dog. Very loyal, loving, intelligent and independent... they really think for themselves.

Leopard dogs are the only known domesticated native North American breed of dog... developed by our Native American Indians and early settlers, and kept pure to the present day by folks who use them to work livestock, hunt game ranging from squirrels to coons to bears, and as guard dogs. Leopard Curs, Catahoulas, Blackmouth Curs, Mountain Curs, etc., are all branches of the same root stock, but since there is no absolute documentation of the chronological history and precise ancestors involved, much is left to speculation on exactly when and how these several varieties emerged. We probably will never know their exact heritage until and unless DNA samples from today's dogs and their suspected canine relatives are tested. What we do know is part archaeological fact, part excerpted from diaries and letters written by early day dog fanciers, and part legend.

Archaeological facts: An ancient breed, the Xoloitzcuintli, is known to have existed in Mexico 3,300 years prior to the arrival of Spanish explorers, and the Peruvian Inca Orchid had been living with Peruvian citizens for several hundred years before the Spaniards landed on North American shores in 1539. It is only reasonable to assume representatives of these breeds made their way North through the hands of various native peoples into an area which later became Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and perhaps even farther North. French explorers invaded the area in the late 1600's, and most certainly would have brought their dogs... one of which, the Beauceron, is still known today and displays leopard (merle) coloration. The Carolina Dog is a feral relic of antiquity, directly related to the Australian Dingo, African Jackal, and New Guinea Singing Dog, and has been only recently discovered surviving in uninhabited areas of our own Southeastern United States. The Carolina Dog was most likely the "Indian dog" base stock which interbred with dogs brought in by Spanish explorers, producing the ancestors of what we now call Catahoulas.

NEWS FLASH!!! Recent archeological discovery of Indian remains (including dogs buried with them) in Bienville Parish, LA, has been dated at 5,630 BC. Read about it here. The dogs are mentioned in
the second paragraph of the second clipping where Jeff Girard, regional state archaeologist in charge, commented, "They hunted deer and loved their dogs so much they were buried with them." (Please be patient, as this page is very slow loading.)

Diaries and letters: Research done by J. R. McDuffie (founder of the American Cur Breeders Association in 1960), and Rex Bowers (author of the column Leopard Dogs Of The Blue Ridge, which appears regularly in FULL CRY magazine) points to the Irish foxhound as one of the primary ancestors, down through the noted July hounds (known to be leopard spotted, and possessing short folded-over ears & glass eyes) with a Plott cross and perhaps an English Shepherd thrown into the mix; and Tom Stodghill (founder of the Animal Research Foundation, which registers specialty breeds of farm animals as well as numerous breeds of dogs) adds the Beauceron. Mr. Stodghill began to register Catahoulas in 1951, and in 1958 received a letter from a gentleman in Louisiana of French ancestry who... "said his grandfather had brought a pair of leopard spotted (Beauceron) dogs from Paris, France, to the Catahoula area of Louisiana 150 years earlier, and he thought all Catahoula Leopards in Louisiana went back to that pair." (excerpted from "History of Catahoula Leopard Cowdogs", published 1983 by the Animal Research Foundation of Quinlan, Texas).

Legend: DeSoto's war dogs tamed by native peoples interbred with the Red Wolf, producing a spotted hybrid with glass eyes which was found primarily in the region around Catahoula Lake in central Louisiana, living with the natives. The word 'Catahoula' is actually a combination of two Choctaw words 'okhata', meaning lake, and 'hullo', meaning beloved... or a *French transformation of the Choctaw Indian word for their own nation, 'Couthaougoula' pronounced 'Coot-ha-oo-goo-la'... take your pick. (*per Don Abney's "The Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog", Doral Publishing, 1996.) According to Betty Ann Eaves (founder of the NALC in 1977) "Putting the facts of time, place and nature together, one could assume that the Indians cared for the Spanish war dogs, which could have mated with the (red) wolf, the only canine-type animal in the area at that point in time... making for a strange and potent set of genes, the results of which are still evident today." (excerpted from "The Catahoula Collection", published by the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas).

My personal opinion is that the Catahoula, the Leopard Cur, and all varieties of Cur dogs are a mixture of ALL the influences named above, and that dogs (some feral, some semi-domesticated) were widespread across at least the entire Southern third of the North American continent before the Spanish arrived. A Catahoula lover and professional photographer in Colorado, Keith Benoist, in 1996 Emailed me a tidbit he stumbled over in researching one of his projects which indicates the native peoples did indeed already have dogs... "Indians known as the 'Dog Lovers' were the Karankawa tribe (pronounced kuh-RAN-kuh-way). Theirs was a coastal tribal culture, living in the East Texas marsh country, near as I can remember. A Spaniard who had lived with them for some years was responsible for helping the surviving portion of the De Soto expedition find its way South, along the Gulf of Mexico, in order to make contact with other Spanish Missions in Mexico following De Soto's demise. He is alluded to in the diaries of Elvas and others who chronicled the De Soto expedition. He was most likely a holdout from the earlier expeditions of Cortez..." After Spanish and French explorers introduced their dogs to the native mix, other European settlers arrived with Irish and English hounds. Given the nature of canines it is logical to assume much interbreeding occurred, both planned and chance, including to the wolf. Later settlers, of course, attempted more structured breeding... using, as many country folks do today, neighbors' dogs that were doing a particular job well. In the 1800's many dog breeders began to select for more specific traits which intensified the gene pool in their favored strains. In the 1950's (Stodghill) and 60's (McDuffie) recognized a renewal of interest in these dogs and began registering two of these strains, the first bred and used for livestock working abilities and the second bred and used for hunting abilities. With continuing research and study it is possible that more pieces of this puzzle will be unearthed in the future. Several registries handle the Catahoula Leopard Dog and the Leopard Cur today, and most of the dogs are listed in more than one registry to better take advantage of various shows and trials offered by the sponsoring organizations.

I did not discover these great dogs until I was grown and married, but have bred and worked this unique breed since 1971. My dogs have been used exclusively on livestock, but on their own time will tree varmints in our rural area... many evenings I've gone out to find them before going to bed (usually just listening will locate them, as a Catahoula baying "tree" can be heard for a mile or more), pulled them away from the base of a tree, and coerced them into the truck for a lift home, then they must be tied or penned to ensure they don't go back. SweetWater Catahoulas occasionally has started dogs or puppies available from a family linebred to Mama Maud, imprinting and preserving her supreme intelligence and wisdom for the benefit of future generations. See this grand matriarch below, shown working a yearling filly with son Pete, and observe how her great-grandson Mr. SweetWater (age 5) handled things when he was forced into accepting an 8 week old trespasser into "his" household. Mr. SweetWater's family has proven over the years to possess the necessary combination of intelligence, aggressiveness, and good judgment needed in a top working dog.
 
 

Catahoulas work the front & sides of a herd, to prevent livestock from breaking and running...
while riders push from the rear. Three dogs and one rider can move and pen a lot of cattle.
(click to see larger image)

  But it takes two dogs to handle one horse.....(Mama Maud and Pete)
 
 

........and two or more dogs to pen several wild hogs.
 
 

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and the Catahoula Ezine to read more about these wonderful...and DIFFICULT... dogs.
 
 
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These pages Copyrighted 1993 to Infinity by Linda McKay
All rights reserved.

First Edition: April 10, 1993