Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog
Louisiana's state dog has a distinctive look and personality
Catahoula Leopard Dogs, one of only a few dog breeds that originated in North America, have their beginnings in Louisiana’s historic, wild swamplands. With haunting “glass” eyes and varied coats of mottled hues, the breed is also called Catahoula Cur, Catahoula Leopard Hound, Catahoula Hog Dog, and simply Catahoula. Officially designated the Louisiana state dog in 1979, they wander through Louisiana history in legends that involve the controversial frontiersman Jim Bowie, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Governor Earl K. Long.
Factual claims of the breed’s origin lack credible historic documentation; at best they may be considered informed speculation. A common theory is that Catahoulas derive from a cross of Hernando de Soto’s war dogs (greyhounds and molossers) during the conquistador’s destructive foray across the Southeast in the 1540s, and Native American dogs. The native dogs were once thought to have red wolves as ancestors. Another hypothesis suggests that the breed developed much later, in the 1800s, when French settlers bred their Beaucerons with the native dogs of red wolf ancestry. However, recent DNA analyses refute part of those claims by linking prehistoric American dogs more closely to European and Asian dogs than native canids, suggesting that Native Americans brought domesticated dogs with them when they migrated to North America; thus, their dogs were not of red wolf origin. The name “Catahoula” seems to have been applied to the dogs by the early nineteenth century and indicates that the modern development of the breed has strong connections to the Catahoula Lake region of central Louisiana.
Anecdotal reports suggest that brothers Jim and Rezin Bowie, with early ties to Catahoula Parish, favored the breed and even slept with a Catahoula at their feet. A pair of Catahoulas are said to have been members of the pack of dogs that pursued bears during President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 hunt in East Carroll and Madison Parishes. Governor Earl K. Long is known to have collected Catahoulas and used them to hunt feral hogs. In spite of the breed’s time-shrouded pedigree and vague relationships, Catahoulas are now firmly ensconced in the lore of the Bayou State.
The National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas (NALC) and the United Kennel Club have developed standards for the breed. The general appearance is a dog of medium to large size (forty to ninety pounds), well-muscled and athletic. The coat is short to medium in length and as noted in the standard, may appear “in an endless variety of coat colors and patterns.” A leopard pattern caused by a merle gene is common and manifests as a solid base color with contrasting spots of one or more other colors. It also sometimes results in dogs with blue or odd-colored eyes. Other Catahoulas are of one solid color or brindle with contrasting stripes. Catahoulas that are predominantly white have a high incidence of deafness, a serious concern for breeders.
Traits and Uses
Catahoulas are herding dogs. The trait is instinctive and cannot be taught. Physical characteristics aside, the desire to herd is considered the acid test of true Catahoulas. The herding trait was especially desirable to stockmen running semi-wild herds of cattle and hogs in the vast, unfenced Louisiana swamps. Early breeders selected for this beneficial attribute, as do those of today. Catahoulas are strong competitors in modern hog dog and cow dog trials, such as Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials, an annual event in Winn Parish. In these events, dogs are judged on their ability to catch and hold livestock at bay or drive them into pens. In addition to trials, some NALC shows include categories for showmanship, obedience, and conformation.
Catahoulas are also used to hunt a variety of small and large game from squirrels to bears. They are used as guard dogs, for search-and-rescue work, and in narcotics detection. Owners and breeders report that Catahoulas make excellent pets but always require obedience training because of their assertive nature.
The Louisiana State Dog
Betty Ann Eaves, the first president of NALC, was instrumental in having the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog designated the official state dog. Governor Edwin Edwards signed the legislation on July 9, 1979.