The Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog is a versatile and intelligent working breed developed in the United States, specifically the state of Louisiana where it is the Official State Dog. The breed is equally famous for its skill as a hog catching dog and for its unique merle coat and frequently blue eyes. Frequently called “The King of All Stock Dogs,” the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog is primarily kept for livestock work and hunting, although the breed is also rapidly increasing in popularity as a companion animal. The Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog is known by many names throughout the United States including the Catahoula Leopard Dog, Catahoula Leopard Hound, Catahoula Leopard Cur, Catahoula Dog, Catahoula Hound, Catahoula Cur, Catahoula Hog Dog, Catahoula, Leopard Dog, Leopard Hound, Leopard Cur, Louisiana Leopard Dog, Louisiana Leopard Hound, Louisiana Leopard Cur, Louisiana Hog Dog, Louisiana Catahoula Dog, Louisiana Catahoula Hound, and the Louisiana Catahoula Cur.
Many claims are made about the history of the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, but the truth is that essentially nothing is known for sure about the true origins of this breed. This dog was developed long before written records were kept of dog breeding, and in any case was developed by farmers who cared only for working ability, not pedigree. All that is known for sure is that the breed was developed sometime between the 1520’s and the mid-1800’s somewhere in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, very probably northern Louisiana. The breed is named for the Catahoula Parish (parish is the Louisiana equivalent of a county) which is located in northeast Louisiana. Tradition holds that the breed was developed in Catahoula and surrounding parishes, which likely has not been definitively proven. It is widely believed that the Catahoula Leopard Dog was developed by crossing the dogs of the local Native Americans with ones imported by European explorers and settlers. Although there is not enough evidence available to conclusively prove this theory, what evidence does exist seems to strongly support it.
It is well-documented that the Native American population of Louisiana possessed dogs, as they were mentioned by members of most early European expeditions to the region including those of Narvaez and Cortez. The Native American dogs were said to be nearly identical to the wolf, except that they were smaller and barked. These dogs were probably virtually identical to the modern Carolina Dog, a breed currently being re-domesticated from a semi-feral state. Although it was at one time believed that the Native Americans domesticated their dogs from the Red Wolf of the Southeastern United States, genetic testing has conclusively proven that Native American Dogs descended from East Asian Dogs that accompanied the first Americans when they migrated across the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska.
The history of European colonization in Louisiana begins with the exploratory missions conducted by Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 and Hernando De Soto in 1542. Both parties traversed the Mississippi River and came within a hundred miles of Catahoula Parish. It is well-documented that De Soto’s expedition brought a number of “Spanish War Dogs” along with them. War dogs were very commonly kept by Conquistadors, a tradition that began with Christopher Columbus (or Cristobal Colon as he is known in Spanish). These dogs were used with great success and extreme brutality against Native American populations in the Caribbean and Latin America, who had never before encountered a dog used for battle. It was said that a single one of these beasts was capable of killing more than a dozen Natives without a single injury. At the time, the Spanish War Dogs were probably the world’s finest and could be divided into three different types: Alanos, Matins, and Levriers (Alaunts, Mastiffs, and Sighthounds). Although there is much dispute, these dogs were probably the descendants of two of the ancient world’s most feared breeds, the Molossus of Rome and the Alaunt of the Alan Tribe, which had been battle hardened from 700 years of nearly constant warfare between the indigenous Spanish and the Moorish invaders.
It is widely believed that the Catahoula Leopard Dog was initially developed by the local Native Americans when they crossed their dogs with the Spanish War Dogs. This theory is quite plausible. De Soto is known to have abandoned several of his war dogs after a lost battle in the region. Additionally, many Native American tribes were very impressed with European dogs and acquired them through trade. This theory is made much more likely upon a closer examination of the Spanish War Dogs themselves. Both the Alano and the Matin were extensively used for catching bulls and hogs in their native Spain, and in fact still are. The Alano in particular is world-renowned as a catch dog, and is one of the only breeds capable of tacking on the Spanish Fighting Bull. The Alano, a type of Molosser which closely resembles an American Bulldog or American Pit Bull Terrier, also shares many physical features with the modern Catahoula Leopard Dog. The hog catching ability of the Catahoula Leopard Dog may be a direct result of Alano and Matin ancestry.
Whether or not the Spanish introduced the ancestors of the Catahoula Leopard Dog, they did have more of an impact on the breed’s future and development than anyone else. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were no large animals of any kind in the Caribbean capable of providing food to settlers or explorers, and no domestic mammals of any kind other than the dog. To provide food for subsequent Spanish arrivals, most early explorers released domestic pigs into North America, including Hernando De Soto. Domestic pigs are one of the only domestic species which remains capable of surviving unaided in the wild. Eastern North America is not home to any native species similar to the pig, but the region does have vast expanses of land ideally suited to them. These Spanish hogs began to multiply rapidly until their population numbered in the millions. Despite their vast numbers, hogs can be extremely difficult and dangerous to hunt. These animals possess razor sharp tusk which are several inches in length and sometimes weigh several hundred pounds, they are also immensely strong. Perhaps most dangerously, they are incredibly intelligent, much more so than even the smartest dogs. Very few dogs can successfully hunt hogs, as most are severely injured or even killed by them in short order. The Catahoula Leopard Dog was bred primarily to hunt these dangerous beasts.
Although the Spanish were the first Europeans to arrive in Louisiana, they were not the first to extensively settle the region. Much of Southern Louisiana was first settled by French Acadian refugees fleeing the British takeover of Eastern Canada, while northern regions of the state were primarily settled by Americans moving westward across the continent. Both groups are known to have brought their own dog breeds with them. The French and Americans largely displaced the Native Americans and forced them westwards, but they may very well have acquired their dogs either by trade or theft. These French and American dogs were then probably crossed with existing Spanish/Native American Dogs. Several breeds in particular likely had a major influence. There is documentation which strongly suggests that the French brought along a dog known at the time as the Bas Rouge (Red Stockings) or Berger de Beauce (Sheepdog of Beauce), which is today called the Beauceron. A dedicated and capable herding dog, the Beauceron also makes a highly skilled protection animal. Although most modern Beaucerons are black and tan, the breed also comes in a merle coloration. It is widely believed that the Beauceron first introduced the merle coloration into the Catahoula Leopard Dog. Although rarely mentioned, the Grand Bleu de Gascogne almost certainly influenced the breed as well. One of the world’s oldest known scenthound breeds, the Grand Bleu De Gascogne has probably been tracking game in Southwestern France for more than 1,000 years. Famous for its mottled blue coat, the Grand Bleu de Gascogne was imported by French colonists to do the same in the New World. The Catahoula Leopard Dog was also almost surely influenced by several American hunting and livestock working breeds such as the several breeds of Coonhound, various types of Cur, and the American Pit Bull Terrier.
The resulting breed became known as the Catahoula Leopard Dog because it of its spotted coat and traditional association with northeast Louisiana in general and the Catahoula Parish in particular. The dog became nearly legendary across the American South for its ability to catch cattle and hogs, either domestic or wild. One of the major reasons for the breed’s success with cattle and hogs is that it works in a pack. Whereas most dogs capable of working with hogs and bulls, such as the American Bulldog and American Pit Bull Terrier, are too aggressive to work in a large group without attacking each other, the Catahoula Leopard Dog does so naturally, greatly increasing its odds for success in the process. Although the Catahoula Leopard Dog was still in a state of development for many centuries, it was almost certainly in a form close to its modern state by the early years of the 19th Century. One of the first records of the breed comes from the lives of the famous American Pioneer Jim Bowie, who lived from 1796 until 1836. Jim Bowie and his brother Rezin, who grew up in Louisiana very near Catahoula Parish, are believed to have both owned Catahoula Leopard Dogs as children. It is said that the two youngest Bowie brothers usually slept with their Catahoula Leopard Dogs at their feet.
Over time, the Catahoula Leopard Dog developed a number of other features that helped the breed survive in Louisiana. Some of the most extensive swamps and marshes in the world are located in Louisiana in addition to a large number of rivers and lakes. The Catahoula Leopard Dog developed webbed feet to work on water as well as land. The breed became extremely heat tolerant to work and survive temperatures that frequently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time that the Catahoula Leopard Dog was developing, commercial dog food did not exist and dogs were fed table scraps, which were often not enough to sustain them. These dogs were expected to supplement their diets by hunting for themselves, and the Catahoula Leopard Dog became a highly skilled and intensely dedicated hunter of small game as a result. A high degree of intelligence was extremely beneficial to survival, as well as a necessity for following complex farm working commands. The Catahoula Leopard Dog became a very intelligent breed that is both very capable of working alone or following complex commands.
Life in the region was often extremely difficult and it was quite expensive to keep a breed as large as a Catahoula Leopard Dog. When the cost of feeding a dog might be the difference between survival and starvation, only those dogs which were most capable of working could be kept. A unique method of selection was developed, known as culling or lining. This method may seem cruel to modern eyes, but was a necessity in a different time. A litter of Catahoula Leopard Dog puppies would be raised until the age of about six to nine months. The dogs would then be released together along a known deer trail. A hunter would wait at a designated point further along the deer trail. The last two dogs to reach the hunter would be shot because they were either uninterested or unable to do the job. The other dogs ran past to follow the deer. Eventually the dogs would give up and return. The first two dogs to return to the waiting hunter were also shot, both because they gave up too easily and did not stay with the pack. This practice ensured that only those Catahoula Leopard Dogs which were the most dedicated workers, skilled trackers, and most pack-oriented spread their genes to subsequent generations.
For many decades, the Catahoula Leopard Dog remained one of the purest bred dogs in the United States. This purity was maintained because the working ability and drive of these dogs is so strong that even one cross can seriously compromise it for future generations. Those features for which the dog became most well-known, a merle coat and glass eyes, were selected more because they showed the dog’s purity than an actual appearance preference (although that surely played some role as well). Though they kept their dogs pure, Catahoula Leopard Dog breeders were solely interested in the breed’s working ability, not in dog shows or pedigrees. As a result, the breed was not registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) or even the working dog focused United Kennel Club (UKC) for many decades even though it predated the creation of those organizations by many decades.
As time went on, several distinct strains of Catahoula Leopard Dog were developed. Three of these lines became the most famous and influential on later breeds, the Wright, McMillin, and Fairbanks lines. The Wright line was developed by Mr. Preston Wright. His line was the largest, between 90 and 120 pounds, and was said to contain the dogs that were most similar in appearance and function to De Soto’s Spanish War Dogs. The McMillin line was developed by T.A. McMillin, who lived on Sandy Lake. The McMillin line was the smallest, about 50 to 60 pounds, and was famous for its blue coats and glass eyes. The Fairbanks line was developed by Mr. Lovie Fairbanks. The Fairbanks line was intermediate in size between the McMillin and Wright lines, about 60 to 75 pounds, and contained primarily yellow and brindle dogs. These lines are still maintained by many breeders but have become so heavily crossed with each other that there are probably no truly pure dogs of any of them. The majority of modern Catahoula Leopard Dogs are probably so heavily crossed that they do not closely resemble any distinct line.
Throughout the 20th Century, the Catahoula Leopard Dog continued to spread throughout the American South. Much of this growth was due to the breed’s growing reputation as an absolutely tireless worker, incredibly skilled stock dog, and dedicated hunter. By the end of the 20th Century, the breed was known as the, “King of all Stock Dogs.” The Catahoula Leopard Dog has now become so popular that it is one of the most popular of all breeds in the Southern United States. Although it is impossible to get accurate statistics, the breed is probably the second most common breed in rural parts of the American South, behind only the American Pit Bull Terrier. In 1979, the state of Louisiana officially named the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog the state dog. In recent decades, the breed has begun to spread across the United States as its reputation grows, and the last few decades have seen breed members exported all over the world, mainly to countries with sizable hog populations.
Unfortunately, the Catahoula Leopard Dog’s popularity has come at a price. Many owners acquire these dogs because they fall in love with their unique and beautiful appearance without carefully considering if this is the right breed for them. Bred to be an intense and uncompromising working, most breed members adapt poorly to life as a companion animal unless provided with large expanses of land or a very large amount of exercise. Behavioral problems frequently result, and large numbers of Catahoula Leopard Dogs end up being turned into animal shelters or simply let loose on the streets. This breed is a very regular sight in animal shelters and rescues across much of America, and in some places is one of the most common along with Pit-Bull type dogs, Chow Mixes, and scenthounds. This problem is growing as the breed becomes more well-known and is increasingly acquired by families who have not properly researched the Catahoula Leopard Dog’s temperament and needs.
Although, the breed is still very commonly seen as a working livestock catch dog and hunter, the last few decades have also seen the Catahoula Leopard Dog take on a number of new roles. The breed has been used for search-and-rescue, herding, therapy, and law enforcement. This highly intelligent, intensely athletic, and very hardy dog also excels at most major dog sports and has successfully competed at the highest levels of agility, competitive obedience, Frisbee, fly ball, and several others. These new jobs have only further increased the breed’s visibility and contributed to its growth.
Because the Catahoula Leopard Dog is renowned as a catch dog it is often crossed with other catch dogs in an attempt to develop an even better catch dog. In order to do so, the breed has been most commonly crossed with American Pit Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs. American Pit Bull Terrier/Catahoula Leopard Dog crosses may recently have been dishonestly registered as pure American Pit Bull Terriers. This is suspected because the merle coloration of the Catahoula Leopard Dog has recently been seen in the American Pit Bull Terrier for the first time. Because it is thought that it was entered as a cross, the merle color is proving extremely controversial in the Pit Bull community. Catahoula Leopard Dog/American Bulldog crosses are much better known and are rapidly gaining in popularity. Known as Catahoula Bulldogs, they are considered by many admirers to be among the world’s smartest, strongest, and most capable stock dogs. Although most Catahoula Bulldogs are still first generation crosses, they are increasingly being bred as by crossing two Catahoula Bulldogs. It is very possibly that the Catahoula Bulldog will eventually breed true and become a distinct breed in its own right.
Over the course of the 20th Century, a number of different Catahoula Leopard Dog registries were founded, many of which only kept records of a single line. The breed also gradually became recognized by a number of rare breed clubs. In 1995, the UKC formally granted recognition to the Catahoula Leopard Dog as a member of the Herding Dog Group after having them compete in a number of events unrecognized for many years. At the time, there was not an official UKC breed club to sponsor the breed. This changed in October 2003 when Don Abney, Nicole Ott, and Greg Labranche got together to discuss the possibility of forming a club to promote and protect the Catahoula Leopard Dog, as well as to influence the UKC standard. The following year, a small group of dedicated fanciers formed the Catahoula Owners, Breeders, and Research Association (COBRA) to achieve these goals. COBRA has since become the official breed club with the UKC.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog has been registered with the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS) since 1996, and the American Catahoula Association (ACA) has been formed to be the breed’s parent club with that organization. The AKC-FSS is regarded as the first step towards full recognition with the AKC, and a breed must meet certain requirements before it enters the Miscellaneous Class and then achieves full recognition. However, this may take many years if it ever happens at all. The AKC has been viewed with intense suspicion and some might even say hatred by breeders of many working dogs almost since it was founded in the 1880’s. The vast majority of Catahoula Leopard Dog breeders and owners are loudly and vehemently against full recognition with the AKC, which they believe would “ruin” their breed. They feel that AKC recognition would lead to Catahoula Leopard Dog’s being bred solely for appearance and companionship and the dog’s legendary working abilities would be destroyed as a result. They point to well-known examples such as the Border Collie, English Bulldog, Australian Shepherd, Irish Setter, Jack Russell Terrier, and German Shepherd Dog to emphasize their point that breeding for appearance conformation can severely damage or completely destroy a breed’s working abilities.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is often said to be a rare breed because it is not fully recognized by the AKC. In fact, the breed is very common in many places and has a population that is many times as large as many AKC recognized breeds. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is currently very well-established in the United States, and is also beginning to become well-established in other countries such as Australia and Canada. Unlike most modern breeds, a sizable majority of Catahoula Leopard Dogs remain primarily working dogs. This breed is one of the most commonly used and highly regarded stock dogs in the United States and is also very commonly used for hunting any species from squirrel to mountain lion. Increasing numbers of Catahoula Leopard Dogs are being kept primarily for companionship. This breed makes a very affectionate and loyal companion, but must be provided with intense amounts of daily exercise and ideally a regular job to perform in order to prevent behavioral problems.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog has been bred almost exclusively for working ability. There are a large number of distinct lines, most of which have been very heavily crossed. As a result the breed exhibits tremendous variation in appearance. Many pure bred Catahoula Leopard Dogs have almost nothing in common appearance wise other than drop ears, merle coloration, lack of exaggerated features, and a lithe, athletic build. As a result, any statements made about the breed’s appearance are only the loosest generalities.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog ranges in size from medium to very large. The UKC standard places the ideal height for males at 24 inches tall at the shoulder and the ideal height for females at 22 inches tall at the shoulder. This is little more than an average and many breed members range 4 inches or more in either direction. The UKC standard weight range is 50 to 95 pounds, although it is far from uncommon for one of these dogs to weigh as little as 40 pounds or as much as 120. Although generally very well proportioned, most breed members are slightly longer from chest to rump than they are tall from floor to shoulder. This is a working breed and should always appear as such. A Catahoula Leopard Dog should be completely free of any exaggerated feature that impedes its ability to work. This breed is extremely athletic in appearance, looking lean and intensely muscular without ever looking either rangy or stocky. The tail of the Catahoula Leopard Dog is sometimes docked to a short stump and is also sometimes seen as a natural bob. This is acceptable but not desirable. The natural tail of most breed members is long and either straight or with a slight curve.
The head and face of the Catahoula Leopard Dog vary greatly. Some individuals have large and powerful heads that are reminiscent of Molossers; others have long narrow faces somewhat like those of a Spitz, while still others have a decidedly hound-like face. The ideal standard calls for the head to be large and powerful, but not exaggerated. Ideally the muzzle and skull are equal in length, and parallel each other. Generally, the head and muzzle are quite distinct but do blend in relatively smoothly. Although a scissors bite is strongly preferred, a level bit is also acceptable. The Catahoula Leopard Dog may either have tight fitting or slightly pendulous lips of any color or pattern. Similarly, the nose of this breed may come in any color or combination of colors. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is famous for having glass eyes, although many breed members do not possess them. A glass eye is a light blue eye. This breed actually exhibits every eye color seen in dogs, and a very large number of individuals possess eyes of different colors, which is seen as highly desirable to some fanciers. The ears of the Catahoula Leopard Dog are medium in size and drop down close to the head. They may face forwards or to the sides. Some individuals have laid back ears which are acceptable but not desirable.
The coat of the Catahoula Leopard Dog is single, short to medium in length, and close fitting. The coat’s texture may range from smooth to very coarse without preference. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is famous for its merle coat, but this breed actually comes in an endless variety of coat colors and patterns. Some of the most common are red leopard, blue leopard, black leopard, gray or silver leopard, tri-color, quad-color, patchwork, solid colored, and brindle. Any of these colors may have points and markings of a different color, and some dogs may exhibit coats which exhibit characteristics of several of them. Some dogs exhibit patches of five or more colors and patterns. It is the spotty and blotchy coat of this dog that supposedly resembles that of a leopard. No color or pattern is to be given preference over any others, although rich dark colors are preferred in the show ring over lighter ones. Due to concerns about possible deafness, dogs which exhibit greater than 70% white on their coats are penalized in the show ring and ones which exhibit greater than 90% white are disqualified.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is first and foremost a hard-working stock and hunting dog, and has the temperament one would expect of such a breed. One breeder has said, “A Catahoula Leopard Dog will never let you forget that you own a dog.” Catahoula Leopard Dogs are usually very devoted and loyal to their families. This breed does exhibit substantial variation in its affection level towards them, with some individuals being fawningly affectionate and others being very aloof. Most Catahoula Leopard Dogs believe that they are equal partners and friends rather than servants, and this breed is probably best kept by experienced dog owners as a result. When socialized with them from a young age, most Catahoula Leopard Dogs are very tolerant of children and more than willing to engage in rough play. Many breed members form very close friendships with children as a result of countless outdoor adventures together. This is not a breed that is usually aware that it needs to be gentler with young children, and some may play a little bit too rough for them, especially puppies.
Catahoula Leopard Dogs are naturally protective, and are usually reserved with strangers. With proper socialization, this breed is usually polite and rarely aggressive, but it is almost never immediately friendly. Without proper socialization, this breed may become overly protective or shy and potentially develop aggression issues though severe issues are not common. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is extremely alert and very territorial, making it an excellent watch dog whose bark will deter most potential intruders. Breed members vary tremendously in their guard dog ability. Some of these dogs would shy away from an intruder rather than confront them while others will not allow anyone to enter their property unchallenged. Even the most territorial breed members tend to give loud and repeated displays to deter intruders before they resort to violence. These reservations are greatly reduced when it comes to defending family members from physical harm, and although not frequently trained for personal protection work, this breed would likely excel at it.
Catahoula Leopard Dogs have a mixed reputation when it comes to other dogs. This breed was bred to work in packs, and does so very well. Catahoula Leopard Dogs often form incredibly intense and lifelong attachments to other dogs, with which they usually get along very well. Proper training and socialization will greatly reduce any problems this breed may have with other dogs. However, most breed members tend to be very dominant and pushy with strange dogs. Although this breed is generally not especially dog aggressive, some individuals may be. Many breed members may mistake toy sized dogs for prey and pursue them as such.
Catahoula Leopard Dogs are bred primarily as catch dogs and hunters, both of which require the dog to bite other creatures. This breed usually exhibits a very high degree of aggression towards all non-canine animals. Most of these dogs will chase any creature that they see, and this breed will almost certainly bring its owner “presents” of dead animals ranging in size from a cockroach to a baby deer. Breed members which have been raised from a young age with other pets will usually (but not always) be fine with those individual animals. Owners must be aware that a Catahoula Leopard Dog which is fine with its family’s cats is still likely to pursue a strange cat, and this breed is an infamous and dedicated cat killer.
This breed is regarded as being extremely intelligent, and is capable of learning anything from advanced stock work to search-and-rescue. There is probably nothing that any breed is capable of learning that a Catahoula Leopard Dog is not. However, this breed is often very challenging to train. This is a dog that wants to do its own thing, not take commands from others. A Catahoula Leopard Dog will not respond to anyone it considers lower than itself in the pack order, and owners who are not able to maintain a constant position of dominance will likely have a disobedient and out-of-control animal. When well-trained by a handler that they respect, this breed does tend to be very obedient, although still prone to episodes of selective listening. Even well-trained breed members are almost impossible to call back when they are in pursuit of potential prey, and this breed should probably be kept on leash at all times outside of securely enclosed areas.
Catahoula Leopard Dogs are among the most tireless and dedicated workers of all dogs. If given the choice, most breed members would hunt and work stock all day, every day. This breed is also one of the canine world’s most extreme athletes, and is capable of performing any task regardless of how extreme. As a result, this breed has a very high exercise requirement. At a bare minimum, a Catahoula Leopard Dog needs an hour of intense physical activity (running not walking) every day, and would ideally receive much more. This is an absolute necessity as unexercised breed members will develop behavioral issues including extreme destructiveness, hyper activity, over excitability, excessive barking, nervousness, and aggression. Anyone not willing to provide a dog with a tremendous amount of exercise should not acquire a Catahoula Leopard Dog, as these dogs can and will run even the most active family completely ragged. Even after being thoroughly exercised, most breed members are never calm and would rather wander the yard than lie on a sofa. This breed makes an excellent jogging companion, but greatly craves an opportunity to run around off leash in a safely enclosed area.
This breed adapts very poorly to apartment life, and any yard less than a half acre in size is almost certainly not large enough. The Catahoula Leopard Dog is a breed that absolutely craves the mental stimulation provided by a job, and most breed members are much happier when provided a task such as stock work, schutzhund, competitive, obedience, and Frisbee. Overall, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is an excellent choice for those interested in a working dog, canine sports competitor, or a dog which will accompany them on physically demanding outdoor adventures, but is probably not the best fit for those looking for a simply companion dog.
This breed is an infamous escape artist. Catahoula Leopard Dogs are highly driven to roam a large area, and most actively seek to escape confinement. These attempts are greatly heightened when the dog has detected an animal, car, or bicyclist that they wish to chase after. Any enclosure which holds one of these dogs must be very secure. Many breed members can easily jump over a six foot fence. A fence which proves unscalable can easily be dug under or chewed through. This breed is easily smart and creative enough to exploit any weakness, and many figure out how to open gates. A Catahoula Leopard Dog that has escaped can be extremely challenging to find as this breed can cover many miles in a very short period of time.
Potential owners must be aware that the Catahoula Leopard Dog is one of the “doggiest” of all breeds. They love to dig holes and run around in the mud, thinking nothing of tracking it the house when they come in. This breed will drop tennis balls in your lap for hours. Breed members chase cars, kill small animals, chew furniture, and essentially every other stereotypical canine misbehavior. The Catahoula Leopard Dog makes a loyal and fun loving companion and highly skilled and dependable worker, but it is not a mild-mannered aristocrat.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog has very low grooming requirements. This breed never requires professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures such as nail clipping and ear cleaning that all breeds require are necessary. These dogs do shed and many of them shed very heavily. This is a breed that will cover furniture, clothes, and carpets with hair and will do so all-year round.
In general, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is known to be a very healthy and robust breed. Although it does not appear that any breed specific health studies have been conducted on them, their relative popularity makes it possible to make a few generalizations. This breed is still bred almost entirely for working ability, and any genetic health defect which would make them incapable of performing that task is quickly eliminated from the gene pool. These dogs have also benefitted from a comparatively large gene pool and having been spared most commercial breeding practices. This does not mean that the Catahoula Leopard Dog is immune from genetically inherited conditions, but it does mean that it suffers from fewer of them and at lower rates than most purebred dogs. In particular, Catahoula Leopard Dogs are susceptible to three conditions: hip dysplasia, deafness, and visual problems. Additionally, cancer has been detected in a number of old Catahoula Leopard Dogs.
There is a strong link between canine coat and eye coloration and deafness. While there are a number of complex factors involved that are not fully understood, merle dogs are very likely to be deaf, as are solid white dogs. Additionally, dogs with blue eyes are very often deaf as well. Although the Catahoula Leopard Dog is less susceptible to deafness than some breeds such as Dalmatians and American Bulldogs, a large number of breed members are either fully (deaf in both ears) or partially (deaf in one ear) deaf. Although it is very difficult to get exact numbers, Catahoula Leopard Dogs which are primarily white in color may have a better than 80% change of being fully or partially deaf, which is why dogs which are predominantly white are penalized in the show ring. Breed members which are partially deaf usually make just as acceptable companions and working dogs as dogs with complete hearing, although they should not be bred. Dogs which are totally deaf are very difficult, if not impossible, to train and are often unpredictable because they are unable to hear someone coming up behind them. Many breeders choose to euthanize all completely deaf puppies, although not all do so. It is therefore very important to make sure that your Catahoula Leopard Dog breeder has fully tested the hearing of all of his puppies.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed (especially hip dysplasia and eye deformities), it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
A full list of health problems which have been known to occur in Catahoula Leopard Dogs would have to include: