What Is a Catahoula Dog?

"Not everyone needs a Catahoula." That's the motto of the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas. Classified as a herding dog by the American Kennel Club, Catahoulas are the only dog breed that originates from the state of Louisiana.

Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog
What Is a Catahoula Dog?
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The Catahoula is a medium to large breed, with males ranging from 22 to 26 inches and females ranging from 20 to 24 inches. They weigh 50 to 95 pounds and have a life expectancy of 10 to 14 years. A typical Catahoula litter size is about eight to 12 puppies.

The Catahoula's official AKC breed name is Catahoula Leopard Dog. They're also sometimes called Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dogs, or just Louisiana Catahoulas.

A dog of many colors

Catahoulas have a striking appearance. They typically come in wild combinations of two to five colors that appear in random patches and spots on their short coats, hence the "leopard" moniker. If Jackson Pollock created a painting of a dog, it would look like a Catahoula.

Catahoulas have stunning eye colors — brown, green, blue, or amber. It's not uncommon to see a Catahoula with two different eye colors, or "cracked eyes." A cracked eye has two different colors in it. Each eye may be half one color and half another.

Origin of the Catahoula breed

"Catahoula" means "sacred lake" in the language of the Choctaw or Taensa Native Americans who lived in what are now the Southeastern states. It became the name of a parish in Louisiana. The breed is named after that parish.

It's thought that the Catahoula breed originated from Nordic wolfhounds, with a little red wolf and Native American cur dog thrown in. However, exactly how the wolfhounds might have gotten to America centuries before Columbus is not known.

The "leopard" part of their official AKC name comes from their spotted coats. They come in a few solid colors, too: black, yellow, red, and chocolate. However, a combination of colors in a crazy quilt pattern is the most popular. It is, after all, what sets them apart from any other breed.

Get a job!

Catahoulas are working dogs. They've been bred to hunt wild pigs, and they used to herd cattle. Louisiana swamps are not obstacles. The Catahoula has webbed feet and is an excellent swimmer.

Catahoulas need plenty of room to run and lots of stimulation. They can be trained for a variety of jobs and work very well in teams. If you're thinking about owning a Catahoula, you'd better have a job description ready for him. He will literally hit the ground running.

But I don’t have cattle

People who know Catahoulas agree on one thing: They need a job. So, what to do if you're not a hunter or a rancher? Three words: exercise, exercise, exercise. Catahoulas are strong, smart, and have a lot of stamina.

Catahoulas are not apartment dogs. They're most compatible with owners who are very active and include their dogs in their activities. Take your Catahoula hiking often, or better yet, join a local agility club.

Agility is among the fastest growing dog sports in the U.S. It's fantastic exercise for you and your dog. Through body language and cues, you'll guide your dog through a timed obstacle course that includes tunnels, seesaws, jumps, and lines of poles. Local agility organizations love new members and will have plenty of resources to help you and your dog learn how to do it.

Temperament and quirks

Catahoulas are intelligent and independent but loyal to their owners and family. They're territorial and protective, so they make good watchdogs. The downside to these qualities is that Catahoulas are not exactly friendly dogs. They can be cautious and aloof with strangers, including children they don't know.

If you're out walking your Catahoula and someone asks to pet her, the answer is no. While Catahoulas are not known to be aggressive, they do take their job of protecting you very seriously. They can be spooked by a stranger's quick, unfamiliar movements.

Let your Catahoula check out new people on her terms. She may want to approach and sniff the stranger, or she may not. If she ignores the newcomer, let her be and tell your guest to do the same.

Socialize your Catahoula early

Catahoulas do best when they're socialized while still young. The worst thing you can do to a Catahoula puppy, or any puppy for that matter, is isolate him. Let them hang out with the whole family and get accustomed to everyone's comings and goings. They're considered mature at about two years old.

A Catahoula will need a dominant owner who understands and practices the role as the pack leader. Dogs have an instinctual need for a leader. If you don't assume that role, they will, so look out. This is particularly important with Catahoulas because of their independent streak.

Being a pack leader

Being a good pack leader is not about being aggressive. Good pack leaders establish their role calmly and assertively. A dog's mother trains her puppies from the time they're born. She decides when to feed them, when and how far they travel, and when playtime has gotten too rough.

When you get a puppy, it's your responsibility to take over this role and maintain it throughout your dog's life. Adult dogs need boundaries and rules, and they'll be miserable to live with if they don't have them. If you don't have experience being a pack leader, enlist the help of a professional dog trainer. It's money well spent.

Training your Catahoula

Catahoulas are high energy and eager to please. They will work based on sound and sight, and they will work hard. The most important thing in training your Catahoula is consistency. Don't correct his behavior one time and then let it slide the next time.

Remember, these dogs are smart. Your Catahoula will figure you out before you've figured him out. On days you're not hiking or going to agility class, play with him in the yard. Play until he's worn out if you can last that long.

If Catahoulas do not have regular exercise, they may turn into barkers, chewers, diggers, or all three. If you have very young children, you may want to consider another breed. Catahoulas do everything with all they've got. A grown Catahoula may play too rough for a very young child.

Catahoula health issues

All breeds eventually develop congenital health issues, and the Catahoula is no exception. As a breed, they are generally pretty healthy, but they can be prone to hip dysplasia, deafness, and eye problems.

Hip dysplasia in dogs is largely a hereditary condition. The top of the femur bone doesn't fit right in the hip socket. However, degenerative arthritis usually sets in and makes a bad situation worse.

Some Catahoulas are born deaf in one or both ears. They may also have tunnel vision, an eye that doesn't fully open, or a flaw in their pupil that may affect how well they can see.

Still want a Catahoula?

If you think you're ready to take on a Catahoula, a good place to start is the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas. This organization's main function is to maintain the registrations of purebred dogs, but they will also help find the Catahoula that's right for you.

Don't be surprised if they ask you a lot of questions about your lifestyle and why you want a Catahoula. They love their dogs and the breed. They'd rather talk you out of a Catahoula than put one of their dogs in a home that won't work for her.

The NALC also sponsors events in Louisiana and a few other states. These events may include instinct (herding) and obedience trials as well as showmanship and conformation classes.