What Is a Catahoula Dog?

By Jane Meggitt

Louisiana's state dog, the Catahoula leopard dog, is a working canine. While his forte is herding livestock, he's equally at home hunting wild game, including such tough critters as bear and bobcats. While the origin of the name is lost in history's mists, it probably relates to the Choctaw, a Native American tribe. While he takes his work seriously, he likes to play hard in his off hours.

Catahoula Dog History

Befitting a probable Native American name origin, these dogs were descended from canines used for hog hunting by indigenous people, long before Europeans arrived in what became Louisiana. The native dogs soon mixed with those brought by settlers, and were used for herding cattle and swine. These Europeans breeds likely included mastiffs and various sighthounds. The dogs that became the Catahoula had an incredible instinct for handling cattle and hogs.

Catahoula Dog Size

The United Kennel Club breed standard for the Catahoula doesn't specify a definite weight and height range, only stating that the dog is "medium to medium-large," with the body length longer than the height. Unofficially, the dog ranges between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulders at maturity, weighing between 50 to 95 pounds. He's a well-muscled animal, befitting a working breed. The UKC standard notes that the Catahoula shouldn't resemble either a bulldog or a sighthound, two opposite types of the canine world but possible Catahoula ancestors.

Coat and Colors

The Catahoula's coat is short, and can be coarse or smooth. The breed standard doesn't permit a long coat. The eyes might be brown or blue, or often one of both. Although "leopard" is in the name, not all Catahoulas sport spots. Virtually any color is permitted, with the exception of primarily white dogs. The leopard coat consists of a base color with one or more colors of spots. Overall, dark-colored dogs are preferred over light animals.

A Working Dog

Catahoulas were bred to work, and that is still the reason for the breed's existence. Responsible breeding revolves completely around the dog's innate ability to herd and work cattle and swine. "A single outcross or crossbreeding so affects the instinct that it eliminates those pups from ever becoming breeding stock," according to the American Kennel Club. That's the reason that size and color are so secondary to the breed standard, unlike most other purebred dogs. It's all about instinct and work ethic. If you don't have livestock, give him a job in agility, rally or other strenuous canine sports.

Catahoula Temperament

Just because he's bred to work doesn't mean a Catahoula leopard dog can't make a good pet. He's usually good with kids, and fine with cats if he's raised with them. Other dogs, not so much. If you have another dog in the household, get a Catahoula puppy of the opposite sex. Cathoulas need plenty of exercise, and he's not suitable for apartment or urban living. Without sufficient exercise, you could have a destructive, loud canine in your home. He makes a good watch dog, and is quite protective of his home and people.