June 1, 2008

What is a Catahoula?

The Catahoula Cur or Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, is named after Catahoula Parish in the state of Louisiana in the United States. Of remaining dog breeds, the Catahoula is believed to have occupied North America the longest, aside from the dogs descended from Native American-created breeds.


As a working dog, Catahoulas have been bred more for temperament and ability than for appearance. As a result, the physical characteristics of the Catahoula are somewhat varied.

Catahoulas have a single, short, dense coat in a variety of colors. According to Don Abney, an authority on the breed, the term "Leopard" refers to merles which may be blue, gray, black, white, liver, red, and patched. Patched dogs are predominantly white with any color patches. Solid colors are black, red, chocolate, yellow, and brindle.

* Blue - This refers to the mostly grey to mostly black merle color pattern and sometimes the terms "grey leopard" or "black leopard" are used.
* Red - This refers to the red merle color pattern with varying shades of light reddish-brown with darker red or brown patches. These dogs are sometimes called "brown leopard" or "chocolate leopard".
* White - This refers to a primarily white coat with some areas of leopard color. White Catahoulas carry two copies of the merle gene creating a double merle. A double merle dog is usually born deaf or blind, or both. Some double merle puppies are born without eyes, or with microphthalmia (shrunken eyes).
* Solid - This refers to black, red, chocolate, yellow, and brindle. Trim colors may be black, white, tan, red, or buff.
* Patchwork - This refers to Catahoulas with patches of several different shades in their coats which are white or very light and appear as large patches giving a more blotchy look than a typical Catahoula. A pattern can be similar to the harlequin pattern seen in Great Danes.[1]

Typical of the breed are "cracked glass" or "marbled glass" eyes (heterochromia) and occurs when both colored and glass portions are present in the same eye. Cracked or marbled eyes are blue or blue-white in color. Catahoulas with two cracked or marble glass eyes are often referred to as having double glass eyes. In some cases a glass eye will have darker colored sections in it and vice versa. Cracked eyes may be half of one color and half of another. They may just have a streak or spot of another color. Gray eyes are usually cracked eyes, made of blue and green, giving them their greyish appearance. The eyes may be of the same color or each of a different color. Eye color can also be brown, green, gray, or amber. No particular eye color is typical of Catahoulas.

Though most dogs have webbing between the toes, Catahoula feet are webbed very similar to that of a duck with more prominent webbing which extends almost to the ends of the toes. This foot gives the Catahoula the ability to work marshy areas and gives them great swimming ability.

Catahoulas are highly intelligent, energetic, have a high pain tolerance and are very quick, yet they are also very loving and gentle with children they know or have adopted, and their family (pack). One gains a much better insight into their social structure by first understanding the social structure of the wolves. They are inquisitive and have a strong independent streak. The Catahoula temperament is not well suited for everyone; these dogs are very protective of their territory and family, especially the males, but are kind and gentle toward other dogs when on neutral ground. These traits, combined with their independent nature, their high energy levels, and physical strength, can make a Catahoula "too much dog" for inexperienced or meek owners, and can make having such a dog a problem in apartments and small spaces without a lot of exercise. Ideally, a Catahoula should have obedience training, and an outlet for its energy. The ideal place for this breed would be in a rural area where they can have plenty of space to expend their energy. A Catahoula must have a job to do or it may expend its energy in a destructive manner such as digging incredibly large holes, uprooting landscaping, chewing up the garden hose, redecorating the house etc. They are extremely versatile and have been used in search and rescue, hunting, herding and agility.

The Catahoula is a common working dog of the region and is seen on farms and ranches across North America. These dogs are outstanding tracking and hunting dogs, commonly used for hunting feral pigs, squirrel, deer, raccoon, mountain lion and black bear. They often track silently and only begin to make their distinctive baying bark, eye to eye with the prey, once it is stopped. For large game it is not uncommon for a pack of three dogs to work together. Uncle Earl's Hog Dogs Trials, held in Winnfield, Winn Parish, Louisiana pits Catahoulas against hogs to see how fast a dog can corner a hog without actual contact.

Catahoulas have found their way to the Northern Territory of Australia where they have been found to be a superior hunting dog for pigs by breeders.[2] Apparently, they have been introduced in New Zealand as well, but the number of Catahoulas there is unclear.

They are used for herding cattle, sheep, and pigs by a method of antagonizing and intimidation of herd animals as opposed to the method of all day boundary patrol and restricting the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area.[3]

The breed is recognized by the United Kennel Club under the "herding dog" breed group.[4]

Health problems
As a breed, Catahoulas are relatively free of a lot of diseases. Deafness is one of the major genetic flaws in Catahoulas. A Catahoula that is mostly white, or has a white face with glass eyes, has an 80% chance of being deaf in one or both ears. Hearing in one ear is also referred to as "directional deafness." Breeders are not readily willing to allow deaf Catahoulas to leave their premises and will generally euthanize the deaf pups. Catahoulas are also prone to hip dysplasia. Catahoulas can have eye problems (tunnel vision, eye won't open all the way, pupil is abnormal, etc.). Some older dogs are known to have been diagnosed with cancer.

One theory as to the origins of the breed states that the Catahoula is thought to have descended from "war dogs" (Mastiffs and Greyhounds) brought to Louisiana by Hernando de Soto in the 16th century. Dogs left behind by the explorer's party were interbred by the local natives with their domestic dogs.

The idea that Native Americans bred their dogs with or from red wolves is not supported by recent DNA work. Several recent studies,[5] have looked at the remains of prehistoric dogs from American archaeological sites and each has indicated that the genetics of prehistoric American dogs are similar to European and Asian domestic dogs rather than wild New World canids. In fact, these studies indicate that Native Americans brought several lines (breeds) of already domesticated dogs with them on their journeys from Asia to North America[6].

There is a plethora of published sources detailing the domestic dogs found in prehistoric archaeological sites[7]. Clearly, the red wolf was not the only canid located in the Mississippi River Valley before the arrival of Europeans. There were also foxes and grey wolves as well as various domesticated Native American breeds[8],[9],[10],[11],[12].

In the 1800s, French settlers arrived in Louisiana with their Beauceron. They told of strange looking dogs with haunting glass eyes that were used by the Indians to hunt game in the swamp.[13] It is thought the Beauceron and Red Wolf/war dog were interbred to produce the Catahoula. 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'.(Don Abney)

Jim Bowie and brother Rezin Bowie, who spent much of their youth in Catahoula Parish are reported to have owned a pair of Catahoulas. It was said that they would sleep with a Catahoula at their feet.[14][15] During the early 1900s, Teddy Roosevelt used the Catahoula when hunting.[16] Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long had an interest in the breed and collected them.[17]

In 1979, Governor Edwin Edwards signed a bill making the Catahoula the official state dog of Louisiana in recognition of their importance in the history of the region.

Catahoula lines: There are three versions of the Catahoula Cur:
* The Wright line was the largest at 90 to 110 pounds (40 to 50 kg) and were developed by Mr. Preston Wright. This line represented dogs originally produced from Hernando de Soto's dogs.
* The Fairbanks line was the next in size at 65 to 75 pounds (30 to 35 kg) and were developed by Mr. Lovie Fairbanks. They were brindle to yellow in color.
* The McMillin line was the smallest in size at 50 to 60 pounds (about 25 kg) and were developed by Mr. T. A. McMillin of Sandy Lake, Louisiana. These were Blue Leopard dogs with glass eyes.

These three lines were crossed back and forth and created the variations of Catahoulas seen today

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catahoula_Leopard_Dog

Other Places to Visit:
American Catahoula Association: http://www.catahoulas.org/
Catahoula Rescue: http://www.catahoularescue.com/

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