Catahoula Leopard Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Catahoula Leopard Dog

Developed over 200 years ago within the state of Louisiana, the Catahoula Leopard Dog was traditionally used to drive cattle and hunt a variety of game, particularly hogs. While the Catahoula Leopard Dogs with the merle coats and blue eyes are probably the best recognised of the breed members, this breed actually comes in a huge variety of colour combinations.

A highly trainable canine, with an experienced trainer the Catahoula Leopard Dog can do well in practically anything it is asked to do. This is a dog that relishes the opportunity to be active and craves companionship and attention. In the correct environment, this breed makes a superb family pet.

About & History

The Catahoula Leopard Dog is a dog known by several names, including the Louisiana Catahoula and the Catahoula Cur. The origin of the breed is open to debate, and several theories exist today. As there are no records available, it is difficult to prove which story is true. What most people can generally agree on is that the Catahoula Leopard Dog was developed in or near the Catahoula region of Louisiana in the south of the United States. Some claim that it was here where the dogs of the Native Americans were bred with a mixture of European dogs, such as the Greyhound and the Mastiff. If this is the case, the breed likely developed some time in the 1500s. Some sources state that the red wolf was also added to the mix – though this is unlikely and is not supported by recent DNA analysis. However, some people believe that the Catahoula Leopard Dog came into existence far more recently, during the 19th century. It is claimed that a merle variant of the Beauceron dog was used to create the breed, and it is undeniable that they bear a close resemblance.

A well-respected working dog, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is prized for its ability to hunt hogs and cattle, as well as smaller game. They work well in a team, rarely becoming aggressive or frustrated with the other dogs in the pack. The webbed feet of the dog mean that they are also adept at working in the marshes and swampy lands of Louisiana and neighbouring states. A dog with many strings to its bow, the Catahoula Leopard Dog has also recently been used as a livestock driver, a therapy dog and has excelled in a number of canine activities, such as agility and flyball. Interestingly, the breed was even exported to Venezuela to help round up wild Brahman cattle.

While the Catahoula Leopard Dog is undeniably a visibly stunning breed of dog, their working ability has always been the priority of their breeders. Any hunter in the southern United States will be able to tell you just how good a working dog the Catahoula Leopard Dog is, and it is because of this that they are incredibly popular, not only locally, but all over America. Within Louisiana, their importance is highlighted by the fact that they are the official state dog.

A breed of dog that is widespread across America, the Catahoula Leopard Dog was formally recognised by the UKC within their Herding Dog group in 1995.


Catahoula Leopard Dog Large Photo

A medium to large-sized dog, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is, broadly speaking, a physical mix of a sighthound and a bulldog – though should not look too much like either one. While their skull should be strong, it should not be imposing, and it measures roughly the same length as their muzzle. Their deep-set eyes should not sit too close to each other, while their pendulous ears are moderate in size and triangular in shape. Their rectangular body and strong limbs are well-muscled but never give the impression of bulkiness. Breed members have a tucked-up abdomen and a deep chest. A full-length tail that reaches the hocks is preferred to a natural bob tail. The webbed toes of the dog are essential for working in water, while their strong claws and thick pads protect them from harsh terrains.

The moderately short coat of the Catahoula Leopard Dog may be either coarse or slick and actually comes in a huge variety of colours – not just the well-recognised merle. This also holds true for their eyes and nose, which can be any colour. Coats can be a number of patterns, including brindle, solid colours or leopard. In the show ring, the only coat colour that is discriminated against is white, and no dog should have more than 70% white fur. This discrimination is due to the high potential for white dogs to be deaf.

Males can reach heights of between 55cm to 66cm, while females measure 51cm to 61cm. With weights ranging from 23kg to 43kg, the dog’s weight itself is not to critical, and it is more important that dogs are in proportion. A judge is more interested in the dog’s ability to move well than in their physical measurements.

Character & Temperament

A bright and active dog, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is a multi-purpose breed that can perform well in many different areas. Traditionally used to hunt and work alongside livestock, this versatile breed has now branched out into a huge number of canine disciplines and is also often kept as a companion animal. The intelligence, even temper and sociable nature of this breed have allowed for them to be successful in a broad range of areas.

Natural watch dogs, the alert Catahoula Leopard Dog will instinctively have a desire to keep an eye out for their family and property. While most breed members are devoted to their owners, some are more demonstrative with their affection than others. When it comes to new people, this is a dog that is unlikely to welcome a stranger into their territory.

In most cases, the Catahoula Leopard Dog can happily co-exist with other canines and will often enjoy their company. Dominance can be an issue, particularly with male dogs, so early socialisation is vital to ensure harmony in the home. Owing to the fact that they have been bred to hunt for centuries, it is not surprising that any animal other than a dog should not be allowed around a Catahoula Leopard Dog, who is highly likely to hurt or even kill it.

Most breed members get along particularly well with children, keen to rough house and play outdoors with them. Smaller children will require supervision, as they may find the Catahoula Leopard Dog too energetic for them.


Photo of Catahoula Leopard Dog puppy

While it is true that the Catahoula Leopard Dog can be trained to do practically anything to a high level, this does not mean that they are without their challenges. An independent dog that requires people to gain its respect before paying them attention, some breed members will actively ignore instructions and make training sessions a real challenge.

This is a breed that requires a firm hand and consistent rules to avoid bouts of disobedience. Extremely smart, in the right hands and with the correct training methods, this breed can excel in any discipline.


With most dogs living from 10 to 14 years of age, there are a handful of health conditions to be considered:


Linked to coat and eye colour, a lack of melanocytes can cause deafness. Owing to this, white and merle coloured dogs are most likely to be deaf. Some breeders elect to euthanise those puppies that are deaf in both ears, as these dogs will never become working dogs and can become challenging pets that are almost impossible to train.

Hip Dysplasia

A diagnosis of hip dysplasia can be devastating, particularly to a working dog that relies on its mobility and athleticism to carry out its job. A progressive condition, over time, affected dogs will become increasingly more lame and uncomfortable.

Ocular Diseases

There are a number of predispositions reported within the breed when it comes to their eyes. Cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Entropion and Ectropion have all been described. Within America, the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) should be contacted in order to test the eyes of each Catahoula Leopard Dog.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A high energy dog that demands to be constantly on the go, this is a breed that needs a very active lifestyle and should never be confined to a small home. If possible, the Catahoula Leopard Dog should be allowed to work, as this is a dog who relishes having a task to do. In the absence of this, dogs should be provided with an hour or two of vigorous exercise each day. On top of their exercise, they need some form of mental stimulation to prevent them from becoming bored. A bored Catahoula Leopard Dog can become a real handful and is likely to exhibit unwelcome behaviours, such as digging, barking, and aggression.

Owners need to spend time ensuring their garden is completely secured as the Catahoula Leopard Dog is a master at escaping. Beware of any terrain that the dog can dig down into and ensure any latches, etc. are out of reach, as the shrewd Catahoula Leopard Dog will be quick to find any potential getaway opportunity.


Other than regular ear cleaning and a weekly coat brush, the Catahoula Leopard Dog does not require a lot of grooming.

Famous Catahoula Leopard Dogs

There are no celebrity Catahoula Leopard Dogs in the media, however, there are plenty to be admired on Instagram, which is especially useful for anyone researching the breed.


The Catahoula Bulldog is a common cross found throughout the United States and is a result of breeding the Catahoula Leopard Dog with an American Bulldog. Equally, the Catahoula Leopard Dog is often crossed with the American Pit Bull Terrier.

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