Catahoula Leopard Dog: The Ultimate Guide


Some dogs love to work, some dogs love spending time with their families, and some dogs like nothing better than getting out in the world and discovering all of the exciting scents, sniffs, and adventure that it offers. The Catahoula Leopard dog, the herding and hunting dog that was born and bred on the Bayous of Louisiana, embraces all of those things and makes the most out of every single day.

While the lineage of most dogs can be traced back to a single breeder and specific moment in history, it isn’t quite that simple with the Catahoula. Sure, they’ve been a staple of Southern life for more than three hundred years and they’re the state dog of Louisiana, but no one seems to be exactly sure when and where the first Catahoula appeared.

Catahoula Leopard dog

But then, it’s that air of mystery that is just one of the many things that makes this rare and devoted breed so appealing to owners and dog lovers all over the country. 

Why are these Catahoula Leopard dogs so beloved by their families and those who’ve shared their lives and homes with them?

Well, we thought we’d attempt to get to the bottom of what it is that makes the Catahoula so special and put together this definitive guide to the dog that’s older than America so that you’ll be armed with everything that you need to know if you’re thinking of adding one of these awe-inspiring hounds to your family. It’s time to head down South and meet the Leopard dog…

Catahoula Leopard Dog Key Facts

Who could blame anyone for losing their heart to these inquisitive, gentle, unique dogs that put home and family first and are absolutely devoted to their two-legged companions. 

But the reality of owning a Catahoula is far different from the fantasy, and before you go hunting high and low for one, you’ll need to decide whether or not they’re the right dog for you, and you’re the right owner for one of them.

Before we plunge headlong into the swamps of their home state to find out everything that there is to know about this dog, we thought that it would be wise to discuss some of the basics and the things that you’ll absolutely need to know about Catahoulas before you invited one to share your life with you. 

Average Lifespan

Catahoulas are hardy, healthy dogs and usually live anywhere between eleven and fifteen years.  That’s a lot of time to devote to a dog, so you’d better clear your calendar for the immediate future if you’re seriously considering adopting or shopping for one. 

Minimum Exercise (per day)

They were bred to be working dogs and need at least sixty minutes of intensive exercise every day, but if you want to ensure that you curb the Catahoulas intense energy, we’d recommend setting aside an hour and a half of your day, every day to walk them.

There is another exercise-based issue with Catalouha’s, and that’s their off-lead habits. If they catch sight of another animal that they think needs to herd or become engrossed in tracking whatever small furry has crossed their path, they will take off like a rocket. So you’ll need to resign yourself to the fact that you will end up trudging after your dog, desperately trying to find him.

Their dedication to the tasks that they were bred for is legendary, and they pursue it with a rare and aggressive tenacity and passion. It makes them unpredictable with other dogs and coupled with their ability to take off and escape, makes them leash only hounds. It’s okay to let them off the leash in a controlled environment, but in public, you should always keep a Catahoula on its lead.  

Coat Length

They’re a short to medium-haired breed, and come in a staggering array of different colors and patterns.  No two Catahoulas look the same. 

Minimum Cost Per Month

Catahoulas are medium-sized dogs with an appetite for life and food, and by the time you’ve added in the cost of pet insurance to taking care of your boy, he should cost you a minimum of one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty dollars a month. 

Appearance

Catahoulas are like Joseph’s biblically famous coat, they come in all sorts of incredibly striking colors.

Their short to medium-length fur can be black, tan, grey, brindle, silver, or brown or a combination of all of them, while their eyes can be blue, brown, amber, or grey and it isn’t unusual to find a Catahoula with two different color, or “cracked”, eyes. 

They breed them tough on the Bayou and Catahoulas are lean, powerfully built dogs with muscular shoulders, curved and curled tails, wide heads, and long, narrow muzzles.  They’re built for the hunt, and one of the evolutionary advantages that the breed has is webbed feet.

The webbing between their toes makes them excellent swimmers, and they have a natural affinity for, and love of water. 

Size

According to the strict guidelines put in place by the AKC (American Kennel Club) and the UKC (United Kennel Club), which most breeders tend to adhere to rigidly, the Catahoula is a medium-sized, herding and hunting dog. 

Average Height

Those guidelines also provide an average median for fully grown, adult dogs who should stand between twenty-two and twenty-six inches (fifty-five to sixty-five centimeters) at the withers, or as most laymen call them, the shoulders.

Females are usually shorter than males, and bitches are often two to four inches smaller than dogs are which means that they also tend to weigh less.  

Average Weight

While we’re on the subject of weight, we may as well stay the course. A healthy, male Catahoula should weigh between forty-five and one hundred and ten pounds (or twenty to forty kilograms for those of you who like to do things the metric way), while females should weigh between forty-five and ninety-five pounds, or for those of you who are fixated with the metric system, nineteen to forty-three kilos.  

Temperament

Like most working dogs, Catahoulas are independent thinkers who know their own minds and have a Louisiana stubborn streak a mile wide. It can make them difficult to train, but they make up for their obstinate nature by being loyal, gentle, and affectionate dogs, and because they’re inquisitive and intelligent, no walk is ever boring when you’re in the company of a Catahoula.  They want to find out about, and explore everything. 

Apartment Living

Catahoulas aren’t great apartment dogs. They’re boisterous, energetic, and can suck up all of the air in a room. They’re also prone to separation anxiety,  which can spoil your neighbor’s day and ruin your relationship with them if your dog starts barking and howling, and as they get bored easily, they can tear an apartment to shreds in a surprisingly short amount of time.  They need the space to be themselves and most apartments just don’t provide that amount of room.  

Good For Novice Owners

Despite them being loyal, loving, and affectionate dogs, they’re stubborn and strong-willed and can be aggressive toward other dogs. They’re far more suited to experienced owners who know how to train and curb the breed’s worst traits than they are to people who have never owned a dog before. 

Sensitivity Level

Even though they’re not generally sensitive dogs, as they’re outgoing and bold, any form of negative reinforcement can have an impact on their personality. If they’re badly treated and neglected, the dog can become aggressive and even more stubborn, so it’s important to always ensure that you use positive, and reward-based training techniques with a Catahoula. 

Tolerates Being Alone

As we mentioned a little earlier, Catahoula’s do tend to be prone to separation anxiety, so shouldn’t be left alone for an extended period of time. They also need to be taught, from an early age, that if you are going to leave them for any amount of time, that you’ll always come back, which should alleviate any separation anxiety symptoms. 

Tolerates Cold Weather

No matter how cold it gets, the Catahoula can take it and will be ready and raring to go even when the temperatures outside plunge below freezing. 

Tolerates Hot Weather

Being from Louisiana, they’re used to those long, drawn-out warm Southern days, so as long as it doesn’t get too hot outside (and by too hot, we mean when the tarmac starts to melt under the heat of the sun), the Catahoula will be absolutely fine. 

Affectionate With Family

With their families and the people that they’re used to, Catahoulas are incredibly affectionate. They are extremely protective of their human companions and always keep one eye on what they’re doing, even when their heads are buried in their diner bowls. 

Kid-Friendly

Again, they’re incredibly protective of the younger members of their “pack”, and will always keep them safe from harm. They don’t tolerate a lot of horseplay and can snap at children if they think that they’re stepping out of line, so they’re better suited to families with older offspring who know how to behave around dogs. 

Dog Friendly

Unfortunately, Catahoulas can be aggressive toward other dogs which is why they’re best suited to a single dog household. Their innate hostility can be controlled and curbed if they’re properly socialized with other dogs from an early age, but their tendency to react toward others dogs is something that you’ll need to be aware, and conscious of. 

Friendly Toward Strangers

Catahoulas need to be carefully introduced to new people, as even though they tend to be friendly they can be cautious and wary of anyone that they don’t know, and their need to protect their “packs” (families), can play a large role in whether they’ll accept a new person into their home, or tolerate being approached by a stranger. 

Health & Grooming

Catahoulas were bred to be tough and resilient, and for the most part, the breed is robust and incredibly healthy, but they are susceptible to a few genetic conditions which we’ll look at a little further on. 

Shedding

Catahoulas were bred to be tough and resilient, and for the most part, the breed is robust and incredibly healthy, but they are susceptible to a few genetic conditions which we’ll look at a little further on. 

Drooling

They’re not droolers, their long, narrow muzzles make sure that their saliva stays where it was supposed to, inside their mouths. However, they might drool at mealtime while they’re waiting for their bowls to hit the floor, but apart from that, you won’t have to worry about Catahoula drool.  

Grooming

As they don’t shed a lot, they don’t need to be groomed excessively. A weekly brush of around fifteen minutes or so should get rid of their dead hair and make sure that it stays off your furniture and floor. 

General Health

Catahoulas are generally healthy, long-lived dogs who don’t let anything slow them down or stop them. 

Common Health Problems

  • There are, however, two genetic conditions that Catahoula’s are particularly prone to. They can develop hip dysplasia (a painful malformation of the hip joint which can lead to arthritis), and for some reason, Catahoula’s are far more likely than almost any other breed bar Dalmations to be born deaf, or only able to hear out of one of their ears. 
  • That doesn’t mean that your dog will suffer from either issue, it just means that they MIGHT be troubled by them. 

Potential For Weight Gain

They’re no more likely to be obese than any other dog is, and as long as you watch their diet, they won’t pile on any unwanted weight. 

Trainability

Catahoula Leopard Dog

All dogs need to be trained and socialized from an early age, so it’s important to enroll your pup in classes as soon as you bring him home. 

Easy To Train

Catahoula Leopard Dogs are bright, learn quickly, and can easily adapt to new situations.  But they’re also stubborn, so it’ll take time to train them with a reward-based system properly, but they will get there in the end. Patience is key to training a Catahoula 

Intelligence

They’re incredibly intelligent dogs, and love to be given tasks and “jobs” to do, so when you’re training your pup always bear this in mind. It’ll make your life easier, and his life more enjoyable. 

Potential To Bite

The Catahoula is a gentle dog, and as long as they’re properly socialized with dogs and people from puppyhood onward, they’re no more likely to bite anyone or any other animal than any other dog is.

Tendency To Bark Or Howl

If they get their sixty to ninety minutes of stimulating exercise a day, they probably won’t bark at all. But if you leave them on their own for too long, then a Catahoula can start barking and probably won’t stop until you get home. 

History

While the exact lineage of the Catahoula Leopard Dog is largely unknown, they started to appear in Louisiana during the early seventeenth century. Most breeders think that they were a product of the first French settlers breeding their herding dogs with the wolfdogs that Native Americans used for hunting.

Even though the Catahoula Leopard Dog became the official dog of Louisiana in nineteen seventy-nine after then Governor Edwin Edwards signed the bill into law, it wasn’t until ninety ninety-five that the UKC (United Kennel Club) officially recognized the breed,  and in nineteen ninety-six the AKC (American Kennel Club), quickly followed suit and entered the breed into their Foundation Stock Service. 

Costs

Even though they’re a relatively rare breed of dog, Catahoula Leopard Dog puppies can cost anywhere between four hundred and four thousand dollars, depending on the bloodline of the dog’s parents. 

Even though they’re not the most expensive breed, we’d always recommend that before you do shop for a Catahoula pup, you phone your local shelter first, as a Catahoula who desperately needs a home could have been handed in. 

Granted, it’s unlikely, but you never know and if you do give a shelter dog home, it won’t just be your new best friend who is eternally grateful to you, your bank balance will thank you too as it’s always much more affordable, and easier, to adopt a dog than shop for one. 

Catahoula Leopard Dog Fun Facts 

  • The Catahoula Leopard Dog is the state dog of Louisiana and has been since  9th July, nineteen seventy-nine. 
  • In the early twentieth century, President Theodore Roosevelt used to use the Catahoula Leopard Dog for hunting, and in the early nineteenth century, Jim Bowie and his brother Rezin owned a pair of Catahoula Leopard Dogs who used to sleep at their feet. 
  • The Catahoula Leopard Dog is named after Catahoula Parish in Louisiana, which has always had a particular fondness for the dog that bears its name. 
  • Catahoula Leopard Dogs are often born deaf or with hearing in only one ear. And no one knows why. 

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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