The Catahoula Leopard Dog is named for its spotted coat and was developed in Louisiana, in the southern United States near Lake Catahoula in the northern part of the state.
Although its exact origins are uncertain, it is believed that the breed was created between the 16th and late 17th centuries from crosses between local dogs and those brought first by Spanish and then French settlers.
In 1539, Spanish explorers led by Hernando de Soto (1500-1542) landed in Florida, and from there began to explore what would become the southeastern United States. At that time, the only domesticated animals on American soil were so-called Native American dogs, which resembled wolves and lived with the local tribes. Like many explorers of the time, the Spaniards brought hunting dogs with them for subsistence: greyhounds, bloodhounds... They also imported Spanish Mastiffs, which were very effective war dogs.
The colonists proceeded to crossbreed with the Amerindian dogs, in order to obtain an animal that would be excellent for hunting. However, the theory that the red wolf was also used, which is still widely held, is improbable: DNA analyses have shown that this animal and the Catahoula Leopard Dog have no common genetic heritage.
At the end of the 17th century, Louisiana became a French colony. Many settlers came and brought their own companions, including hunting dogs (hounds like the Grand Bleu de Gascogne, bloodhounds...) and Beaucerons intended to guard the herds of their future farms. The French continued to crossbreed, notably using the Beauceron Merle, until they obtained a rather atypical dog, relatively close to what it is today: the Catahoula Leopard Dog.
Between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, three Louisiana breeders began to make selections with the aim of further improving its working qualities while making it more versatile, so that it could guard flocks as well as hunt or protect farms. They created three lines - or varieties - that differed in size and coat color.
The line of Lankford Preston Wright (1863-1940), the closest to the Spanish ancestors of the breed, was composed of fairly large brindle dogs (41 to 50 kg). In contrast, the Talbot A. McMillin's (1849-1919) was made up of much smaller dogs (22.5 to 27 kg), and included the first blue-eyed dogs. The William Sullivan (Lovie) Fairbanks (1874-1930) line was of medium size (29.5-34 kg) with brindle to yellow coat colors.
These three lines were crossed so many times that they eventually merged to form the breed as we know it today. This explains the incredible variety of possible and accepted colors.
Because of its versatility, the Catahoula Leopard Dog has become an excellent working dog. It was mainly used for hunting and for guarding and guiding herds. Highly appreciated for its efficiency and courage, this born hunter was able to go after all types of game, from small game such as rabbits and birds to deer, bear and lynx, as well as wild pigs - hence the fact that it is also known as the Louisiana Hog Dog, since "Hog" means "pig" in English. He also excelled at tracking and rounding up wild cattle for domestic herds. He worked in groups of several individuals: the dogs would surround the herd to contain it, while their master would stand in the middle of the cattle to drive them.
His talents quickly made him famous in his home state, and for a long time he was given many names based on his abilities, such as Catahoula Hound or Louisiana Hog Dog.
However, it was not until the second half of the 20th century that the breed gained greater recognition, thanks in particular to the creation of breeders' associations. The Louisiana Cur Association (LCA) was created in 1976, followed the next year by the National Association of Louisiana Catahoulas (NALC), in charge of the preservation of the breed through selection and birth registration. The Catahoula Cur Breeders Association (CCBA), which is responsible for registration, and the American Catahoula Association (ACA), which is responsible for the promotion and maintenance of the breed, especially through shows and working competitions. This proved to be effective, since in 1979 the Louisiana authorities decided to make it the official state breed, and took the opportunity to officially name it the "Catahoula Leopard Dog".
A first standard was published in 1984 by the NALC, and a breed club was created in 2004: the Catahoula Owners, Breeders and Research Association (COBRA).
Diffusion in the USA
During the 20th century, the Catahoula Leopard Dog's excellent reputation helped it spread throughout the United States, starting in the south and gradually spreading to the rest of the country.
However, it was not until 1995 that the United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the breed and included it in the sheepdog group.
The other dog organization of reference in the country, the American Kennel Club (AKC), has not yet taken the step. However, in 1996, the AKC included the breed in its Foundation Stock Service, which is normally the first step towards full recognition.
In the second half of the 20th century, the Catahoula Leopard Dog's reputation spread to Latin America, particularly Venezuela, where it was exported to herd wild Brahmins (a breed of zebu) and drive them into large farms.
It has also spread to other countries to accomplish the same type of mission (it can be found, for example, in Germany and in the Czech Republic), but the fact that it is not recognized by any cynological authority except the UKC means that it is practically impossible to trace it.
Moreover, this lack of official recognition obviously makes it difficult to spread. For example, it is not found in Canada, France, Belgium or Switzerland.
Recognition by official organizations
While the American United Kennel Club (UKC) has recognized the Catahoula Leopard Dog since 1995, no other major cynological organization has yet taken the plunge, whether it be the British Kennel Club, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) and the hundred or so national organizations that belong to it (including those of France, Belgium and Switzerland), or the American Kennel Club (AKC).
However, since 1996, the latter has included it in its Foundation Stock Service, which normally serves as a temporary stage for rare and developing dogs, before full recognition a few years later. However, after more than a quarter of a century, full recognition has not yet been achieved.