Both the Catahoula lineage and the origins of the name "Catahoula" are uncertain, but there are various theories.
One theory posits that the Catahoula is the result of Native Americans having bred their own dogs with molossers and greyhounds brought to Louisiana by Hernando de Soto in the 16th century. As for the aforementioned Native American dog breeds, for a time it was believed that they were bred with or from red wolves, but this idea is not supported by modern DNA analysis. Several recent studies 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.
Another theory suggests that the breed originated three centuries later, some time in the 19th century, after French settlers introduced the Beauceron to the North American continent. The French told of strange-looking dogs with haunting glass eyes that were used by the Indians to hunt game in the swamp., and the theory states that the Beauceron and the Red Wolf/war dog were interbred to produce the Catahoula.
There are two theories regarding the origin of the word 'Catahoula.' One theory is that the word is a combination of two Choctaw words 'okhata', meaning lake, and 'hullo', meaning beloved. Another possibility is that the word is a French transformation of the Choctaw Indian word for their own nation, 'Couthaougoula' pronounced 'Coot-ha-oo-goo-la'.(Don Abney)
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.
As a working dog, Catahoulas have been bred primarily for temperament and ability rather than for appearance. As a result, the physical characteristics of the Catahoula are somewhat varied.
Catahoulas may range greatly in size with males averaging slightly larger than females. Typical height ranges from 20–26" and weight between 40 and 112 lbs.
Catahoulas come in many different colors including blue merle, red merle, brindle, and solid colors. Often, solid coat Catahoulas have small splashes of other colors such as white on their face, legs or chest. The leopard-like coat of most Catahoulas is the result of the merle gene. The merle gene does not normally affect the entire coat of the dog, but dilutes the color only in areas that randomly present the characteristic of the gene. Visually, white coats seem unaffected.Red Leopard: These are various shades of brown and tan, may also have white. Known as "red merle" in other breeds.
Blue Leopard: These are various shades of dark greys, black and some may also have white (generally on the feet and chest). Known as "blue merle" in other breeds.
Black or Black Leopard: These are leopards least affected by the merle gene but will display smaller patches of blue or gray.
Gray or Silver Leopard: Blue Leopards where the black color has been diluted to gray. Known as "slate merle" in other breeds.
Tri-color: Catahoulas with three distinct visible colors, usually white, black, and gray.
Quad-color: These are Catahoulas with the varying body colorations and trim colors that help to designate the number of colors present on the dogs. Gray Catahoulas may be considered a Quad-color when White and Tan trim are included. This dog would display Black, Gray, White, usually around the neck, face, feet, and tail, and Tan, which may also appear around the face and feet. Most Five-colored dogs are misnamed Quad-colored dogs.
Patchwork: These Catahoulas are predominantly white dogs with small amounts of solid and/or merle patches appearing throughout the coat. The colored patches may be black or brown. Dilution may affect those colored patches and produce gray, blue, red, or liver coloration within them.
The texture of a Catahoula's coat may show some variance, being slick/painted-on, spotted, coarse, or woolly/shaggy. However, while other coat types may not be penalized, several registering bodies that recognize the Catahoula specify a short or slick-coated dog. Others, including the Animal Research Foundation, will accept short-to-medium haired dogs, but may list long fur or feathering of the fur as uncommon or a flaw.Slick coat: This is the most common coat type, featuring fur that is very short and lies close to the body. Such coats dry very rapidly, and because of this, the dog can be cleaned and ready in a matter of minutes. It is often referred to as a "Wash n' Wear" coat.
Coarse coat: This coat is a little longer and fuller than others. It does not require complex maintenance; however, these dogs are not quick to dry when wet. Dogs with this type of coat will often display "feathers" seen on the rear legs, tail, and underbelly, giving them a "fluffy" appearance.
Woolly coat: Woolly, shaggy, and double coats are far less common but do occasionally appear in some litters. At about 3 weeks of age, the coat will be longer and fuller and appear woolly. Most puppies will shed this for a coarse coat; however, some will go on to develop double-coats. Some individuals will maintain a coat-length similar to that of a stock-haired German Shepherd Dog while others will keep their shaggy appearance.
The breed may have "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 grayish appearance. The eyes may be of the same color or each of a different color. Eye color can also be ice blue, brown, green, gray, or amber. No particular eye color is typical of Catahoulas. Some have been known to have half of one eye marbled.
The tail of the Catahoula may be long and whip-like, reaching past the hocks of the back legs, or else bobtail, which is a tail that ranges from one vertebra shorter than full length to only one vertebra in total length. The question mark tail is a common tail trait, often with a white tip. The bobtail is a rare but natural part of the Catahoula heritage.
Though most dogs have webbing between the toes, Catahoulas' feet have 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 and energetic. They are assertive but not aggressive by nature. Catahoulas in general are very even tempered. Males tend to be more obnoxious than females, but Catahoulas are very serious about their job if they are working dogs. They make a good family dog but will not tolerate being isolated, so interaction with the dog is a daily requirement. When a Catahoula is raised with children, the dog believes that it is his or her responsibility to look after and protect those children. Many owners will say that the Catahoula owns them and they can be insistent when it's time to eat or do other activities. Catahoulas are protective and a natural alarm dog. They will alert one to anything out of the ordinary.
These dogs are outstanding bay dogs, or tracking and hunting dogs. They have been known to track animals from miles away, and have been 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, and hold it in position without touching the animal; using only posture, eyecontact, and lateral shifts.
Catahoulas have been introduced in the Northern Territory of Australia where they have been found to be a superior hunting dog for pigs by breeders. They have been introduced in New Zealand as well as Australia, but the number of Catahoulas there is unclear.
They are used primarily for herding cattle, 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. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Catahoulas exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in cow/hog dog trials.
The breed is recognized by the United Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club under the "herding dog" breed group.
Deafness is one of the major genetic traits in Catahoulas and associated with individuals that are excessively white in color and deafness attributed to a lack of melanocytes. A Catahoula that is predominantly white has an 80% chance of being bi-laterally deaf or uni-laterally hearing. Hearing in one ear is referred to as "directional deafness". Breeders are often unwilling to allow deaf Catahoulas to leave their premises and will generally euthanize deaf pups. Puppies born from a litter where both parents have the "Merle" color pattern have a 25% chance of being born blind, deaf or blind and deaf. These puppies are often refereed to as "Double Merles". A double merle can come from any breed, or breed mix. As long as both parents are merle, each puppy has a chance of being born with of these traits.
A concern with many breeds, hip dysplasia is dependent on the gene pool and good breeders. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and PennHIP can help determine whether a specific individual is prone to hip dysplasia through radiographs. Catahoulas are no more apt to have this orthopedic problem than other breeds.
There are three lines:The Wright line: The Wright Line was the largest line of Catahoulas at 90 to 110 pounds (40 to 50 kg) and was developed by Mr. Preston Wright. This line represented dogs originally produced from Hernando de Soto's dogs.
The Fairbanks line: 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: The McMillin line was known to be Blue Catahoulas with glass eyes 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 Catahoula dogs with glass eyes.
These three lines were crossed back and forth and created the variations of Catahoulas seen today.