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When I first saw my Catahoula mix, Griffin, sitting in his cage at the animal shelter, I was floored.
I hadn’t ever seen a dog like that in person. He had golden eyes and a short, wiry coat of 50 shades of brown that looked like a swirly cup of coffee.
Some folks were less impressed and thought he looked like a tie-dye experiment with a goat gone wrong.
Regardless, he was definitely a striking head-turner. A breed not many people had seen before and I wasn’t sure but he certainly seemed rare.
But are Catahoula dogs rare?
Catahoulas, or the Lousiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, as the name suggests, is fairly common in Louisana and all around the Gulf Coast in the South Eastern United States. Outside of this area, though, they are extremely rare and are practically nonexistent outside of the Americas.
So unless you live in a handful of states in the deep south, you may not have been lucky enough to encounter this unique-looking dog in the flesh.
Why Are Catahoula Dogs Rare?
Let’s dive into some of the reasons why this breed is so rare.
Reason #1 – History
Catahoulas that we know today originated in what we now call the area around Louisiana.
In fact, they are one of the first dogs to have originated from the now United States.
Though historians are not 100% sure, this unique breed probably got its start when Spanish colonizers first brought their mastiffs and sighthounds (probably Greyhounds) with them to the newly established colonies around the northern Gulf Coast (modern-day Louisiana).
These dogs, deliberately and on their own, bred with the Native American dogs in the area as well as the native Red Wolves that at the time still roamed the swamps and bayous of that area.
It is speculated also that the Beauceron, a French dog that resembles a Doberman, was brought into the bloodlines when the French took the Louisiana territory.
The resulting dog was perfectly suited for Louisiana swamps and the surrounding forests.
Their unique coloration allowed them to both blend in with the deep woods, camouflaging them from the prey, as well as to stand out and be visible to their owners and handlers
Their single coats keep them cool in the hot swamps but also provide enough protection from biting insects like mosquitoes and thickets and thorns that they would encounter running through the woods.
The breed history, therefore, indicates that they are a relatively new breed of dog, having only existed for the last couple hundred years. While that may seem like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the several thousand-year-old Mastiffs that are still around today.
In addition, they have been bred for such unique skills like boar hunting and treeing raccoons in the swamps that they become so specialized in these areas that they have never really branched that far out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Reason #2 – Geography
It’s pretty hard to picture a more southern scene than a Catahoula plopped down on a front porch shaded by Spanish moss and magnolia trees.
Indeed, the Catahoula is ubiquitous with the American south.
The fact that they are a relatively new breed with a loyal following at home means they have the breed has remained relatively close to where it originated.
They have not matriculated all over the world like the more popular breeds like Labradors (of Labrador) or German Shepherds (of Germany).
It’s true that they are popularizing and beginning to become more widely available, but most of the breeders still reside in only a handful of states in the southeastern United States.
In fact, there are considered only to be three main bloodlines are true Catahoulas today.
All of these can trace themselves directly back to the very beginnings of the Catahoula in Louisiana, where they still are now.
If you live in this house, like I do, they really aren’t that rare.
You’ll probably see them about as much as you see a bloodhound or a basset hound.
But once you go West of the Mississippi or North of the so-called Mason-Dixon line, you’re unlikely to see this breed at all.
Reason #3 – Breed Status
Another major factor that makes Catahoulas a rare breed is the simple fact that they, well, are not technically a breed.
Well, sort of. I guess it depends who you ask really.
The Catahoula dog, as I mentioned, is a relatively young breed. The United Kennel Club (UKC) recognizes the Catahoula as a breed and has established a formal breed standard for it in 1995.
However, the American Kennel Club (AKC), which is a more popular and widely recognized registry of dog breeds, still does not recognize the Catahoula as a formal dog breed. Instead, it is listed as simply “Foundation Stock.”
What this ends up meaning is that the regulations on breeding and recognizing Catahoulas is not as formalized as other dog breed standards and, thus, the line separating the Catahoula breed from other similar breeds is blurry.
For example, you probably have seen some whispy, wiry-coated Catahoulas. They may have had the same merle coat and blue eyes and otherwise look just like a purebred Catahoula, but they look like they have wiry hair. No difference in the amount they shed, just a difference in the type of coat.
According to the UKC breed standard, however, this is technically a disqualifying trait in a would-be representative of a Catahoula specimen.
According to them, any amount of fuzziness should not but obscure the dog’s outline.
Most Catahoulas that I have seen are mixed breed dogs, often with Pitbulls or with Terriers.
What we end up with is a swirly, merle coat and blue or golden eyes, but they are not a true Catahoula dog.
Because of this, it can be difficult to identify or even find a Catahoula if you are looking for them.
Reason #4 – Breeding
Going back to what I just mentioned about how some of these mixed breed dogs end up with swirly coats and blue or golden eyes….
Everybody loves the striking and unique look of a Catahoula hound, but it takes unique genes and a long history of specific breeding in order to achieve those distinctive features and characteristics.
Those blue eyes and swirling leopard print coats are recessive traits.
That means that if mixed with say a Chocolate Lab, the resulting litter may have a few blue-eyed dogs but they will tend to look more like the more dominant brown parent.
Without very specific, cognizant breeding, the swirling patterns and blue eyes would eventually be bred away. Not dissimilar to what is happening with red hair and green eyes in people.
That means that you are unlikely to find a purebred Catahoula unless you are looking in the right places, like a trustworthy and reputable breeder.
However, the issues will not stop there.
Blue eyes and merle coloration are, technically, genetic mutations.
These traits can crop up in almost any breed. Some breeds, like Catahoulas and Australian Shepherds, have leaned heavily into this mutation,
These characteristics, however, are known to cause higher instances of blindness and deafness in dogs as owners and breeders attempt to bring forth these beautiful colors.
Even well-established lines will from time to time throw a litter of puppies with a couple of blind or deaf dogs in it because they are chasing recessive genes, which often results in weaker characteristics floating to the surface.
In short, it can be difficult to breed for Catahoulas and harder still to get extremely showy and healthy specimens. This makes them even rarer.
Reason #5 – Energy
Finally, let’s not forget that this dog was bred to chase boar through Louisiana backwoods and swamps.
Do not be surprised if they are not contented to hang out with you 24/7 on the couch binge-watching Netflix.
They are a highly energetic breed of dog who was bred to work, but they have a hard goofy streak in them too.
And any owner’s manual will tell you that they’re extremely intelligent, having been bred to perform most of their work on the farm and hunting while far away from their owners, honing their intellect.
This also bred into them an independent streak.
Catahoula can be prone to aloofness and independence, characteristics that some owners may find cold or frustrating.
Catahoulas have a unique combination of problem-solving intelligence and wild-eyed energy that make them extremely interesting dogs, but they are definitely not for everyone.
Many people rightfully size up this woodsy dog and recognize that it is not a good fit for their lifestyle.
If you do decide to take this independent breed out adventuring with you, consider sticking one of these on their collar. It’s equal parts helping you find them in case they run off and also an easy way to track them down in case someone else finds your extremely rare and attractive dog irresistible.
But very few people these days have a lifestyle that would complement a Catahoulas preferred best life, another reason you probably won’t see them too much.
The Rare Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog
Depending on where you are in the world, Catahoulas may be as common as Chihuahuas or as rare as actual leopards.
However, most places outside of a handful of states in the American South will find that this is an extremely rare breed indeed.
Their close ties with the American South from which they came is the main reason that people don’t see them very much outside of the Gulf Coast area.
However, it is also because they are a highly energetic breed of dog that looks more natural chasing a wild boar through knee-deep water than they do sprawled out across your couch.
However, in the right environment, they are truly a magnificent breed of dog, one I am excited to see become more and more popular outside of the Deep South.