NotABully.org is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
If you’re at all familiar with Catahoulas, then you’ve probably noticed that this highly intelligent breed works hard and plays hard. As you might imagine, that also means they have a lot of energy to burn and require vigorous daily exercise. So, what better way to burn some of that energy than by playing in the water?
But do Catahoulas actually like water? Are they any good at swimming?
Most Catahoulas not only like water, but they’re also excellent swimmers. Catahoulas were bred originally by French settlers for the swampy terrain of the state of Louisiana in the American South. Their features are adapted for navigating through the wet, muddy environment.
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about what makes Catahoulas such great swimmers along with how you can set them up for success in the water.
Do Catahoula Leopard Dogs Have a History with Water?
In fact, water is their middle name. Well, not literally, but the word “Catahoula” does mean “sacred lake” in the Choctaw language.
This official state dog of Louisiana was bred for versatility — from hunting companions to tracking, chasing, herding, and even catching wild hogs. With a resume like that, it’s safe to assume that there isn’t much this fearless breed won’t do.
So where does water enter the picture?
If the hogs ran into a swamp or other body of water, the French settlers needed a dog that wouldn’t give up the chase. So, the Catahoula, also known as the Catahoula Leopard Dog, was developed. Wild hogs are powerful creatures, so it’s important for Catahoulas to match their strength both on land and in the water.
A Breed Well Equipped For Water
Just because Catahoulas like water doesn’t instantly make them good swimmers. We’ve seen this time and time before and one of the best examples are Boxers, a breed that may enjoy swimming even if they aren’t very well equipped for the water.
But this isn’t is the case for the Catahoula and these pups are well suited for the water.
So, what makes the Catahoula a good water dog?
The Catahoula’s short coat means less maintenance after they’ve been in the water. Long or curly-coated breeds, even those bred for water-related jobs, require thorough brushing after swimming to prevent matting and take longer to dry. However, short-coated breeds not only dry quicker but aren’t at risk for matted fur after a swim.
Catahoulas, though, do lack the double-coat of some short-haired water breeds, such as the Labrador Retriever. The double coat, in many breeds, serves as insulation in cold water. Similar to the short-coated Pittie, this lack of insulation can mean Catahoulas may get a little chilly after a swim in anything but the warmest weather.
But when you consider a Catahoula’s southern history it should be no surprise that they don’t have a double coat! Extra insulation just wouldn’t be necessary for the heat and humidity of Louisiana.
Long, Rudder-Like Tails
Think of a dog with a very short or docked tail, like a Rottweiler. Without a long tail to use as a steering mechanism, they may have difficulty maneuvering and turning in the water.
Now, picture a Catahoula with their long, strong tail.
Unlike the Rottweiler, the Catahoula’s tail increases their agility in the water by serving as a rudder. Their tail helps them steer and navigate in the water. Whether they’re chasing a hog or just having a little fun, the rudder-like tail will allow them to easily stay on course.
It should also be no surprise that all of the most famous water dogs, like the retrievers, all have strong and long tails to help them in the water.
Now imagine a Doberman with cropped ears that stand straight up, exposing the ear canal, while the Catahoula has floppy, droopy ears that cover the ear.
By covering the ear canal, those drop ears help to prevent water from entering the ear canals when they swim. So, unlike a dog with cropped, prick, or other ears that stand straight up, floppy ears are ideal for a dog who likes water.
However, floppy ears aren’t perfect and while they can help keep water out of ears once water gets in floppy ears can actually be a problem.
That’s because floppy ears can cause water to get locked into the ear and may increase the risk of ear infections in some cases. Still, floppy ears provide more of a benefit than anything else but it’s important to not rely on them too much to keep your Catahoula’s ears healthy during swim time!
You might be surprised to find out that Catahoula Leopard Dogs have webbed feet but these pups, like many other breeds which excel at swimming, do indeed have webbed feet. Catahoulas have some of the most significant webbing of any breed with webbing that reaches almost to the end of the toes!
You can see just how significant this webbing is in this photo:
There’s not much more room to adding more webbing to those toes!
Webbed feet not only make these dogs stronger swimmers, but it also helps them to gain traction while running on land — especially on the wet, muddy terrain of swamps. That extra grip helps the Catahoula Leopard Dog do its job all the more efficiently.
After all, it’s hard to track down and catch a wild hog if you can’t keep up with it and webbed toes can give these pups an edge.
Catahoulas may not have super long faces like some breeds, but they do have a snout that’s long enough to keep them safe and efficient in the water.
How does the length of a dog’s face help them in the water?
Imagine a short-faced pug in the water. Not only will they have a hard time getting anywhere with their short limbs and a lack of a tail but because of their short, brachycephalic face, they can really struggle to keep their head above water.
Not only can this make swimming a lot less fun for a pug but it can also be downright dangerous.
To see the other side of this, check out this short video of a couple of Catahoulas (and their Yorkie friend) swimming in the water. Notice how they keep their heads tilted up and their ample snout allows them to keep their head out of the water? That’s not an option for short-faced pups like pugs.
Do Catahoulas Like To Swim?
Since Catahoulas have features that make them ideal water dogs, it’s natural to deduce that they also like to swim.
Although dogs do typically adhere to their breed standard, there are still exceptions.
So, just because a Catahoula is built for water doesn’t mean they’ll instantly take to it.
Some dogs can be intimidated by or hesitant about entering the water. It might be anything from not wanting water in their face to being scared by the sound of water crashing. Whatever the reason, there’s no guarantee your Catahoula will instantly be a water-loving fiend, even though it’s in their genes.
Still, from tail to ears to coat and even feet, these dogs are natural-born swimmers. While you may need to help them learn the basics, there’s no doubt that this highly intelligent, tenacious breed will quickly become a strong swimmer. Swimming is also a great exercise that’s perfect for satisfying this high-energy breed’s desire for an endurance workout.
But the good news is that Catahoulas are a highly intelligent and driven breed. With a little encouragement and patience, they’re likely to learn that the water is a fun place to play.
Just make sure you read your dog’s body language and understand that even with webbed feet and a history of swimming they still need to be set up for success in the water.
How To Set Your Catahoula Up For Success In The Water
You shouldn’t have too much trouble helping your Catahoula find success and happiness in the water but it’s still worth going over a few tips to make sure your pup enjoys their time in the water.
Ease Into the Water
Kiddie pools (you know, those plastic ones you might have had in your backyard as a child?) can be a great introduction to water.
If you don’t have a kiddie pool or don’t want the added expense of purchasing one, you can also take them to a lake, beach, or other shallow areas.
The goal here is to provide your Catahoula a chance to slowly enter the water in their own time. I know, you might be rolling your eyes at the idea of a high-energy Catahoula doing anything slowly but you still want to give them the option!
First impressions matter a lot, even to our dogs, and if a Catahoula’s first experience is getting tossed into the deep end they may not be too excited about getting back into the water.
Make it Fun
Treats, toys, and praise are great ways to keep an introduction to water and swimming fun.
As we know, Catahoulas love to have a job to do. Fetching their favorite toy from the water might be not only a great job for them but also a way to distract them from any apprehensions they have about swimming.
Treats and praise will help positively reinforce that their behavior (going in the water and swimming) is not only good but also fun. So if your Catahoula has a favorite treat or toy they can’t turn down, it might be the perfect way to entice them into trying out the water.
If your Catahoula is hesitant about swimming, you can also offer them a little extra support. Because they can be a considered a larger breed, you may not be able to easily hold them to help them float, like you could a small dog.
Instead, they can wear a life preserver. In addition to increasing their safety in the water, life preservers increase your Catahoula’s buoyancy which may make them feel more secure about swimming. This added security not only helps keep them afloat but will also help boost their confidence and increase their comfort level in the water.
From the swamps of Louisiana to your backyard pool, Catahoulas are built for water right down to those webbed feet.
While it’s no guarantee every Catahoula will love the water or be a proficient swimmer from day one, there’s plenty of ways to get them comfortable and help bring out their inner water dog.