The Catahoula Cur or more often referred to as the Catahoula Leopard Dog or more appropriately called the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, is the oldest known breed in America. Located primarily in the deep south in Louisiana, this dog breed was actually given the title as the official state dog in 1979 by then-Governor Edwin Edwards.
While the exact history of the breed's development is unclear, as is the case with many breeds, it is theorized that the breed was developed when native Americans bred their own dogs with various Molosser breeds brought over in the 16th century by Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto.
Another theory holds that the breed was more formally developed three centuries later when French explorers bred their dogs with local canid. During this period, the French documented strange-looking dogs with glass eyes used by the Indians to hunt in the swamp. Given the timeline, it is even possible if both theories hold some weight.
It is believed that the name may have come from the Choctaw Indians.
This breed has been primarily bred for its work and not for appearance, so uniformity varies throughout the breed. One primary characteristic that helps make this breed unique is webbing located between its toes. While the dog is known for hunting, it rarely catches and holds its prey. Because of the nature and size of the breed, more often, it will trap its prey and hold them in place without touching them by using direct eye contact, lateral shifting, and its unique bark, much in the way herding breeds control their flock.
At one time, the breed was exported to Australia and New Zealand to help with control of the local wild pig population.
Another unique trait of the breed is they often maintain the Merle genetic trait. This same trait was historically expressed in the American Pit Bull Terrier, and as such, coupled with both breeds hunting nature, many thought it would be good to breed the two breeds together. This breeding later resulted in what is now known as the Catahoula Bulldog and is the subject of much confusion about the purity of Merle Pit Bulls by those ignorant of Merle's historical nature in the history of the Pit Bull breed. Many biased individuals have perpetuated this myth of impurity. Due to inside politics in 2005, the UKC and ADBA changed their standards for the Pit Bull breed. The attempted whitewash of history has hurt the Merle Pit Bull and has sought to rob the breed of an essential part of its history.
Deafness has been reported in the Catahoula as well as other breeds that contain the Merle gene. In most cases, this can be attributed to specimens that are primarily white, as this is an indication of a lack of melanin that also contributes to the auditory development of a dog. Another significant factor that leads to deafness is the lack of genetic diversity perpetuated by irresponsible inbreeding. It is important to understand the effects genetics have when breeding, especially when it comes to Merle genetics.
While the genetic trait has been reported to have been found, this has later proven to be false, and as of yet, there still remains no test that can accurately identify it. Because of the known links to deafness that high levels of white and inbreeding have, however, those who do choose to breed Merle should take precautions and breed in such a way the limits inbreeding effect and breed darker specimens helping to ensure higher levels of melanin. When properly bred, this and other breeds affected by Merle genetics have not proven to have any higher risk of deafness or negative health impacts than any other breed.
It is also often suggested that crossing merle with merle may cause an increased risk of adverse health effects. This theory has never honestly been explored where samples with high levels of white or inbreeding, which have a proven association with negative health outcomes, were removed from the test samples. Only by removing known health problems can an honest conclusion be made when examining simply suspicious ones.
In our own studies, when inbreeding was restricted and primary whites excluded from breeding programs, there was no increase in deafness or other negative health effects often suggested in merle breeding.
Some feel that such breeding is unethical, but others argue that they have made great strides in such breeding when they have controlled other factors such as ensuring proper genetic diversity and breeding only with darker colors.
While there has not been strong, well-researched evidence against merle-to-merle breeding, anyone considering it should exercise great caution and take their time at first to understand the merle trait in more detail. If one chooses to continue such breeding, one should strive to eliminate or reduce other risk factors as much as possible. In the end, this is a scenario that a breeder should look out for, as bad litters can lead to puppies needing to be culled, so they don't add to an unwanted pet population.