Cataloula Leopard dogs enjoy a long and unique history. Thought to be the result of crosses between war dogs owned by Spanish explorers and the domesticated dogs of Native Americans, Catahoula Leopard dogs have been living in North Central Louisiana for hundreds of years and are thought to be the dog that has occupied North America the longest. In this article, we'll take a look at the history of Catahoula Leopard dogs, which now enjoy the title of State Dog of Louisiana.
Unfortunately, much of the Catahoula Leopard dog's history is shrouded in mystery, but thanks to the records left by Spanish explorers of the 16th century and French settlers in the 17th century, we are able to make educated guesses about the foundations of these present day working dogs. Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto landed on Florida's coat in 1539 and began the difficult work of exploring the present day southeastern United States. Upon their arrival in present day northern Louisiana, members of De Soto's expedition noted that the Native Americans keep dogs that looked like wolves, except they barked instead of howled. The expedition ended there in northern Louisiana after the death of De Soto, but this prompted two important groups attached to the expedition to be left behind dogs and hogs.
De Soto's group had herded several hogs on the islands of Cuba and Santo Domingo and brought them along the expedition. Concerned about conditions in the unknown land they explored, the hogs were rarely eaten and by the time the part had reached Louisiana the number of hogs was enormous. After De Soto's death, 700 of the animals were auctioned off, and whatever the explorers couldn't salt and carry was given to the friendly Natives.
War dogs were an important part of any expedition, and De Soto's party included any number of bloodhounds, mastiffs and greyhounds. In the confusion of the expedition's breakdown, many of the dogs were left behind. These dogs were also taken in by the Native Americans and eventually bred with their domesticated dogs.
These newly crossed dogs made a good living hunting and herding these hogs that kept increasing in number. When French settlers arrived in the 17th century, they were also overwhelmed by the numbers of hogs surviving in the wild, which by this time were not considered to be good for eating, except for making head cheese. The settlers crossed their herding dogs, called Beaucerons, with the local dogs and today's Catahoula Leopard dog was born.
Eventually named after the Catahoula parish where they were developed, Catahoula Leopard dogs continue to have very strong herding instincts and are today thought of as working dogs and not as pets. Their prominence in the area and their strong working ethic prompted Governor Edwin Edwards to sign a bill naming the Catahoula Leopard dog as the State Dog of Louisiana in 1979.