Catahoula Leopard dogs are prized by their owners and handlers for their remarkable work ethic as well as their physical attributes. Many Catahoula Leopard dogs have a merle or leopard pattern, which makes for a unique and varied two toned coat, or even more colors when it has a Patchwork pattern. But the most surprising physical feature isn't its beautifully colored coat but its webbed feet. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the webbed paws of the Catahoula Leopard dog.
While many breeds have at least a small amount of webbing between the toes of the paws, Catahoula Leopard dogs are considered unique because the webbing extends to nearly the end of each toe. This webbing is a great attribute for these dogs that were developed in the marshy areas of northern Louisiana and enables them to work very effectively in wetter areas. The also help make the Catahoula Leopard dog a very efficient and quick swimmer.
But how did this webbing come to be such an important feature of the Catahoula Leopard dog? For the answer, we have to go back several centuries to the first domesticated dogs in North America. Although we don't have any records that definitely state the real history of the Catahoula Leopard dog, we can take educated guesses as to how they were developed over the centuries. We do know that Native Americans in the area that we now call northern Louisiana did have domesticated dogs that helped with hunting and herding. These dogs are thought to be closely related to the native red wolf, which also had webbed feet that helped it negotiate the marshy landscape of this southern region.
These domesticated dogs of the Native Americans likely would have stayed the same if it weren't for the breakdown of Hernando De Soto's Spanish expedition into the present day southeastern United States in the first half of the 16th century. After De Soto died, the rest of his party did what they could to salvage their losses and gave many of the items they could no longer carry with them to the friendly Native Americans. Many of the war dogs that the Spanish had brought with them were also left behind, and these dogs were eventually bred with the domesticated dogs of the Native Americans.
The last change to the breed probably happened in the 17th century with the arrival of French settlers that brought along their Beauceron dogs, which were medium sized capable shepherds. The combination of these dogs with the dogs that were the descendants of the red wolf domesticated dogs of the Native Americans and the war dogs of the Spanish resulted in what we can consider to be the first Catahoula Leopard dog.
The most fascinating part of this long history is that today's Catahoula Leopard dog probably looks very different from the domesticated dog of the Native Americans from centuries ago, but they do seem to have retained a very important feature – the webbed paws. In an area known for its marshy and difficult landscape, it is no wonder that these dogs have retained such an important feature that helps these dogs even today in their work.