The Catahoula Leopard dog is a versatile dog that today is used in hunting, search and rescue, and even service dogs, but their roots lie in herding animals such as hogs, sheep, geese, turkey and cattle. Perhaps better known for their long history in participating in the annual round ups of wild hogs in its native Louisiana, Catahoula Leopard dogs have also done the same with the semi wild cattle that lived in the same area. These impressive working dogs are still used today in cattle driving and rounding up runaway cattle. In this article, we'll learn why the Catahoula Leopard dog is so well suited to cattle herding and a few tips for those that wish to train their Catahoula for cattle herding.
Like many stock dogs, or dogs that are traditionally used in farming or other similar jobs, Catahoula Leopard dogs have been bred for herding for so long that the instinct is practically natural. Usually working in teams of three these dogs have the instinct to stop the herd and force it to stay together, or grouped. The difficulty in this exercise is that the dogs can put too much pressure on the herd, which can then cause the herd to stampede, running over dogs, cowboys, fences and anything else that gets in its way. The trick is for the handler and the dogs to work together to keep the herd together without the mounting pressure that can cause a stampede. This is usually done with a vocal signal from the handler for the dogs to back off. The dogs don't have to pull all the way back, but enough that the herd relaxes and the pressure to stampede is relieved.
The age that Catahoula Leopard dogs can be ready to start working as a herder will depend on the dog, as every dog is different. Some dogs will be ready before it is a year old, while others need a little more time to mature. If at all possible, the best way to train a Catahoula to herd cattle is to let it participate with an older, experienced dog. The younger dog usually will want to imitate the older dog and it will learn what it needs to do. No matter what age a Catahoula Leopard dog is when it begins, the most important thing is that the dog is smart and fast enough to get away from the cattle if it charges. Introducing a young dog to cattle needs to be done with careful supervision. Many dogs will naturally chase after, circle and bay cattle not long after their initial contact, but this is when the handler must train the dog to come when called, in order to best control both the dog and the herd.