The Catahoula, short for Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, takes his name from a Choctaw word translated as "sacred lake." He’s thought to have originated in northern Louisiana and is the official state dog. These rugged but beautiful "hog dogs" were to drive hogs and cattle to slaughter. If you want a tough dog who will work hard or hunt hard, the Catahoula is for you. If you want a dog who is strictly a family companion, well, he can do that, too, but he might be a little more dog than you can or want to handle. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in acquiring a Catahoula.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

If the Catahoula is tough and aggressive during his work day, at home he is affectionate and loyal. The Catahoula is first and foremost a working dog, but if those instincts are fulfilled through stock work, hunting big game or some other task, he's happy to spend the rest of his time being a protective and loving family dog. He's wary of strangers and is an excellent watch dog. If he doesn't like someone, value his opinion.

Early, frequent socialization is critical to prevent a Catahoula from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Catahoula puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Catahoula throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. This is the only way he can learn to be discriminating, recognizing what is normal and what is truly a threat.

Train the Catahoula with a firm hand and consistent direction. With the right guidance, he is amenable to training and can learn many different tasks. For best results, begin training early, keep training sessions short, and use positive reinforcement techniques, never force. One thing to know: it's never too early to start teaching him not to pull on the leash.

The Catahoula is a good playmate for older children, but a puppy can be too rambunctious around toddlers. If Catahoulas are brought up with cats, they can get along with them, but they may view outdoor cats as something to chase up a tree. If you want to add another dog to your family, it's best to choose one of the opposite sex.

A Catahoula needs plenty of companionship and activity to be happy. Bear in mind that he will need at least a good hour of strenuous exercise daily. If you don't have livestock or game for him to herd or track and you don't take him hunting on a regular basis, a couple of long walks or runs should satisfy him. He's also a great hiking companion with a high level of endurance and the ability to navigate any type of terrain. You'll be ready to stop before he is. With a Catahoula, the axiom to remember is that a tired dog is a good dog. A Catahoula who's not tired will eat your house if he doesn't have anything better to do. He can also be vocal.

The Catahoula stands out for his striking coat that can be spotted, brindle, patched or solid. And then there are his webbed feet, made for swamp crawling, and his distinctive eyes of blue, green, brown or amber. Some Catahoulas have odd eyes, meaning each eye is a different color, and some odd Catahoulas have "cracked," or two-colored, eyes. He weighs 50 to 90 pounds.

The Catahoula coat ranges from short and sleek to medium-length and coarse, sometimes with a little feathering on the hind legs, tail and belly. In either case, it is easily cared for with a weekly brushing. Use a rubber curry to keep it gleaming. The only other grooming the Catahoula needs is regular nail trimming, ear cleaning and tooth brushing. He sheds year-round, but not heavily. Give him a bath when he is dirty, maybe once or twice a year.

Always walk your Catahoula on leash to ensure that he doesn't try to practice his aggressive driving skills on other animals. He also needs a securely fenced yard to keep him contained when you're not home. Catahoulas can adapt to living indoors or outdoors, but the most important thing to know about them is that they need human companionship. There's no point in having a Catahoula if you're just going to stick him out in the backyard all by his lonesome.

Health Issues Common to Catahoulas

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Catahoula is a healthy breed in general, but he has some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip dysplasia and deafness.

Ask the breeder to show evidence that a puppy's parents have OFA or PennHIP evaluations for hips and an OFA BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) evaluation for deafness. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Catahoulas. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Low $1,500-$6,000
Deafness Medium $100-$300

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Catahoula Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Catahoulas aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Catahoula can live to be 10 to 14 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Catahoula to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Catahoulas

Pet insurance for Catahoulas costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Catahoulas are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Catahoulas are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Catahoula is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.