The hunting and working instinct of the Catahoula are really one and the same. It can be difficult to explain how a breed can be both a hunting dog and a cattle dog, but I will do my best to clarify this.
A Catahoula is not a “herding” breed. When they are working cattle, they are using their prey drive. With a true herding breed, such as the Collie, they “stalk”, (still a part of the prey drive) but their natural predatory aggression has been inhibited through selective breeding so they no longer have the desire to pounce, grab and kill that all canine descendants once had.
Many hunting breeds still have a high predatory aggression. Although in a sense this is not “aggression” at all, in compared with Social/Dominance Aggression or Fear Aggression. Predatory aggression is a natural survival-related behavior. It is not vicious, malicious or vindictive nor is it preceded by a mood change or threatening gestures, as when we think of other types of aggression. Therefore it is more appropriately referred to as predatory drive or prey drive.
Catahoulas have an intense hunting instinct. I’ll explain further how this prey drive associates with the Catahoulas working drive:
The natural hunting behavior of a wolf is as follows –
Dissect and Eat
The “working” nature of most breeds uses these traits to various degrees to achieve the required result in that breed.
Herding breeds - “Stalk”
Pointing breeds have a more - inhibited “Stalk”.
Retrieving breeds have a - “chase” + inhibited “Grab/Bite”.
Some breeds will go through the entire sequence of wolf type hunting, but stop short of actually dissecting and eating the animal.
Many Catahoulas will go through all phases, including the eating of the meal they have just caught.
This is why they do not make a good retriever, their predatory drive is too high. They do not have a soft mouth and rather then “retrieving” the bird will, in most cases proceed to keep it away from their owner and eat it.
They do not make a good sheepherding dog, because they do not stop at the “stalk” phase as most herding breeds are required to. They are too tough for sheep and if given the chance would continue on with hunting the creature instead of herding it.
Cattle and hogs are much tougher adversaries for the Catahoula and although the in proper terminology, they are working/baying these animals, (see Working Style) they are in effect “hunting” them, putting into use their high prey drive. Catahoulas and other Cur breeds are well-known for their ability to locate cattle in brush or wooded areas, tracking or trailing them using scent, in other words....hunting. When a rancher is looking for that perfect cow or stock dog in a Catahoula, they need to evaluate the hunting ability of the dog. Catahoulas bay cattle in much the same way that they hunt and bay hogs, so to say that a Catahoula is “herding cattle” is incorrect.
In short, the prey-drive of a Catahoula as a hunting dog far exceeds that of a herding breed, so to refer to the Catahoula (or any Cur breed for that matter) as a herding dog is incorrect and a misrepresentation of the breed. The correct terminology would be to call them a “cattle working dog”, a “bay dog”, or a “stock dog”.
NOTE **Unfortunately, when the UKC recognized the Catahoula in their Cur and Feist program in 1995, they did not have an understanding of how the breed hunts and works, and placed them in the Herding Group. The breed should have been placed with all other Curs in the Scenthound Group. Neither of the breed clubs representing the Catahoula during the following decade - the LCLDOA and CORBA - deemed it important enough to have the breed moved to a different group. Then in 2004 the Catahoula was dropped from the Cur and Feist program. As far as the UKC is concerned the Catahoula is a “herding dog”. I find it very sad that the UKC no long considers the Catahoula a Cur dog - it only took 10 years of being involved with an all-breed registry for the Catahoula to be completely misunderstood and misrepresented.**
It is possible to tone this prey drive down and keep control over it. There are Catahoulas who have succeeded in getting their sheep herding titles or Catahoulas that will retrieve, but this takes quite a bit of control over your dog and the suppression of the natural instincts they were born with. If your Catahoula lives in areas where there are many smaller type dogs or cats and must co-exist peaceful with them, then it is more advisable that your dog not be allowed to hunt to it’s full potential as this could naturally then be directed towards animals that your dog should NOT hunt. It is also a good idea to social with your Catahoula with smaller type dogs when they are young.
However even a Catahoula that has been allowed to hunt and kill can be trained not to hunt critters he should not be. Jagger, at 10 years old has been hunting all his life, has hunted his own coon, squirrels, rabbits and a couple of fox, but will not touch a cat, because he has been taught that they are off limits. I am also very careful with all my dogs around small “poofy” type dogs. They have been taught that these are dogs and not prey.
Here Jagger is pictured (nose to nose with the Rottie) with several dogs of all different sizes and would never think of “hunting” one of the smaller ones.