Thursday, November 6, 2014

Training a Catahoula Leopard Dog


A video of Training Bohannon the Catahoula Puppy

One iPhone charger, a cheer leading pompom, numerous socks, uncountable cardboard boxes, pink bunny slippers, and even a pair of my old boots.  What do these items all have in common?  They have all become the victims of the terror that can be a Catahoula puppy.  I keep telling my very patient family that what comes with an intelligent, driven dog is the restlessness of boredom and ways to fill it.  Basically a excellent dog in the field can make a tiresome house canine.

The household antics aside; Bohannon the Catahoula puppy is an awesome animal.  He has been with me for the past two months and we have already covered much ground.  We have roamed the Colorado Mountains in search of ducks, coyotes, and general adventure.  A bond has been built between us and a mutual understanding seems to be in the development.

At ten weeks old, I started training Bohannon for tracking and trailing.  By 12 weeks old he already had the basics down.  At 16 weeks the dog is running 300 yard-long trails on human scent and has been introduced to Mountain Lion scent as well.  Bohannon tracks both scents equally well, but we are focusing on humans primarily, as I have the intent to develop him as a Search and Rescue dog.  Bohannon tracks any human scent I give him and has begun to master when the person makes a turn in their trail, or crosses a small obstacle such as a rocks, or a stream. 

Every time we go out to train I find I learn more about tracking and scent dispersal than he does, merely by allowing the dog to teach me through his own natural abilities.  I am absolutely amazed at how easy it has been to teach this Catahoula to scent trail.  It just seems the breed has a built in affinity for it.   I am shocked that these dogs are not used more commonly in the Search and Law Enforcement fields.

When I made Bohannon's first video I was surprised at the amount of attention it received.  I have since had several people contact me to find out more about training this remarkable breed.  Some have asked if the general description of the Catahoula's temperament is accurate.  They are often described as hard-headed, or even aggressive dogs.  It is also advised that they need a lot of exercise and attention.

Bohannon seeing snow for the first time.

While I am not an expert on the Catahoula, I will comment on some of these allegations from now owning and training two of them.   If you are looking for a real authority on the breed I would direct you to Don Abney with  Abney Catahoulas.  Don has been raising and training Catahoulas for probably longer than I have been on this planet.   Not only is Don a true gentlemen, but a very strong proponent of the Catahoula, and the breeder of Bohannon.

If you plan to purchase a Catahoula, you need to be prepared.  They are fantastic dogs, but they need a little guidance.  I believe they are actually too intelligent for their own good.  There are several areas of concern I would advise you review or be prepared to address.

Dominance - Before owning any dog, and especially a Catahoula, I would encourage you to learn about Canine social hierarchy in a pack. Your dog will see you as just a weird looking fellow canine and you will need to be the pack leader. If you are not the pack Alpha (leader), then the Catahoula will decide he is.  Understand the Catahoula may try to assert dominance over you and test you.  You will need to be ready to maintain your leadership role.  I like to start early on with feeding time.  My pup is not allowed to eat until I tell him he can.  In the dog pack the leader eats first and then each subsequent dog, thus establishing the role early on.  Also, be prepared to follow-up any trained command with the expected activity.  For example, if your dog knows the Sit command and you give it to him and he clearly heard you and ignores you, then you must make him sit. If he learns that he can ignore your commands, you are on the road to losing the Alpha position.  Always be as gentle as you can be with your dog, but be firm and make sure if he understands a command, that he follows it.


Bohannon on a hunting trip, meeting ducks for the first time.
Socialization - I believe it is important to introduce the puppy to as many people as possible when they are young.  It can help later in life for them to accept new people and be friendly. One exception to that is dog parks. Not only can the parks be an excellent place to pick up a disease or parasite, but you are also at the mercy of other dogs' conduct. As for aggressiveness,  I have not found the Catahoula to be mean, but protective and defensive.  If they feel their person or property is being threatened, they may react in a protective manner.  Socialization early on has seemed to help with Bohannon, but he still growls when people approach his yard, truck, or knock on the door.  I do not mind a dog that is protective as long as he is not overtly so.  Take the puppy everywhere you can, and let him experience new and interesting things.  It will help him be more confident when he is an adult.


Buddies, the author and Bohannon.
Bonding - It is very important to build a close bond with your dog.  Both of my Catahoulas were/are a one person dog. It is difficult for anyone other than myself to correct or get his respect.  Make sure your dog bonds with you and not another family member if you want to work them.  Take a week off from work when you first get the pup. Do not do any corrections, just go have fun together.  Learn who your pup is, and be his whole world for a while.  Bo and I went camping for 10 days when I first got him.  He did not really get any corrections or have any training until he had been with me for two weeks.

Attitude - There are two tools that I have found to be invaluable with training Bohannon so far.   Those are patience and persistence.  Being patient when your message is not received by the dog, and persistence in what you're trying to achieve with him.  Along with those tools are energy and a positive attitude.  I find when my drive and energy is up, so is Bo's, and on the contrary his antics and concentration is lowered when mine is. Be creative with your training.  If one way isn't working, try another approach.  I try to make everything a game to make things fun.  Bo was not getting the "come" command very well.  He really likes to track.  As such, I made him sit and stay.  I then walked around a corner out of sight and hid.  After hiding I called Bo, and had him find me.  This made the "come" command fun and a great game for him.


A frozen Catahoula bundled up in the duck blind.
Exercise - This is an absolute must, every day or even twice a day.  If Bohannon does not get to work for a day, then I need to be prepared for all manner of household destruction.  Playing fetch, going for a walk, or even a little obedience training seems to take the edge off and help him settle a bit.  If you are going to own a Catahoula, have a plan to train them for something.  They need mental stimulation beyond just physical exertion.  If you do not give him something to do, he will find something he considers fun; I am sure you will not find this activity entertaining.

In my opinion Catahoulas are one of the absolute best working breeds there is.   They require your time and a firm but loving hand to raise, but in the end you will have a fabulous dog. Closing thoughts are on patience, as that is what I have been practicing.

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which all difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." 
-John Quincy Adams





6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I have not read your entire blog but how well has your catahoula done with hunting waterfowl and pheasant? Should I try to train her to hunt or would it be too much of a challenge?

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    Replies
    1. Jimmy,

      Sorry for the late reply! The answer to your question is yes and no. A Catahoula is excellent at hunting and locating game. However the retrieve is where your problem will be. They are not the best reterivers as they will be possessive the game, and will probably destroy your bird. They have a high destroy drive and are smart enough to know that giving the bird to you means they wont get it back! My two cents, if you want a retriever get a breed that is known for their bird work.
      If you want a serious trailing, or general tough hunting buddy. Then the Catahoula might be right for you. They can do just about everything out there, they are even using them as sled dogs now. About the one thing I would steer away from is bird work.

      Hope that helps?

      Delete
    2. Jimmy,

      Sorry for the late reply! The answer to your question is yes and no. A Catahoula is excellent at hunting and locating game. However the retrieve is where your problem will be. They are not the best reterivers as they will be possessive the game, and will probably destroy your bird. They have a high destroy drive and are smart enough to know that giving the bird to you means they wont get it back! My two cents, if you want a retriever get a breed that is known for their bird work.
      If you want a serious trailing, or general tough hunting buddy. Then the Catahoula might be right for you. They can do just about everything out there, they are even using them as sled dogs now. About the one thing I would steer away from is bird work.

      Hope that helps?

      Delete
  3. This is an amazing dog. I've just read you blog and I admit, I'm not familiar with the breed. Looking at how magnificent your dog looks, I can't help but admire the breed. I'm a proud owner of a Golden Retriever and for the first few months, I've been patiently training him and bonding with him closely. I've read a lot about canine boot camp and would like to know how you feel about them? This site has delved into this topic and I'd like an opinion http://dogsaholic.com/training/canine-boot-camp.html

    ReplyDelete