Catahoula Crosses and Cowboying on the Open Range

Working long days moving cattle and building fences in the open range is demanding work. Knowledge that a grizzly bear may be bedded in each draw or munching service berries over the next bluff adds a level of complexity and sometimes fear to the daily duties of cowboying. While any dog may be a good companion, those who work the range in areas frequented by grizzlies need versatile canid side-kicks to work cattle, and fend off any bears they may happen upon.

A catahoula dog and another breed sit together in the backseat of Amber Mason's SUV.
Catahoulas are sometimes referred to as “leopard dogs” for their unique spotted coat.

Grizzly bears populations have been on the rise in the mountains that rim Montana’s Ruby Valley. Amber Mason, who works to manage livestock at the Ruby Dell Ranch located in the heart of the Ruby Valley, prizes catahoula crosses for their big bark and strong nose, using them to support everyday work necessary to make a livestock operation tick.     

Catahoulas are capable working dogs coming from a Louisiana-based lineage of French beauceron dogs cross-bred with Native American wolf-hunting dogs to sculpt the breed into a capable hunting and livestock working companion. Sometimes referred to as “leopard dogs” for their unique spotted coat, purebred catahoulas are a renowned breed for hunting and protection. At the Ruby Dell, Mason’s dogs are catahoula-border collie crosses: a combo she says works very well on the range.

“They kind of set this perimeter, where they scout out around us when we are moving fences or cattle,” said Mason. “And crossing the border collie, they have a great herding instinct as well, so that is two-fold why we like to use them.”

Whether you are looking for the big bark and hunting prowess of the catahoula or the added ability to work livestock through crossing with border collies, these breeds are a versatile tool for working livestock and protecting human safety while cowboying on the open range.

Bringing them home

Since the breed is originally from Louisiana, there tend to be more breeders of catahoulas in the South, Mason says. Her family acquired their first catahoula from a breeder in Missouri. The puppies pictured in the image at the top of this post are catahoula-border collie crosses from a litter Mason’s family welcomed this spring. The simplest way to find good working dog breeds in your area is often to ask your neighbors if they know anyone with a litter on the way. You can learn more about catahoulas and possibly find a breeder in your area in this Facebook group.

Matt is deeply motivated to further practices, processes, and policies that support thriving working lands and wildlife in the American West. Through experience as a ranch hand in dense carnivore-country and four seasons as a guide in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, Matt’s work is inspired by the challenges and opportunities of sharing working landscapes with wildlife. He is WLA's Working Wild Challenge coordinator.