Sunday, October 9, 2011

What Is A “Cur Dog”?

Dwight Wilson posted this on Facebook, I found it very intresting!

Breed History

What is a “Cur dog”???
The Cur dogs are a group of purebred dogs and their crosses, the same way “Treeing Hounds”, “Stock Dogs”, “Terriers” and “Bulldogs” are. All of these dogs share the same history in the early America’s as the pioneer cattle and hunting dog. The breeds include the following:

Southwestern dogs (Texas, and Western mountains): Usually large, long-legged dogs with a wider range and strong stock working instinct. Usually cow or hog dogs, also big tree game.

Black Mouth Cur, or East Texas Cur dog, Yeller Cur or East Texas Brindle Cur

Lacy Cur, or Texas Lacy dog, Blue (or Red) Lacy

“Texas Cur”, which can refer to any other breed/strain from Texas

Western Mountain Cur, or Western Cur dog

Louisiana and Florida: Mostly larger, heavy-boned dogs adapted to swamplands. Cow and hog dogs.

Catahoula Cur, or Louisiana Catahoula, or Catahoula Leopard Dog

Florida Cur, or Cracker Cur

Curs from Southeastern Mountains: Tend to be smaller, stockier, less leggy dogs, closer range and much more tree-oriented nowadays.

Foundation Stock Mountain Cur

Original Mountain Cur, or “OMC”

Kemmer stock Mountain Cur, or Kemmer Cur

Mountain View Cur

Treeing Cur (any treeing Cur dog crosses)

Stephen’s Stock Cur

Treeing Tennessee Brindle

Cur-Hound Hybrids: Have a stronger nose and wider range than the traditional Cur type and are generally taller with larger ears.

Plott Cur, or Plott Hound

Leopard Cur (NOT to be confused with the Catahoula Leopard Cur), or American Leopard Hound

To sum the group up, the Curs is a type of multipurpose working dogs, used to hunt game and control stock, originating in the Southern U.S. They were developed from a variety of dog types, though the exact origins of the name are still uncertain. Today each of the Cur breeds is a purebred of it’s own. They are NOT the result of just random crossbreeding! Again, they are specialized working dogs bred for ability. You can not "make" a Cur dog. However, Cur crosses are probably just as popular as the pure breeds, because people want a working dog and will choose the right traits, sometimes mixing breeds together to get the desired outcome.

When the settlers left Europe to arrive to the New World, what is now the United States, they brought along their working dogs--cattle dogs, hunting dogs, and catch dogs. These included:

The Scottish Cur and shepherd dogs

Spanish catch dogs, war dogs, and fighting dogs.. the old type Mastiff and Bull dog

Several different types of Trail Hounds and Running Hound dogs

To trace back where our Cur dogs first came from, we start in Scotland. Way back in the 1400's, the first written record of a dog breed known as the "Cur" dog appeared (some sources say this breed was around since the 1200’s) : these were mostly traditional herding dogs and guard dogs, much like the modern day heeler in working style and temperment. Sometimes distinctions were made between the “Shepherd dog” and the “Cur dog”, the former was favored among sheep herders while the Cur dog was a tougher dog used by butchers and cattlemen. The European “Cur” was a working dog, owned by the working class. Since this kind of dog was a necessity, instead of a luxury, there weren't any taxes put on these dogs in old Scotland, while the pet dogs, lapdogs, were taxed. So the working dogs had their tails bobbed, the "curtail" indicated this and no taxes were to be placed on the dog! It isn’t known if the name "Cur dog" came from curtailing, or the other way around but this is the source of the name we know today. The old shepherd dogs, or collies, were specially bred into Australian and English Shepherds and may have some connection with the Cur dogs. Other stock dogs that were imported to American may have included the ancestors of the Beauceron, a large, tough herding dog from France that is a lot like the Cur dogs in many ways.

Then there were the hunting dogs. The trail hounds brought over were the fore-runners of today's coon and big game hound breeds. The European hounds were however less gritty and far more specialized on specific types of game. Through selective breeding and crossing, the American tree hounds were created separately from the multi-purpose stock working Cur dog, but sharing many of the same ancestors. These trail hounds all had cold noses and would stick to the trail of different types of game for days. They had the stamina to run all day. These traits were bred into the Cur dogs.

Some people also will say that the modern Cur breeds have a little Sight Hound blood in them, which could well be true. The blood of imported Greyhounds, Lurchers, and Staghounds was readily available at this time. Most likely the Native American dogs (much like the Carolina Dog, or Dixie Dingo) was also crossed into these dogs, here and there...

Because European hunting dogs were not gritty enough, there was a specialized catch dog used for fighting the cornered large and dangerous game. These dogs were also used in staged animal fights, which showed their tenacity, strength, and their will to never give in. There were two types, the larger (90 lb) Mastiff and the smaller (45 lb) Bull dog--both of which don’t in any way resemble the modern breeds with the same name. The bull dog was most like the modern day working American Pit Bull, and both types were very agile and athletic. Their gameness, heart and drive were bred into the first Cur dogs.

In the pioneer America’s, it wasn’t economical to have so many different types of dogs for so many purposes when you are just trying to get by. So these dogs were crossed together to create one general type of dog with the characteristics of its ancestors. This new dog would become the primary cattle dog until the 1800’s, guard the family, keep predators away, and bring food on the table. Although looks was the last thing people cared about in those days, the right cross of the mentioned dogs became a distinct type with a distinct look. It is said that many early pioneers, homesteader’s, mountain men and ranchers could not have survived and thrived the way they did without the Cur dog. In a way, our Cur dogs helped form America as we know it.

Formation of the Modern Cur Breeds

The imported dogs were not just randomly crossed together to form “mutts”, they went through a process of selecting of the right traits and breeding only the best working dogs while culling everything else. Only the best would do. This new type of dog was at the side of everything, as a valuable part of the shaping of America. As the New World expanded and exploration of new places were successful, different distinct types of dogs were created. Since different areas called for different characteristics of dogs, that was what they were bred for. The same foundation stock of dogs used to create all the Cur breeds were the same, and at first the only differences were by region. Specialized Cur breeds adapted to the hot, dry, and flat southwest, especially in East Texas and became the Black Mouth Cur(Old Yeller dog), while dogs bred in and adapted to the Louisiana swamps became the Catahoula Cur breed. Dogs bred in Florida by early settlers to round up the cattle in the large swampy ranchers, needed still another type of dog and adapted the Cur dog, of the time, into what is now the Florida Cur dog. These different types eventually changed into very distinct breeds. The dogs of the time were bred for only the best ability, often through “natural selection” (dogs that weren’t good enough were killed by wildlife or became victims of the harsh climate) , and the best were bred the rest culled.

The Western History

When the trappers moved west to explore the Western United States, the Southerners brought along few dogs other than their Curs. These pioneer dogs adapted to the Western mountains and its weather and terrain. The Mountain Dogs found in the Western mountains and foothills today are usually larger and longer-legged than their Southern and Eastern cousins, and have to be able to work cattle as well as hunt. These dogs were popular with traditional cattlemen, and still are today. Fred Gipson, in his book “Old Yeller” described this versatility perfectly:

“All the other settlers had dogs. They were big fierce Cur dogs that the settlers used for catching hogs and driving cattle and fighting coons out of cornfields. They kept them as watchdogs against the depredations of loafer wolves, bears, panthers, and raiding Indians.”
The main purpose of the Western Cur is that of an all-round ranch dog and hunting dog. These dogs need to be able to bay up, gather, lead, catch, and guard the herd of range cattle along the trail or on the ranch. They needed to stay in camp or on the ranch and not run off, so they are naturally close ranging dogs but would go deeper when hunting, and protected the property from predators such as bears, lions, coyotes, etc. These dogs would also need to courageous hunters, catching varmints on the ground or driving it up a tree.

Later they were used as bear, lion, bobcat, etc. hunting dogs and later still as hog dogs. The Western dogs are mostly larger and taller, with long legs and a deep wide chest better suited for stamina over rough terrain. They are developed for running up and down steep mountain slopes and rocky terrain. These dogs are muscular without being bulky, strong built but rangy and agile. Their coats are usually thicker than the Southern dogs and always has a dense insulating undercoat. In fact there are three basic coat types, including the much less common rough coat (2 inch long coat).

The earliest Cur dog history in written form dates back to around this time, the early 1800’s, in several Western literature. In the book “Big Thicket Legacy”, many old relatives of the Texas pioneers were interviewed. Not surprisingly, a good deal of them mentioned the many uses of their dependable Cur dogs. A.L. Bevil says the following before continuing on stories of these dog’s courage:

“In the early days, they were trained for most everything. They were our protectors, and the protectors of my forefathers…Folks in this country had to have dogs and had to have vicious dogs. A good cur dog…was worth just about whatever you had to pay for him, for you used your dog every day for everything. A man used his dog to pen his cattle; he used his dog to pen his hogs; he used his dog to protect him at night; and he used him to hunt. He was used for hogs, bear, deer, cattle, panther, everything…Take them out at night and they’d tree possum and coon… They’ve got all the courage in town! There wasn’t any danger of anything coming in [the] yard. [The dogs ] were guarding against people, wildcats…stray dogs, panthers, maybe black bear. They were guarding your cattle, chickens, just about anything you had.”

Many more works from Texas describe the breed as a bear and wolf hunter with a bobbed tail that came from a combination of stock dogs, hounds, and bull dogs. These dogs were used in small packs to run down and fight the fiercest of predators. More commonly they also ran predators off the property and returned once the game had run off a good distance. This repeated style of chasing off predators and returning to the home to protect it is unique to a small handful of breeds including the Curs. Story after story tells of these dogs getting off worse than the game, but they did it all without hesitation—tracking , running down, and fighting some of the toughest game on this continent. These were tough gritty dogs that are near impossible to find in ANY working breed nowadays.

When hunting the old Cur dogs were said to trail like any Hound, but quietly, run like a Sight Hound, bay game up close and to catch game by the throat or nose like any Bull dog. These same dogs were the farm dogs used for working livestock and guarding the homestead. Many old-time cowboys who left the ranch to watch over their range cattle and drive them on, used these dogs. To this day there are people who do just that with their dogs that have been in their family, serving the same function since generations past. Old California literature talks about some gold miner’s dogs that were clearly Cur dogs as well. Photos strengthen the evidence that the miner’s favored dogs were the Western Cur breed. The old mining towns were filled with these dogs that could handle the meanest cattle and provide food for their owners. Most of the early trappers, when writing about their dogs spoke of a specific breed identical to the modern Mountain Cur.

Back in the old days most everyone had a Cur-dog of some sort. Hard to believe it but the Cur breeds were once the most popular dogs in the country. It was sure hard to get by without a good working dog by your side. Didn't matter if you were rich or poor, a hardworking ranch family, a town family, a lone trapper, an Indian, a former slave, didn't matter...everyone could find a use for a dog like this. It is said that may areas of the country couldn’t have been settled without the help of the Mountain Cur breed. Still, there are hunters and ranchers who keep their dogs descended from the greatest pioneer dogs that have traditions through oral history and handwritten pedigrees that date back hundreds of years. These days many people still keep all sorts of Curs, which have evolved into several different specialized types, one of the few dogs not ruined as being just a pet, or bred for looks and nothing more, and there's still plenty hunters and ranchers who use this dog to get the job done at least as good as, if not better than, any other breed of dog around.



The Cur Dog is used to track and corner the game they find. Typically the dog picks up the hottest scent as opposed to whichever scent trail is nearest, but they will pick up cold trails easy if no other trails are around. Their noses are near or as good as any Hounds’ and when trained right they can stick to a game trail just as long. However they will tend to switch over to a hotter track if one comes along. They mostly run tracks with their noses up, taking the scent in the wind, unless the trail is real cold then their nose goes to the ground to work it out. They typically are silent trailers.

These dogs have a born and bred in them instinct for hunting game. It‘s in their blood, their reason of being. The Cur dog has the instinct to catch and kill small game, and to bay up and fight large game. They are the best breed for predator control, no competition. They will fight off predators of any size: there are countless stories of Cur dogs fighting and chasing off wolves and small lions, one on one. They will keep your property, ranch, or camp free from any danger. They will not stop till the job was done. Even if the dogs came off worse, some eventually killed by the game, they still fought with all their hearts. These dogs are absolutely fearless in the fight and will chase off any predators within miles. These same dogs will switch over to being efficient and gritty track and tree dogs on bear and lion in other situations.

Curs have always been connected with the hunting of feral pigs. There are countless ways of hunting hogs, just as there are many different types of Cur dog. Most people breed straight bay dogs that are gritty enough to stop a hog but not catch, and use separate catch dogs. Other people run a mixed pack of gritty dogs that will trail, bay, and catch, where each dog has a different task. Or they may use strike dogs, bay dogs, help dogs, stop dogs, and catch dogs.

Stock Work

The very first Cur dog from the 1400’s was almost entirely a cattle dog. This was a primary function of early Cur dogs in the West. Many of the large ranch outfits still run the same Cur dogs as they did in the old days. These are the "round up" or gathering dogs. These dogs will find every member of the herd, even if they are miles away. They will bunch them together and keep them in one place. These dogs will also move a herd of tough range cattle, working from the front and sides of the herd. Usually you work two or three dogs that work good together to move a big herd. They will do whatever needs to be done to stop the cows or get them to move. They know how much pressure to put whether they are working docile cows or fighting bulls. A good Cur dog knows when it needs to bite and when it needs to back off. With some training they also make excellent catch dogs and will catch on command and not let go until you tell them A GOOD stock dog should be able to round up, move, and catch and know when to use each of these styles. These dogs earn their name as versatile dogs not specialists.


Through the hundreds of years these dogs have been around, they've always been known for their courage, determination, intelligence, loyalty, and strong sense of territory. These all rolled into one makes the perfect guard dog. This is the true American ranch dog of old. . Traditionally, these dogs will not let strangers on your property, no questions asked. They know it’s their duty to guard the farm, property, house and family and they do it well. If threatened, they will not hesitate to confront the problem head on with their powerful bites. This type of dog will fight to the death to protect its owners. Back in the old days, the same dogs that would fight a mean hog and tear up a stranger on their property, were used to baby sit their family’s children! They are by nature wary dogs, not social with strangers. They will keep their distance unless they are guarding their owner or property. They are NOT vicious dogs that will attack without reason.

While they are very submissive to their owners and family and friends, in temperament this dog is an “alpha” dog especially with other dogs. If his position is challenged he'll fight for it, like most any other dog. If not, there is no problem. Mentally this breed is more “primitive” than a Hound dog. They have a strong sense of territory and won’t “stray” far away from their property. This is a breed that is an extremely rough and tough aggressive fighter, and has been bred never to quit. They go from start to finish, and ready to start all over again right after. It is also a loyal dog that will give it’s life for you. The movie “Old Yeller” showcases all the qualities of a good, old-fashioned, traditional Cur dog.

The modern Cur dog

Here are the qualities that made up the original Cur. Maybe it’ll help the breed in the future to study these traits of the old dogs. Just like with all working dogs, people will breed what they want or need, and that’s what makes the diversity seen in so many breeds including the Cur breeds. HOWEVER, these dogs should NEVER be bred without working ability being the most important thing. Breeding a dog that has a beautiful coat pattern, has blue eyes, looks pretty, or so on only ruins dog breeds. The focus should always be on what they can do, not how they look doing it!

Functions of the Western Cur:

Cow dog: finds, rounds up, leads, and catches cattle

Predator dog: fights, kills or chases predators off

Tree dog: trails, trees, and kills varmints; trails, trees, fights/bays up big game

Hog dog: trails, bays up, and catches wild boar

Ranch dog: watches over the ranch, farm (or camp) and family

Movement: Bred for mainly stamina and also speed. There is nothing exaggerated about this dog. Should be extremely powerful. This dog is required to work all day, every day, over rough terrain and harsh conditions. These dogs have to climb up and down steep mountains and rocky terrain regularly, but should just as comfortable in swamps, hill country, flat open desert ranges, scrubland, etc. They must have the stamina to work all day without tiring.Stamina is by far the most important physical aspect for this dog. Without stamina, you have nothing. Cur dogs can travel over the roughest terrain and should outlast the average Hound. A good dog moves like a good working horse, with the same gaits and the same speed.

Agility: One of the most important aspects of the breed is their agility: that plus their fearlessness and pain tolerance allows them to travel through the harshest terrain.

Character: Loyal to one person, mostly a "one man dog", but accepts and protects the entire family, including children. If raised with a child, there is no better dog to have than a good Cur dog. Being a very tolerant dog. Very territorial and protective. Will give its life without hesitation. Typically doesn’t care for people off of the dog’s property. Intelligent and independent but still obedient.

Size: This is a medium to large dog. Usually the most balanced dogs are between 45 and 65 pounds but there are dogs smaller and larger than get the job done as well.

Coat: Depends on the breed and the region. Mountain Curs should have a thick, short double coat is the best for all weather extremes. The ideal coat has a dense undercoat for extra insulation against the elements, and harsh outercoat for protection. They are perfectly adapted to cold, harsh weather—wind, sleet, snow, etc., but should be comfortable in hot weather as well. The breeds from hotter climates, such as Catahoula Curs from Louisiana and Black Mouth Curs from Texas, have a shorter, slicker coat suited to their work.

Coat Colors: “THERE IS NO BAD COLOR FOR A GOOD DOG” but every one seems to have their preferences! Some breeds come in specific colors, such as Western Curs and Black Mouth Curs almost always are either yellow with black, or brindle; Texas Lacy’s are usually blue or red. Some, like Catahoulas and Florida Curs, can be any color--leopard spotted, brindle, black and tan, or any sold color with or without white.

Skin: The skin is very thick, tough and with dense tissue—injuries heal up quick. The skin is loose (more so on the face and neck) as opposed to tight but not wrinkly or very loose.

Head: Head should have a long, broad jaw with a powerful bite. Needs killing power! Not too heavy and not too light. Remember this is neither a Sight Hound or a Bulldog. Every thing about this breed physically is “moderate” and not extreme. Head should be very strong and built well. Eyes are usually medium sized.

Ears: Ears should be somewhat small or medium size, set high and set forward but should be able to be pulled back flat against the sides of the head when running to keep cool. Ear size really does range a lot within each breed, even within litters. Some dogs have hound ears, some have ears that stick up, stick forward, or hang down. Simply because what’s in between the ears is what’s more important!

Neck: Should be arched, not straight, and medium length with strong muscling. Skin is thick and usually looser around the neck and head area.

Chest: Very deep and of good but not too broad width to allow very large lungs.

Legs: Long, medium bone, always well-muscled. Hind legs should have lots of power and are longer than front legs. The general body type resembles a good working hound.

Back: Should be medium-long and not short. Flexible and strong—topline slightly curved, shoulder blades prominent, back curves down near end to tail. Built for SPEED as well as strength and stamina, it’s build should reflect that. These are fast dogs. They are longer than they are tall.

Feet: Feet are of great importance in a working dog...tough, hard pads, long, strong toes, and the ability to carry the dog over great distances over harsh terrain through all types of weather is all that is needed. These dogs put A LOT of wear and tear to the feet so naturally they are tough, thick, and fast healing. Even the toughest dog won’t last long if it’s feet don’t match it’s grit. Full webbing between the toes provides for better footing in swamps, snow, and even help in running. These are built in snowshoes and help in their excellent swimming ability. Can have dew claws front or back feet, up to two on each foot.

Tail: Tails are bobbed on basis of tradition instead of function. Many are born with short tails. Long tails can provide balance for agility. A full tail is set low, held high, and curves over the back. The tail should be well feathered.

As far as looks go, the true breed standard of any breed of Cur dog all comes down to this:
Size: Big enough, but not too big

1 comment:

Kristy said...

I love this blog! Thank you so much! Our Leopard Cur walked into our house at six months old and jumped on our couch, layed down, sighed, and slept. She hasnt left since. She chose us and for that I am ever so grateful! She is amazing. And you are right. She owns me!! But I am ok with that. I've noticed some behaviour and was wondering if it is indicitive of this breed. She gets excited when I get out of bed every morning and has to run through my legs as I am walking. Also If I am just standing still she will head butt behind my knees and take me right down. She stands on my chest and licks my face as if to say "ha ha I got you!". I dont mind this so much becuase I think it's cute. But I know that one day I wont think that when I break my knee or leg on the way down. Is this normal behaviour?