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The name “cur” to most of our minds, and according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a mixed breed dog or a mongrel. Actually., Curs are a specific type of American dog with a long, proud history. Old-time coon hunters liked to say the word cur came from a dog that had been “curtailed” or docked since, at the birth of the breed, the Leopard Cur was born bob-tailed or was cur-tailed.
The early settler in the American South wanted a single dog of medium size that could hunt and tree the native game but also be aggressive and tough enough to guard against Indian attacks, work the semi-wild livestock and even fight if necessary. Probably originally created by crosses of various hounds, stock dogs, and possibly native American pariah dogs, these Cur types followed the pioneer into the American West. Curs had the natural inclination to tree their game, and thus figured prominently in the development of the coonhounds.
The Leopard Cur was probably the fountain-head of these types, beginning in eastern North Carolina in the early part of the 18th century. Spanish conquistadors had brought war dogs, often of the blue-splotched color, with them to America as early as 1542. The French, also, came to the southern region accompanied by their dogs, including not only their famous hounds but perhaps the big, bold Beauceron of the harlequin variety. The area was later settled by people of English, Scotch and Irish descent, who brought a variety of both hounds (including the mottled Kerry Beagle) and herding dogs (like the merle Collie). So, attempting to pinpoint the origin of the “leopard” color (blue merle) is impossible. It could have come from either the hound or the stock dog side.
In early pioneer times, the farmstead and fields were fenced to keep the livestock out. The cattle and the semi-wild hogs ran free in the woods, fending for themselves and being rounded up once a year. For this task, the farmer needed a stock dog that was tough and aggressive and would go for the nose like the “bulldogs” of old. But he also wanted a hunting companion who would accompany him into the vast forests to shoot squirrel, raccoon, and other game as well as be tough enough for hunting big game like the panther (the eastern mountain lion). This type, called variously Leopard Dog, Leopard Cur, or just Cur, was well known before the American Revolution.
The Leopard Dogs moved west into Tennessee, Kentucky and beyond with the pioneers. Later, particularly after the Civil War, the dogs continued into the developing southwest of Texas and Oklahoma.
This creation was unique from the past hounds in two ways. First, their disposition was to want to please their master, while in general the pure hound is a more independent creature. This factor definitely came from those willing to please—the herding dogs. The second trait was the natural tendency and ability to tree game. Where this came from is pure conjecture. Perhaps it was from the war dog/bulldog mentality; perhaps it was just a happy accident. At any rate, the treeing instinct combined with the presence of the raccoon in America created a demand for this skill. Other hounds were just trailing dogs, but it was the addition of the Cur blood to those foxhounds and others that eventually created the treeing American Coon-hounds.
By the early 20th century, the lifestyle of even the most remote mountain areas had changed enough that there was little need for the old style Leopard Dog. Few dogs of reasonable purity remained in the early 1950s.
About the same time, three men, working independently, began searches through remote areas. These men, J. Richard McDuffie, Leroy E. Smith and A.W. Carter, each established breeding programs to renew this old American breed. When they met in 1959, they created the American Cur Breeders Association to foster and promote the breed. They tried to register only dogs that traced back to the origins in North Caro-lina. In 1974, McDuffie, the registrar, transferred the registration office to Billie Williams of Missouri. His organization, the ACBA, continues to promote the breed today. McDuffie and others became alarmed, however, that a few unscrupulous breeders were crossing the old-style Leopards with other hounds and, because the merle gene is dominant and mottled pups result, registering them as Leopard Curs, Thus these men began the Leopard Tree Dog Registration Office in 1977 to register only those dogs tracing back to original North Carolina pedigrees on both sides. Many modern breeders have their dogs double registered with both the ACBA and the LTD.
The true Leopard Cur has a look, a psychology and a hunting style that is distinctly “cur.” They have fine noses and are open trailers capable of excellent speed on a cold track. But they are *’chop-mouthed”; that is, they have more of a bark than the drawn-out bay of a hound. These dogs also “run for blood,” which is defined as the fight at the end of the track as the primary interest. To the pure hound, following the trail is the prime motivation.
The Leopard Dog has small, shorter ears set fairly high on the head, and tight cat feet. Today, most Leopard pups are born with long tails, which are not docked. This Cur is very affectionate to his master and has an intense desire to please. He tends to be a one-man dog, wary of strangers and, although always preferring to run from someone not known to him, if cornered will turn and stand his ground. Highly muscled and alert, the Leopard gives the impression of a coiled spring, ready to bound into action. The breed is courageous, with great stamina, able to work in temperature extremes.
Breeding for color alone is highly discouraged, as the ability of the hound is far more important than his jacketing. The American Cur Breeders Association history states, “Regardless of color, if he did a superior job, he was used as breeding stock. If he didn’t, he stopped a bullet.” Plain and simple! The breeding of leopard to leopard color is never allowed, because of the possibility of white pups which may be deaf or blind.