The Black Mouth Cur is a general purpose working breed developed in the United States to herd livestock and hunt game. The Black Mouth Cur is known for its strong work drive, protective nature, and natural herding and hunting abilities. There are many distinct lines of Black Mouth Cur, most of which are named for the kennel or family that developed them. This breed is most famous for its appearance in the Fred Gipson novel Old Yeller, although the dog used in the movie adaptation was a Lab/Mastiff cross. The Black Mouth Cur is also known as the Blackmouth Cur, Black-mouthed Cur, American Black Mouth Cur, Yellow Black Mouth Cur, Red Black Mouth Cur, Alabama Black Mouth Cur, Alabama Red Black Mouth Cur, Florida Black Mouth Cur, Florida Yellow Black Mouth Cur, Southern Black Mouth Cur, and the Southern Cur.
In truth, no one really knows where or how the Black Mouth Cur was developed. All that is known for sure is that these dogs were developed in the Southern United States as general purpose farm dogs and that they have been both widespread and well-known in the region since at least the 19th Century. The Black Mouth Cur is one of the most populous and well-known breeds of Cur. Many believe that the term Cur implies a mixed-breed dog. This is accurate when applied to how the word is used in modern Great Britain, but not when applied to the United States where the Black Mouth Cur, (and several other Curs) are in fact pure bred. In the United States, a Cur is a member of a specific group of general purpose working farm dogs. In many ways the term Cur is similar to Terrier or Hound, as it implies an entire group of breeds and mixed-breed dogs. Although Curs exhibit immense variety, they are generally medium to medium-large in size, drop-eared, very athletic, energetic, intelligent, protective, basic in body design, and have strong hunting and herding instincts.
Curs are bred almost exclusively as working dogs, and until very recently were unpedigreed. Additionally, they have traditionally been found in rural areas and were traditionally owned by working farmers and hunters. As a result, records of their breeding have not been as carefully kept as that of most other modern breeds, and their origin is a complete mystery. Because of the great similarity of Curs to European breeds, it is almost universally agreed that they are the descendants of European dogs which arrived in America with the earliest colonists and then thoroughly cross-bred with each other and possibly Native American dogs as well.
It is very possible that American Cur breeds are descended from now-extinct British Cur breeds. The first surviving written uses of the word Cur come from the 1200’s, and were derivations of the term Curdogge. It is thought that the word Cur comes from either the Germanic word, “curren,” which means, “to growl,” or the Celtic word, “cu,” which means, “dog.” At one time, there were several varieties of Cur in the British Isles, generally divided into guarding, hunting, and herding types. Most reports of these dogs indicate that they were most common in areas with the highest levels of Celtic influence such as Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England. This connection with the Celts has been noticed by several researchers on the subject and may imply that the original Curs were Celtic dogs. If so, this makes it much more likely that the word Cur is of Celtic origin. Curs were famous for their ability to herd livestock, hunt game, and defend against predators such as wolves.
Europeans first began bringing their dogs with them to North America on the very earliest voyages of exploration. Columbus himself brought war and hunting dogs to the Caribbean. In the days of wooden sailing ships, it was very expensive to bring a dog across the Atlantic, and the journey itself was so taxing that many dogs failed to survive it. This meant that very few individual dogs made the journey. Once in their new homeland, those early dogs had to adapt to new conditions. Conditions were especially difficult for British dogs brought to the American South. The American South is much hotter than Britain, as well as being home to more dangerous wildlife, greater variety and populations of parasites and infectious diseases, and much more challenging terrain. Only those dogs which were capable of surviving in their new home were capable of spreading their genes to the next generation, and only those which could work in them were allowed the opportunity. Because this meant that so few individual dogs were available, they were all bred together. American Curs were descended from hunting, herding, and guarding Curs, and became more general purpose than their British counterparts as a result. American Curs are probably primarily descended from British Cur-type dogs, but dozens of other dogs have almost certainly gone into their ancestry. Among the many breeds which are thought to have influenced Cur breeding are the English and American Foxhounds, various Coonhounds, Harriers, various Terriers, English Mastiffs, Old English Bulldogs, Pit-Bull type dogs, Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, Collie-type dogs, Celtic hunting dogs, German scent hounds, Pinschers, Spanish Mastiffs, Spanish Alanos, Spanish scenthounds, French hounds, the Beauceron, and Native American dogs. Because Cur-type dogs were most popular with certain subsets of the British population, they became more popular in those parts of America which were favored by settlers of those groups. For example, Curs became most common in mountainous regions of the American South, a region with a very substantial Scotch-Irish (Celtic) population.
Because Curs were so commonly cross-bred with almost no records kept, it is impossible to say the exact origin of most individual varieties such as the Black Mouth Cur. There is substantial debate among Black Mouth Cur fanciers to this day as to whether the breed was first developed in Tennessee or Mississippi. In the opinion of this author, the black mouth and lips for which this breed is named, along with the general shape of the head and coat coloration, is highly indicative of English Mastiff ancestry. English Mastiffs have been found in America since the Mayflower brought one to Plymouth in 1621, and may very well have contributed to the early development of the Black Mouth Cur. It is unclear when the Black Mouth Cur first appeared. There is some documentation and passed down family stories that provide solid evidence that the breed existed by the mid-1800’s, although it was not known by the name Black Mouth Cur at the time (or any other distinct name other than Cur or Dog). According to L.H. Ladner, the most well-known and respected breeder of Black Mouth Curs in recent years until his unfortunate passing, the breed was named because it has black coloration on its lips, which sometimes extends into the mouth and over the muzzle. Black Mouth Curs and other related breeds were a major part of American west ward expansion. These multi-purpose farm dogs herded the livestock of frontier farmers, as well as providing them with income from pelts and meat for the stew pot. They also guarded farms, farmers, and livestock from dangerous animals such as bear, cougar, and bobcat.
Throughout the 20th Century, numerous varieties of Black Mouth Cur have been developed. Many of these varieties are the creation of a single family or breeders or are specific to a region. Perhaps the most famous of all Black Mouth Cur lines is the Ladner Line. The Ladner family of Southern Mississippi has been breeding Black Mouth Curs for well-over 100 years, and continue to do so to this day. Among the most famous regional varieties are the Alabama Black Mouth Cur and the Florida Black Mouth Cur, known for their red and yellow coloration respectively. Over the past several decades numerous Black Mouth Cur registries have been formed, many to register a single line. However, most Black Mouth Curs remain unpedigreed. While this breed is kept quite pure, (Black Mouth Curs are usually only bred to other Black Mouth Curs), most breed members are not a purebred in the modern sense because they do not have registration papers. Because of this, until very recently no major kennel clubs were interested in registering them. This began to change in the late 1990’s, when the United Kennel Club (UKC) began to take an interest in Curs. Since that time, the UKC has registered several different breeds of Cur, including the Black Mouth Cur in 1998. Black Mouth Curs are now being regularly exhibited in the show ring and kept pure bred for the first time. However, UKC registered Black Mouth Curs remain the minority of breed members, most of which are either unregistered or registered with Black Mouth Cur specific registries. The Black Mouth Cur is not currently recognized in any way with the American Kennel Club (AKC), nor does it seem like there is any interest on behalf of either the AKC or Black Mouth Cur fanciers in changing that situation.
The Black Mouth Cur is most famous for being the dog from the book Old Yeller, written by Fred Gipson in 1956. Although Gipson never specifically says the name Black Mouth Cur, he strongly implies that Old Yeller was one of these dogs based on his descriptions. Gipson fairly accurately describes the breed’s appearance, temperament, many uses, and value to frontier families. Disney released a film based on Old Yeller by the same name in 1957 which has gone on to become one of cinema’s most enduring classics. The dog used in the movie was said to be a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff-mix, but many have suspected that he may in fact have had some Black Mouth Cur blood. Regardless, the enduring popularity of Old Yeller has made the Black Mouth Cur perhaps the best known of any Cur breed, with the possible exception of the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog.
The past 150 years have seen major changes to dog breeding and dog keeping. As the developed world is increasingly urbanized, more and more traditional rural working breeds and varieties are disappearing. Those that do not disappear are often transformed from a working breed to a companion animal which is bred primarily for appearance standardization. Such has not yet occurred with the Black Mouth Cur, and most breeders of these dogs are determined that it will not happen. The Black Mouth Cur continues to be bred almost entirely for working ability, and each individual breeder develops dogs that most suit their own personal needs and preferences. As a result, the Black Mouth Cur remains quite variable in appearance and retains several features which have largely disappeared from other dogs. For example, Black Mouth Curs are commonly born with naturally stumped tails. At one point, most European herding dogs were regularly born with naturally stumped tails, but this feature was bred out when standardization began.
Unlike most modern dog breeds, the Black Mouth Cur remains primarily a working dog. The vast majority of breed members are either full-time or part-time working dogs. This breed is very commonly used as a hunting dog throughout the American South for any game from squirrels to hog. This dog is also is regularly used as a stock herding and driving dog, primarily for cattle and pigs but also sheep and other livestock as well. In recent years, the breed has been earning a reputation as a search-and-rescue and sniffer dog for law enforcement. Increasing numbers of fanciers are beginning to keep Black Mouth Curs primarily as companion animals, a task at which some breed members adapt to better than others due to their high working drive and high energy level. Although well-established in some parts of the American South, the Black Mouth Cur is essentially unknown outside of its country of origin and would be considered very rare in the world at large.
There are many semi-distinct lines and varieties of the Black Mouth Cur, many of which have been heavily crossed. As a result, this breed exhibits substantial variation in appearance, although it is almost certainly the most standardized of any Cur breed. In general, the Black Mouth Cur is medium to large in size. Though there is substantial variation, the average male Black Mouth Cur stands between 18 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder, and the average female stands between 16 and 23 inches. Weight is largely determined by height and condition, but males usually weigh between 40 and 95 pounds, and females usually weigh between 35 and 80 pounds. Ideal specimens are those that are either equal in length and height or very slightly longer than tall. No matter the size, the Black Mouth Cur should be a very muscular, fit, and athletic dog, though this breed does range substantially in build from stocky to lithe. As a dedicated working dog, this breed should have no over-exaggerated features which would compromise its stamina or athleticism. The tail of the Black Mouth Cur is quite variable. This breed comes in two natural tails, long, slightly curved and tapering and a short natural bob. Additionally, many owners choose to artificially dock their dogs’ tails to a few inches.
The head of the Black Mouth Cur is large but still proportional to the size of the dog’s body. The skull is flat, broad, and tapers slightly towards the muzzle. The face and muzzle are quite distinct from each other, although they blend in relatively smoothly. The muzzle itself is slightly shorter than the skull and quite broad, providing the dog with both the greatest area for scent receptors and the largest and most powerful possible jaws. The lips should be close fitting. In dilute color dogs they may be pink, but dark lips, especially black ones, are preferred. The eyes of the Black Mouth Cur are medium to large in size, and may be green, brown, or yellow in color. The ears of the Black Mouth Cur are wide at the base, short to medium in length, and drop down close to the head.
The Black Mouth Cur has a short, dense coat that varies in texture from very coarse to very fine. This breed comes in a variety of acceptable colors including: red, yellow, fawn, tan, black, brown, buckskin, and brindle. Any of these colors may or may not have a full or partial black mask over the muzzle, but the vast majority of breed members do. Black fur is frequently found on the ears and feet as well. Small patches of white are acceptable under the chin, around the nose, and on the neck, chest, legs, and tip of the tail, provided the total area of white accounts for less than 10% of the dog’s body and there is no white collar. Black Mouth Curs may be occasionally be born in other colors and patterns. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and probably should not be bred, but otherwise make just as good of pets and working dogs as any other breed member.
The Black Mouth Cur is a herding and hunting breed, and has characteristics one would expect of both groups. This dog is famous for its loyalty, and Black Mouth Curs tend to form very strong bonds with their families. Different individuals display different levels of affection. Some individuals are constant snugglers while others are quite aloof. When properly socialized with children from a young age, most breed members are very good with kids and are especially tolerant of rough play. This is not generally a dog that understands that it must play more gently with young children, however, and this breed might not be the best choice for a family with very young children.
Responsible for guarding and protecting their owners and their property, Black Mouth Curs have a strong protective instinct. As a result, they have a natural suspicion of strangers. Once properly socialized, this breed is usually very tolerant of strangers, though it usually remains quite aloof and disinterested. Without proper socialization, this breed may become overly protective and possibly aggressive, although serious human aggression issues are not common. Black Mouth Curs are a very territorial breed, and some breed members may very friendly with strangers on a walk but completely intolerant of them in their home. Because of their territoriality and protectiveness, Black Mouth Curs make good watchdogs whose bark can deter intruders. This breed also makes a very effective guard dog that will challenge anyone who enters its domain unaccompanied.
Black Mouth Curs have a mixed-reputation with other dogs. This dog was bred to work together in small groups with other dogs to hunt and herd. As a result, most breed members are generally tolerant of other dogs if they have been provided thorough socialization, and this is not usually a single-dog home breed. That being said, dog aggression issues are certainly not unknown among Black Mouth Curs even if they are not especially common. Most breed members tend to be quite dominant. Again, territoriality is an issue, and some breed members may eagerly play with other dogs at a dog park and angrily confront any that approach their front door. While this is not a breed that often goes looking for a fight, most are more than willing to scrap should the occasion arise.
This breed was bred both to hunt and kill small game, and bite down and hold onto to cattle and hogs. As a result, most breed members are highly aggressive towards non-canine animals. These dogs are natural hunters who will regularly leave their owners “presents” of dead animals ranging in size from a roach to a baby deer. This breed will chase almost any creature it sees, and Black Mouth Curs have a well-earned reputation as cat killers. When these dogs are raised with cats and other creatures from a young age, most will be fine with those individual animals, although they will still probably chase and attempt to attack strange animals of the same species.
This breed is considered to be highly intelligent and an excellent problem solver. However, Black Mouth Curs are also regarded as being challenging to train. This dog wants to do its own thing, not what anyone tells it to. Many are stubborn and completely uninterested in training. Even those that are more biddable will not respond to the commands of anyone they feel is below themselves on the pecking order. This means that Black Mouth Cur owners must maintain a constant position of dominance. This breed is also known to be highly sensitive to correction, and responds much better to rewards-based training methods. This does not mean that Black Mouth Curs are impossible to train; in fact this breed can learn a great number of highly complex tasks. It simply means that these dogs take longer and more effort to train than other breeds, and do best with experienced handlers. Black Mouth Curs are said to take to two forms of training quite readily: housebreaking and hunting. This breed is very clean and housebreaks quickly with proper training. Many of these dogs are instinctive hunters that require almost no training to do so.
Black Mouth Curs are tireless workers that will gladly spend hours herding livestock and then spend their free time hunting in the woods. This is a highly energetic breed that requires a very substantial amount of daily activity, and one of these dogs could easily run the most active family rugged trying to keep up. A Black Mouth Cur should receive a bare minimum of an hour of vigorous activity on a daily basis, and would preferably be provided with several. Black Mouth Curs which are not provided proper exercise will almost certainly develop severe behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyper activity, over excitability, nervousness, and aggression. Even after getting a great deal of exercise, this is not a calm breed, and most will spend hours wandering. This breed does make an excellent jogging companion, but absolutely craves the opportunity to run off-leash in a safely enclosed area. It would be extremely challenging to meet this dog’s needs in an apartment setting, and this breed does best with yards that are a minimum of a half-acre in size or larger. The high energy levels of this breed are actually very desirable to some families. This is an extraordinarily hardy and athletic dog that would be very eager to accompany its owner on any outdoor adventure, no matter how extreme. Those thinking that this breed’s energy will subside with age should think again. Black Mouth Curs remain extremely energetic well into advanced age and many are still active hunters at 13 or 14 years of age.
This breed is an infamous escape artist. Black Mouth Curs have a very strong urge to roam vast areas and also attempt to chase anything that catches their senses. Any enclosure which holds one of these dogs must be very secure as breed members have been known to scale 10 foot fences. Fences which cannot be scaled can be chewed through, dug under, or have their weak points exploited.
Potential owners must be aware that this is one of the “doggiest” of all dogs, and quite possibly the “doggiest” of them all. Black Mouth Curs love to dig holes and roll around in the mud, only to track it all in the house when they’re done. This breed will chase anything that moves, smells, or makes noise including birds, cars, and bicyclists. Black Mouth Curs bark, chase their tails, and run around everywhere. Breed members seem to greatly enjoy having as much fun as possible, especially if that fun involves getting into mischief. If there is a stereotypical canine behavior or misbehavior, Black Mouth Curs almost certainly exhibit it. This breed makes a loving and totally devoted companion and tireless and skilled worker, but it is definitely not a mild-mannered and relaxed gentleman.
Black Mouth Curs have very low grooming requirements. This dog never needs professional grooming, only very occasional brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures which all breeds require such as nail clipping and ear cleaning are required. Black Mouth Curs do shed, but they are considered average shedders for most of the year. This breed will leave hair on clothes, furniture, and carpets, but will probably not cover them. Most breed members replace their coats once or twice a year when the seasons change, and become heavy shedders for a few weeks.
It does not appear that any health surveys have been conducted on the Black Mouth Cur, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about their health. However, this breed is generally considered to be in excellent health. The Black Mouth Cur continues to be bred almost exclusively as a working dog, and any potential genetic defects which would impair its working ability are quickly eliminated from the gene pool. This dog has also benefitted from not being purebred in the modern sense, as it has a very wide gene pool. This does not mean that the Black Mouth Cur is immune from genetically inherited conditions, but it does mean that it suffers from fewer of them and at lower rates than most pure bred dogs. This breed is known to have a very long lifespan. Most owners and breeders expect their dogs to live between 12 to 16 years, and many breed members reach advanced ages of 17 or 18.
As is the case with all drop-eared breeds, Black Mouth Curs are susceptible to ear infections. Their ears easily trap dirt, grime, water, food, and other particles. If not removed, these particles can build up over time and cause irritations and infections. Black Mouth Curs which regularly work or play in water are especially susceptible to ear infections, as are those that work in play in humid climates. If infections are not treated properly or quickly enough, they can become chronic and very painful. Luckily, these problems are almost entirely preventable with regular thorough ear cleanings.
Because skeletal and visual problems may occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although the Black Mouth Cur is regarded as a healthy breed, some conditions have been identified in the breed or closely related ones. These conditions include: