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But What IS Curtis, Anyway?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Anyone who reads my blog regularly must be finding it a trifle odd that I have yet to speculate on Curtis' breed makeup. My first impression of him as I studied the only photo I had was that he might be a pit bull mix. I was going on his brindle coloration, which shows up pretty frequently in pit bulls, and his wide, spatulate tongue, and what appeared to me to be a deep-chested, wide-headed build.

But when I saw Curtis in person, all that changed. He was much lighter in build than he looked in that photo, and his head especially was almost delicate.  I looked beyond his coloration to his build, and what I saw was an archetype, a classic village dog body plan. At only 35 pounds, the idea that he might be part pit vanished with a poof. He looked like a cur to me.

 Like most of you, I grew up with the word "cur" being pejorative. There was a medium sized yellow dog down the street from us when I was growing up in Virginia that looked a whole lot like Curtis. Pete was rather low-slung, had a straight tail, a slightly boxy head with pronounced stop, and small folded ears. My dad always referred to him as "that cur, Pete." Well, since our dachshund was always picking fights with Pete and coming home torn up, I didn't think much of Pete.  I thought DOD was just saying a bad dog word when he called him a "cur-dog." So "cur" held negative connotations for me. I didn't realize then (but now understand) that my father knew a cur when he saw one!

And I think I did, too. The evening I brought Curtis home, I sat down to start Googling. I knew he was no Heinz 57. I sensed he was a purebred, and set out to find out which.  I started with "Catahoula Leopard Dog," since that was a southern mountain breed I knew about. A couple more clicks got me into brindle curs, and photos of Curtis' breed popped up everywhere. There he was! Over and over! I love the Information Age!!

It turns out that a cur is an historic American dog, and a recognized breed. According to one source, the Mountain Cur was originally derived from settlers' English pointers, plus some kind of (undoubtedly British) terrier, both interbred with Native American village dogs, a breed now extinct.  It's been assigned to the Hound group, but it has been in AKC's Foundation Stock Service only since May 2017.

From the American Kennel Club website: (lightly edited)

"Mountain Curs are the true all-American pioneer dog. They were a necessity to the frontier family and it is likely that the southern mountains could not have been settled without them. They were one of the biggest assets that the settlers had in the rough and unforgiving country of the mountains. They guarded the family and livestock against wild animals or intruders.
They were used to catch, tree, or hole wild game for the family’s food. Until the 1940s, these dogs were part of the way of life for the frontiersmen. They used money from sold furs that their dogs hunted to provide for their families. The exact origins of this breed are undocumented, as there was no need for an official pedigree among the pioneers.
The Mountain Cur was declared a breed in 1957 with the organization of the Original Mountain Cur Breeders of America (OMCBA). The most common strains of Mountain Cur included the McConnell, Stephens, Ledbetter, Arline and York strains, the categories being named after the owners of the dogs."


It had been established through family history and research that Spanish Explorers brought the brindle, bob-tailed Curs to the South.  Hernando de Soto brought the brindle Curs to drive the hogs and provide protection against wild animals, while he explored the South and discovered the Mississippi River.  Hunters and settlers found the brindles when they came South.  
From Original Mountain Cur Breeders' Association website: 

"The colors of Mountain Curs of early days are dominant today.  Brindle, yellow, black and blue.  Some have white markings... All these dogs have the same general traits, such as strong treeing instinct on all game, courageous fighters and intelligence.  The Mountain Cur today is still a varmint dog!  Hunting whatever game his master wants.  He is also a guard dog, farm dog and family protector.  This dog is put down and ridiculed by some uninformed people because of the word "Cur".  In Mountain Cur the word "Cur" is used idiomatically and has NO meaning of "low" or "worthless".

Low or worthless? Perish the thought! He's noble!

Now, as I understand it, there are three varieties of Mountain Cur, bred for coloration and conformation. One of the smaller ones is the Treeing Tennessee Brindle. 

Aww, it's Curtis! Look at all those Curtii!!

Again from AKC's website:

"In the words of Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders founder, Rev. Earl Phillips: “Our original breeding stock came from outstanding brindle tree dogs from every part of the country.” Many came from the Appalachian Mountains, Ozark Mountains and the places in between.
In the early 1960s, Rev. Earl Phillips wrote a column for a national hunting dog magazine. By way of his magazine column, Rev. Phillips gathered a wealth of information about these brindle-colored Cur dogs and the people that had or knew about them. Those people who corresponded with Rev. Phillips commended these brindle Cur dogs on their hunting and treeing abilities. There was a group that were trying to promote Cur dogs of different colors but none were trying to exclusively find, preserve and promote the brindle Cur dogs.

"Early in 1967, Rev. Phillips contacted many of the people that he had corresponded with about brindle Cur dogs. He suggested the formation of an organization to preserve and promote these dogs. On March 21, 1967 the Treeing Tennessee Brindle Breeders Association was formed and recognized as a legal organization by the State of Illinois. The purpose of this Association is to breed a dog brindle in color, smaller in size, with a shorter ear and different in conformation than the Plott. The dog may have dew claws and white feet and breast. By selective breeding, this dog can have great scenting power, be an open trailer with good voice, and retain the great uncanny ability of the Old Brindle Cur dog to tree all kinds of game."

You coming along, Ma?


"The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is another variation of the coonhounds of America. They are smaller than other coonhounds, however, and only range from around 16 to 24 inches. They have catlike paws, and a choppy bawl for a bark. With small ears and a brindle body, this breed is discouraged from changing size, ear length, tail, or colors so that it doesn't also change category. Treeing Tennessee Brindles are good at open trailing and locating prey. Courageous hunters and companions, the Treeing Tennessee Brindle is said to have an abundance of "heart and try." They are a sensitive breed, however, and owners warn never to mistreat the breed. This breed can be more sensitive than normal toward neglect or abuse, and it is thought that once you mistreat them they will never treat you the same again. They are good natured and friendly dogs, getting along with anyone and everyone. This breed is intelligent, alert, and vocal. They love to bark because it is usually their job. The Treeing Tennessee Brindle is a an American breed with a strong work drive and friendly demeanor."


GPS USE:  3241 Coon Hunters Lodge Road, Jamestown, TN  38556   
I boldfaced the passage that really spoke to me of Curtis' nature. 
He loves everyone, but is very sensitive to tone of voice, and you don't have to correct him over and over. He remembers, he listens, and he wears his feelings on his sleeve.

So those of you who have suspected Curtis to be a Plott hound were close. But Plotts are bigger, much longer eared and deeper-muzzled than Treeing Tennessee Brindles. He's not really a hound. He's a Mountain Cur, more specifically a Treeing Tennessee Brindle. And isn't that cool?

At least that's what I think. See if you agree. I'm not going to drop $200 on a cheek swab DNA test. I pretty much know what I'm looking at.  Lil' ol' good for nothin' cur.


Awesome detective work, Julie! I had never heard of this breed. Curtis looks like a winner!

I thought Catahoula too, but how neat that he's a closer to home Cur breed. My brother had a Red Cur named Brown when we were young guys. His name was Brown.
He was awesome.
Have we heard Curt's voice yet?

So, he's kin to Old Yeller!

Thanks for identifying Curtis' breed. I was wondering at first if he had pitbull in him too. Good to know there is such a thing as a Treeing Cur breed! Brindle to boot!

I have one that looks like him - brindle with a black mask - the vet calls it a black mouthed cur. We got her out of a box at the grocery store 13 years ago.

Great sleuthing, Julie! I love knowing what kind of doggie Curtis is. Yes, he sure is a well-loved "Lil' ol' good for nothin' cur." He's got a big fan club already. Such a lucky pup.

Remember Jack the faithful brindle dog from the Little House on the Prairie books? I'm pretty sure he must have been one of those pioneer cur dogs. (His death in "By the Shores of Silver Lake" rips me into pieces to this very day.) Anyway, Curtis seems like a damn fine dog. I'm very happy for you, Curtis, and the whole family.

You found the cur in Curtis!

Yes, the Information Age IS great in so many ways – and your example is prime! I hope his hunting drive doesn't cause problems on your jaunts or at Indigo Hill; wouldn't want to give up seeing your wonderful wildlife photographs. Although seeing Curtis looking so regal and happy might be just enough of a trade-off. ;-) I LOVE how fast he has accepted his new home and person; it took our rescue bulldog longer, and he was only a year and a half when he arrived. Before him we had two brindle bulldogs, and it remains a favorite pattern (vying only with Jackson's black tri-color).

My goodness! He's a CURtis! Amazing. I just met my first Cackawacka Leopard Dog (sorry, I can never remember the name) just a few weeks ago. I thought maybe the guy was making it up, but the truth is it's just not a dog seen much around the Pacific NW. Now. What are we going to do about his nature of going after critters? I am assuming he will listen to your uh-uh.

I love that he comes out of the mountains

I think the eyes have it!
A couple of Twitter tweets with Treeing Tennessee Brindles:

As someone who has been actively involved in dog rescue for 15 yrs I read your Curtis posts w/ smiles, and also tears brimming-----you evoke so beautifully Julie the whole experience of finding "your dog." And I speculated to my husband yesterday that you had done got yourself a FINE cur, only to gleefully read this tonight. And....another variety of southern dog w/ a grand and long history is the Feist. I speak from personal knowledge on that one! :-) Congratulations and lots of love to you and Curtis. Many happy days ahead for sure.

Fabulous! We have black mouth (yellow) curs in west florida but Curtis didnt have any black on his tongue! I've been eyeing the yellow curs from west floribama!He's a dandy by golly!


This is so cool, so fun, so awesome! What a dog. "The Mountain Cur Dog is a clever dog but can be quite naughty." I like that part, and simply love photos of Curtis, especially when he has the zoomies, shades of Chet all googly-eyed.

Learning something new. Good sluething

Wonder how 'cur' acquired its negative connotation, especially since these must've been so useful and valuable.

CURtis the CUR! There are NO accidents. He is one lucky bundle of brindle to have found you, Julie. Mazel Tov to both of you for being open and accepting of G-d's will.

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Have you heard his voice yet? Does he bark? Swee'pea - who is not a Cur, but may have some hound mixed in with her pit and whatever else - never made a sound when we first got her. Almost 4 years later now, she has a rather howly sounding bark that she deploys when an arrival takes her by surprise. Maybe she had to feel certain we were hers before she took on the job of defending us from intruders? Anyway - your delight at finding pictures of Curtii all over the web reminded me of how I googled "Bugg" when we first brought Bugsy home. It turned out that there were pictures of him all over too! Boston/Pug crosses seem to breed a very particular looking dog. The markings vary, but the shape and face are very consistent.

We had a black mouthed cur rescue - best dog ever! He was so smart and funny and so incredibly loving. We miss him terribly but hope there’s a cur out there for us looking for a forever home. (Virginia)

Honestly, I'm not sure the DNA test is worth it. My parents' neighbor did it for their very sweet dog, who is pretty much pitbull all over--and it came back "mostly poodle". So either the service got the swabs mixed up, or... :P

So there's a breed called a Treeing Tennessee Brindle! As a Tennessee native, I'm delighted--and some of my friends would say that the label describes me pretty well.

Anyway, I continue to delight in the Curtis posts. All the best to all of you.

So Cur is a breed now? I hope you still got a dog with all that versatility, adaptability hardiness and just plain loveliness that I so like in our mixed breeds that mostly come from the rez or Mexico. There is nothing better! And Curtis (great name!) looks like he got it all.

Welcome home, Cur-Cur-Curtis! Thank you, in advance, for the joy and adventure you will bring to this family. Fate has given you a mission, and I believe that you are up to it.

So cooool to read of Curtis's impact on Bill in his latest update! Hope I'm not stealing any thunder to link to it below.
Had a friend once who survived Non-Hodgkins' Lymphoma and always felt their empathic Sheltie played an important role in the treatment!

He's so handsome! Also, let it be noted that I read those AKC passages in the voice of the announcer from the Westminster Dog Show on TV. Welcome, Curtis! You hit the dog lottery!

Fascinating lineage, and such a beautiful Cur. A wonderful addition to your Whipple family! Jim Mc

What a fantastically good story and bravo on the research. Curtis has a most handsome (and kindly) countenance! :)

Julie, I love reading your posts. I know many things are hard and complicated right now, but know that those of us who follow and love you and your blog will be here when you are ready to write again. Hang in there. Hugs, Caroline

I was absolutely filled with joy to hear you got a new pup! Just found out on your latest GoFundMe update today, so went to your Facebook page to see all the photos. He's sure a gorgeous dog - and obviously meant to be with you. So very, very happy for you, Julie!

As an owner,trainer and fancier of the OMC breed i found your article to be an enjoyable read.

My Endsley is a brindle cur- possibly crossed with Pitt with a round circular tail like yours.he's from central ohio

To anyone who has a Treeing Tennessee, does your dog have very muscular back legs and considerably high flexibility in their shoulders and hips? I adopted a dog that was picked up around Page, AZ and was claimed to be a Plott, but everything about him says Treeing Tennessee. Just curious - every dog is different and I’ve always had Labs, so it would be nice to better understand how to train and understand his motivations.

@ZombieRunner, yes--I call Curtis' hind legs his "turbothrusters." Very flexible, and can turn on a dime. Curtis frequently wrenches a shoulder doing just that, though, in high-speed pursuit. The hard part is mandating his resting periods. As soon as he feels better he's off again, doing his thing.My son says he's like Goku in Dragonball Z.
I've found him tough to train. I've been the one trained--to let him go, and to trust him to return. Beau's Bells and a tracking collar (I use a Marco Polo) help IMMENSELY with my peace of mind. I can hear him barking deep in the woods as I write. He's been out for two hours and I'm not holding my breath for him to come back soon.

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