The name itself — black mouth cur — seems an out-and-out insult. A cur, by definition alone, is a mongrel. It's inferior. A "cur" is a coward. No one wants to be called a cur.
But the black mouth cur, a hunting dog with a nose for wild game like squirrels, raccoons and wild hogs, is something else entirely. Strong, agile and inexhaustible — this is not your precious pocketbook chihuahua or your overly coddled poodle — the black mouth cur is bred to work for its living. And this cur is loyal, too, a true friend in the field and at home with the kids.
"All of the shows that I've been to, all of the events that I've been to, all of the homes I've been to where there's been a cur dog of any sort, the dog will bark whenever a stranger approaches their property. It's not always aggressive; it's more alerting," says Crystal Demars, a breed specialist with the Continental Kennel Club in Walker, Louisiana. "And in many instances, the kids are out there playing with them like it's another sibling. Or the dog is by the kid, not leaving their side.
"They're just all-around great family dogs. And every breeder or owner or trainer that I talked to reported that they are especially fond of children. They take it upon themselves to sort of be the nanny."
The History of the Black Mouth Cur
The black mouth cur's origins are famously foggy. According to the Continental Kennel Club, the breed probably originated in Europe. Curs flourished when they were brought to America, especially in the American Deep South and westward. "They could trail game for meat and fur, pen or catch hogs and cattle, and protect their family and property," the Continental Kennel Club's site says.
"Life in the United States 100 years ago, 200 years ago, was hard," Demars says. "Without these dogs, a lot of people would not have survived."
The black mouth cur may not be as well-known, or easily recognized, as many other dog breeds. The American Kennel Club, for example, maintains a registry of 193 purebred dogs, the largest registry in the world. But the black mouth cur isn't on it.
Still, groups like the Continental Kennel Club (CKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC) recognize the black mouth cur as a purebred dog (not a mongrel) with certain standard characteristics. The CKC puts the black mouth cur in its pastoral and stock breeds group; the UKC in the scenthound group.
How Big Do They Get?
A full-grown cur can weigh between 35 and 65 pounds (15 to 29 kilograms) and stand around 16 to 26 inches (40 to 66 centimeters) tall. Black mouth curs have strong, muscular chests and shoulders, broad heads with droopy ears, short, dense coats, and a long, tapering tail. But the most defining of its physical characteristics is a black mask on its muzzle. "Except in the case of dogs with dilute coat color," the UKC says, "lip pigment and the inside of the mouth, excluding the tongue, are darkly pigmented."
Their strength and size, which reputable breeders carefully manage, is important for many reasons, including hunting. A black mouth cur on the hunt can track small game like squirrels or raccoons and "tree" them — that is, chase them up a tree and stand there, its front legs on the tree — or hunt down bigger game like wild hogs and "bay" them (basically trapping them someplace, or holding them at bay, until hunters arrive).
Curs are used to working with other dogs, Demars says, which makes them more suitable than other breeds for hunts or around a family farm. They're also relatively healthy dogs and can typically live into their teens with proper care.
"These are basically just your all-purpose, everyday farm dog," she says. "They're there to help with just whatever needs to be done around the house, the homestead."
What's Their Personality Like?
Black mouth curs are known for their loyalty and strength. But they're also sensitive dogs; that means they have a knack for knowing how their humans are feeling, but also don't react well to severe punishment. Black mouth curs respond to trainers — and experienced dog owners — who can be firm without being harsh.
Don't confuse their sensitivity for weakness. Black mouth curs were originally bred to fight off big predators like wildcats and bears in the American South. They rarely backed down from those fights. That grit is still part of the breed today.
Many black mouth curs take part in dog shows just like the better-known breeds in froufrou shows like the Westminster dog show — that is part of the reason BMC's have breed standards, so judges know what to look for — though dog shows are not the curs' main thing.
Curs are most at-home doing what they were bred for: working on the farm, hunting, treeing squirrels, doing a little bit of herding, running around and guarding the old homestead. Living in a suburban or urban area is definitely more of a challenge for the black mouth cur.
But some cur owners put their dogs through agility training, take them on hikes, run with them and otherwise engage them in activities close to what they were bred to do. That can work, too.
"As long as they have something to do, they're pretty happy," Demars says. "If they have that way to exercise their mind, their body, their drive, they make really great companions."