The Leonberger, fondly referred to as the "Leo" by many, may seem intimidating at first glance because of their huge size. They are one of the world's largest and strongest dog breeds, yet the breed is also known for being gentle and loving giants.
Breed Origin and History
The Leonberger was established in 1846 in Leonberg, Germany. A breeder named Heinrich Essing crossed three breeds to intentionally create a dog that would look like a lion and retain the strengths of the individual founding breeds. He used the Saint Bernard, the Newfoundland, and the Great Pyrenees.
The Leonberger was brought to Russia in the 1800s and has been owned by numerous royal families, including Empress Elizabeth of Austria and the Prince of Wales. The breed began showing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the 1880s. Leonberger dogs were first imported to the United States in the 1970s and became popular for their versatility and unusual appearance. However, the breed wasn't recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 2010.
Leonbergers have a distinct appearance and personality. If you've met one in person, you know they're hard to miss.
An adult male Leonberger can weigh between 110 and 170 pounds. Females range between 90 and 140 pounds. Males' height can reach 28 to 31.5 inches at the shoulder, and females can 25.5 to 29.5 inches at the shoulder. Members of this breed have a large, muscular body structure with pendulous ears and a long tail.
Aside from their size, one of the most distinctive features of a Leonberger is their long, gorgeous coat. The coat color is a mix of reds, black, brown, and gold. Their most recognizable feature is a black mask on their face. The breed is dimorphic, meaning the males and females are easily distinguishable from each other. The males stand out because they have a more prominent, lion-like mane around their necks.
Leonbergers have a reputation for being calm dogs with a pleasant temperament. They make excellent family dogs if properly trained and socialized, because they are very protective of their loved ones. Although they love people, this breed can become aggressive toward other dogs (particularly those of the same sex) if not socialized well.
Leo puppies and young adults can go through a stubborn phase where they act out. Therefore, training them at an early age is important. Due to their intelligence, Leonbergers can easily become bored and destructive if not kept busy.
Although you would think such a big dog might be less rambunctious than a smaller one, younger Leonbergers are quite energetic until age 2.
- Commit to walking them daily for at least 20 minutes or more.
- The Leonberger Club of America states that leaving these dogs in a small yard with no dedicated exercise can actually lead to them becoming territorial and overly protective of your property.
- Leonbergers also enjoy many dog sports, such as agility, obedience, and carting. They also adore swimming and playing in water.
Leonbergers respond well to positive training and are very intelligent. The most important factor in training is socializing your Leonberger puppy as soon as you bring them home. You want to make sure a dog of this size is comfortable around all types of people and strangers once they achieve full weight and height.
You also need to make sure they have at least the basics of family manners training down pat, and know basic commands and behaviors, such as "Sit," "Stay," coming when called, and walking politely on leash. If you want to go further with training, Leonbergers can make excellent therapy dogs due to their easygoing personality.
- Addison's disease: This affects a dog's adrenal glands.
- Bloat: A life-threatening condition where a dog's stomach twists and organ failure will occur if not treated quickly. Tacking the stomach, known as a gastropexy, can help prevent this from happening.
- Eye diseases: Including cataracts, entropion, progressive retinal atrophy, and other conditions that can potentially lead to blindness.
- Hip and elbow dysplasia: Painful conditions of the joints.
- Hypothyroidism: This condition can lead to lethargy, weight gain, and poor skin and coat condition.
- Osteochondritis dissecans: A condition affecting the cartilage in a dog's bones.
- Osteosarcoma: Cancer of the bones.
- Panosteitis: An inflammation of the leg bones that can lead to lameness. This condition is common in young, large breed dogs who are growing rapidly.
- Polyneuropathy and Leukoencephalomyelopathy: Neurological disorders that affect the spine and nervous system.
Due to their huge size, the breed has a lifespan of approximately 8 to 9 years.
Because of their long, double-coat, Leonbergers need a regular grooming routine to keep their coat and skin healthy. Regular grooming will also help reduce the amount of shedding, as these dogs are heavy shedders. Your grooming schedule for your Leonberger should include the following.
- Regular bathing every six weeks. Leonbergers tend to love water and getting muddy, so depending on your dog's regular activities, baths may need to be more frequent.
- Brushing should be done at least once a week and you should check for matted hair, as well.
- The hair on their feet and legs may need to be trimmed regularly.
- Plan to perform routine ear cleanings and nail trimming.
Fun Facts About the Breed
- Leonbergers were historically used to pull carts of ammunition during war.
- During both world wars, the breed became nearly extinct.
- The leo's iconic mane was intentionally bred to resemble that of a lion.
- Buck in The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon was played by a Leonberger.
Finding a Leonberger Puppy
If you think a Leonberger is the right dog for you, the best place to start is contacting the Leonberger Club of America. They have a directory of Leonberger breeders nationwide. The website is also a fantastic source of information on the dogs and has a "Leonberger University" dedicated to furthering the education of breeders and owners who love leos. Another site to check out is the AKC Marketplace, which lists breeders who follow AKC Standards.
How Much is a Leonberger Puppy?
You should expect to pay between $1,500 to $2,000 for a Leonberger puppy from a reputable breeder. The Leonberger Club of America has a document on their website that provides questions to ask breeders to ensure your breeder will provide you with a quality pup. If you are looking for a show-quality dog, you can expect to pay several thousand more.
Rescuing a Leonberger
If you decide to adopt a Leonberger instead of buying a puppy, the Leonberger Club of America recommends Leonberger Rescue Pals. This group is a nationwide network of Leonberger lovers dedicated to finding homes for displaced dogs.
Is the Leonberger the Right Dog For You?
If you like a clean, orderly house, you may find a Leonberger a bit much. This breed sheds quite a bit and they can be messy eaters, not to mention their love of water and mud. However, if you enjoy a large, loving dog with a calm demeanor, and you're willing to put in the time for grooming, socialization, and training, the Leo can become your own gentle lion and part of your family.