Truly gentle giants, Leonbergers are huge dogs with laid back personalities that are well-suited to family life. Their size is a serious consideration for new owners and these dogs are more expensive than most to keep.
Which breed group is the Leonberger in?
Breed group: Working
Leonberger breed history
It was Heinrich Essig, Mayor of Leonberg in Germany who created the Leonberger breed in the 1830s. He claimed that he crossed a Newfoundland with a male dog belonging to the St. Bernard Monastery which evolved the St. Bernard breed. Essig also said that he later introduced a Pyrenean mountain dog to the bloodline. The resulting dogs were very large but had friendly natures. The first examples to be registered as Leonbergers were born in 1946.
Legend has it that Essig had attempted to produce dogs which resembled the lion which featured on the town’s coat of arms. However, Essig’s claim that he created the breed is disputed as similar dogs had been documented since the 16th century.
It was Essig who first registered the breed and he elevated its profile by giving puppies to the nobility including Napoleon II, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the Prince of Wales. His dogs were often white which was the fashionable colour choice at the time. The darker coats and black masks that we see today were developed in the 20th century. A breeding programme was necessary following the two World Wars as few Leonbergers remained. Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans have been credited with saving the breed.
Originally bred to work on farms, guarding the livestock and pulling carts, Leonbergers were exported to Canada to work as rescue dogs at the beginning of the 20th century. Today they work as rescue dogs in several countries around the world. They were first imported to the UK in the 1970s and recognised by the Kennel Club in 1978.
Leonberger breed characteristics
Boasting lion-like manes and impressive proportions, Leonbergers are certainly memorable dogs. They are nicely balanced as opposed to stocky and boast intelligent expressions. Moderately large ears are set high, hang close to the head and are feathered. Leonbergers have strong necks, deep chests and muscular back legs. Their feathered tails are carried slightly curved and their double coats possess a slight wave. The top coats are harsher than the thicker undercoats and Leonberger coats can be a variety of colours including gold, red, lion and any of those colours with a black mask.
These striking dogs are intelligent and tend not to do anything in a hurry. They are generally friendly and laid back which makes them great pets but they can become lazy which presents the risk of obesity.
- Lifespan: 8-9 years
- Height: up to 80cm
- Weight: up to 77kg
- Nicely balanced
- Strong necks
- Deep chests
- Feathered tails
- Double coats in a variety of colours
- Laid back
- Tendency to be lazy
- Good with children
Health issues with the Leonberger
Leonbergers are large dogs which don’t have particularly long lives. They are also known to be prone to a number of health issues including:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Eye issues
- Addison's disease
- Anal furunculosis
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
- Bloat/gastric torsion
- Leukoencephalomyelopathy (LEMP)
- Inherited Leonberger Polyneuropathy & Laryngeal Paralysis (LP AND PN)
What is the Leonberger bred for?
Originally a farm dog used for guarding livestock and pulling small carts, the Leonberger later became better known as a rescue dog.
What sort of owners does the Leonberger?
Leonbergers are very large dogs which shouldn’t be taken on lightly. They are gentle and reliable and so wonderful with children and they form strong bonds with their owners. They are relatively easy to train and don’t need too much exercise but they do require regular grooming. These dogs shed copiously and can suffer from several health issues which lead to high veterinary bills. They are not suited to living in apartments due to their size but can live happily in urban areas. Prospective owners must be prepared for higher than average food bills, the aforementioned vets’ bills and difficulty in locating a puppy in the UK.