Leonberger Breed Guide
Leonberger Background & History
The Leonberger dog breed, affectionately called a “Leo”, is a regal and fun-loving large breed that originated in the German town of Leonberg. The creation of the breed was first announced in 1846 by Heinrich Essig, Leonberg’s mayor and an avid dog breeder and entrepreneur. Essig aggressively promoted the breed after it’s announcement, and their popularity spread as they began to be used as models for popular German artists and were also found in the homes of nobility and celebrities.
The first Leonbergers came to the United States just prior to the turn of the 20th century, where they were featured in dog shows and theater productions. Belying their popularity with celebrities, nobility, and the arts, Leonbergers were bred primarily to serve as cart and work dogs on farms. Their service as draft animals nearly eliminated the breed when they were used to pull ammunition carts during World War I. Only 5 Leonbergers capable of breeding survived the war, and it is from this stock that all modern Leonberger lines descend. Throughout this time the Leonberger breed had all but disappeared in the United States, and did not reappear until the mid 1970’s when German families emigrating to America brought their Leonbergers with them. It is only through persistence, luck, and love for the breed that the Leonberger exists to this day.
The first Leonbergers were originally bred with white and black coats, as large white breeds were extremely popular in mid 19th century Europe. After the death of Henrich Essig in the late 19th century, Essig’s niece Marie, who is believed to have actually bred the first Leonbergers, altered the line to incorporate the distinctive tan, gold, or red coat with black mask that we see today.
The Leonberger breed, particularly males, strongly resembles the lion that was the crest of the town of Leonberg. Their long, flowing hair resembles a mane over their shoulders and upper back. Leonbergers have a powerful, deep chest and upright, proud carriage. The Leonberger breed is believed to have originated from a cross between a Newfoundland and Saint Bernard, with infusions from the Pyrenees Mountain Dog and an unknown local breed. Similar to a Newfoundland, the Leonberger has webbed feet, making them an excellent swimmer that loves to take a dip. They have been successfully used as water rescue dogs by numerous countries, and can be seen jumping from helicopters to rescue the drowning. The breed was first recognized by the AKC in 2010, and continues to gain in popularity today.
Leonberger Temperament & Personality
Despite their intimidating size, the Leonberger is a loving, affectionate, and friendly breed. They bond strongly with their owner and family, but are friendly with new faces and other animals. This is decidedly not an aggressive, nor shy, breed. They are intelligent and watchful, but not necessarily meant for guarding. They are, rather, suited as companions first, and work or draft dogs second.
As puppies, Leonbergers have nearly boundless energy, and can be quite spirited through adolescence. As adults their energy settles down into a steadfast, even temperament. If you are meeting a Leonberger for the first time, you can expect a stoic, friendly, and patient experience. If you are well known to a Leonberger, their affectionate greeting will most likely leave your face wet from kisses.
Training a Leonberger
Leonbergers are known to be an obedient breed that takes well to training. Their intelligence and eagerness to please enables them to learn new commands quickly and retain commands over time. Adolescent Leonbergers can have somewhat of a stubborn streak, but they generally do not misbehave. Leonbergers are frequently trained as service animals, and many have served on water rescue teams. Leos are highly sensitive to the mood and desires of their owners. As such, they do best with positive reinforcement based training rather than scolding or punishment.
Exercise Requirements for a Leonberger
The Leonberger is a playful breed that has higher energy levels and is more athletic than many other giant breeds. A moderate daily walk is highly recommended. This can be supplemented by a play session. Incorporating training into your play session is a great way to reinforce training principles while taking advantage of their natural desire to please and work. Expect to spend more time with your Leo during adolescence, which is when they are most playful and have higher energy levels. If you live in an area with water, Leos love to swim and excel at all activities in the water.
Leonberger Life Span & Longevity
A healthy breed, a Leonberger lifespan is relatively long for a dogs of their size. The typical Leonberger life expectancy is anywhere between 8-11 years, with very healthy dogs living past this.
Is the Leonberger a Popular Breed?
The Leonberger is the 95th most popular AKC registered breed. Having just been recognized in 2010, this is still a relatively unknown breed in the United States. As such, their popularity continues to rise as they become more well known.
Feeding Requirements for a Leonberger
Leonbergers are a large breed, with males weighing between 130-170lbs and females weighing 100-130 lbs. They have a correspondingly large appetite. Depending on the size of your Leonberger, expect to feed them somewhere between 5-7 cups of dry food a day, split into two even meals. Only feed them a good quality food with a balance of high-quality proteins, vegetables, and fats. Many Leonberger owners are starting or transitioning their dogs to a raw diet, as this avoids health complications and provides a balanced nutrition that is easier to digest.
How to Groom a Leonberger
Leonbergers have a thick double coat that will need daily brushing. Brushing their coat regularly is essential to maintain their beautiful appearance, minimize matting or debris, and avoid excessive hair shed throughout your house. When grooming your Leo, make sure to check beneath their floppy ears for any signs of an ear infection. Also, during hot weather consider giving your Leo a bath, which will help with shedding and also give them a pleasant way to cool off.
Are Leonbergers Good with Children?
Leos are exceptionally friendly with children. They have the Newfoundland’s maternal instinct and friendly demeanor towards children of all ages. They are patient, kind, and gentle with even the most rambunctious children. Your Leo will love to meet new children, and they seem endlessly fascinated by little humans. As with all giant breeds, make sure to supervise very young children with them because they can inadvertently be knocked over.
Leonberger Health Problems
Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a condition caused by a malformation in the connection between the femur and the pelvis in hind legs. This malformation specifically results in a loose connection between these two bones, which causes the cartilage padding the bones to wear unevenly over time. As the cartilage wears down, scar tissue and sometimes bone spurs form causing extreme pain, debilitating arthritis, and eventually lameness in the hind legs. Hip dysplasia most commonly affects larger dog breeds, so Leonbergers are at an elevated risk of developing this disorder. Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed in young dogs by a physical examination by a veterinarian.
Elbow Dysplasia: This is similar to hip dysplasia in that it results from a malformation of the connection between the radius and ulna in the forelegs. Like hip dysplasia, this malformation causes the cartilage between these two bones to wear unevenly, leading to scar tissue and bone spurs to form, and ending with arthritis and lameness in older dogs. Elbow dysplasia predominantly occurs in larger breeds, so Leonbergers are at an elevated risk level of developing this condition. Be mindful if your Leo exhibits signs of lameness or limping in the forelegs following exercise, as these can be an indication that they are suffering from elbow dysplasia.
Gastric Torsion: Gastric torsion, commonly referred to as bloat, is a life threatening and quickly accelerating condition that occurs in most dog breeds, but affects large breeds more often. Gastric torsion occurs when food and gas builds up in the stomach and isn’t excreted or released fast enough. Pressure within the stomach causes the stomach to expand, further reducing the ability to move material into the intestines. As the stomach expands it places pressure on the lungs and surrounding blood vessels, decreasing the flow of oxygen rich blood to surrounding tissue. In some cases, the rapid expansion causes the stomach to flip within the abdomen, a condition known as volvulus. Both gastric torsion and volvulus are an emergency condition that will lead to death if not treated immediately. Be mindful of signs of vomiting, drooling, abdominal pain, or distress after your Leo has eaten. Avoid feeding your Leo a single large meal a day, as this has been linked to causing gastric torsion.
Osteosarcoma: Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, has been linked to mortality in a significant number of Leonbergers. In most cases, cancerous cells form in the long bones of affected animals. The cancerous cells destroy healthy tissue in the center of the bone and progress outward, after which they often metastasize and spread throughout the body. Be very mindful if your Leo exhibits any signs of lameness for a period of two to five days, or if you see notable swelling near a lesion on the body. Osteosarcoma is an extremely painful and debilitating condition that has a poor prognosis. Treatment usually involves amputation of the affected limb in conjunction with aggressive chemotherapy. Because there is no cure for cancer, these treatments simply seek to drive bone cancer into remission and prolong the life of the affected animal.
Polyneuropathy: This refers to a group of diseases that affect the nervous system in dogs. These diseases most often affect sensory or peripheral motor function, but can also affect any part of the nervous system. Affected dogs exhibit signs of decreased or irregular motor function, seizures, muscular tremors or weakness, and sometimes blindness. Polyneuropathy can be either inherited or acquired. Early onset polyneuropathy is most often congenital and results in a poor prognosis. There is currently no treatment for congenital polyneuropathy, with most treatment courses simply attempting to maintain comfort in the affected dog. In cases where polyneuropathy is acquired it typically presents later in life, and may result from a number of conditions including parasitic infection, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. In such cases, polyneuropathy is treated by addressing the underlying medical issue causing it, and in most cases has a positive prognosis.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland, a critical part of the endocrine system, produces an insufficient amount of the hormone thyroxine. Thyroxine helps regulate metabolic activity within the body. When there are insufficient amounts of thyroxine present in the body, affected dogs will have decreased metabolic activity resulting in weight gain, loss of hair, muscle fatigue, and low energy levels. Thankfully, treating hypothyroidism is most often easy and painless. Leos affected by this will be given medication that raises the levels of thyroxine within the blood stream, which generally alleviates symptoms rapidly. This is a maintenance treatment, meaning affected dogs will have to be continually given medication throughout the remainder of their life.