Empress Elisabeth of Austria is said to have owned this lion amongst dogs.
After all, the huge Leonberger doesn't just make an impression with its proud lion's mane and harmonious proportions, but also with its self-assured composure and children-loving nature.
The Leonberger has “thick skin” in the truest sense of the word. This gentle giant shows its docile and friendly nature particularly in contact with children and toddlers. Even the loudest children's cries don't bother these patient dogs that are insensitive to noise. On the contrary, their lively temperament and playful manner means they fully enjoy playing and frolicking around with children. Puppies in particular are extremely playful, though they can of course be somewhat boisterous.
Thanks to its good-natured and outgoing character, the Leonberger is an ideal family dog and a constant loyal and obedient companion for its owners in every situation. Due to its innate watchfulness and fearless nature, it also acts as a reliable watch dog and will protect its family at all times. However, Leonbergers are neither aggressive nor anxious and react in a very relaxed manner to new or unfamiliar circumstances. Despite their size, these pedigree dogs can be taken everywhere without any issues. Admittedly puppies don't always listen to every word when feeling playful, but it's impossible not to forgive these friendly, cheerful souls their stubbornness.
If these young dogs have an owner who teaches them calmly and patiently to listen to their commands, training a Leonberger shouldn't cause any problems. In spite of their intelligence and pronounced self-confidence, Leonbergers show a great willingness to obey their owners from the outset. This makes them suitable for first-time dog owners too, but this of course doesn't mean that you should dive in head first without any prior knowledge. Should you decide to purchase a Leonberger, you should familiarise yourself with care, training and living conditions for this pedigree breed. If you meet its needs in terms of exercise, care and time spent with their family, the Leonberger will surely make an incredibly lovable, loyal and devoted friend for life.
Leonbergers are undoubtedly very imposing companions, with males weighing up to 75kg and reaching a height of up to 80cm. Females are no less impressive, with a height of 65 to 75cm and weighing 60kg. Their confident stride, muscular build and harmonious proportions make them proud and elegant pedigree dogs that attract admiring glances wherever they go. Not least, the long coat makes these “lions” look almost majestic. The coat is medium-soft to coarse and lies flat despite its length, whilst the body shape can still be made out even though the undercoat is thick. Especially with males, the fur on the throat and chest forms a mane that brings the “King of the Jungle” to mind. The tail and front and rear legs are heavily feathered. Between the black mask and tips of the hair that are commonly black, the Leonberger's fur is highly varied in terms of colour, ranging from lion yellow, red and reddish brown to sand colours like cream or fallow. As well as with possible light areas on the underside of the tail, ruff or front and rear legs, the black hair tips should not be so pronounced that they disturb the harmony of the base colour. A small white spot or line on the chest or white hairs on the toes are accepted according to the breed standard. The Leonberger has medium-sized hanging ears, an even black nasal bridge and loyal, attentive oval-shaped brown eyes.
The Leonberger's lionesque appearance hasn't come about by chance – after all, the lion in the town of Leonberg's coat of arms served as an example when the breed was established. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, Heinrich Essig, the councillor of this small town near Stuttgart in southern Germany, wanted to breed a dog that brought to mind that lion in the town's coat of arms. In order to do so, dog-loving Essig crossed a black-and-white female Newfound (some sources assume that it was a Landseer) with a St. Bernard, a so-called “Barry male” from the monastery hospice Great St. Bernard. At a later date, more St. Bernards and Pyrenean Mountain Dogs that completed the appearance of this new breed were deployed for breeding.
The first Leonberger as we know the breed today was born in 1846. These huge dogs that combined all the outstanding characteristics of their original breeds were soon sold as a status symbol all over the world by their hometown Leonberg. Up until the First and Second World Wars, Leonbergers were popular both as farm and hauling dogs and watch dogs for high society.
During the turmoil of the World Wars and the desperation of the post-war period when hardly anyone could afford to feed such a large dog, the number of Leonbergers bred fell dramatically. Thanks to a few fans of these dogs, the Leonberger breed was protected from extinction. The few remaining owners met up and together formed a new breed of Leonbergers. Thankfully, nowadays there are several dog associations across the world dedicated to breeding the striking Leonberger.
Purchasing and Breeding
Once again, there are now several thousand Leonbergers in Europe. In Germany alone, the breed's country of origin, around 600 puppies have been reared annually in the last few years. As a result, finding a Leonberger breeder shouldn't be a problem, but there are a few points to consider when it comes to purchasing a pedigree dog. The first sign of a serious breeder is, amongst others, being a member of one of the numerous Leonberger clubs affiliated with the International Leonberger Union and recognised by the FCI, the largest international canine umbrella association. Breeders submit to very strict regulations with high quality standards. The aim of such strictly controlled breeding is to maintain pedigree Leonbergers that are healthy, physically attractive and of strong character.
It goes without saying that a professionally bred puppy doesn't come cheap. Apart from the time spent – after all, rearing puppies and caring for the mothers is a 24/7 job – breeding these huge pedigree dogs is an enormous financial investment for the breeder. Acquiring suitable animals for breeding purposes, species-appropriate living conditions, comprehensive medical treatment (injections, tests for hereditary diseases etc.), high-quality food, exhibition, club and stud fees, chip monitoring, family trees and breeder seminars and training courses come at a cost. In addition, keeping puppies that are still rather impetuous in the breeder's home can potentially lead to very high costs. Marked doors, torn carpets, scratches in parquet flooring or rips in sofas are no uncommon occurrence when it comes to young, strong and temperamental puppies. Hence, you should be particularly careful with so-called “bargains”! You can often end up paying out two to three times what you initially save in the form of expensive vet bills or attending canine therapy.
Once you've found a suitable breeder from whom to purchase a Leonberger puppy, you're best off visiting them on several occasions. This is the only way to determine if a good first impression endures. It's important that the breeder is open and willingly shows you the breeding area and the mother. Don't be irritated either if the breeder quizzes you about your circumstances. A serious breeder whose has put their heart and soul into their litter will be interested in who purchases their puppies. They can advise on whether a Leonberger is suitable for you and whether you have the necessary set-up required to keep a large dog. What's more, a responsible breeder will be on hand to offer advice over the course of the dog's life.
Housing and Care
Along with the “small change” required to purchase and give a home to these imposing creatures, you as a future Leonberger owner should also have plenty of time at your disposal. Leonbergers need plenty of exercise due to their size in order to remain physically fit and healthy. The more time you and your family spend with your Leonberger, the happier it will be. Leonbergers are very people-oriented, affectionate dogs that are at their happiest when the whole family is together. At the same time, they are very lively and a house with a garden where they can frolic to their heart's content is a must for this giant breed. In addition, there should be a forest or park nearby for good long walks in the great outdoors. It would be ideal for these water-loving dogs to also have a lake in the surrounding area where they can play and swim as takes their fancy. Despite their calm, well-balanced nature, Leonbergers are very active dogs that are best off with equally active owners. Even dog sports such as dog diving or Treibball are suitable for Leonbergers, although frolicking in the great outdoors and in water is what they love most of all.
Along with physical activity, the time taken to groom this long-haired giant should of course also be taken into account. The long, thick fur needs to be brushed on a daily basis. In order to make this procedure easier, it's important that the Leonberger learns as a puppy to sit or lie still. An adult dog that hasn't learnt to do so will have hardly any patience for such intensive grooming.
In contrast to grooming, training the eager-to-learn Leonberger proves a much easier task. Thanks to its intelligence, good comprehension and willingness to follow orders, this breed is very easily trainable and willing to learn. When it comes to these good-natured, gentle giants, it's sufficient to learn the most important commands at the puppy stage. When doing so, the owner should give clear orientation and always speak calmly. Shouting or aggression certainly won't lead to success.
In principle, you can enjoy life with a Leonberger to the full and don't need to establish a strict regime. If you can meet the requirements in terms of food, grooming and health and dedicate the necessary time to offering your Leonberger mental and physical activity, you will have an incomparably loyal friend at your side for many years who will stand by you through thick and thin.