AKC Working Group
The Leonberger was developed in 1846 in Leonberg, Germany, by Heinrich Essig, one of the city’s aldermen, from crosses between the Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernard, and other, unknown breeds. Herr Essig was attempting to create a breed that would closely resemble the lion featured on the town crest. The Leonberger’s tawny coloration and thick mane are evidence that Essig succeeded in his quest. To promote his majestic breed, Essig donated many of his dogs to celebrities and royals, including Empress Elizabeth of Austria (who eventually owned several) and King Umberto of Italy. Many Leonbergers were also exported to Russia during the nineteenth century. However, the two world wars almost destroyed the breed, as it was difficult for people to feed these huge animals when food was scarce.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, several Germans gathered together some of the few remaining Leonbergers and reestablished the breed. Today, the Leonberger is once again popular in Europe. More than 25,000 Leonbergers are registered there, although the breed remains rare in the United States. The first Leonberger was imported to the U.S. in 1971; the breed entered the AKC Working group in 2010.
A versatile breed, the Leonberger has been successful in many endeavors, including herding and guarding livestock, obedience, and tracking. German search and rescue teams also use the Leonberger in their work, and the dog has a reputation as a great water-rescue dog. The Leonberger’s warm, gentle personality makes him a fine family companion dog.
The Leonberger is a very large, majestic dog with a medium-sized head and a black mask that ideally extends above the eyebrows. The nose and lips are black. There are no loose flews to collect saliva, so this breed does not drool. The teeth should meet in a tight scissors bite. The skull is somewhat domed. It is important that the brown eyes have a gentle, kindly expression. The hanging ears are medium-sized. The Leonberger’s body is a little longer than it is tall. The neck should be elegant and strong with no dewlap. The rough-looking waterproof coat is gently wavy to straight, tawny to reddish-brown, and may have black-tipped hairs on the outer coat. A small white star on the chest and a little white on the tips of the paws are permitted. The Leonberger male’s thick mane creates a lion-like impression. (The mane takes several years to develop to its full glory.) The fore and rear legs are feathered and moderately angulated. Rear dewclaws should be removed. The tail is bushy and set low, reaching at least to the hocks; the feet have black pads. The Leonberger has webbing between the toes to aid in swimming.
Leonbergers will be disqualified from conformation shows if they display any of the following characteristics: complete lack of mask, more than 1 missing tooth except M3, any color but those listed above, white on chest more than 5 inches in width, or white extending beyond toes.
- Height: 28 to 31-1/2 in. (male); 25-1/2 to 29-1/2 in. (female)
- Size: Very large
- Weight: 80 to 160 lbs.
- Availability: Difficult to find
- Talents: Tracking, herding, watchdog, therapy dog, search and rescue, water rescue, sledding, carting, agility, and competitive obedience
Socialize early and well, as this puppy will become a very large adult. The Leonberger is more agile than many other giant breeds. He can be trained to pull sleds and carts, and is a good backpacker and hiker. He can jog for very short distances but, like other giant breeds, does not make a good running companion, due to his weight. (Note: No giant breed should be taken jogging before the age of 18 months, as the bones are still developing and could be damaged.) Buy only from breeders affiliated with a national breed club and from parents certified for three generations free of hip dysplasia and congenital eye disease. The national breed club has very stringent breeding standards based on health and temperament. The Leonberger “molts” heavily twice a year. The coat can vary quite a bit in length and thickness. Depending on the type of coat and the time of year, brushing may range in frequency from daily to once a week. Watch out for matting due to a thick undercoat-check behind the ears, and in all the feathered areas.
Sweet, loving, and steadfast. Stable and calm. Friendly personality, yet protective and devoted. The Leonberger is a good watchdog, but fairly quiet as a rule. A gentle giant. Serious, intelligent, and brave. Wants to please; responds well to training. Very affectionate and patient with children. Good with other family pets if raised with them. These dogs are often excellent as therapy dogs.
- Children: Excellent with children
- Friendliness: Loves everyone
- Trainability: Easy to train
- Independence: Needs people a lot
- Dominance: Moderate
- Other Pets: Generally good with other pets
- Combativeness: Can be a bit dog-aggressive
- Noise: Not a barker
- Indoors: Relatively inactive indoors
- Owner: Not recommended for novice owners
- Grooming: Regular grooming needed
- Trimming and Stripping: No trimming or stripping needed
- Coat: Medium coat
- Shedding: Seasonally heavy shedder
- Exercise: Needs lots of exercise
- Jogging: A poor jogging companion
- Apartments: Not recommended for apartments
- Outdoor Space: Best with a large yard
- Climate: Best in cooler climates
- Longevity: Short (less than 10 years)