The Leonberger’s ancestors may have been true working dogs, but this pup just wants to cuddle. Learn more about this giant dog breed’s history, personality, and grooming needs. Are you searching for a Leonberger-friendly Pet Sitter? Through Mad Paws, you can find Dog Minders in Adelaide, Newcastle, Darwin, and all over the country!
Quick Facts ✔
Height – 65-75cm (female); 70-80cm (male)
Weight – 40-60kg (female); 50-70kg (male)
Lifespan – 8 – 9 years
Country of origin – Germany
Breed type – Miscellaneous
- Families with children
- Owners with enough space for a large dog breed
- Creative or experienced Dog Trainers
Leonberger Breed History ♜
One look at the powerful Leonberger and you might assume that this pup is a working dog at heart. In reality, the Leonberger has a rather surprising origin story, which starts with not-so-humble beginnings.
Sometime around the 1840s, a man named Heinrcich Essig, a resident and city counselor of Leonberg, Germany, was conjuring an idea of a new dog breed.
The inspiration stemmed from an image that he likely saw every time he set foot in the town square: the Leonberg coat-of-arms. The yellow crest shows an impressive lion with flowing hair, and it gave Essig a brilliant idea. Why not create a regal dog breed fit for a regal lifestyle? His lion-like dog would sit alongside kings and queens, he thought. Their only job would be to look beautiful and ask for head scratches.
This idea in hand, he went about founding the Leonberger dog breed. By crossing short-coated Saint Bernards with Landseer Newfoundlands, Essig created a large dog with a long fur around the neck and tail and light colouring on the body—the perfect canine version of a lion.
With the breed of his dreams come to life, Essig had another major hurdle. How would he convince kings and queens around the world to take notice of the Leonberger? As it turns out, he was quite the branding genius. Essig started by convincing famous illustrators and artists to use his dogs as models. From there, he began gifting the cuddly puppies to any royal family who would accept them. As the buzz grew, the dog became more popular with wealthy families across Europe. Everyone from Tsar Alexander II of Russia to King Edward VII and Napoleon III owned a Leonberger, catapulting the dog to global fame.
As with any trend driven by the rich and famous, Essig’s dog breed wasn’t without some competition. Leonberger copy-cats popped up all over Europe, and Essig struggled to establish an official breed standard before he died. While his efforts were ultimately successful—he did create a breed fit for kings!—it’s likely that the Leonberger today isn’t exactly as he intended the dog breed to be. And despite Essig’s early intentions to create a non-working companion dog, Leonbergers were inevitably accepted as excellent farm dogs, as well.
The breed eventually faced another problem: two World Wars. After the first World War, widespread poverty and destruction meant that few families could afford to feed such a big dog. Some progress was made to rebuild the breed, but the Second World War had another huge impact.
Luckily for the Leonberger, dog fanciers started rebuilding the breed over the next decade. Slowly but surely, the lion-like dog would enjoy a third chance to make a comeback—this time, as a non-royal family pet. Today, you’re more likely to see a Leo on a farm or in a family home. But they do sometimes make appearances in the show ring!
Personality Traits ★
Essig set out to create a lion-like dog in all but personality. True to that vision, the Leonberger is friendly, calm, and always ready to cuddle.
Thanks to their Newfoundland background, Leonbergers are people-oriented to the core. They’re especially devoted to their family and always want to be at their beloved Owner’s side. To that effect, it’s never a good idea to leave this dog alone for too long. Remember that they may come from working dog breeds, but the Leonberger was bred to be a companion animal. They’d much rather stay in Pet Day Care than wait for their Owners at the door.
When it comes to strangers, Leonbergers are affectionate as puppies, but grow into a more aloof stance as they age. This is because Leonbergers have a bit of that Saint Bernard guarding instinct in them. They should never be aggressive towards people, but they want to make sure their family members are well protected. And they’ve got an impressive bark to get their point across.
When we say that Leonbergers are dedicated to their family, we include both two-legged and four-legged members. Leonbergers will bond with children, cats, small dogs and anyone else who shares the home; it’s part of what makes them such an excellent family pet.
That said, as Leonberger males come into adulthood, they can develop some dog-oriented aggression. It’s important to socialise them as puppies and continue obedience training through their dog teenager phase.
While Leonbergers are gentle and patient with children, their size requires that Owners still take special care. These dogs are quite calm, but they also have a playful side, which can lead to some accidents. And for older children who may see this dog as the pony they always wanted, it’s a good idea to teach appropriate play activities to keep everyone safe. In other words, no climbing all over this giant doggo!
Leonberger Trainability & Training Tips
Leonbergers were bred to be steadfast companions, only later taking on the role of working dog. As such, it can take some convincing to engage this dog in training. Despite their reluctance, socialisation and training is absolutely essential for a dog of this size. Luckily, there are a few ways to get them onboard.
One, you’ll want to start early. Socialising and training large dogs as puppies is extremely important. That first year goes by fast; before you know it, you’ve got a strong (and strong-willed!) adult Leonberger on your hands. Plus, puppies are more interested in learning and exploring than adult doggos, so it’s a great time to get them excited about training.
Get started with basic commands, leash-training, and socialisation. This will ensure that your dog listens to you, doesn’t pull you down the street on a leash, and is comfortable and calm in all settings. The result will be the self-confident and happy-go-lucky Leo that gets along well with everyone.
Many Leonberger Owners don’t go beyond basic training, and that is certainly fine. As long as your pupper socialises well and follows commands, the occasional training refresher is enough.
But, despite their reputation for being uninterested in training, they do have the potential to learn advanced tricks! Some Leos have even made appearances in dog dancing competitions, and they’re quite graceful when it comes to agility training. This kind of mental challenge is a great way of warding off boredom for this intelligent dog, and it can be a wonderful opportunity for bonding.
Living Conditions & Exercise Needs ⌂
As a member of the giant breed category, Puppy Owners should be careful about not overexercising their young Leonberger. Because these dogs grow so quickly, too much exercise can cause developmental problems, so make sure to consult your vet in the early months.
Once they’ve grown into their giant stature, these doggos will require about an hour of exercise per day. They make wonderful walking companions, but don’t make the assumption that they’re slow and lumbering. Instead, Leos are agile and energetic when excited, so it’s also a good idea to give them some free play with other dogs.
Like Saint Bernards and other giant breeds, Leonbergers enjoy cart-pulling or drafting. If you’re going to take them on a walk to the market, for instance, you might outfit them with a wagon so that they can get an extra workout on the way home! And, because of their Newfoundland influence, these dogs are also fond of water sports.
In terms of living conditions, it’s probably pretty clear that these dogs need space to stretch their legs. When that fluffy tail starts wagging, for instance, water glasses, laptops, and all other items have a high risk of being knocked over. And if your kitchen countertops are at a normal height, your Leo can develop a pretty stealthy counter surfing habit. Best to keep tasty food items securely stored.
Both of the Leonberger’s parent breeds have a natural tendency towards drooling, and this doggo is no different. When considering the living conditions of this pup, make sure your furniture is drool-proof. And keep a few rags around the house for easy clean-up.
Finally, there’s this dog’s coat to consider. Perfectly designed for the Swiss Alps and the Canadian seas, the Leonberger is most comfortable in the cold. If they’re going to be living in warmer climates, be careful about sun exposure and exercise, and familiarise yourself with the signs of heat stroke in dogs.
Leonberger Grooming ✄
The Leonberger’s defining feature, apart from their friendly smile, is that regal coat. How can you hope to tackle that mane of thick fur? With specialised grooming tools.
In particular, you’ll want a brush that can penetrate to the downy undercoat that gives a Leo their poofiness. And, you’ll also need a detangling comb for their longer outer fur. Leonbergers need a brushing from tip to tail at least once or twice per week.
Unfortunately, that amount of hair will inevitably pick up all kinds of dust, dirt, and mud, so Leos need the occasional bath to manage the doggy smell. Owners can decide how frequently their pup needs a wash-down, but it can be anywhere from every two weeks to every month and a half.
Other grooming tasks can include keeping their drooly jowls clean, brushing their teeth, checking their ears and clipping their nails.
Leonberger Health +
Sadly, the topic of Leonberger health is complex. In addition to the fact that they have a short lifespan common in giant breed dogs, Leos also suffer from an unusually small gene pool. We mentioned that this breed almost completely disappeared as the result of both world wars. That meant that dog fanciers needed to rebuild the breed with a small number of dogs—at one point only 30 breeding adults—sometimes with unknown lineages.
Organisations like the Leonberger Health Foundation International fund research studies to learn more about how this lack of diversity has affected the breed. And some Genetic experts recommend outcrossing to help diversify the gene pool. But in the meantime, Owners and potential Owners of the breed should be aware of the following predispositions:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Eyelid problems, including Entropion and Ectropion
- Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer
- Leonberger Polyneuropathy. This is a collection of neuromuscular conditions that are common in the Leonberger breed. Dogs suffering from this disease can struggle with coordination, eating, drinking, or barking, and require medical treatment to live more comfortably.
In order to give a Leo the best chance at a comfortable, happy life, health should be a priority for Owners. That means regular check-ins with the vet to monitor growth and developmental milestones. And, regular exercise, mental stimulation, and diet are critical in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Because these pups are so large, they need high-quality dog food filled with protein, vitamins, and minerals to give them plenty of energy and help with recovery.
Fun Fact about the Leonberger ♥
When Heinrich Essig visited the market square in Leonberg, he was inspired by a statue to create a dog breed. When Ottmar Hörl visited the market square in Leonberg, he was inspired to fill it with dog statues.
In 2019, conceptual artist and sculpturalist Hörl, released 200 Leonberger dog sculptures in the square as part of a public art project. Just like dogs have a way of bringing people together, Hörl hoped that for the five days that the puppers sat in the square, community members would be encouraged to connect with one another.
Once the show was over, some local businesses “adopted” Hörl’s dogs. In doing so, they aimed to continue to spark conversation about the town’s living legends.
Final Thoughts on the Leonberger
While this dog breed has experienced its ups and downs, the dogs themselves have always carried themselves with grace, poise, and an impressive level of cuteness. Leonbergers often expect to be the centre of attention wherever they go; after all, they were bred to be in the spotlight. But with a calm demeanor and friendly attitude, these dogs are right at home in their modern domestic role.
As giant dog breeds, they do require training, socialisation and a close watch on their health. And, with all that fur and drool, you will never be able to hide the fact that you’re a Leo Owner.
But, if you can put the time and care into this huge doggy lion, the Leonberger will return the favour in unwavering loyalty, and plenty of cuddling!