The Leonberger Is a Rare Breed

The worldwide dog population is estimated to be 900 million, including 471 million dogs kept as pets, 200 million stray dogs. There are also village dogs, federal dogs and there are many millions of wild dogs such as wolves, coyotes, jackals, dholes, foxes (35 species). In the United States, 69 million households own at least one dog. There are at least 3 million Labradors around the world. The AKC currently recognizes 197 dog breeds. A close cousin of the Leonberger, the St. Bernard comes it as the 53rd most popular breed in the United States whilst the Leonberger comes in at place 102.

Below is an excerpt from my book

According to an estimate prepared by BioMed Central, there were around 30,000 Leonbergers in the world in 2020. See Anna Letko et al., “Genomic Diversity and Population Structure of the Leonberger Dog Breed,” Genetics Selection Evolution 52, no. 61 (October 2020)

There are around 3,300 Leonbergers in North America, 2,300 in the United States and 1,000 in Canada. The five countries with the most Leonbergers, in order, are France, with nearly 8,000; Germany, with more than 4,000; and Great Britain, the United States, and Sweden, with approximately 2,300 each. The country with the highest number of Leonbergers per capita is Finland, with nearly 2,000 Leonbergers among a population of 5.5 million people. (Information from the October 2018 LeoLetter).

In summary, the Leonberger is a rare breed. However, a few times in history the Leonberger was not just a rare breed but close to extinction.

Photo of a Leonberger pulling a cart with guns and ammunition
Leonberger pulling a cart with guns and ammunition

World War I was tough on the breed. Some Leonbergers were used to pull ammunition carts and small cannons during the conflict, and others were left to wander unattended. Often, these dogs starved to death. But after the war, two Leonberg businessmen, Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans, worked hard to save the breed. They scoured the countryside looking for Leonbergers who were still alive. They were able to find twenty-five of them whose owners were willing to cooperate in reestablishing the breed. Of these, only five were suitable for breeding. None of the Leonberger clubs had survived, so they founded a new one in 1922 called Deutsche Club für Leonberger Hunde (DCLH), and Stadelmann created an updated version of Albert Kull’s breed standard.

I’ve read that World War II was even more devastating to the breed. Supposedly there were only eight Leonbergers left in the world after the end of the war, and all Leonbergers today are descendants of those eight surviving Leonbergers. That’s once again a fascinating and simple story that’s easy to remember and spread, but the truth is rarely simple.

The Leonberger, like so many other dog breeds, was devastated by World War II—kennels were destroyed; dogs were left unattended or used for food—but Leonbergers weren’t used in the war effort itself, and there were more than eight left afterward. However, there was indeed a “genetic bottleneck” of Leonbergers in the 1940s, meaning that the population was greatly reduced in size, limiting the genetic diversity of the species. This was largely because people repeatedly bred the dogs they thought were the best specimens in a misguided attempt to improve the breed. Of course, for breed (and species) health, you need diversity. Scientific pedigree analyses demonstrate that the Leonberger has twenty-two founder animals, or animal ancestors unrelated to one another (ten males and twelve females).

Photo of our Leonberger Bronco at 3 months old, in black and white
Our Bronco at 3 months old, in black and white
Photo of Leonberger in a snow covered forest
Leonberger in snow (purchased from shutterstock)
Our Bronco standing in a kiddie pool










Finally, if you would like to learn about more about my book and find out where to buy it, click here or here. You can also click the image below to buy it from

The image shows the front cover of the book "The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle". Stories and Tips from Thirteen Years with a Leonberger. The cover is beige and brown and it has the face of an old Leonberger in the middle. Author is Thomas Wikman. Click on the image to go to the paperback location for the book.
This is the front cover of my book “The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”. Click on the image to go to the location for the book.

By thomasstigwikman

My name is Thomas Wikman. I am a software/robotics engineer with a background in physics, but I am currently retired. I took early retirement. I am a dog lover, and especially a Leonberger lover, a home brewer, craft beer enthusiast, an amateur astronomer, I’m learning French, and I am an avid reader. I live in Dallas, Texas, but I am originally from Sweden. I am married to Claudia, and we have three children Jacob, David and Rachel. My blog feature the crazy adventures of our Leonberger e Bronco von der Löwenhöhle as well as information on Leonbergers

21 replies on “The Leonberger Is a Rare Breed”

Yes we adore our dogs. I love Labradors too and I miss Baylor, the Labrador we had every day. Leonbergers are very good at pulling. Just by guessing I say 2-3 times more force than a German Shepherd or a Labrador. Bronco pulled harder than Baylor and Baby together (when he was disobedient).

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What dedication those guys had to scour the countryside looking for Leonbergers after the war. And then to have their population decimated again after WWII. Leonbergers sound like survivers!

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Neither had I until just a few months before we bought Bronco. Naturally we researched the breed first and to get one we had to go through an interview. The Leonberger community is very protective of their puppies. It is a rare giant breed related to the St. Bernard. It was a truly wonderful experience.

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Yes some people were afraid of Bronco because of his size but a lot of people realized he was a big fluffy teddy bear. One problem with Leonbergers is that they want to jump up and put their paws on people’s shoulders. It is a friendly gesture but a highly unwanted one and you need to get that nipped in the bud. Before we got him to stop we had some embarrassing incidents. Once when our short statured neighbor came over to say hello to Bronco, he stood up on his back legs, put his paws on his shoulders, opened his jaws wide and proceeded to do the circus lion trick on our friendly neighbor with his head in his jaws. We apologized profusely but our neighbor just told us it was OK and how much he loved Bronco.

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