Bronco's Adventures

Our Leonberger Bronco

The following story is an excerpt from an upcoming book about Leonbergers and especially our Leonberger Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle and his many crazy adventures.

The photos below is of our Leonberger Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle. In the left photo he is three months old and in the right photo he is soon to be 13 years old. Due to a misunderstanding his name on the original pedigree certificate from the Leonberger Club of America was even more interesting: “Lets do le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”—yes, without the apostrophe.

The Leonberger is a noble and relatively rare breed, and purebred Leonbergers typically have a long pedigree that can be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century. This means that if you buy one, you and your dog will become part of a special community, and your dog’s name will reflect that. Bronco’s last name, von der Löwenhöhle, means that he originated from Kennel von der Löwenhöhle.

During an email exchange with the person writing up Bronco’s pedigree certificate, we were informed that because our dog was born in a litter identified by the letter L, his official name needed to begin with an L, too, even though at home we could call our dog whatever we liked. We knew we wanted to name him Bronco, which we thought was appropriate for a Leonberger, so later Claudia wrote, “Let’s do Le Bronco,” intending that the dog’s name would begin with the word “Le,” fulfilling the kennel’s requirement.

But when we received a copy of Bronco’s pedigree, we saw that our correspondent had misunderstood and included the words “Let’s do” as part of the name! Well, “Let’s do” starts with an L, too, so it fulfilled the pedigree requirement. And that’s how Bronco’s official full name came to be Lets do le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle. I should mention that we later got this corrected.

We got our Leonberger, whom we just called Bronco, from a breeder in Canada by the name Julie Schaffert. She is a responsible breeder and is recommended/endorsed by the Leonberger Club of America. She was among the first Leonberger breeders in North America. She got started in the 1990’s. I should add that it is important that you get your Leonberger from a responsible breeder for the sake of the breed and your dog’s health. The Leonberger Club of America maintains a list on their website where you can find LCA recommended breeders.

During his lifetime Bronco did a lot courageous and amazing things. He saved our Pug’s life, he sniffed out an oncoming insulin shock in our Labrador before it happened, he found our runaway hamsters, he chased off a guy who was trespassing and threatening my wife and other women in the neighborhood at night, thus protecting the entire neighborhood. He also did a lot less great but funny things. We have 100+ stories that I will be adding to this blog.

For a Leonberger Bronco lived a long life. He died two weeks short of 13 years old and the average life span for a Leonberger is 8-9 years. Because he reached an advanced age for a Leonberger he was awarded the Grey Muzzle Award, given by the Leonberger Health Foundation International, which bestows the award on any Leonberger who has reached the age of twelve. The Grey Muzzle Award is also given to breeders, because they are partially responsible for the dogs’ longevity.

Our Leonberger Bronco at the age of three months (left) and at the age of almost thirteen (right)

What is a Leonberger?

The Leonberger breed was originally created by Heinrich Essig (1808–87) in the German town of Leonberg, in what was then the kingdom of Württemberg. According to legend, Essig bred the dog to resemble the lion in the town’s coat of arms. It was bred to be a large companion dog. He registered the new breed in 1846. The Leonberger is often said to be a cross between a Saint Bernard, a Newfoundland, and a Great Pyrenees. However, in reality the story is more complicated. More on that later. One thing is for certain, the history around the interactions between the Leonberger breed and the St. Bernard is quite interesting. Also, more on that in another post. Another interesting fact is that Leonbergers were used in World War I to pull ammunition carts and cannons. Both World War I and World War II was tough on the breed and few survived.

Very few Leonbergers existed in North America until the 1980’s, when a breeding program was established. Saturday, November 2, 1985, the few families owning Leonbergers, the so called, Denver eight, got together to form the Leonberger Club of America. The Leonberger was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2010 as its 167th breed (in the Working group). Today there are more than 2,300 Leonbergers in the United States and a 1,000 in Canada. There are about 30,000+ Leonbergers in the world. Since there are not millions of them you can still consider the Leonberger a rare breed.

Leonbergers are confident and brave gentle giants. They are great with children, very social and good companions and guard dogs. Leonbergers are double-coated, and they have webbed paws, so they’re natural swimmers. They are sometimes used in water rescue operations. But be careful, they are big, full of energy, and can be rambunctious when they’re young.

According to the original purpose of the Leonberger, and the breed standards, the Leonberger is a large, strong, muscular, elegant dog. He is distinguished by his balanced build and confident calmness, yet he has quite a lively temperament. Males, in particular, are powerful and strong. As a family dog, the Leonberger is an agreeable partner for present-day homes and living conditions who can be taken anywhere without difficulty and is distinguished by his marked friendliness toward children. He is neither shy, nor aggressive. As a companion, he is agreeable, obedient, and fearless in all situations of life.

The following are particular requirements of a steady temperament:

•             Self-assurance and superior composure

•             Medium temperament (including playfulness)

•             Willingness to be submissive

•             Good capacity for learning and remembering

•             Insensitivity to noise

Leonbergers are large and muscular dogs. The height of an adult male is between 28 and 31.5 inches (72 to 80 centimeters) at the withers. The height of an adult female is between 25 and 29.5 inches (65 to 75 centimeters) at the withers. (The withers is the ridge located between the shoulder blades of an animal, on the back right below the neck.) Reputable breeders try to maintain these characteristics.

Leonbergers are sexually dimorphic—that is, there are noticeable differences between males and females. This is not always the case in dogs. Female Leonbergers are usually smaller and look more feminine. Males typically weigh between 120 and 170 pounds, and females usually weigh between 100 and 135 pounds. For comparison’s sake, below are the standard heights and weights for male dogs of other breeds.

• An Irish wolfhound, the world’s tallest dog (when standing on two feet), is 32 inches tall at the withers and weighs between 120 and 155 pounds.

• A Great Dane stands between 31 and 35 inches at the withers and weighs between 110 and 180 pounds.

• A Saint Bernard is between 28 and 35 inches tall at the withers and weighs between 140 and 180 pounds.

• A German shepherd stands between 24 and 26 inches at the withers and weighs between 66 and 86 pounds.

In other words, the Leonberger is right there among the largest breeds in the world.

In the picture below is an overview of the FCI breed standard for Leonberger dogs. I will post the full breed standard in another post.

This photo is a summary of the Leonberger breed standard
Summary of the FCI Leonberger breed standard (Photograph of Leonberger © Shutterstock/Eric Isselee)