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)