Categories
Leonbergers

Ten Leonberger Myths and the Truth

In this post I am stating and correcting ten Leonberger myths that I’ve seen on various websites and in various Leonberger books. Websites featuring incorrect information include Wikipedia. It is always good to remember that googling is not research and that a lot of information on the internet is wrong. In the list below I avoid stating the myth and then correcting it. Instead, I am trying to implicate the myth as a myth from the start or begin the sentence with the truth. The reason for doing this is psychological. Research has shown that if you state something false and then correct it, people tend to remember the first thing they saw, which was the myth, instead of the truth.

This embedded old historic photo of a Leonberger is from the AKC website.

To correct many of the myths regarding Leonberger history I am referring to the book Leonberger by Caroline Bliss-Isberg. If I am not specifically stating the source in a listed item it is from her book. Caroline Bliss-Isberg is a recipient of the Heinrich Essig Award and the Leo Heart Award and a very prominent leader in the Leonberger community. With the help of other prominent leaders of the Leonberger community as well as expert researchers she attained documents, illustrations and photos never before published and from it she created the most extensive (several hundred pages) and accurate account of Leonberger history.

Photo of the book Leonberger, by Caroline Bliss-Isberg. Click on the image to go to my review of Leonberger.
Leonberger, by Caroline Bliss-Isberg. Click on the image to go to my review of Leonberger.
  • If you want to spay or neuter your Leonberger it is best to wait two years, so do NOT spay or neuter a Leonberger at six months as some erroneously state. The neuter at six months claim is not very common, so it is perhaps not a real myth in that sense. However, I’ve seen it in some books and there are some organizations that insist on spaying./neutering even giant breeds. To learn about the reasons and the research behind the two years wait for Leonbergers click here.
  • Heinrich Essig was NOT the mayor of the city of Leonberg. Heinrich Essig was a prominent citizen of the town, and he was a successful businessman, farmer, innkeeper, horse and dog trader, large-dog enthusiast, dog breeder, and town councilman, but he was never the mayor of Leonberg. About half the Leonberger websites and books that I’ve come across get this wrong and the other ones get it right. However, it is the research by Caroline Bliss-Isberg that sets this straight as can be seen on page 20 of her book.
  • More than two dogs were used for creating the Leonberger. It was not just a St. Bernard and a Newfoundland dog as a few Leonberger books I’ve come across erroneously claim. See next list item for more information.
  • It is not entirely true that the following three dogs were used to create the Leonberger; the St. Bernard, the Newfoundland dog and the Great Pyrenée dog. This is a common claim based on the Essig’s claim that he bred the Leonberger from long haired St. Bernards, the Newfoundland dog and the grey-yellow wolfhound from the Spanish Pyrenees. However, the Pyrenean wolfhound is not likely to be what we call a Great Pyrenée dog. Moreover, these dogs did not look like they do today and there was a lot of breeding back and forth going on and Essig did not keep records. Therefore, the story is likely to be a lot more complicated. The bigger story is explained on the pages 23, 41, 45, 48-49 Caroline Bliss-Isberg’s book but it is also more briefly explained in my Leonberger History page on this website.
  • There were definitely more than five Leonbergers alive after World War One despite several Leonberger books and websites erroneously claiming only five survived. I should say that many of the more reliable websites get this right. It is true that World War I was tough on the breed. It didn’t help that Leonbergers were used to pull ammunition carts and cannons. However, more than five Leonbergers survived the war. After the war, Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans, worked hard to save the breed, and they were able to find twenty-five Leonbergers whose owners were willing to cooperate in reestablishing the breed. Of these, only five were suitable for breeding. That is still a pretty significant genetic bottleneck.
  • There is a common erroneous claim associated with World War II as well, stating that only eight Leonbergers survived World War II. There was indeed a “genetic bottleneck” of Leonbergers in the 1940s. This was largely because people repeatedly bred the dogs they thought were the best specimens in a misguided attempt to improve the breed. Scientific pedigree analyses demonstrate that the Leonberger has twenty-two founder animals, or animal ancestors unrelated to one another (ten males and twelve females). Again, that is a little bit different from “only 8 survived”.
  • Another World War II myth is that Leonbergers were used for pulling ammunition carts in World War II just as in World War I but there is no proof of that.
  • Another incorrect claim that I’ve seen on websites and some books is that the Leonberger dog first appeared in North America in the 1970’s. As Caroline Bliss-Isberg describes in her book in several places, Leonbergers were introduced in the United States and Canada on several occasions during the 19th century and at the beginning of the the 20th century. However, it was typically just a few Leonbergers and the population was not maintained. It was not until the 1970’s that Leonbergers a permanent population was established in North America.
  • The lifespan of a Leonberger is on average 8-10 years not 6-8 years or 7 years, which is old data still reported by some websites. The Leonberg Health Foundation International have been successful in eradication several detrimental genes in the Leonberger breed. I should say the reliable websites typically have this information correct.
  • I’ve come across a few Leonberger books which grossly understate the size and weight of Leonbergers, for example, claiming that a male Leonberger weigh between 45 and 60 pounds. The weight of a male Leonberger is 120 to 170 pounds. Luckily the vast majority of books and websites get this information correct.

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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 Amazon.

This is an image of the front cover of the book "The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle". Click on the image to go to the Amazon location for the book.
This is the front cover of the book “The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”. Click on the image to go to the Amazon location for the book.
Categories
Leonbergers

Some Fun Leonberger Facts

Coat of arms for the city of Leonberg, Germany
The coat of arms of the town of Leonberg, Germany, was allegedly the inspiration for the first breeder of the Leonberger, Heinrich Essig
  • The Leonberger takes it name after the town of Leonberg in Germany
  • 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
  • The coat of arms of the town of Leonberg, Germany, was allegedly the inspiration for the first breeder of the Leonberger, Heinrich Essig (maybe you can say that the Leonberger looks the way it does because Germans were bad at drawing lions back then)
  • The breed was first registered in 1846
  • According to Essig, the Leonberger is a cross between a Saint Bernard, a Newfoundland, and what is thought to be Great Pyrenees or a Pyrenean Mastiff (not known which). In reality the mixing and matching went back and forth between these three breeds throughout history and it may be more complicated.
  • In the 1870s, Leonbergers were brought to Newfoundland to invigorate the stock of Newfoundland dogs
  • In 1879 President Ulysses S. Grant gave two Leonbergers gold medals
  • The first Leonberger breed standard was created in 1895
  • Leonbergers were used in the World War I to pull ammunition carts and cannons, which was one of the reasons the breed was decimated during World War I
  • Leonbergers have webbed paws
  • Leonbergers are double coated
  • Until 1985, there were only seventeen Leonbergers known to be living in the United States
  • The Leonberger Club of America was founded in 1985
  • The Leonberger was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2010 as its 167th breed.*
  • The Leonberger is unique in the AKC for being the only dog in the Working Group originally bred to be a companion.†
  • According to an estimate prepared by BioMed Central, there were around 30,000 Leonbergers in the world in 2020 (registered only).‡
  • 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.

AKC Communications, “AKC Welcomes the Cane Corso, Icelandic Sheepdog and Leonberger,” June 30, 2010, https://www.akc.org/press-releases/akc-welcomes-the-cane-corso-icelandic-sheepdog-and-leonberger/


†  AKC staff, “Meet 31 Purposely-Bred Dogs,” August 1, 2020,


‡  Anna Letko et al., “Genomic Diversity and Population Structure of the
Leonberger Dog Breed,” Genetics Selection Evolution 52, no. 61 (October
2020),

https://gsejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12711-020-00581-3


§  Sharon Springel, “Understanding Mean Kinship,” LeoLetter, October 2018,
60.
¶  “Springel, “Understanding Mean Kinship.”
**  “Springel, “Understanding Mean Kinship.”

Leonbergers on-screen


Did you know that three Leonberger dogs played the main character, Buck, in The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon (1997)?


*   See Stuart Fitzgerald, “Leonberger,” DogZone.com, at

https://www.dogzone.com/breeds/leonberger/

And that a Leonberger named Hagrid appeared on Britain’s Got More Talent in 2017? Hagrid was attempting to set a new Guinness world record for catching the maximum number of sausages in his mouth in the shortest period of time.

You can watch Hagrid’s attempt below

The Leonberger Hagrid and his world record in sausage catching