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Leonbergers

A Brief History of the Leonberger Club of America

Leonbergers have a long history in North America and the United States—despite the fact that until 1985, there were only seventeen Leonbergers known to be living in the United States.

See: Lusby, Leonberger, page 15.

Photo of the book Leonberger, Special Rare-Breed Edition, A Comprehensive Owners Guide, by Madeline Lusby
Leonberger, Special Rare-Breed Edition, A Comprehensive Owners Guide, Madeline Lusby

In the 1870s, Leonbergers were brought to Newfoundland to invigorate the stock of Newfoundland dogs. Around the same time, two Leonbergers named Caesar and Sultan were purchased from Essig’s kennel and transported across the ocean to join the Wellesley-Sterling theater company in the United States as the stars of their productions. Then in 1879, Caesar and Sultan visited President Ulysses S. Grant, who called them the largest and most magnificent dogs he had ever seen and presented them with gold medals. During the years between World War I and World War II, a New Jersey family, the Wolfs, opened their home as a temporary refuge for Jews fleeing Germany: they also imported Leonbergers. Unfortunately, this introduction of the breed into the United States did not last, and it would be another fifty years before the Leonberger appeared in America again.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 60.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 64

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 101.

Photo of front cover of Leonberger, A comprehensive guide to the lion king of breeds, by Caroline Bliss-Isberg
Leonberger, A comprehensive guide to the lion king of breeds, Caroline Bliss-Isberg

During the late 1970s and the 1980s, a few families—Waltraut and Klaus Zieher, Brian Peters, Manfred and Sylvia Kaufmann, Keri Campbell and Melanie Brown, and Mary and Reiner Decher brought Leonbergers to the United States. The Dechers had started a breeding program and were looking for a mate for their first dam, Viona. By chance their neighbor discovered through a newsletter that there was another Leonberger in the United States, and that led to the families’ finding and connecting with one another. I should add that the Dechers were careful to conform to the German breeding regulations and performed hip X-rays that they then submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Viona became the first OFA-certified Leonberger in America.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 152.

On Saturday, November 2, 1985, eight of these Leonberger enthusiasts met at a hotel in Denver, Colorado, to found the Leonberger Club of America (LCA). This group of founders, which has since been dubbed the Denver Eight, appointed a registrar, formulated a breeding acceptability checklist, and instituted various policies, including the requirement that OFA certification is mandatory for breeding. LCA membership grew: it held social gatherings, began publishing LeoLetter, and imported an increasing number of dogs. Now the LCA has thousands of members across the country, and Leonbergers receive high ratings on health tests relative to other large breeds. For example, in 2000, the OFA reported that only 14.6 percent of Leonbergers tested positive for hip dysplasia, compared to 47 percent of Saint Bernards.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 154.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 176.

Another important historical event was the founding of the Leonberger Health Foundation International (LHFI), in 2000 (it was just called the Leonberger Health Foundation back then). According to its website, the organization was founded by Waltraut Zieher and other memers of the LCA’s health, education, and research committee to “facilitate the solicitation and distribution of donations given to support health related breed-specific research.” The LHFI also administers a program that collects DNA samples from Leonbergers to share with universities and research institutions, and of course it administers the Grey Muzzle Award.

LHFI’s global biobank contains DNA samples from more than nine thousand Leonbergers. Among the organization’s notable achievements are the eradication of Addison’s disease among Leonbergers and the raising of nearly half a million dollars for research into conditions that affect canine health, including osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, glaucoma, cardiac diseases, thyroid diseases, and neurological disorders. Its research also supports healthful longevity and aging as well as population diversity. Another success is the fact that since 2011, no Leonbergers with two copies of the LPN1 gene mutation (which causes Leonberger polyneuropathy) have been recorded in LHFI’s biobank. LHFI is one of my favorite charities.

The end of the twentieth century marked not only the end of the Cold War but also the beginning of what I call the Dog Wars of America. In 1985, the American Kennel Club (AKC) registry comprised one-third of the world’s known dog breeds. But the AKC had recognized only a few new breeds since 1887—a period of ninety-eight years. So the organization decided to change that policy, but this did not always go smoothly. The members of rare-breed clubs often did not want to be part of the AKC. For example, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was very reluctant to join, so a relatively small splinter group, the United States Australian Shepherd Association, was formed and designated the official member club of the AKC, which was not welcome news to the ASCA. The border collie is another example. Charles Krauthammer, the late political columnist, called the AKC the politburo of American dog breeding.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 159.

Similarly, in 2003, a new Leonberger club was formed—the Leonberger Club of the United States—with the goal of becoming the Leonberger member club of the AKC. This essentially forced the LCA’s hand, so they applied for membership in the AKC, a process that took years to complete. But ultimately the AKC approved the LCA as members in 2010: Leonbergers would officially become part of the Working Group. Fortunately, 90 percent of LCA breeders agreed to continue following LCA regulations regardless of whether the club would remain independent or become part of the AKC. Also fortunately, AKC membership afforded more opportunities for Leonbergers to participate in dog shows, which is important to many owners.

See: Bliss-Isberg, Leonberger, page 187

For information on the history of the Leonberger starting in 1830’s see this link

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Leonbergers

My Leonberger Post Number 20 Lists Them All

This is post number 20 for my Leonberger/Bronco blog. I decided to make it a list of posts. Not all posts were equally popular and maybe you missed the posts you would have liked the most. You can click on the link or the picture to see a post, then click back or “Home” (at the top) go back. If you read a post I certainly would love to get a “like” or maybe a comment.

Post-1: What is a Leonberger?

This image of a Leonberger summarizes the FCI Leonberger breed standard.
Summary of the FCI Leonberger breed standard (Photograph of Leonberger © Shutterstock/Eric Isselee)

Post-2: Our Leonberger Bronco

Photos of our Leonberger Bronco. Left: Bronco at 3 months old. Right Bronco at almost 13 years old.
Left: Bronco at 3 months old. Right Bronco at almost 13 years old.

Post-3: The Time Bronco Saved the Neighborhood

Two illustrations: Left: Trespasser at night spying on us through our bedroom window. Right: Bronco chasing off the trespasser (illustrations by Naomi Rosenblatt)
Left: Trespasser at night spying on us through our bedroom window. Right: Bronco chasing off trespasser (illustrations by Naomi Rosenblatt)

Post-4: Bronco’s Hamster Search and Rescue

Two illustrations. Left: Leonberger with puffy cheeks full of hamsters. Right: Hamster CPR (illustrations by Naomi Rosenblatt)
Left: Puffy cheeks full of hamsters. Right: Hamster CPR (illustrations by Naomi
Rosenblatt)

Post-5: The Grey Muzzle Award

Leonberger's live on average 8-9 years. However, the Leonberger Health Foundation International is working hard to extend the lifespan of Leonbergers. They give an award to all Leonbergers who have survived passed their 12th birthday. The award is called the Grey Muzzle Award. Bronco's award reads: The Grey Muzzle Award, for Leonberger longevity is presented with gratitude  by the Leonberger Health Foundation International to Bronco for offering hope and potential for longer lives for Leonbergers throughout the world.
Leonberger’s live on average 8-9 years. However, the Leonberger Health Foundation International is working hard to extend the lifespan of Leonbergers. They give an award to all Leonbergers who have survived passed their 12th birthday. The award is called the Grey Muzzle Award.

Post-6: The time Bronco accidentally pushed Baby into a storm drain

Our German Shepherd Baby in a storm drain. I am trying to pull her out while our Leonberger Bronco is pulling on the leash.
Me handling a difficult situation. Illustration by Naomi Rosenblatt.

Post-7: The Worldwide Independent Leonberger Database

Screenshot from the Worldwide Independent Leonberger Database, showing all the information on Bronco. More than 160,000 Leonbergers are listed in this database. That is most Leonbergers who've ever lived.
This screen shot shows the information about Bronco that appears in the WILD database above his full pedigree.

Post-8: The Day Bronco Stumped the Geek Squad

Illustration depicting a geek squad guy impressed by what the powerful bite by our Leonberger Bronco could do to a laptop.
Luckily the warranty covered both acts of God and acts of Dog (illustration Naomi Rosenblatt)

Post-9: Some Fun Leonberger Facts

The coat of arms of the town 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

Post-10: History of the Leonberger

Photo of Bronco at three months old. You can trace his ancestry back 120 years. A lot of interesting Leonberger history happened in that time.
Bronco at three months old. You can trace his ancestry back 120 years. A lot of interesting Leonberger history happened in that time.

Post-11: The Day Bronco Sniffed Out an Oncoming Insulin Shock

Photo of our Labrador Baylor on the left and our Leonberger Bronco in a sun ray on the right. Bronco may have saved Baylor's life by sniffing out an incoming insulin shock.
Bronco’s nose predicted an oncoming insulin shock

Post-12: A Shocking Walk

A photo of our Leonberger Bronco when he was young. Bronco was slim and a bit gangly when he was young. He would fill out later. He was full of energy, confident and not afraid of anything.
Bronco was slim and a bit gangly when he was young. He would fill out later. He was full of energy, confident and not afraid of anything.

Post-13: Bronco the Great Swimmer

Photo of our Leonberger Bronco swimming in White Rock Lake. Leonbergers are excellent swimmers and are sometimes used in water rescue.
Leonbergers are excellent swimmers and are sometimes used in water rescue.

Post-14: The Eye Drop War

Our Leonberger Bronco standing in front of a pet gate. Leonbergers are big and tall and can reach almost anywhere a human can. so pet gates are a good idea.
Gates we had around the house to prevent Bronco from roaming where he shouldn’t

Post-15: The Day an EF3 Tornado Ravaged Our Neighborhood. It was a tough day for us and Bronco

Photo of our Leonberger Bronco in front of our fence that was damaged by a tornado. He had also just had a toe amputation. He has a  plastic bag around his bandage.
Bronco, who was not at his best in this picture, rests next to our tornado damaged fence. We put a plastic bag around his bandage when he went outside.

Post-16: Bronco the Very Big Dog Bites My Behind

Our Leonberger Bronco was a very big dog with powerful jaws. Here he is sitting in Claudia’s lap/
Bronco was a very big dog. Here he is sitting in Claudia’s lap.

Post-17: When Bronco Swallowed our Neighbor’s Head and Teaching Dogs How to Greet People Properly

Our Leonberger Bronco standing in the hallway
Bronco in front of the hallway

Post-18: How to Publish a Dog Book on Amazon (and elsewhere)

This photo is a page example from The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle, Stories and Tips from Thirteen Years with a Leonberger. It will be released July 3rd 2022.
Page example from The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle, Stories and Tips from Thirteen Years with a Leonberger.

Post-19: Are Leonbergers like bears, lions or wolves? Ask the Boy Who Cried Wolf!

Photo of a Grey Wolf (Canis Lupus) to the left and our Leonberger to the right. The humoristic text says "Canis Lupus, the Grey Wolf, is a fearsome and courageous hunter in nature. Canis Lupus familiaris, the dog, a close relative of the grey wolf, is sometimes also brave. This specimen bravely protects the life of smaller dogs and hamsters."
Leonbergers are big dogs and little boys may think they are wolves, but Leonbergers are very friendly.

Post 20, well that’s this one. Please like this post or any other post if you do or leave a comment.

Categories
Leonbergers

History of the Leonberger

Bronco at three months old. You can trace his ancestry back 120 years. A lot of interesting Leonberger history happened in that time.

This post is a sample from my new Leonberger History page. The Leonberger History page is somewhat long (almost 3,000 words), too long for a post, but it is interesting.  This post only covers up to the end of the 1800’s and I’ve also removed all the references. To see the full history click here:

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. Indeed, as you can see in the image on page 132, the lion in the coat of arms doesn’t look like a real lion, so you could say that the Leonberger looks the way it does because Germans were bad at drawing lions back then. All joking aside, though, Leonbergers do bear some resemblance to lions and maybe even bears. In any case, they are beautiful dogs.

When people would stop me and ask me questions about the kind of dog Bronco was, I would say he was a Leonberger—a cross between a Saint Bernard, a Newfoundland, and a Great Pyrenees—and that the breed was created by the mayor of the German town of Leonberg. But, as the economist Tyler Cowen said, “Be suspicious of simple stories.” As it turns out, the story I kept telling was a simplification and not entirely true. History is more complicated, and that’s another reason I’m writing this: I was unintentionally spreading misinformation about Leonbergers, and want to try to correct some of it.

Simple and interesting stories are easy to remember, easy to believe, and easy to propagate. But first, Heinrich Essig was never the mayor of Leonberg. He 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.

Essig claimed to have created the Leonberger in the 1830s by crossing a female Landseer Newfoundland with a male long-haired Saint Bernard from the Great Saint Bernard Hospice, a monastery in Switzerland. He continued crossing the Landseer Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard over four generations, then he crossed his Newfoundland–Saint Bernard mix with a Pyrenean wolfhound not, as is often asserted, with a Great Pyrenees (called a Pyrenean mountain dog in Europe). He then crossed that dog with the Saint Bernard again. In 1846, he was finally ready to announce and register his “lion of a dog.” A few years later, Leonbergers were officially introduced to the public at the Munich Oktoberfest.

However, the story is more complicated than that. There’s no specific breed named Pyrenean wolfhound today, so Essig could have used a Great Pyrenees or a Pyrenean mastiff . In addition, later in the nineteenth century, Leonbergers were used to breed the long-haired Saint Bernard dog, and this likely saved the Saint Bernard dog from extinction. At one point, too, Leonbergers were deliberately mixed with Newfoundland dogs to strengthen the Newfoundland breed. In other words, breeding happened in both directions, and the characteristics of the large breeds were in constant fl ux. Th e dogs—including Leonbergers and Saint Bernards—didn’t look like they do today, either. Essig’s Leonbergers were multicolored, mostly white, and lacked the black mask that is so important to the breed now. What has not changed is the essence of what Essig was aiming for: a large but moderately proportioned dog that is friendly and loving and a great companion.

Ultimately, the origins of the Leonberger, as well as the Saint Bernard and the other large breeds from this region, are complex and shrouded in mystery. In addition, some of Essig’s claims have been disputed. Breed standards wouldn’t be codified until the end of the nineteenth century. It should also be noted that it was Essig’s niece Marie who to a large extent bred and cared for the dogs.

Essig was selling his Leonberger dogs as luxury items to the wealthy. He was also a marketing genius and was able to get the attention of European nobility and royalty. The czar of Russia, Emperor Napoleon II, Otto von Bismarck, the king of Belgium, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Emperor Maximilian I, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and the mikado of Japan were among those who owned Leonbergers. Not everyone was happy about this. Some people viewed the Leonberger as a fashionable knockoff of the Saint Bernard that could hinder that breed’s development.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of cynology, or the scientific study of dogs, emerged. Cynologists pushed for breed classification and systematic breeding practices, and breed standards were created. But Essig and others viewed dog breeding as an art rather than a science, and this led to a conflict with the cynologists. Heinrich Schumacher, for example, was a breeder who strove to create a clearly identifiable Saint Bernard type. He was upheld by the cynologists as a paragon, in contrast to Heinrich Essig—to the detriment of the Leonberger.

After Essig’s death, in 1887, other people more willing to please the cynologists continued breeding Leonbergers. By that time, the dogs looked for the most part like Leonbergers do today. Then, in 1895, Albert Kull created the Leonberger’s first breed standard. It would go through several revisions in 1901, 1926, 1938, 1951, 1955, and 1972 until finally, in 1996, the FCI-approved version was established. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, or FCI, serves as a kind of worldwide kennel club for all breeds. It was created on May 22, 1911, with the goal of promoting and protecting cynology and purebred dogs. The Kennel Club in the UK and the American Kennel Club also have their own breed standards. However, most of them are similar to Albert Kull’s 1895 version. The first Leonberger club was formed 1891 in Berlin: two more were created in 1895, then two more were formed in 1901. The most prominent was the Internationaler Klub für Leonberger Hunde, of which Albert Kull was the first president.

See the federation’s website at http://www.fci.be/en/