The Leonberger: A Large and Friendly Pet Dog Breed
What Is a Leonberger?
Leonbergers have a reputation for being gentle giants. They are intelligent, friendly, and playful dogs. They are affectionate and loyal family members and patient with children and other animals in the home. They are also good watchdogs. A well-trained and socialized Leonberger makes a wonderful pet.
Leonbergers are often called Leos by their families. Based on what I've experienced during my years with a Leo as a pet, the breed is unfamiliar but attractive for many people. People often stop to stroke our dog when we take him for a walk and ask us questions about him. Leos are generally great ambassadors for their breed.
My family has contained three Leonbergers, all of whom were and are much loved. Our first member of the breed was a female named Scala. Our second was a male called Ryan. Today we have a young male named Dylan.
History of the Breed
The Leonberger breed was created in the mid 1800s by Heinrich Essig, a politician, businessman, and dog breeder in the town of Leonberg, Germany. He reportedly wanted to breed a dog that looked like the lion on the town’s crest. He began by crossing a Landseer Newfoundland female with a male Saint Bernard. As he continued to develop his new breed he added a Great Pyrenees into the mix. Eventually the Leonberger was created.
Pets, Therapy Dogs, Show Dogs, and More
Today Leonbergers are family pets as well as therapy dogs, working dogs, and show dogs. They often participate in competitive events such as obedience, carting, herding, water rescue, and agility. All of these activities can be fun for both Leos and their owners and may be helpful for other people, too. However, a Leonberger who is simply a pet can give his or her owner a great deal of enjoyment. As long as a prospective owner is prepared to train and care for such a big dog, a Leo can be a great friend.
Moose the Therapy Dog With Children
Differences Between Males and Females
Adult Leonbergers have a regal appearance. They usually have long, yellow-brown hair, but some dogs have a reddish-brown or a cream coat. Some coats have a combination of colours. The dogs have a black mask over their face. They often have black hairs on their ears and sometimes black tips to their body hairs. Their coat is water resistant.
By the time they are about four years old, male Leos have longer hair on the neck and chest, which is known as a mane. Females may have a mane too, although it's less noticeable. An adult female weighs around 100 to 130 pounds. An adult male weighs about 130 to 175 pounds. Females may reach 29 inches high (measured at the highest point of their back), while males reach around 31 inches in height.
Since adult Leonbergers are so big, it’s very important to train the dogs while they are young. A boisterous, untrained adult won’t fit into a family very well and will be hard to handle. Aggressive Leos are rare, but as in any other breed of dog the chance of aggression increases if a dog is inadequately socialized or is easily frightened.
Consistent and gentle but firm training is important from an early age. Leos don’t respond well to harsh corrections. Attending obedience classes would be very helpful for educating a young dog. In addition, puppies should be exposed to a wide variety of people, animals, places, and situations.
Training can be done entirely at home or by a combination of dog training classes and home sessions. The important thing is that a Leonberger is trained, however this is done.
Adult Leonbergers Playing
Exercising a Leo
Despite their size, Leos don't require a lot of exercise. They should have a daily walk, however. Taking a Leonberger for a walk is a good way to meet people, since many people are curious about the breed and ask for information.
Leos generally love to swim and to get muddy. They make great water rescue dogs. Some dogs enjoy retrieving objects likes balls or sticks, but most Leos are not natural retrievers. It often requires a lot of effort to train them to return a thrown object. They just don’t see the point of fetching things! Having said that, while Scala and Ryan had very little interest in retrieving, Dylan enjoys it.
Leonbergers can be trained to pull carts, but they must be at least eighteen months old and in good physical condition before they start pulling weights. They also make good trackers and can be taught to herd. Some Leos compete in obedience trials and some compete in agility events, but although they are powerful animals they are not as fast as many other breeds. Some Leo owners find agility events to be hard on their dog’s joints.
A Leonberger in the Family
Leos don’t require a huge amount of living space, despite their size. An apartment might be too small for them, but a house with a good-sized, fenced yard would be just fine. Leos do need to leave the house for daily exercise, though.
A Family Member
Leos enjoy being part of the family’s activities and receiving attention and affection. A Leonberger should not be left alone for long periods. He or she will become bored. Boredom can lead to behaviour problems.
Leonbergers shed their coat and require regular brushing. Twice a year they go through a heavier molt as the seasons change. Grooming is not only a physical requirement but is also a great way for a person to bond with their dog. A grooming session can be a pleasant and relaxing time for both the person and the dog.
Some Leos like to lean against their owner’s legs, giving them the nickname of “lean-on-bergers”.
Puppy PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Although Leonbergers are giant dogs, they don't require as much food as might be expected. Different people have different ideas about the ideal diet for a pet dog. A puppy's breeder and the puppy's veterinarian should be consulted about the best diet to follow.
Despite the disagreements about factors such as cooked versus raw food in a dog's diet and dry food versus canned, it's widely agreed that puppies shouldn't follow a diet that makes them grow too rapidly. Research has shown that rapid puppy growth—especially in a large breed of dog—can increase the risk of skeletal, joint, and other health problems.
We are lucky that Dylan's breeder is very knowledgeable and that she has kept one of the other male puppies in Dylan's litter for herself. In addition, she has kept in touch with all of the purchasers of the puppies in the litter. At one point she felt that the puppies were growing too fast. She contacted the people that supply Dylan and his brother with food to order a slightly different type of food for the pair (after discussing the situation with us).
A Leonberger Puppy Playing With Water
Like all dogs, Leonbergers must always have access to water in their home. They also need a source of water if they are away from home for a long time, especially when the weather is hot. They generally don’t drool, but they may be messy drinkers. Water often drips out of their mouth as they leave a water bowl.
If you’re planning an extended walk, be sure to bring water for your dog—especially if it’s warm outside.— ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
Leos are susceptible to a number of health problems, including hip dysplasia, bloat, and cancer. Additional problems experienced by some dogs are bone disease, eyelid defects, and genetically-determined neurological disease.
Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the hip joints develop an abnormal structure, which can cause discomfort and movement problems. The condition ranges from mild to severe. Some dogs don't experience any symptoms from their hip dysplasia, while others require medical or surgical treatment.
Bloat involves two different processes. In the first stage, the stomach fills with gas and fluid and distends. This may be followed by a second stage in which the stomach twists. The distended and twisted stomach may interfere with the function of other organs and with vital processes such as the flow of blood in blood vessels. Bloat is a life-threatening condition and a medical emergency.
While not all diseases in dogs can be prevented, the risk of a dog developing some of them can be significantly reduced if the dog eats a healthy diet and follows a healthy lifestyle. Regular vet checkups are important, too. Lots of useful health information can be obtained from knowledgeable breeders and dog organizations, although there is no substitute for good veterinary advice.
Unfortunately, the cause of bloat isn't known for certain. The following steps for avoiding bloat are often recommended by veterinary organizations, including ASPCA.
- Don't feed a dog a huge meal. Eating a large amount of food very rapidly has been associated with bloat.
- Several smaller meals in a day are better than one giant one.
- Don't allow the dog to drink a large amount of water either before or after eating.
- Don't allow a dog to exercise vigorously shortly before or after a meal.
- Avoid raised food bowls.
Unfortunately, like other large dogs Leos generally have a shorter lifespan than smaller dogs, although this is not always true. It’s hard to predict how long an individual Leo will live. Some Leonbergers have lived for as long as fourteen years, while some have lived for as little as seven years. The average lifespan seems to be somewhere around nine to ten years.
In my experience, certain breeders tend to produce longer-lived Leos. This may be due to the genetics of the family line and/or the diet or lifestyle recommended by the breeder. Lifespan is worth investigating when a potential Leonberger owner is looking for a breeder, as is the health record of a puppy's relatives.
Should You Get a Leonberger?
Leonberger puppies are very cute and look like fuzzy teddy bears. However, a cute puppy will grow into a handsome but very large adult. Before you buy a Leo ask yourself the following questions.
- Do you have the money for the purchase price of the dog and for training classes?
- If you don't want to take your dog to training classes, do you have experience in training a large dog?
- Do you have the time and energy for regular training and for giving frequent attention to your dog?
- Can you afford the ongoing expenses of dog food and vet bills?
- Do you have a fenced yard of a reasonable size?
- Will your Leo have company during the day if you work?
If your answer is no to any of these questions, don’t get a Leo. If your answers are yes, research Leonberger breeders, choose an accredited one, and check out references from the breeder’s previous clients. Then choose a puppy, bring your new Leo home, and welcome him or her into the family!
References and Resources
Questions & Answers
When do female Leonbergers come into season and how should they be managed during this time?
Although the ages varies, female Leonbergers often come into their first season (or heat) when they are between nine and twelve months old. Like other big dogs, however, they may experience their first season when they are a bit older. They are in heat for around three weeks and come into heat approximately every six months.
When she is in heat, the female releases a bloody discharge. The discharge contains pheromones, which are chemicals that attract males. A female in heat should never be left alone out of doors, including in her own backyard. A male dog attracted by the pheromones may jump a fence or even dig under it to get to the female and impregnate her. Nevertheless, the female still needs exercise. She could chase balls or toys in the home or play in a securely fenced backyard with careful supervision.
In some dogs the bloody discharge is more problematic than in others. Owners may decide to limit their dog’s access to certain parts of the home. While it’s understandable that the owner wouldn’t want blood on their upholstery, carpets, or bedding, it’s important that the dog doesn’t feel isolated from the family or feel like she’s being punished for being in heat. Gates, crates, and special pants sold for dogs in heat can all be useful, as long as they are used wisely and with kindness.
I’ve only given a summary of how to care for a Leonberger in heat. If an owner hasn’t spayed the female and the dog is approaching the age when coming into season is possible, the owner should do some research about how best to care for their dog.
© 2010 Linda Crampton