There is no missing a Leonberger. This breed of cuddly, big, strong dogs and immensely friendly. So if you have space, the Leonberger is an excellent family dog, which fulfills all the demands of modern life.
However, its root as a breed dates back in Germany in the 19th century.
History of The Leonberger
Its origin is a little chaotic, but due to a charismatic breeder and adoption by several members of society, it became recognised as the breed we now see.
Heinrich Essig And The Early History of The Leonberger
The early history of the Leonberger is credited to Heinrich Essig (1809-1889). Essig was a politician and a genius in marketing and public relations. He was an alderman and a prominent citizen in Leonberg, a town on the outskirts of Stuttgart in southern Germany. (Leonberg is just 50 kilometres from Rottweil, another famous town that gave its name to the dog breed that originated there.)
Essig made a successful living as a professional animal trader who surrounded himself with a variety of rare and exotic animals. In dogs, he preferred large and imposing breeds, which he bred, bought and sold internationally.
He bought and sold dogs for a span of fifty years, trading sometimes 200 to 300 dogs a year at the height of his career. In our time, we would probably consider him an irresponsible puppy-farm owner, but back then he was simply seen as a trader.
Like other entrepreneurs, Essig's strong suit was vision and marketing communications, not attention to detail! This means that, unfortunately, he kept no detailed logs or records of his breeding, nor did he believe it necessary to write a standard for the breed he created.
Development of The Leonberger Breed
What we know of the development of the Leonberger comes from word-of-mouth reports, copies of advertisements written by Essig and others, references in a handful of nineteenth and turn-of-the-century dog breed encyclopedias. Leonbergers were also a popular topic in home and garden magazines of the period.
The more interesting nuggets of information come from some very lively articles and correspondence found in nineteenth-century animal periodicals like Hunde-sport und Jagd, Der Hundefreund, and Der Hund, a German nationwide dog magazine still being published today.
Given Essig's personality and political position, it is likely, but not clearly documented, that he deliberately combined his desire to promote his town with his desire to promote his business. Our best records indicate that in 1846, he declared the "creation" of the Leonberger as a legitimate breed of dog.
The Leonberg Crest
The town crest of Leonberg contains a lion rearing up on its hindquarters. Although it is not known for sure if the town name refers to a lion, there is a definite association through the crest.
The legend has it that the Leonberger was bred to look like a lion as a symbol of the area and the Leonberger that we know it today, is lion-like in appearance. However, Essig's early versions certainly weren't.
According to Essig, he crossbred a black-and-white female Landseer with a longhaired Saint Bernard that he had acquired from the Saint Bernard monastery in Switzerland. The puppies were, of course, black and white.
He reportedly then crossbred these dogs for four generations, outcrossing with a yellow-and-white Saint Bernard and later a white Pyrenean Mountain Dog that he had in his kennels. He was striving at this early stage for an all-white dog because they were very fashionable at the time.
It was many generations and out crossings later that the golden colour and black mask became typical. Early records indicate that in 1865, Essig showed a dog at the Oktoberfest in Munich that was described as a fine dog, resembling a lion, yellow and brown, with black tips.
It is important to note here that the Leonberger we know today could not have come from the mating that Essig initially described. As has been pointed out by Letellier and Luquet in France and Nijboer in Holland, the AY allele does not exist in the three breeds that were supposed to be the originating breeds.
Also, from a genetic standpoint, the Leonberger head is morphologically much different from that of the Saint Bernard or Newfoundland. It is highly likely that local farm and butcher dogs with relatively fixed genetic characteristics, but not identified as a breed, found their way into the developing the Leonberger breed lines.
What we do know is that very large dogs with appropriate colouration and with heads shaped similarly to today's Leonberger were known in the region and are described in 17th- and 18th-century literature.
Intriguing documentation suggests that dogs from Leonberg were used at the Hospice of Saint Bernard in 1830, well before the origination of the Leonberger, to breed with the only Saint Bernard to have survived an outbreak of distemper.
Whether Essig actually created a new breed by careful selection following genetically sound principles is rather doubtful. What we do know for certain is that Essig bred, acquired, and sold some very imposing, beautiful dogs.
We also know that his marketing genius resulted in such widespread popularization of the breed that the Leonberger, as a breed, survived cries of outrage from breeders of Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands, from judges, and from the editors of dog magazines.
Essig was free to travel and promote his animals because his niece, Marie, who was known as the "soul" of the kennel, actually trained and maintained the animals. At the same time that he was being attacked, Essig's ardent fans paid great sums for his dogs and defended him publicly. Essig's Leonbergers caught the attention of some popular German artists of the time who used the dogs as models, and this also increased their popularity.
Through Essig's marketing skill, his dogs found their way into the castles of royalty, such as the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, the Prince of Wales, Emperor Napoleon II, Garibaldi, the King of Belgium, Bismarck, King Umberto of Italy, and the Tsar of Russia. They were exported as far away as the United States, England, Newfoundland, and Japan to the wealthy that desired large, fashionable dogs.
Albert Kull And The Breed After Essig
Essig died in 1889 without ever having defined a standard for the breed or a defensible description of his breeding program. It is a tribute to the qualities of the Leonberger that in spite of these obvious deficiencies, and in the face of ever-harsher critics, there were enough enthusiastic owners to form, beginning in 1891, the first Leonberger clubs.
Four years later, the first significant club, the International Leonberger Club was founded in 1895 in Stuttgart. The Club President, Albert Kull, was an artist with an eye for detail. He wrote the first standard for the Leonberger. This standard formed the foundation for all subsequent standards. Kull's work did much to re-establish the credibility of the breed, and the Leonberger began to flourish with three more serious clubs founded.
World War One
World War I almost rendered the breed extinct. If it were not for the determination and dedication of two men, Herr Stadelmann and Herr Otto Josenhans, the breed would surely have become a mere footnote in the history of German dogs.
After the War, Stadelmann and Josenhans scoured Germany searching for Leonbergers. They found 25. Of these, only five were suitable for breeding.
Because of inflation and food shortages, it was unlikely that individuals could have personally and individually supported breeding programs, so a group of seven people joined together in 1922 to form the Leonberger Hunde Club in Leonberg and a breeding cooperative known as the Leonberger Hundezucht Genossenschaft.
Within four years, they had selectively bred 350 Leonbergers. The organized breeding program of the Genossenschaft brought about a revival of the breed and provided foundation stock to establish several kennels. In addition, these men established the official Breed Registry, which continues uninterrupted today.
The Third Reich
Stadelmann's work progressed until the early 1930s when the authoritarian control of the Third Reich began to influence the dog world. A Reich-governed club, the Fachschaft für Leonberger, was established in Sandhausen when the Reich assumed control of all breed registries.
Surprisingly, breeding, although very reduced, continued throughout the war. Both dogs and accurate records survived the destruction. In 1945, 22 puppies were registered and in 1946, 17.
Post World War Two To Today
At the end of the war, it again took a group of devoted enthusiasts to re-establish an organized breeding program. Two rival clubs were established in 1946 and 1947.
The club founded by Albert Kienzle, Hans Weigelschmidt and Otto Lehmann became in 1948 the present-day Deutsche Club für Leonberger Hunde. In the early 1950s, the Breeding Committee Chairman, Werner Lutz, and the third president of the DCLH, Robert Beutelspacher, wrote the first modern-day standard and breeding regulations, which had a profound impact on the development of the Leonberger, as we know it today.
In 1975, the German Club brought all the Leonberger breed clubs from the major European nations together and founded the International Union of Leonberger Clubs.
Now, clubs from 18 countries correspond frequently and meet annually on the last weekend in September in Leonberg to work cooperatively to protect the health and quality of Leonbergers and to ensure homogeneity of the breed throughout the world. Today, the President of the Deutsche Club für Leonberger Hunde, Gerhard Zerle, leads the Union.
Should You Get A Leonberger?
There is no missing these cuddly Teddy Bears, they are big, strong dogs and immensely friendly! They love nothing more than a cuddle and thrive on being part of the family.
On a practical note, unlike many pure breeds, Leonbergers are healthy dogs and don’t need to be constantly back and forth to the vet.
They are BIG dogs
You cannot escape the fact that you own a Leonberger, if they are not wanting a cuddle, you’ll always be having to step over them.
These gentle giants are also very playful and energetic, so you will need some space. And if they do not like how your furniture is set-up in the room then they’ll simply rearrange it for you – normally by moving it away from the walls!
Friendly and Loyal
You will never be lonely if you own a Leo. They will give their owner completely unconditional love. If you’re feeling a bit down, the antics of a Leonberger will soon have a smile on your face.
A Leonberger will love you immensely and will want to show that love in a number of ways – especially when you come back after leaving it alone for a short while. When you come through the door laden with carrier bags full of shopping a Leonberger will probably initially leap at you to welcome you home. Then when you manage to struggle back through the door they will nose through every bag looking to see what you have brought home for them.
A Very Furry Friend
They also have a LOT of hair! You can clean up the whole house, turn your back for a moment and the Hair Fairy has stepped in and scattered new clods of fur all over the floor.
Not only is there a lot of hair, but also it’s also very fine hair that drifts on the slightest breeze. If you don’t like your dinner served with the occasional added dog's hair, a Leonberger may not be for you!
They have LONG tails. You finally get the dog to ignore your plate on your lap and it will turn away. You’d think that you’d be safe when the Leonberger has it’s back to you, but think again! A Leo possesses a thick, heavy, long and hairy tail to waft over your plate as it meanders away...those tails can also clear the contents of a coffee table without too much effort!
All Leo's seem to suffer selective deafness - if a Leonberger does not want to do something then no amount of gentle cajoling, coaxing, telling or commanding will work!
However, if you stroke it gently on the shoulder, it will normally immediately do it after giving you an innocent look of “Oh! I didn’t realise you were talking to me!”
They LOVE water
A Leonberger is naturally drawn towards any form of water. And will either stomp in or lay down in the nearest puddle. After this it will happily follow you back into the house and add an unusual new abstract pattern to your nice fawn coloured carpet.
Leonberger Breed Standard
Leonbergers from all member nations of the Internationales Union fur Leonberger Hunde are judged on the basis of the FCI Standard for Leonbergers dated April 9, 1996. The FCI is unique in that the only breed standard it approves are those drawn up in a dog’s country of origin.
The official Leonberger standard was written by the leadership of the Deutsche Club fur Leonberger Hunde with advice from members of the Union fur Leonberger Hunde. The Standard was approved by and submitted to the FCI through the auspices of the Verband fur das Deutsche Hundewesen e. V.
Translation: Mrs. C. Seidler, revised by Mrs. E.Peper
Date of Publication: April 1996
Utilisation: Watch, Companion and Family Dog.
FCI Classification: Group 2 Pinscher and Schnauzer, Molossoid breeds, Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs and other breeds.
Section 2.2 Molossoid breeds, Mountain type. Without working trial.
According to his original purpose, the Leonberger is a large, strong, muscular yet elegant dog. He is distinguished by his balanced build and confident calmness, yet with a quite lively temperament. Males, in particular, are powerful and strong.
Height at the withers to length of body 9 to 10. The depth of chest is nearly 50% of the height at withers.
As a family dog, the Leonberger is an agreeable partner for present day dwelling and living conditions, who can be taken anywhere without difficulty and is distinguished by his marked friendliness towards 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 steady temperament
- Self-assurance and superior composure.
- Medium temperament (including playfulness).
- Willing to be submissive.
- Good capacity for learning and remembering.
- Insensitive to noise.
On the whole deeper than broad and elongated rather than stocky. Proportion of length of muzzle to length of skull about 1 to 1.
Skin close-fitting all over, no wrinkles.
- Skull: In profile and seen from the front, slightly arched. In balance with body and limbs, it is strong but not heavy. The skull at its back part is not substantially broader than near the eyes.
- Stop Clearly recognizable but moderately defined.
- Nose: Black
- Muzzle: Rather long, never running to a point; nasal bridge of even breadth, never dipped, rather slightly arched (roman nose).
- Lips: Close fitting, black, corners of lips closed.
- Jaws/Teeth: Strong jaws with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth without any gap, and teeth set square to the jaw with 42 sound teeth according to the dentition formula (missing M3 tolerated). Pincer bite is accepted; no constriction at the canines in the lower jaw.
- Cheeks: Only slightly developed.
- Eyes: Light brown to as dark brown as possible, medium size, oval, neither deep set, nor protruding, neither too close together nor too wide apart. The white of the eye (the visible part of the sclera) not reddened.
- Eyelids: Close fitting, not showing any conjunctiva.
- Ears: Set on high and not far back, pendant, of medium size, hanging close to the head, fleshy.
- Neck: Running in a slight curve without break to the withers. Somewhat long rather than stocky, without throatiness or dewlap.
- Withers: Pronounced, especially in males.
- Back: Firm, straight, broad.
- Loins: Broad, strong, well muscled.
- Croup: Broad, relatively long, gently rounded, flowing to merge with tail set on; never overbuilt.
- Chest: Broad, deep, reaching at least to the level of the elbows. Not too barrel-shaped, more oval.
- Underline and belly: Only slightly tucked up.
- Tail: Very well furnished; while standing, it hangs down straight; also in movement, it is only slightly curved and if at all possible should not be carried above the prolongation of the top line.
Very strong, especially in males.
- Forelegs: Straight, parallel and not too close.
- Shoulders / Upper arm: Long, sloping, forming a not too blunt angle, well muscled.
- Elbows: Close to the body.
- Pastern: Strong, firm; seen from the front, straight; almost vertical, seen from the side.
- Forefeet: Straight (turning neither in nor out), rounded, tight, toes well arched; black pads
- Seen from the rear, position of the hind legs not too close, parallel.
- Hocks and feet turned neither in nor out.
- Pelvis: Slanting.
- Upper: thigh Rather long, slanting, strongly muscled. Upper and lower thighs form a distinct angle.
- Hocks: Strong, distinct angle between lower thigh and rear pastern.
- Hind feet: Standing straight, slightly longish. Toes arched, pads black.
Ground covering even movement in all gaits. Extending well in front with good drive from the hindquarters. Seen from front and behind the limbs move in a straight line when walking or trotting.
The hair of the coat should be medium-soft to coarse, profusely long, close-fitting, never parted, with the shape of the whole body is visible despite the thick undercoat.
The hair should also be straight, although a slight wave is still permitted; forming a mane on neck and chest, especially in males.
There should be distinct feathering on front legs and ample breeches on hind legs.
The fur colour should be be somewhere between lion yellow, sandy (pale yellow, cream coloured), red, reddish brown, and all combinations in between, always with a black mask.
Black hair tips are permitted; however, black must not determine the dog's basic colour.
Lightening up of the basic colour on the underside of the tail, the mane, the feathering on the front legs and the breeches on the hind legs must not be so pronounced as to interfere with the harmony of the main colour.
A small white patch or stripe on the chest and white hairs on the toes is tolerated.
Height at the withers
- Dogs 72 to 80 cm (recommended average 76 cm).
- Bitches 65 to 75 cm (recommended average 70 cm).
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.
- Shy or aggressive dogs.
- Severe anatomical faults (i.e. pronounced cow hocks, pronounced roach back, bad swayback; front feet turning out extremely. Totally insufficient angulations of shoulder, elbows, stifle or hock joints.
- Brown nose leather.
- Very strong lack of pigment in lips.
- Absence of teeth (with the exception of M3). Over- or undershot or other faults in mouth.
- Eyes without any brown.
- Entropion, ectropion.
- Distinct ring tail or too highly curled up tail.
- Brown pads.
- Cords or strong curls.
- Faulty colours (brown with brown nose and brown pads; black and tan; black; silver; wild-coat colour).
- Complete lack of mask.
- Too much white (reaching from toes onto pasterns), whit on chest larger than palm of hand, white in other places.
Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
Leonberger's are very big dogs, that will require a lot of space and feeding. However, if you can find room for them they make fantstic family pets, loving, loay and with a good temperament.
- 1 History of The Leonberger
- 2 Should You Get A Leonberger?
- 3 Leonberger Breed Standard
- 4 Conclusion