The Leonberger, a giant molosser breed dog that was initially developed in Germany by Heinrich Essig, is also known as the Gentle Lion. Their size, tawny coloration, and the ruff around the neck of the males make them appear decidedly leonine, but they have an intuitive and easy going nature that gives them the gentle part of the Gentle lion and helps to make these dogs great therapy dogs. Their thick, long coats are prone to tangles and matting, so it must be brushed several times a week, and inspected to ensure that there are no fleas, ticks, burrs, or injuries hiding under all that fur. Training and socialization at an early age will help to make this animal a happy and valued member of the family.
The Leonberger breed was developed in the mid 19th century by a German man by the name of Heinrich Essig. Essig was both a businessman and a politician in the town of Leonberg in the southern part of Germany. Although his original record keeping was rather sloppy, he claimed that the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Long-haired St. Bernard, and the Newfoundland. Initially, Essig was breeding for an all white dog to cater to public preference, but after his death in 1889 his nephew took over the breeding and developed the tawny coat color and the black mask that most Leonbergers sport today. This gave them a lion-like appearance which linked them to the town crest of Leonberg, a lion rearing up on its hind legs. In 1891 the first Leonberger clubs were formed, and the breed flourished. Then, during World War I, the breed was almost wiped out. It is thanks to Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans that the breed survived. After World War I these men scoured Germany searching for Leonbergers and found only 25 still living, and of those, only five were suitable for breeding. In 1922 a cooperative of seven people began breeding these dogs, and within four years they managed to selectively breed 350 individuals. It was in the 1970’s and 1980’s that the breed gained a foothold in the United States, when several families had Leonbergers imported from Germany, and The Leonberger Club of America was formed in 1985. This large dog began participating in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Services program in 2003 and was officially recognized by the AKC in 2010.
The Leonberger is a large well-muscled animal with strong bones, generally weighing in at greater than one hundred pounds. They have straight, powerfully built legs that end in rounded, tight feet with arched toes. The head of the animal is deep rather than broad and somewhat rectangular, the male’s head should be obviously strong and masculine, whereas the female has a more feminine profile. The most common eye color is dark brown, although light brown is also seen on occasion, and the facial expression should be soft, good-natured, and intelligent. The ears are medium sized triangular ears that hang flat and close to the head, and the tail hangs straight down when relaxed and reaches down to the hock. Their soft, dense undercoat is overlayed with a longer and coarser outer coat which sheds water and comes in four colors: red, reddish-brown, sandy, and yellow, all of which should sport a black facial mask. The male Leonberger also sports a thick mane, making it appear even more leonine.
The long fur and thick undercoat are prone to tangling and matting if they are not cared for on a regular basis. This breed should be checked frequently to ensure that there are no fleas, ticks, or injuries hiding under their fur and they should be brushed at least once or twice a week, with extra attention being paid to the neck, chest, and rump areas. During the change of seasons, the Leonberger will begin to shed heavily, and they should be brushed daily during these times of the year. Leonbergers will need a bath about every one to three months, depending on the dog’s activity level, the time of year, and the climate. They do tend to get muddy paws, and wiping down the paws and legs may be required in between bathings. This is a giant breed, so it is important to feed this dog a food that doesn’t encourage overly rapid growth during their puppyhood. This dog is fairly active and requires regular exercise in order to avoid being a nuisance around the house. Fortunately, there are many good options for exercise with these dogs. Although they are not as interested in a game of fetch as some breeds, they excel at many other activities, including swimming and water rescue, tracking, herding, carting, and in some cases, even agility training, not to mention a good old-fashioned walk. The Leonberger, with their massive bodies and thick coats of fur, are more likely to get overheated than other breeds and care should be taken to ensure they are kept cool enough when exercising.