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Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Leonberger
Average Cost to keep/care for a Leonberger
Breed Specific Buying Advice
The Leonberger is a handsome, large dog that hails from Germany. They have a lion-like mane which adds to their overall striking and powerful appearance. Although impressive to look at, they are known to be a real "Gentle Giant" and have even been given this as a nickname. Although, these dogs make good family pets and love being part of a family, Leonbergers are not the best choice for first time owners because they need to be trained by people who are familiar with this type of large and impressive dogs.
They also need enough space to express themselves, which in short, means Leonbergers are better suited to households with secure back gardens rather than apartments. However, the breed is not known to be overly demanding on the exercise front, but the same cannot be said for keeping a Leonberger’s coat looking good.
The actual origins of the Leonberger remains a bit of a mystery and there are many versions of how the breed first came about. However, they first appeared on the scene in 1846 and as such they are a relatively new breed. It is thought they were created by Heinrich Essig who was the mayor of the town of Leonberg, hence the breed's name. The monks of the Hospice of St. Bernard had a part in developing these proud and noble looking dogs having sent the mayor some of their St Bernards to breed from. As a thank you to the monks, he helped the monks in their own breeding programme by sending them some of the dogs he had bred. However, there are no records to support the fact that Essig crossed his dogs with other breeds and as such, some people believe no other breeds were used.
With today's modern genetic testing, experts now know that creating the breed from three other breeds, would be an impossibility. At one time, Essig sold around 300 puppies every year before his death in 1889. A breed standard was drawn up by Albert Kull in 1895 but with the advent of World War I, breed numbers fell dangerously low. However, thanks to the efforts of breed enthusiasts, the Leonberger was saved from vanishing altogether although breed numbers were decimated at the time. It was only at the end of World War I that records were finally kept on the breed and at that time there were just 5 Leonbergers left alive. Fortunately, through careful and selective breeding, their numbers started to rise only to once again be affected by the onset of World War II when only 8 dogs survived.
A man called Dave Gower bought a Leonberger for ten bars of soap at the end of the Second World War which he bought back to the UK with him. A little later he bought a second female dog back with him and she had a litter although that was the end of their line. The dogs we see today, however, can trace their ancestry back to the Leos that were imported to the UK in the 1970's and 80's.
The Leonberger Club of Great Britain was founded in 1986 and two years later, the breed was recognised by the Kennel Club. Over the years, breed numbers have risen with more people getting to know about Leonbergers more especially as the breed was awarded Challenge Certificates at Crufts in 2002 and continued to do so over ensuing years.
In short, after 25 years of very careful and selective breeding, breed numbers have increased although Leonbergers are still considered among one of the rarest breeds around. With this said, anyone wishing to share a house with a Leonberger would need to register their interest with reputable breeders and go on a waiting for the pleasure of doing so, but the good news is that the wait would be well worth it.
Height at the withers: Males 72 - 80 cm, Females 65 - 75 cm
Average weight: Males 54 - 77 kg, Females 40 - 60 kg
The Leonberger is a handsome, impressive looking dog with a very lion-like mane. Their heads are nicely in proportion with the rest of their body being more elongated rather than stocky showing no wrinkles and it's broader at the eyes. They have a medium stop and nice black nose with muzzles tapering nicely to the tip. They have a slightly Roman nose which adds to their overall charming appeal.
Their eyes are medium in size and oval shaped with dogs having a kind, intelligent expression in them. They can be a medium to dark brown depending on a dog's coat colour. Ears are set high on a dog's head being moderately large. They hang close to the side of the head and are well feathered with rounded tips. The Leonberger has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their lips are black and close fitting.
Their necks are strong, moderately long and flow nicely into a dog's withers. Shoulders are well laid back with dogs having straight, well-boned front legs. Their chests are deep, broad with dogs boasting a firm, level back and broad, well-muscled loins. Croups slope gently to a dog's broad and slightly rounded rump. Bellies are nicely tucked up and back legs are well-muscled, long and strong. Their feet are rounded and tight with well arched toes and black pads. Tails are well feathered and straight which dogs carry slightly curved.
When it comes to their coat, the Leonberger has a double coat with a harsher top coat and a much softer, thicker undercoat. Their coats can have a slight wave in it and dogs have a mane on their chests and necks which is more profuse in males than it is in their female counterparts. They have a lot of feathering on their front legs and nice breeches on their back legs. The accepted breed colours for Kennel Club registration are as follows:
When a Leonberger moves, they do so with purpose, covering a lot of ground. They have an even gait and dogs keep a nice level topline with their front legs extending nicely in front and showing lots of drive from behind. When seen from the front, a Leonberger's legs move in a straight line whether at the walk or trot.
The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog's overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.
Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is only given as a guideline.
The Leonberger is known to be an intelligent dog that never does anything in a hurry. They like to take their time about things and this must taken into account during their training. They are known to be very even-tempered which is one of the reasons they make such great family pets. However, they are not the best of choices for first time owners because they need to be trained from a young age by people who is either familiar with the breed or who have owned a similar type of large and impressive dog.
With this said, they are known to have an unusual amount of patience with children being loyal and always considerate when they are around them. Being so laid back by nature, does means that the Leonberger can easily turn into a "couch potato" if they are allowed to which means they are prone to putting on too much weight if not given the correct amount of exercise. This can seriously impact their overall health and wellbeing putting too much pressure on their joints and heart.
Puppies need to be well socialised from a young age and this must include introducing them to as many new situations, people, animals and other dogs once they are fully vaccinated as possible for them to grow up to be outgoing, confident and obedient mature dogs no matter when they are taken. However, care should always be taken when a Leonberger meets another dog for the first time so that things go smoothly.
Leonbergers are not a good choice for first time dog owners because they need to handled and trained from a young age by people who are familiar with their specific needs, bearing in mind that a cute Leonberger puppy quickly grows into a large and impressive mature dog.
Leonbergers are gentle giants around people and children, but the same cannot be said when they are around other animals and pets. As such care should always be taken as to where and when a dog can run off the lead more especially if there are other dogs, wild animals or livestock close-by, although in general, a well socialised Leonberger prefers to ignore other dogs putting their noses to the ground instead.
Leonbergers have a very playful side to their natures and love to entertain and be entertained. With this said, it is important to differentiate of when a puppy is playing and when they are showing a more dominant side to their natures which can happen if they are not given the correct direction and guidance. It is also worth teaching a Leonberger puppy that playtime takes place outside rather than in the house to prevent any breakages.
Leonbergers are large, impressive dogs and therefore they need enough room to express themselves as they should. They are much better suited to people who have large secure back gardens a dog can safely roam in whenever possible. In short, they do not generally do very well living in apartments.
Leonbergers form strong ties with their families and some dogs are never very happy when they find themselves left on their own for longer periods of time whereas others take it in their stride. With this said, they are better suited to people who either work from home or in households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out so they are never alone for any length of time which could see a dog suffering from separation anxiety.
Leonbergers are not known to be "barkers" and will typically only voice an opinion when they want to alert an owner or get their attention as a way of alerting them to something that may be going on they don’t like.
Leonbergers love swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking a Leonberger off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they cannot get out of the water on their own. It is also important to thoroughly dry off a dog's coat when they get wet to prevent moisture from getting trapped which could lead to an allergy flaring up.
Leonbergers are natural watchdogs and do not need to be taught to "protect and guard" because this is something that comes naturally to them. As such, Leonbergers are always quick off the mark to let an owner know when something they don't like is going on and when strangers are about. With this said, rarely would a Leonberger go about this aggressively, preferring to keep their distance and bark.
Being so intelligent and eager to please, in the right hands and with correct training methods, the Leonberger is an easy dog to train being extremely quick to pick up on what is expected of them. However, their training must start as early as possible so that these large dogs get to understand their place in the pack and who is alpha dog in a household. They are never happier than when they know who to look up for direction and guidance. Once they know who is boss, they are obedient, well-behaved and always keen to please dogs.
Like all puppies, Leonbergers are very sweet and endearing which means that it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. However, owners should start out as they mean to go on by setting out rules and boundaries so that a puppy understands what is expected of them. It also helps establish who is the "alpha dog" in a household which is a must with any breed. Leonbergers grow up to be strong large dogs and setting out the "rules" right from the word go means they quickly learn what is good behaviour and what is not. The first commands a puppy should be taught are as follows:
Leonbergers are known to be good around children although thanks to their large size, they may accidentally a toddler knock over and scare them. As such any interaction between younger children and toddlers should well supervised by an adult to ensure playtime does not get too boisterous which in a worst-case scenario could end up with someone getting hurt.
They are known to get on well with other dogs as long as they have been well socialised from a young age. However, care should be taken when a Leonberger is around any small pets and animals, although if a they have grown up with a cat in the house, they generally get on well with them, but they may well chase any other cats.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Leonberger is between 8 and 9 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
The Leonberger is known to suffer from very few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active and good-looking dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
Leonberger puppies would have been given their initial vaccinations before being sold, but it is up to their new owners to make sure they have their follow-up shots in a timely manner with the vaccination schedule for puppies being as follows:
There has been a lot of discussion about the need for dogs to have boosters. As such, it's best to talk to a vet before making a final decision on whether a dog should continue to have annual vaccinations which are known as boosters.
A lot of vets these days recommend waiting until dogs are slightly older before spaying and neutering them which means they are more mature before undergoing the procedures. As such they advise neutering males and spaying females when they are between the ages of 6 to 9 months old and sometimes even when a dog is 12 months old.
Other vets recommend spaying and neutering dogs when they are 6 months old, but never any earlier unless for medical reasons. With this said, many breeds are different and it is always advisable to discuss things with a vet and then follow their advice on when a dog should be spayed or neutered.
Like other breeds, some Leonbergers gain weight after they have been spayed or neutered and it's important to keep an eye on a dog's waistline just in case they do. Leonbergers are known to like their food a little too much and are therefore prone to gaining weight. If a dog starts to put on too many pounds it's important to adjust their daily calorie intake and to up the amount of exercise they are given. Older dogs too are more prone to gaining weight and again it's essential they be fed and exercised accordingly because obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years. The reason being that it puts a lot of extra strain on a dog's internal organs including the heart which could prove fatal.
Some Leonbergers are prone to suffering from allergies and it's important for a dog to see a vet sooner rather than later if one flares up. If a dog gets wet, it's important to thoroughly dry off their coats to prevent moisture from being trapped in their coats which could lead to an allergy developing. Allergies can be notoriously hard to clear up and finding the triggers can be challenging. With this said, a vet would be able to make a dog with an allergy more comfortable while they try to find out the triggers which could include the following:
All responsible Leonberger breeders would ensure that their stud dogs are tested for known hereditary and congenital health issues known to affect the breed by using the following schemes:
Apart from the standard breeding restrictions for all Kennel Club registered breeds, there are no other breed specific breeding restrictions in place for the Leonberger.
It is mandatory for all Kennel Club Assured Breeders to use the following schemes and tests on stud dog and all other breeders are strongly advised to follow suit:
The Kennel Club strongly recommends that all breeders should use the following schemes on stud dogs:
As with any other breed, Leonbergers need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
Leonberger puppies are boisterous and full of life which means it's essential for homes and gardens to be puppy-proofed well in advance of their arrival. A responsible breeder would have well socialised their puppies which always leads to more outgoing, confident and friendly dogs right from the word go. With this said, any puppy is going to feel vulnerable when they leave their mother and littermates which must be taken into account. The longer a puppy can remain with their mother, the better although it should never be for too long either.
It's best to pick a puppy up when people are going to be around for the first week or so which is the time needed for a puppy to settle in. Puppy-proofing the home and garden means putting away any tools and other implements that a boisterous puppy might injure themselves on. Electric wires and cables must be put out of their reach because puppies love chewing on things. Toxic plants should be removed from flowerbeds and the home too.
Puppies need to sleep a lot to grow and develop as they should which means setting up a quiet area that's not too out of the way means they can retreat to it when they want to nap and it's important not to disturb them when they are sleeping. It's also a good idea to keep "playtime" nice and calm inside the house and to have a more active "playtime" outside in the garden which means puppies quickly learn to be less boisterous when they are inside.
The documentation a breeder provides for a puppy must have all the details of their worming date and the product used as well as the information relating to their microchip. It is essential for puppies to be wormed again keeping to a schedule which is as follows:
There are certain items that new owners need to already have in the home prior to bringing a new puppy home. It's often a good idea to restrict how much space a puppy plays in more especially when you can't keep an eye on what they get up to bearing in mind that puppies are often quite boisterous which means investing in puppy gates or a large enough playpen that allows a puppy the room to express themselves while keeping them safe too. The items needed are therefore, as follows:
All puppies are sensitive to noise including Leonbergers puppies. It's important to keep the noise levels down when a new puppy arrives in the home. TVs and music should not be played too loud which could end up stressing a small puppy out and could even end up making them shy and timid.
As previously mentioned, Leonberger puppies would have been given their first vaccinations by the breeders, but they must have their follow up shots which is up to their new owners to organise. The vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if a dog ever needed to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be fully up to date.
Older Leonbergers need lots of special care because as they reach their golden years, they are more at risk of developing certain health concerns. Physically, a dog's muzzle may start to go grey, but there will be other noticeable changes too which includes the following:
Older dogs change mentally too which means their response time tends to be slower as such they develop the following:
Living with a Leonberger in their golden years means taking on a few more responsibilities, but these are easily managed and should include taking a look at their diet, the amount of exercise they are given, how often their dog beds need changing and keeping an eye on the condition of their teeth.
Older Leonbergers should be fed a good quality diet that meets their needs at this stage of their lives all the while keeping a close eye on a dog's weight. A rough feeding guide for older dogs is as follows bearing in mind they should be fed highly digestible food that does not contain any additives:
Older Leonbergers don't need to be given the same amount of daily exercise as a younger dog, but they still need the right amount of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and to prevent a dog from putting on too much weight. All dogs need access to fresh clean water and this is especially true of older dogs when they reach their golden years because they are more at risk of developing kidney disorders.
Thanks to their thick and lush coats, the Leonberger is quite high maintenance on the grooming front. They shed their coats throughout the year which means regular grooming is essential to remove any dead hair and to keep things tidy and tangle-free. Like other breeds, they do shed even more hair during the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent brushing is usually necessary.
It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax builds up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
Leonbergers are high energy dogs and because they are so intelligent, they need to be given a lot of mental stimulation on a daily basis for them to be truly happy and well-rounded dogs. This means giving them a minimum of 2 hour's exercise every day with as much off the lead time as possible. If these large dogs are not given enough exercise, they quickly learn how to amuse themselves which usually sees dogs developing some very unwanted destructive behaviours around the home.
A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing must extremely secure to keep these large and active in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get into all sorts of trouble. It's also important to bear in mind that Leonbergers love water and will jump in whenever they can. As such care should be taken when walking a dog anywhere near more dangerous watercourses.
With this said, Leonberger puppies should not be given too much exercise because their joints and bones are still growing and too much pressure on them could result in causing a dog a few problems later in their lives. They should not be allowed to jump up or off furniture nor should they be allowed to run up and down the stairs because this puts too much pressure on their still growing joints and limbs.
If you get a Leonberger puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because Leonbergers are prone to suffer from bloat, it is important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. You should never exercise a Leonberger just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more a risk of suffering from bloat.
Puppies need to be fed a highly nutritious, good quality diet for them to develop and grow as they should. As a rough guide, a Leonberger puppy can be fed the following amounts every day making sure their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day and it's best to feed them 3 or 4 times a day:
Once a puppy is 24 months old they can be fed adult dog food.
Once fully mature, an adult Leonberger must be fed a good quality diet to ensure their continued good health. As a rough guide, an adult Leonberger can be fed the following amounts every day:
If you are looking to buy a Leonberger, you would need to pay anything from £500 to over £1000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Leonberger in northern England would be £51.87 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £92.67 a month (quote as of January 2018). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £60 - £70 a month. On top of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Leonberger and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £1200 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Leonberger would be between £110 to £170 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a well-bred healthy Kennel Club registered pedigree Leonberger puppy.
When visiting and buying any puppy or dog, there are many important things to consider and questions to ask of the breeder/seller. You can read our generic puppy/dog advice here which includes making sure you see the puppy with its mother and to verify that the dog has been wormed and microchipped.
Over recent years, Leonbergers have become more well known in the UK which means that well-bred puppies can often command a lot of money. As such, with Leonbergers there is specific advice, questions and protocols to follow when buying a puppy which are as follows:
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