Leonberger dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Leonberger is a large-sized dog that is considered to be a mix of the Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, and Great Pyrenees. With so many large dog breeds wrapped up into one, you’ve got quite a giant dog on your hands to take care of. They need a great deal of exercise, attention and a lot of space. However, with the right owner, they are the most loyal of dog breeds. They also have quite deep barks, so they make very intimidating watch dogs.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Working dogs
Height:Twenty-five to thirty-one inches at the shoulder
Weight:120 to 170 pounds
Life Span:10 to 12 years

The breed was originally created in Germany, and requires a lot of training to keep disciplined. Their large size can make it somewhat of a challenge, as they can knock you over quite easily. They have a high tolerance for mischief and making a mess, so a strict hand is necessary to keep them in line. Without any training, they can be quite destructive in the home.

They look absolutely beautiful in the show ring, but their more natural state is messing around in the dirt, having a good time. They have extremely long fur, which is their crowning glory, and are notorious for shedding, so if you are fussy about keeping your home neat and tidy, this is not the dog for you. Grooming will have to take place on a regular basis in order to minimize the amount of shedding taking place in your home.

They have high energy levels and an intelligence that is rarely rivaled by any other dog. However, it is this intelligence that makes them great in agility and obedience competitions, as they love having a job to do and making their owners happy. They have also been known to work well as therapy and water rescue dogs. The Leonberger should be getting about an hour of exercise a day, with long walks and playtime in a fenced-in yard. Providing physical and mental stimulation will do well to keep him happy.

They are very social creatures who enjoy attention. He doesn’t enjoy spending a lot of time alone, as this can inspire his destructive streak. They do have a sensitive nature, so they are very prone to the moods of the household. Family disagreements should be kept in private, or he may try to intervene to solve the problem.

The Leonberger is known for doing quite well in with other pets, especially cats and horses. Be wary of his size, as he can knock over children quite easily, but he is known to be quite gentle with them otherwise.

Main Highlights
  • Although adult Leonbergers need a lot of exercise, this is less so when they are puppies. Because of their large size, their bones have to compensate for all of this growth. Too much exercise can put a strain on their growing bones and they can become overstressed or damaged. Playtime should consist of low-level activities and should always be supervised.
  • Meeting the Leonberger’s needs for exercise on a daily basis can be a challenge, but it should not be done in hot or humid weather. This can lead to overheating, especially with his long coat.
  • Socialization should be done as early as possible in order to root out their protective instincts against strangers. They need extensive exposure to friendly people so that they can learn what is considered appropriate behaviour for those who enter the home. Without this, they can become suspicious of everyone, and can sometimes lead to biting.
  • Leonbergers are known for having strong temperaments and independence. This can make them a challenge to train when they want to be the boss all the time. It is only with consistency that a Leonberger will learn that you mean what you say.
  • Leonbergers are known for being droolers, due to their loose jowls. This usually occurs when food is present or during times of stress. They can also be messy slobbers when they drink water.
  • Leonbergers have a love of water and will go swimming without being asked. This is often the best way for your dog to get exercise while still keeping him cool in the summer.
Breed History

The breed was originally developed in Germany by the dog breeder, Heinrich Essig, in the 1830s. The dogs that were registered as the Leonberger were born in 1846, and had many of the prized qualities of the dogs that were used to breed them: the Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, and Pyrenean Mountain Dog. The legend goes that the dog was bred to look like the animal on the coat-of-arms of the Leonberg, which was the lion. Since then, the breed became quite popular with royalty, including Napoleon II, Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary, Otto Von Mismarck, and Umberto I of Italy.

The more modern look of the Leonberger is much darker with black masks (the dogs were originally a lighter shade and/or white). This look was developed during the 20th Century, where other breeds were introduced to darken the coat. This is because the stocks for breeding had been seriously affected after both World Wars. Only five Leonbergers were reported to have survived the First World War. During the war, they were used to pull ammunition carts, which almost resulted in the breed’s destruction. The modern Leonberger dogs can all be traced to the eight that had survived the Second World War.

They are traditionally kept as farm dogs and were praised highly for their abilities to watch and perform draft work. They were seen pulling carts around the villages of Bavaria. In the 20th Century, they were imported to Canada to serve as water rescue and lifesaving dogs, which is a role they continue to do to this day. They were entered into the AKC registry in 2010.


The Leonberger can range anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-one inches at the shoulder, depending on the sex of the dog. The males tend to be a bit bigger, and they grow more of a mane around their necks, much like a lion. They can also weigh between 120 to 170 pounds, so this is a dog who isn’t afraid to push his weight around. The dog was designed with demanding work in mind, and is well-muscled throughout with heavy bones to compensate the work he needs to do.

Personality and Character

The Leonberger is mostly a family dog. They have an even temperament with very distinguishing characteristics. They can be self-assured, insensitive to noise, submissive to family members, very friendly towards children, and self-disciplined when it comes to protecting the home. They’re extremely loyal, intelligent and playful, and they can be taken anywhere without difficulty. This makes it easy for them to adjust to new home situations if the family ever moves, and also adapt well to being around new animals and pets. They can be somewhat reserved towards strangers, but early socialization can help with this.

They are calm and quiet, but they are not lazy. They can be quite active and do require at least an hour of exercise each day to keep them happy. They don’t make good kennel dogs and prefer being with their family.

Health and Potential Problems

Leonbergers are generally quite healthy dogs, but there are some genetic dispositions that can affect the quality of their lives. Genetic screening by breeders should be done in order to prevent these conditions from being passed on to future litters.

  • Hip dysplasia: this is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
  • Heart problems: Leonbergers can have a wide range of heart problems, due to their size adn their deep chests. One of the most common conditions is congestive heart failure, where the blood has difficulty pumping blood around the body. This can lead to the failure of other organs as they don’t get the oxygenated blood that they need. Signs to look out for to see if your Leonberger is having heart problems are a dry cough after exercise, shortness of breath, sudden weight loss, fatigue, or a swollen abdomen. If you notice any of these or a combination of these symptoms, you should take your dog to the vet immediately.
  • Inherited Leonberger Polyneuropathy: this is generally characterized by a lack of coordination and instability that leads to a labored gait described as a bunny-hopping gait. The condition varies from mild to severe. An affected dog may fall down, walk on the tops of his feet, or his gait may just look a little off. Onset is usually quite sudden with most cases noted at approximately one year of age.
  • Cancer: dogs, like humans, can develop cancer. There are many different types of cancer, and the success of treatment differs for each individual case. For some forms of cancer, the tumors are surgically removed, others are treated with chemotherapy, and some are treated both surgically and medically. Cancers found commonly in Leonbergers include lymphosarcoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors.
  • Allergies: allergies can afflict Leonbergers due to several different causes, including contact allergies and food allergies. Singling out the cause of your dog’s allergic problem may take some time before you can find the source.
  • Cataracts: this is where the lens of the eye can become cloudy. Left untreated, it can result in blindness. However, this shouldn’t affect the quality of your dog’s life, as many dogs have used their other senses to compensate for the loss of their sight. Provide your Leonberger with lots of space to move around as he needs to without bumping into things.
  • Entropion eyelids: this defect, which is usually obvious by six months of age, causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball. One or both eyes can be affected. If your Bullmastiff has entropion, you may notice him rubbing at his eyes. The condition can be corrected surgically, which is best done after the dog reaches maturity at one or two years of age.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy: a degenerative eye disorder. Blindness caused by PRA is a slow process resulting from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Reputable breeders have their dogs’ eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
  • Hypothyroidism: caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone, this disease may produce signs that include infertility, obesity, mental dullness, and lack of energy. The dog’s fur may become coarse and brittle and begin to fall out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism can be managed very well with a thyroid replacement pill daily. Medication must continue throughout the dog’s life.
  • Sensitivity to anesthesia: Leonbergers are particularly sensitive to anesthesia when they are undergoing certain procedures. This means that they’ll require a smaller dosage than even small dog breeds in order to have the same effect. You should let your vet know of this condition if your dog ever needs to undergo surgery of some kind.
  • Bloat: this life-threatening condition can affect large, deep-chested dogs, especially if they are fed only one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large volumes of water after eating, or are allowed to exercise vigorously after eating. Raised feeding dishes and the type of food given may also be factors. It is more common among older dogs. GDV occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists. The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid itself of the excess air in its stomach, and the normal return of blood to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is salivating excessively and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. It’s important to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. There is some indication that a tendency toward GDV is inherited, so it’s recommended that dogs who develop this condition be neutered or spayed.
Care Features

The Leonberger is known for being a very heavy shedder. A brushing twice or three times a week is sufficient to keep the hair out of your home and in the garbage. During the shedding season, however, this needs to be increased to daily brushings. A drag comb is very effective when getting rid of the shedding undercoat. They should never be shaved, as not only does their coat keep them warm and dry, it also affects their looks. Any shaving can cause the coat to be curlier and can lead to more matting.

The Leonberger is a family dog at heart, and desires to be with the family whenever he can. Daily walks paired with some moderate levels of play will keep your dog happy and active. Fetching or playing Frisbee, however, are not natural activities for this dog. Hiking, pulling a cart or a sled, or engaging in agility courses do much better at keeping him happy.

As puppies, the breed requires interactive toys in order to keep their minds busy, or they resort to chewing on the contents of your home instead. These toys should be durable and should not have any parts too small that they can chew off and swallow. But nothing is better for a Leonberger than interactive time with a real human being. Leaving them alone for long periods of time is not an option.

Feeding Schedule

The Leonberger is a large dog, and requires a lot of food to compensate for their metabolisms. Four to five cups of food each day is recommended, though this can be altered according to your dog’s age, level of activity, and physical fitness.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Leonberger has a long, water-resistant double coat that is quite straight and soft. He comes in a range of colors from lion-yellow to reddish-brown, and all have a black mask. They need brushing once a week to compensate for their heavy shedding, and this becomes worse during the mounting season. This is not a breed that is fit for those with allergies. What the breed has in shedding, however, he lacks in trimming needs. The Leonberger should never be trimmed, except for the hair between his toes. Bathing is only needed as necessary, especially if he spends a lot of time outdoors playing in the dirt.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

When it comes to other pets, the Leonberger can be quite particular. They are definitely attracted to other Leonbergers in the home, so having a pair of them can definitely improve your dog’s personality. It may not be recommended, given the size of your home and yard, but if you are capable of handling two of these giant dogs, then you won’t have a problem. They instinctively love children, but they can knock them over quite easily. A Leonberger is roughly at eye-level with a six year old, so toddlers should be supervised around them. They’re good with cats, horses, and other farm animals, but tend to show aggression towards dogs of the same sex. For cats outside of the home, they have a tendency to give chase, along with other yard animals that have a tendency to run away.

When it comes to the Leonberger, you won’t find a more loving dog amongst the giant breeds. He is gentle and kind, and does extremely well with children even with his size. His long hair gives him a loping grace that is not seen amongst many other large dogs, and his loving disposition will surely win you over to his side. Be wary of his size, however; he won’t be afraid to use it when he wants his way, so exercising a firm upper hand will keep him in line and teach him who’s boss.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.