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The Leonberger dog is an amazing breed, who is not only famous for his size but his gentle demeanor too. They’re among the biggest breeds in the world, and they are likely some of the most loving pets you could own.
But despite having an assortment of wonderful traits, Leonbergers are not suitable for all families. They’re slightly demanding dogs, who will only thrive when matched with the right owners.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about Leonbergers below, so you can get to know these fantastic dogs better and decide if one is right for you.
History of the Leonberger
Dating back to the mid-19th century, the Leonberger has a bit of an unusual history. The original creator of the breed — Heinrich Essig, a German politician and entrepreneur — did not intend for Leonbergers to perform work like most other giant breeds do; instead, he simply wanted them to serve as companions for wealthy nobles and members of the royal family.
Nevertheless, the AKC classifies the Leonberger as a working breed, thanks in part to its ancestry. The product of three different breeds, the first Leonbergers descended from Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards and Great Pyrenees. So, while they may not have been created to guard livestock or work on the farm, they still excel in these roles, thanks to the strengths their ancestors passed down.
In fact, Leonbergers have been (and continue to be) used in such contexts. They’re greatest strength is undeniably their ability and willingness to drag or haul heavy loads, but they make capable guard dogs too.
Leonberger Temperament & Personality: What to Expect
The Leonberger isn’t just physically big – he has a gigantic personality too.
Above all else, the Leonberger is a lover, who will shower every member of the family with affection whenever he can. He is a family pet through and through, who wants to be with his “pack” at all times. He won’t appreciate being left outside all day, and he is a poor choice for families who spend a lot of time away from home.
The Leonberger is a playful breed too. Energetic and enthusiastic, the Leonberger can be somewhat puppy-like when hanging out with his family. He isn’t as goofy as some of the other big playful breeds are (he was, after all, expected to accompany members of the royal family), but he’ll love running around with the kids and playing tug-of-war with mom or dad.
The Leonberger is also a very sensitive breed. Most individuals relish familial harmony, and they don’t like heated exchanges between family members. They’re noted for occasionally dragging one of the feuding family members away by the hand to calm things down.
Leonbergers are of average intelligence, but they are still clever and capable canines. They can be a bit challenging to train, but if you start early and utilize training techniques that focus on positive reinforcement (harsh training methods are very counterproductive and cruel – particularly with a breed as sensitive as the Leonberger), you can succeed. Some even show surprising proficiency at obedience trials and agility contests.
Leonbergers are extraordinarily protective of their pack, although they rarely need to do anything to intimidate would-be criminals – their size, obvious strength and earth-rumbling bark typically suffice. They aren’t typically aggressive around strangers, although they can be a bit suspicious. They’ll eventually learn to accept new people, but it is not a process that should be rushed.
Size and Shape: Just How Big Do Leonbergers Get?
Leonbergers are certainly large, but few people realize just how big they are until they see one up close. They may not reach the heights of some Great Danes or the weights of the biggest Mastiffs, but they make up for this with their heavy bone structure and build.
Most female Leonbergers are at least 25 inches tall at the shoulder, and males stand much taller than this. Some approach 32 inches in height. They typically weigh between 120 and 170 pounds, but really big males can push these boundaries.
Leonberger Coat and Colors
The Leonberger’s coat is quite impressive. Extraordinarily dense and comprised of two waterproof layers, their medium-length coats are usually pretty straight, but they give off a rather shaggy, rugged appearance.
Male Leonbergers occasionally sport impressive manes around their head and shoulders, which make them look even bigger than they normally would. Females rarely have any extra hair in the same area.
Most Leonbergers have beautiful multi-colored coats that will turn heads anywhere you go. Their coats are usually comprised of a combination of yellows, browns, reds, white and black. Many also have a black mask that covers the face, and occasionally continues down the neck and chest.
Common Health Problems of Leonbergers
Unfortunately, Leonbergers are susceptible to several different health problems, which we’ll discuss below. You can avoid many of these through proper care and by selecting a puppy produced by a high-quality breeder, who’s screened the founding stock for hereditary problems. However, others are difficult to predict or prevent, so you’ll need to be ready to provide any veterinary care your Leonberger requires.
Some of the most notable health problems that afflict Leonbergers include:
- Hip Dysplasia – Caused by improperly formed hip joints, canine hip dysplasia leads to inflammation, pain and limited mobility. Most reputable breeders have begun screening for hip dysplasia, so it is no longer as common as it once was. Hip dysplasia varies in its severity; some dogs will only experience a bit of stiffness, while others may completely lose the ability to walk and require hip-replacement surgery.
- Osteoarthritis – Often caused by repetitive impacts (such as may occur if your Leonberger jumps into and out of the car all the time), osteoarthritis causes mild to moderate pain and inflammation. It can be treated, but it is better to prevent it by keeping your dog’s weight at the proper level and feeding him a high-quality dog food for large breeds.
- Obesity – Leonbergers can become overweight extremely easily, particularly if deprived of the opportunity to exercise sufficiently. This can not only put your dog at higher risk for heart and digestive problems, it can exacerbate things like hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis.
- Bloat – Bloat in dogs occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and then spins on its axis. Most large breed dogs are susceptible to it, especially those with large chests like Leonbergers have. Bloat is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.
- Heart Problems – Leonbergers are more likely than many other breeds to suffer from heart problems. Most breeders have begun screening for some of the most common diseases, so this, like hip dysplasia, is not as common as it once was. Most heart problems can be treated with medication, so you’ll need to work closely with your vet to ensure your pet’s continued health.
- Digestive Disorders – Lots of dog breeds suffer from digestive problems, such as chronic diarrhea or food intolerances. You can limit these by feeding your dog a high-quality food and utilizing a good probiotic supplement. Fortunately, few common digestive disorders are very serious.
- Cancer – Leonbergers appear to be predisposed to several different types of cancer. Many can be treated, but the expense of doing so can occasionally be prohibitive. Fortunately, researchers are currently trying to develop screening programs so that breeders can remove animals likely to suffer from cancer from their breeding programs.
Additionally, some veterinarians caution that Leonbergers are occasionally more sensitive than other dogs to anesthesia, so pre-operative blood work is always advisable.
Like most other giant breeds, Leonbergers rarely live very long. The average Leonberger lives about 7 years, although some occasionally live a little longer than this.
Caring for Your Leonberger
Leonbergers need a fair bit of care, but the things they need aren’t especially unusual – they tend to need the same kind of care that most other giant breeds with livestock-guarding backgrounds do.
However, while most other livestock-guarding breeds are loners, who don’t mind being alone for long periods of time, Leonbergers need plenty of love and attention from their families. Fortunately, they’re so much fun you won’t mind hanging out with them all the time.
They also need a good chew toy to help keep them occupied and satisfy their chewing instincts. But Leonbergers are big and strong enough to make quick work of the average chew toy, so you’ll want to be sure to get them one that’ll hold up to their teeth and jaws. We compare some of the most durable chew toys on the market here to make things easy for you.
Leonbergers are pretty heavy shedders, so you’ll have to learn to cope with fur covering everything you own. There are a few things you can do to help reduce the amount of hair they shed (we discuss a variety of ways to do so here), such as brushing them regularly and ensuring that they receive enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.
On the other hand, Leonbergers don’t really require much grooming (aside from regular brushing). Just bathe them once a month or so and keep an eye out for any mats that may develop, and his coat will likely stay in great condition.
Ideally, Leonbergers should have access to a large, fenced yard, as they have very high exercise requirements. If given a big enough yard to patrol, they’ll likely satisfy these requirements by chasing squirrels and barking at the mailman on a daily basis; otherwise, they’ll need at least one hour of activity every day.
Note that Leonbergers also love to swim (likely thanks to their Newfoundland ancestors). Most will eagerly jump in the water to fetch a ball, or simply to enjoy the feel of the water. This can be a very effective way to provide them with exercise. It’ll not only wear them out quicker than walking or running will, it won’t cause any impact on their hips or knees either.
Leonbergers aren’t well-suited for apartment life. Not only do they need more room to run, jump and play than an apartment will afford, their sheer size will also cause headaches for apartment-dwelling families. Also, it is important to note that some municipalities may prohibit Leonbergers entirely, so be sure to check the local laws and regulations before adding one to your family.
As with any dog, you’ll also need a good leash for those times when you take your Leonberger out in public. No matter how well-behaved and obedient your Leonberger is, you simply must keep him leashed. Additionally, because they are such strong dogs, who have a penchant for pulling heavy loads, you’ll want to be sure to get a good no-pull harness that is suitable for a big breed.
Leonbergers – like most other large breeds – are susceptible to obesity, which can cause a number of health problems. So, in addition to providing enough exercise, you must be sure to feed your Leonberger a food that is specifically designed to suit the nutritional needs of large breeds. We discuss several of the best large breed dog food options here.
Also, because Leonbergers are especially susceptible to hip dysplasia, many owners like to provide their dog with a high-quality fish oil supplement. Doing so may not only prevent hip problems from starting, they may be able to reverse the damage that’s already occurred. You can check out our fish oil supplement review to peruse a few of the best options on the market.
The Leonberger certainly isn’t a great breed for all owners, and they aren’t the ideal choice for people who don’t have a lot of experience with big dogs.
However, those with the space, time and love to spare will likely find them to be some of the best big dogs on the planet. Just be sure that you obtain one from a dedicated and conscientious breeder, to ensure that you start with a healthy, happy puppy.
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