Leonberger Information

In the 1830s, Heinrich Essig, a dog breeder and seller and mayor of the town of Leonberg near Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, claimed to have created the Leonberger by crossing a female Landseer Newfoundland with a “barry” male from the Great St. Bernard Hospice and Monastery (which would later create the Saint Bernard breed). Later, according to Essig, a Pyrenean Mountain Dog was added, resulting in very large dogs with the long white coats that were the fashion for the time, and pleasant temperament. The first dogs registered as Leonbergers were born in 1846 and had many of the prized qualities of the breeds from which they were derived. The popular legend is that it was bred to resemble the coat-of-arms animal of Leonberg, the lion. The Leonberger dog became popular with several European royal households, including Napoleon II, Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary, the Prince of Wales, Otto Von Bismarck, Emperor Napoleon III and Umberto I of Italy. Essig’s claim of breeding the dog as described is disputed. At least as early as 1585, the royal household of Austrian Prince Franz Metternich, of Wolfberg, father of Prince Metternich, owned dogs of the same description. Either way, there is no doubt that Essig named and registered the breed first. A black and white engraving of the Leonberger was included in “The Illustrated Book of the Dog” by Vero Shaw (at p. 488) in 1881. At the time, Essig’s Leonbergers were denounced as an indifferent knockoff of a St. Bernard — not a stable and recognized breed — and a product of a popular fad or fashion for large and strong dogs, fomented in part by Essig’s prodigious marketing skills (he gave dogs to the rich and famous).
The modern look of the Leonberger, with darker coats and a black masks, was developed during the latter part of the 20th century by re-introducing other breeds, such as the Newfoundland. This was necessary because breeding stocks of the leonberger were seriously affected by the two world wars. During World War I most Leonbergers were left to fend for themselves as breeders fled or were killed. Reportedly, only five Leonbergers survived World War I and were bred until World War II when, again, almost all Leonbergers were lost. During the two world wars, Leonbergers were used to pull the ammunition carts, a service to the breed’s country that resulted in the Leonbergers’ near-destruction. Leonbergers today can have their ancestry traced to the eight dogs that survived World War II.


This Mountain dog comes with a generous double coat; the Leonberger is a large, muscular, and elegant dog with balanced body type, medium temperament, and dramatic presence. The head is adorned with a striking black mask, and projects the breed’s distinct expression of intelligence, pride, and kindliness. Remaining true to their early roots as a capable family and working dog and search and rescue dog (particularly water), the surprisingly agile Leonberger is sound and coordinated, with both strength in bearing and elegance in movement. A dimorphic breed, the Leonberger possesses either a strongly masculine or elegantly feminine form, making gender immediately discernible.


HEIGHT – Circa 2 feet, 1 inch to 2 feet, 7 inches tall at the shoulder

WEIGHT – Circa 120 to 170 pounds

LIFE SPAN- 10 to 12 years; if not allowed to get over weight.


Leonbergers have a number of health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans and panosteitis. Eye diseases, including cataracts, entropion, and ectropion are a concern.
Hip dyplasia 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. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Specialist. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for ‘proof ‘ that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems.
This is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It’s thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog’s elbow.
This orthopedic condition, caused by improper growth of cartilage in the joints, usually occurs in the elbows, but it has been seen in the shoulders as well. It causes a painful stiffening of the joint, to the point that the dog is unable to bend his elbow. It can be detected in dogs as early as four to nine months of age. Overfeeding of “growth formula” puppy foods or high-protein foods may contribute to its development.
The symptoms of cataracts consist of a change in eye color, normally to a blue, gray, or white, inflammation in or around the eye, and squinting when looking at objects. An owner may also notice signs of vision loss such as reluctance to explore new places, or bumping into walls or furniture.
Entropion is a condition of the eyelids wherein they roll in on the eyeball itself, causing irritation and secondary infections, sometimes causing ulcerations of the cornea itself. This is very common in American bulldogs and Shar Peis, among many other breeds, especially ones with loose skin and many facial folds. It requires surgical correction and sometimes multiple surgeries are in order, depending on how young the animal is when entropion is first diagnosed. It can be fairly mild, involving only certain portions of the lids, or it can be very extensive and lead to many other eye problems. An eye-tacking procedure exists that will roll the eyelid out without removing any tissue, but this is only temporary and delays the inevitable corrective surgery that will remove excess tissue and give a more permanent repair.
Ectropion is the opposite of entropion, and this describes the condition where the eyelid tissue is everted, or rolled out, leading to increased exposure of the eyeball. It can be caused by excess eyelid length, weak eyelid muscles, or over-correction of entropion. It is easily fixed by either resecting a wedge of the eyelid or sewing the lids together at their outer margins of the eye. If not fixed, ectropion can lead to chronic irritation, drying out, and subsequent damage to the cornea.