Leonbergers are an old German breed. They have been in existence for over
150 years, longer actually, than the German Shepherd breed. They were used
in Europe as, working farm dogs, family watchdogs and flock guardians.
Today they are mostly companions. This is not a good breed
for an apartment or a small, suburban lot. An acre (43,000 sq feet) is about
minimum to assure a dog who does not become frustrated and territorial.
The Leo was introduced in the US in the late 70’s and the Leonberger Club of America was established
in the mid 80’s. In 2010 the LCA became the official American Kennel Club's Parent Club for the breed.
Leonbergers are shown in the AKC's Working Class.
Leos are very large and substantial dogs , with the females 25 1/2"-29 1/2" at the withers and the males
28" to 31 1/2" at the withers. Weight runs from 120 lbs - 160+, depending on size and substance. Their
coats require a thorough brushing once a week although they seldom need baths unless you are
showing. They shed profusely twice a year. They should have their nails cut and their feet trimmed
regularly as they will mat between their toes. The hair is taken off under the bottom of the foot so
they do not slide. In the showring the only trimming that is allowed on a Leo is neatening up of the
Leos should not drool, but they do like to share their water with you after
taking a drink! Younger Leos sometimes sleep with their chin or ear in the
water dish, which can turn into a hot spot and can become a staff infection
if you aren’t watchful. They love playing in mud and being wet, collect “weed
seeds” in those coats, knock things off of the tables with their tails, and
leave large footprints both on your floor and on your heart.
They are definitely not a good choice for fussy housekeepers nor people
who like to wear black clothes!
Leo puppies are often rambunctious and enthusiastic and are not laid back! They require
work and diversion to use up their energy or they can become destructive. They are social but need to
meet many new people and animals and experience their world during the first year of their lives so
that the natural confidence comes through as an adult. The working breeds, in particular, need to be
able to sort out the normal from the abnormal and the way to do that is to introduce them to
continually changing, unique, stimuli as young and adolescent dogs. Leonbergers wander and need
appropriate 5'-6' fencing. Young Leos will not thrive in small yards and homes.
The best description I have seen of a mature Leonberger’s temperament was written by noted
authority and author on the breed, Guido Perosino of Italy; “ It has an outgoing temperament within
the family that is slightly more contained with friends, and with strangers it becomes dignified and
even reserved.” A well trained and socialized adult can be taken anyplace, but as is true of all dogs, an
untrained and unsocialized adult may be a liability. It's not "just add water," nor love. It is training.
Leos are capable of competitive obedience work but most are not selectively bred for those traits and
they do better in Rally. They are more independent thinkers although they enjoy working
with humans. Adults can be stubborn. Due to their size and build I do not suggest agility work as it can
lead to injuries. The breed tends towards canine cruciate ligament problems and it is both a painful
and very expensive injury. Part of the reason they need a yard large enough to run straight out without
turning in tight circles. They are a mountain breed and their rear assembly tends to be a bit
straighter than dogs of the herding or sporting breeds, and they therefore tend towards more injuries
in sports with sharp turns and fast stops. They will learn well with motivation and poorly with force.
Like many smart breeds, they get bored easily. Most survey a situation, make a decision based on their
observations and experiences and don’t just jump into something, wondering later if it was the right
guess. Some days you think they are not learning at all, and all of a sudden they “get it.” Overall they
are a sensible breed as adults and a lot of fun to work with. They will teach you patience and to begin
understanding the culture of a different species if you let them.
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