History of the Leonberger
In the 1830s, entrepreneur and mayor Heinrich Essig decided to create his own giant breed of dog. They became known as the Leonberger, after his town of Leonberg in Germany. Ostensibly they were supposed to mimic the heraldic lion on the town’s crest. Essig allegedly used Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Newfoundland and St Bernard to perfect his creation; however it is likely he used whichever big long-haired local dog he could. Big dogs were fashionable and he sold them as companions, but eventually the breed found its feet around the turn of the century as a working utalitarian German farm dog. Some of its duties included carting and being a watchdog. Successful European World Wars nearly wiped out the breed, and like a lot of European breeds, it took extensive rebuilding after the end of WW2.
What is a Leonberger?
A Leonberger is a large, powerful and elegant breed. They have a long coat in shades of sand through to reddish brown, with black overlay and a black mask. They should have an amenable temperament.
Caring for a Leonberger
Leonbergers like to be near their people. They arent a dog to keep outside while you are at home inside. Generally, they are easy to train, and most like swimming. While Leonbergers dont generally drool, they can be messy drinkers. Young Leos, especially, can be bouncy and lively. Leonbergers like moderate exercise, but this must be carefully monitored while the puppy is growing. Swimming and walks on grass are ideal during this time.
Known Leonberger diseases, health tests and what they mean
One of the benefits of purchasing a purebred dog is that within a closed gene pool, diseases can be identified and bred away from. I believe that with a dog with a small gene pool like the Leonberger, where genetic diversity is extremely important to allow for greater population disease resistance, that we should, wherever possible, attempt to breed away from diseases rather than just knocking dogs out of the gene pool.
A classic example of the type of disease we can breed away from is hip and elbow displaysia. Hips and elbows of all breeding dogs should be tested and scored. Displaysia is polygenetic, meaning there are multiple genes at work, as well as being related to diet in the growing puppy. The scoring does not produce ‘affected’ or ‘not affected’ results; these are more of a sliding scale; a dog with higher hip scores should only be bred to a dog with low hip scores. In Australia, there is no upper end cut off point – the British Leonberger club has a combined score of 25 (BVA/AVA)for its cut off point. Dogs can be scored using AVA or Pennhip methods. The ideal for both is the lowest score possible.
Eyes: Leonbergers have been found to be susceptable to star cataracts and glaucoma. These diseases cause blindness or loss of eyes and affected dogs should not be bred from. An eye test is usually done once a year on breeding dogs. Other eye diseases included entropian (eyelashes or longer lids irritating the eye). While not desirable this can be bred away from if the condition is mild.
LPN: Leonbergers also suffer from a debilitating and fatal disease called Leonberger Polyneuropathy. Fortunately, this is a straightforward recessive disease, meaning that a genetic test can be developed for it, allowing breeders to know which dogs carry it and making sure that no puppies will be affected. Affected (D/D) or carrier (D/N) dogs can be mated to clear dogs (N/N). Affected dogs and carrier dogs should never be mated to other affected or carrier dogs as there will be affected puppies produced. Unfortunately, not all the forms of LPN have at this stage been mapped; there is only a genetic test for LPN 1 and LPN 2.
Cancer: Leonbergers are prone to osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel tumours). There is no test for these, and as with people, they are usually late onset so there is no way to know if the parent dog has it before they are bred.
Dont get a Leonberger if..
…you don’t like grooming. Leonbergers need a good brush once a week and you need to trim their feet.
…you are precious about dogs in the house. An outside Leonberger is a destructive Leonberger and you will soon find your backyard in pieces!
…you want an independent dog. Leonbergers thrive being around their families.