The Leonberger—a giant dog breed developed in Leonberg, Germany—is a majestic, mild-mannered dog with a strong love of family. Kindly and loyal Leonbergers resemble the lion on the Leonberg's town crest, which may have been the intent in development of the breed. He's huge, playful, and mischievous—a wonderful combination for a family that appreciates a usually goofy, often messy, canine. Though he looks tough, he's a sensitive soul who responds best to a peaceful home, positive reinforcement, and gentle training techniques. Don't tell the Leonberger he's not a lapdog—they're cuddlers who can't accept the fact that they're too big to curl up with their people. The lifespan of this huge dog is relatively short, which is common with giant breeds.
The Leonberger is also known as the Leo.
The long, untrimmed double coat of the Leonberger is water-resistant and may be lion-yellow, red, red-brown, or sand.
Average Height: 25-32 inches
Male: 110-170 pounds
Female: 90-140 pounds
Breed Standard & History
Muscular and powerful Leonbergers stand proud and elegant, their lion-like resemblance a hallmark of the breed. Males present a masculine mane, while females offer a decidedly feminine appearance. A deep, muscular head features a dark mask and the eyes offer a soft, intelligent expression. A medium-long weather-resistant double coat should be presented untrimmed. Lion-yellow, golden to red and red-brown, and sand colored with a black mask are all permitted. This gentle giant has a strong, balanced gait. Leonbergers are self-assured, attentive, lively, and friendly, with a strong love of people. – AKC Breed Standards
There is some disagreement on the story of the Leonberger's development. Some claim a Leonberger-type dog meant to guard livestock was recorded in the late 1500s. Another origin story claims development began much later, with a Landseer Newfoundland cross in Leonberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany—and that they were meant to resemble the lion on the town's coat of arms. The first litter of Leonbergers to be registered as a breed was born in 1846, and became popular with royalty.
Development of the breed continued through the 20th century and Leonbergers made their way to the United States in the 1970s. They've been used through the years in a variety of working dog roles including guarding livestock, draft work, and waterwork. The Italian School of Canine Lifeguard trains Leonbergers and other breeds for water rescue—some of the trained dogs work alongside the coast guard.
The breed was recognized by the AKC in 2010.
Known as a gentle giant, the Leonberger is expected to be confident, calm, and compliant. They are loyal and steadfast, gentle with children, and often cuddly with family. Leonbergers are intelligent and easy to train, but are also goofy and require an owner with a sense of humor and tolerance of his antics.
Are Leonbergers Good with Kids? Playing with children is one of a Leonberger's favorite activities. They are kind and gentle, but should never be left unsupervised with children. They can be rambunctious and may unintentionally knock over small children, and are also intolerant of disputes and may choose to break up squabbles between children or adults. They don't always understand that they aren't lap sized, which may hurt a small child.
Though the breed is large and sturdy, children should never be allowed to climb or ride on a Leonberger or any other breed, as it may injure the dog or instigate a bite.
Are Leonbergers Good with Other Pets? Leonbergers get along well with other dogs and can live with cats and farm animals.
A protective nature comes with the massive Leonberger, but their size and bark are usually all that's necessary to deter suspicious people. Leonbergers dislike conflict and may attempt to break up disputes between family members.
Though the Leonberger will never pass up the opportunity to kick back on the couch with his people, he has a high energy level that requires plenty of exercise.
- Needs attention and companionship
- Requires at least an hour of exercise per day
- Short lifespan
- Known to chew and can be destructive, making a chew-proof dog bed a wise investment
- Large dog who requires a lot of space—not an apartment dog
- Heavy shedder
- Mischievous, especially during the 'teenage' phase
- Requires early training to prevent ending up with a giant dog with no manners
As a giant dog, the Leonberger requires special living conditions. More space is better for this breed, and they are not well-suited to apartment living. With training and exercise, they make calm companions in the home—but without, they may be destructive.
Leonbergers love to romp outdoors, but they are not outside-only dogs. They are sensitive and require human companionship. They should not be expected to live outdoors or spend lots of time outside without the company of their people. They're not likely to wander, but fenced areas are ideal—and they should not be left unsupervised, even in a fenced area.
Exercise is a priority for a Leo. Without enough exercise, they may become destructive and difficult to deal with. They need at least an hour of exercise over the course of the day.
Though they may become lazy without encouragement, they have plenty of stamina for long days spent playing or working.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: A healthy, well-conditioned Leonberger may be able to join you for a jog, but these dogs are built for sprints rather than running long distances. To prevent bone, joint, and ligament damage, this huge dog should avoid excessive running until he is fully grown—around two years old.
- Hiking Miles: Hikes are a favorite activity for the Leonberger, and a day on the trail is a great way to burn excess energy. Leos are huge—you should have a game plan for getting the dog to safety if there is an emergency on the trail.
The Leonberger may require up to eight cups of food per day, split between three meals, based on weight and activity level. Leonbergers may suffer from gastric dilatation-volvulus, or bloat. Small meals given multiple times per day and limited exercise after feeding can help prevent the condition.
Though they do not tend to guard their food more than any other breed, children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating
With enough exercise and mental stimulation, Leonbergers may be able to spend up to eight hours home alone—but the people-centric breed may become destructive if not given enough attention or the opportunity to burn off energy.
Health and Grooming
The Leonberger's long, double coat sheds heavily, especially seasonally. Weekly brushing and occasional baths help keep the Leo's coat and skin healthy and help minimize shedding. Daily brushing may be necessary during seasonal shedding of the undercoat, in the fall and spring. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Common Health Issues
Leonbergers are a giant breed with a short lifespan, and may suffer from breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Eye concerns
- Addison's disease
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Leonberger by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Early obedience training should be a priority for a Leonberger puppy. They're smart and generally wish to please, but the longer you wait to begin training, the more stubborn—and strong—the Leonberger becomes. Adolescent Leos can be rambunctious and destructive, so a foundation of good behavior is important to get ahead of the antics. Early socialization can prevent shyness or distrust in an adult Leo. Consistent training with positive methods works best for the Leonberger.
Agility, flyball, water sports, tracking, and advanced obedience training are activities in which many Leonbergers compete. The breed has a love of water, plenty of energy, and an eagerness to make their owner proud. The historical use of Leonbergers as cart dogs has left an impression on the breed—many are happy to pull carts, and drafting competitions often see Leos earn top titles. Leonbergers make admirable therapy dogs, and the Leonberger Club of America recognizes Leo/handler pairs that excel in a pet therapy role.
Water rescue is a job that has seen a number of water-loving Leos. Three levels of waterwork training may be earned—Water Dog, Water Rescue Dog, and Water Rescue Dog Excellent—which follow the Newfoundland Club's model.
Sporting Dog Training
While not a common choice as a hunting dog, the Leonberger has a knack for nosework and can be trained to track. Some Leo owners compete in barn hunting, like an above-ground version of Earthdog competition. Rats, safely secured within a tube designed for the sport, are placed in hay bales in a barn for competing dogs to track.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about Leonbergers.
Leonbergers may suck on blankets, toys, or other objects, likely in an attempt to self-soothe when stressed or upset. Many Leo owners provide a special sucky toy or blanket for their big softie. If there isn't a suitable toy to suckle, a Leo will likely find an object to suit, whether it's approved by you or not.
Leonbergers may participate in water rescue dog training using the Newfoundland Club test regulations—their love of the water makes them a logical choice for the job, but their watchful nature and desire to be near people help the breed succeed in waterwork. Obedience training is the first step in waterwork training. The different levels of waterwork titles are earned when Leos learn and present specific skills at trials. These skills include the ability to retrieve from both land and boat, swimming with a handler, taking a line, and towing a boat. The most advanced Leos can search for an abandoned boat, rescue more than one conscious or unconscious person from the water, and rescue from a capsized boat.