The Leonberger takes his name from his lionlike appearance. He is a German breed, a giant dog who can weigh from 120 to 170 pounds. It is believed that he was developed during the Victorian era by crossing a Landseer Newfoundland with a longhaired Saint Bernard, with Pyrenean Mountain Dog and more Saint Bernard later added to the mix.
These days, the Leonberger is primarily a family companion. The Leonberger has many good qualities, but because of his great size, amount of coat and potential for destruction around the home, if he’s not supervised or trained, he is not the easiest dog to live with. And like most giant breeds, he is prone to many health problems and has a tragically short lifespan of only 6 to 8 years. Be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
Is the Leonberger the Right Dog for You?
The Leonberger has a reputation as a gentle giant, but he doesn’t automatically come that way. Before he reaches maturity, he goes through a long adolescent period marked by typical stubborn and sometimes destructive adolescent behavior.
Like any dog, Leo puppies are inveterate chewers, and because of their size, they can do more damage than puppies of other breeds. Don’t give them the run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Leo puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Leonberger is a destructive Leonberger.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Leo puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Use positive reinforcement training techniques such as praise, play and food rewards, and be patient. He will respond to kind, firm, consistent training, but you’ll need to practice with him daily until he’s at least 2 years old to ensure that his lessons stick. Avoid leaving food out. He is an inveterate counter surfer and at 30 inches in height, few places are out of his reach. It’s also a good idea to teach him at an early age to stay off the furniture or he will soon own it.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Leonberger from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Waiting until he’s 6 months old is likely to result in a dog that is fearful and aggressive in unusual situations. Purchase a Leo puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Leonberger by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses.
The Leonberger is highly active, not just in puppyhood but also as an adult. Expect to give him at least an hour of exercise daily. If you love the outdoors, he’ll make a good hiking companion. Walk him on leash so that he doesn’t go running off after a cat, dragging you behind him. Other ways to help him expend energy include agility, drafting (pulling a wagon or cart), obedience, rally and water rescue.
While you might think of him as an outdoor dog, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Leonberger is devoted to his people and wants to be with them all the time. It’s not a good idea to leave him home alone for long periods.
The Leonberger has a magnificent double coat that comes in lion yellow, golden or reddish-brown. Although it’s beautiful when he has just been bathed and groomed, its natural state is best described as damp and leafy. The Leo loves being wet and muddy, and if his coat looks clean afterward, it’s because all the dirt and debris has dropped onto your floor or furniture. Leos shed—there’s no getting around it—but a thorough weekly brushing will help reduce the amount of hair floating around your house. Clean the ears as needed and trim the nails weekly.
6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Leonberger Puppy
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you’ll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A list of breeders can be found on the website of the Leonberger Club of America. Choose one who follows the LCA’s member practices.
- Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Leonbergers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.
- Puppy or adult, take your Leonberger to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Leonbergers
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
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, ectropion and progressive retinal atrophy; cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma and osteosarcoma; polyneuropathy, a neurological disease; Addison’s disease; bloat, also known as gastric torsion; laryngeal paralysis; juvenile kidney and liver disease; and heart disease in the form of cardiomyopathy. Not every Leo will get all or even any of these conditions, but knowing about them beforehand will help you in your search for a breeder.
Not all of these conditions can be tested for and some don’t appear until later in life. At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and elbow scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OVC or PennHIP scores; OFA cardiac and thyroid clearances; and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.
Pet Insurance for Leonbergers
Pet insurance for Leonbergers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Leonbergers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Leonbergers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Leonberger is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.