A dog bred in 19th-century Germany to resemble a lion, Lucy Arblaster discovers that although the Leonberger shares its appearance with the big African cat, its temperament is gentle and laid-back.
Affectionately known as lean-on-bergers, the Leonberger is a true companion animal, laid-back and extremely loyal. These highly intelligent gentle giants thrive on socialisation – whether it is with people or the four-legged variety – love anything to do with water and have an enthusiastic (and sometimes clumsy) outlook on life.
The Leonberger originated from the town of Leonberg in southern Germany during the mid 1800s, when Heinrich Essig, a town alderman, shrewd businessman and trader of a variety of dog breeds, set about trying to create a breed of dog that resembled the crest of Leonberg – namely a lion. This rare breed is thought to contain a variety of mountain breeds, including the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland and Pyremean Mountain dog.
With a lion-like coat, the Leonberger has a semi-long to long coat with a dense undercoat, so they are reasonably high maintenance when it comes to grooming.
They can shed a lot of hair, but a daily brush will help keep the hair free of knots and tangles and will reduce shedding. This breed comes in a variety of colours, including lion yellow, cream, gold and red-brown.
The Leonberger is an active and versatile breed, enjoying a good walk or run every day and a swim at any opportunity, although they are also quite happy to laze around with family members. Boasting strength and agility coupled with gentleness, this breed has achieved much success throughout the world in areas such as water rescue, tracking, agility, carting and therapy.
Highly sociable, the Leonberger fits effortlessly into family life, and with this in mind, they do not do well left alone for long periods of time.
Although a large breed, the Leonberger is relaxed and adaptable, fitting into a variety of living situations, including apartments and small backyards, as long as they are exercised regularly and are given the love and attention they crave.
A gentle giant, the Leonberger interacts well with children, but as with all other breeds, they must be well socialised and trained (along with the children) because of their size and enthusiasm.
The Leonberger is considered one of the healthiest of the purebreds, with the only hereditary disease attributed to it being Inherited Leonberger Polyneuropathy (ILP), which is an extremely rare disease that can affect the nerves, causing a weakness and dysfunction in the dogs muscles.
Cataracts and hip dysplasia are also something to be aware of, although they can be avoided by purchasing your dog from a reputable breeder who screens for these sorts of problems.
Taken by their stunning beauty and elegance, Leonberger breeder Karen Hindson of Launching Place in Victoria became involved with this giant breed in the mid 1980s. Hindson describes the Leonberger as full of fun, sometimes stubborn, but also willing to please. She says they have a lively nature, yet a calm disposition and are exceptionally good with children.
A water-loving dog
Hindson tells Dogs Life that the Leonberger is definitely a water-loving dog, renowned for its water-rescue work. It is an all-purpose work dog, possibly a jack of all trades, master of none, Hindson says. A Leo is not for everyone. Copious amounts of fur everywhere would drive some people to distraction.
However, she describes the Leonberger as loyal and calm, eager to please and protective without being aggressive. Hindson says Leonbergers can live in relatively confined spaces, as long as they are exercised, but stresses that they should not be left in a backyard and ignored, as this can lead to destructive behaviour. On the other hand, if the backyard is big enough and they have another dog to play with, they will exercise themselves.
Hindson explains to Dogs Life that the Leonberger has a strong prey drive, so they need to be socialised with other animals, such as cats or farm stock from an early age. They will then become avid protectors of these animals.
A truly loveable gentle giant, the Leonberger boasts agility, loyalty, adaptability and immense enthusiasm – a welcome addition to any family.