The Leonberger is a gentle giant who is unique amongst extra-large breeds. He was first bred for companionship rather than for an operational purpose. You could say this big pup is a professional cuddle buddy. If this is what you are looking for, a Leonberger could be your best canine choice.
That’s not to say that this dog breed is perfect for everyone. Leonbergers are a giant breed, and with that size comes the need for plenty of space. They love to roam, and should only be in homes that accommodate their big bodies. They also shed quite frequently. If you can get past some of these needs, they make a fantastic family companion.
So if you’re wondering whether this breed is perfect for your family, you’ve come to the right place. Here we dive deep into what this breed needs, including food requirements, grooming needs, and how to pick a good quality breeder. Let’s jump in and take a look at the Leonberger breed and all their Lion-ish good looks.
Leonbergers are a relatively new creation, or as some would say a relatively old designer dog breed. In the 19th century, a politician named Heinrich Essig from Leonberg, southwest Germany, sought to create a large dog fit for a king. He bred the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, and other large breeds to develop the first line of Leonbergers. Legend has it that he handpicked the pups that looked like Lions to match the town’s coat of arms, which depicts a lion.
He was successful, and the likes of Napoleon III, Tsar Alexander, and King Edward VII all adopted Leonbergers to look after their palaces and courts. As did many aristocrats and renowned composers. In the beginning, Leonbergers were only taken on by rich families. But over time, they were employed on farms across Europe, pulling carts. And on waterside towns assisting with water rescue.
His love of humans, gentle nature, large frame, and cuddly appearance make him ideal for therapy uses. From children’s hospitals to support the blind, he excels at it all. This is another why he makes such a fantastic family dog. He commonly finds himself between 90th and 100th place in the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) popularity ranks. If it wasn’t for his giant size, he’d probably be much more popular.
The Leonberger is, first and foremost, a true gentle giant. Despite his size, he is elegant and gracious in both his manner and movement. He is not a burly brute by any means. He’s playful with both adults and children alike, but he knows to match his strength to his playmate.
He has a loud booming bark and will announce all visitors, both humans and yard-visiting animals alike. Although he is gentle with most, his presence is enough to deter would-be intruders away. We say most because he does have a protective streak. He will defend his family if he feels they are in danger. If you let him out at night and he sees something, he will wake the whole neighborhood up.
Thanks to his outgoing personality, he will warm up to visitors quickly. He is also a sensitive soul that takes things to heart. This means no harsh training and no shouting. He is also sensitive to your emotions and will try and cheer you up when you are down.
This pup is probably the biggest fan of cuddle time out of all dog breeds. He’ll climb up on your bed and nap with you until the kingdom comes. What do you think King size beds were designed for? Your giant canine to join you. This breed is very affectionate, and as long as he can feel your warmth on him, he’ll be satisfied.
He also needs constant companionship and hates to be alone. If you are out for long bouts of time, either working or exploring, this is definitely not the dog breed for you. When he is not cuddling or lying with you, he is looking for fun. He will play outside in the yard for hours if it means spending time with his family. And if you have a pool in your garden, this pup will get in. He loves to swim, and it’ll take more than a few sausages to bribe them out of the pool.
Size & Appearance
He is a giant-sized dog with lots of extra fluff on top. Female Leonbergers weigh between 90 and 140 pounds. And they measure between 25 and 29 inches tall, from paw to shoulder. Males are even larger. They weigh between 110 and 170 pounds and measure between 28 and 32 inches tall. Leonbergers are a dimorphic dog breed, meaning that males and females are very easy to tell apart. Males are substantially built and carry a lion-like mane around their neck and chest. Females do not have a mane and are unmistakably feminine in appearance.
‘Mommy, look, it’s a lion!’ is something that you’ll hear several times a week on your walkies. Because it’s true, he does have a lion-esque appearance, especially the males. He is proportionately built and balanced. He has a large rectangle-shaped head with medium-sized oval eyes. His lips are tight (which means less doggy drool) His ears are medium in size, triangular-shaped, and drop-down.
When relaxed, his tail is relatively long and hangs down to or just past the hocks. When he is alert, it raises but never higher than his spine. His large paws are rounded, tight, and arched, often described as catlike. He has an even and free-flowing gait, making him look effortlessly powerful when in motion.
Coat & Colors
The Leonberger has a thick double-coat that helps keep him warm in winter. And surprisingly, it helps to regulate his temperature and keeps him cool in the warmer months. So please never shave him. His undercoat is soft and dense, which insulates his body heat. His outercoat is medium to long in length, flat, and medium-soft to coarse in texture. It is his outer coat that makes his coat weather resistant.
Despite his larger than life lion-coat, you can still see his defined body shape. The hair on his face is short and fine. He has feathering fur in and around the front of his ears. And plenty of feathering on the rear of all four legs. His tail is bushy too. We have already detailed the difference between male and female manes. Unlike many other dog breeds, Leonbergers are not to be trimmed for the show ring, except for a tidying pedicure.
When it comes to the color of Leonbergers, he has a variety of similar shades that are categorized into four official colors. These are red, reddish-brown, sandy, and yellow. Yellow is a sandy-colored color, similar to a lion’s color. All Leonbergers sport a black mask. And the hair on their bodies can be black-tipped. Some have a small stripe or patch of white on the chest or toes.
Despite his calm nature, this powerful dog needs at least one hour of exercise every day. That’s often more than people think because they assume he is a couch potato. Thankfully, his exercise doesn’t need to be crazy intense. A long brisk walk around the local forest or park will be enough to get his heart pumping. Or as you know, a swim in the local lake will go down a treat.
Try to mix his activities up throughout the week to prevent him from becoming bored. Although Leonbergers are well-behaved pups, they will become destructive if he is not stimulated enough. Both mentally and physically. So, no excuses with Leo. To keep him entertained throughout the day, we suggest investing in larger dog toys like a Jolly ball or an XL KONG Classic. These are ideal for both solo and interactive playtime.
This breed is adaptable to apartment living, but only if it has ample space and his exercise requirements are met. Small city apartments are a big no-no. More spacious and accommodating apartments are a possibility. But his ideal home would be a large space with access to a private yard. Although this lion-lookalike is unlikely to wander off, his yard needs to be secured to prevent scaring your neighbors.
The sweet-natured Leonberger is suited to all types of families, from those with young children up to too-cool-for-school teenagers. As well as active retired couples and young singletons seeking a furry companion. As long as his basic needs are met, and he is with his favorite humans, he is a happy bunny. He is particularly fond of children, and he’ll often choose to snuggle up to the little ones if he has a choice of people to sit with. This is what makes him a great family pet.
When it comes to other animals, he is just as friendly as those living with him. He will accept dogs, cats, and other animals into the family fold with slow and controlled introductions. But the same cannot be said for outsiders. Some Leonbergers have a high prey drive, meaning that they will chase and bark at anything and everything that wanders into or flies past. This is another reason to enclose your yard.
The Leonberger is very eager to please his humans and will do anything to please them. This is great news for training. A training session is another excuse to spend time with you and please you with his good work. Start him young, and he will respond well to positive reinforcement training. Yummy treats and praise from you are likely to be his best motivators and be sure to make it fun.
He is a large dog who sometimes has a penchant for chasing things, so it’s important to socialize him from a young age. Socialization is the process of mixing him with as many other dogs, other animals, and humans as possible. As well as introducing him to things such as grooming, exercise in busy areas, and loud noises such as the washing machine. A good quality breeder will start the socialization process young, increasing the chances of becoming an obedient dog.
It’s commonly advised to crate-train anxious dog breeds. And with the Leonberger being a sensitive giant who hates to be left alone, we say he is the ideal candidate for crate training. Invest in a 54 inch dog crate, and spend time researching how to introduce him to it. Many owners write crates off, but as dogs naturally crave shelter, you can be sure your Leonberger will find comfort in his new space.
Leash training is another top priority. At up to 170 pounds, he could easily whip you off your feet if he wanted to. To save him from taking you for a walk, teach him how to walk politely on a leash. It can take a long time, but it is definitely worth the effort. Plus, it will make walkies much more enjoyable.
Leonbergers are reasonably healthy dogs. Unfortunately, like many giant-sized breeds, he has a shorter lifespan than most. At an average of nine years, sadly, his time with you will fly by. So this is all the more reason to keep him as fit and healthy as possible. Keep him active with exercise, feed him the best quality nutrition you can afford, and stay up to date with vet visits.
All purebred dogs are prone to particular health concerns more so than others, and Leonbergers are no different. Some Leos will suffer from one or more of these, and some will suffer from other concerns altogether. But being the most common conditions found in the breed, the below list is a good place to start your health research.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Joint dysplasia is a common concern in large and giant breeds. Genes play a big role, so it’s important to only breed dogs with a good elbow and hip score. Large dogs have a lot more growing to do, and if their bones grow too quickly, it can result in uneven growth. This uneven growth causes additional wear and tear, which eventually leads to arthritis. Leos that are struggling to sit or stand, climb stairs, or be unable to move around as easily need to be checked out.
The Leonberger, like many breeds, is prone to a variety of eye concerns. Progressive retinal atrophy, which is the deterioration of the retina, and age-related cataracts are the most common. And entropion and ectropion are found in the breed too. Symptoms of eye conditions include bumping into things, watery eyes, redness, and increased itching.
This is an endocrine disorder that is caused by low hormone levels. It is not curable, but dogs with this condition can lead normal lives with daily medication. Look out for symptoms such as lethargy, weight gain, mental dullness, and brittle hair. Good quality breeders will test for this disorder and will not breed affected Leos.
There are two types of polyneuropathy that affect the Leonberger breed. And two DNA tests are required to identify them (LPN1 & LPN2). It is an inherited neuromuscular disease caused by a degradation of the nerve fibers in the body. Symptoms include a wobbly gait, exercise intolerance, and labored breathing, and show from the ages of two to four. Again, any dog with this condition or carrying the mutated gene should not be bred.
This condition shows similar symptoms to the above in both age and symptoms. Additional signs to look out for are paw dragging and knuckling. But it is caused by the degeneration of the white matter in the central nervous system. The LEMP DNA test is required to identify a carrier, and carriers should not be bred.
Most Leonbergers will consume between five and seven cups of kibble every day. This is dependent on several factors such as age, size, and energy levels. A 90 pound Leo will need much less than a 170 pound Leo, so it’s important to tailor his food consumption to his individual needs. Follow the food packaging, and be sure not to overfeed your dog. The Leo will easily pile on the pounds if you allow him, and it can lead to a whole bunch of weight-related health problems.
Feeding him the best quality food that you can afford is one of the best ways to keep him healthy. A well-balanced diet will meet all of his nutritional needs and keep his body and immune system fighting fit. Look for a kibble designed specifically for large or giant breeds, as they contain the optimum nutrition needed for large dogs. This is especially important during puppyhood as it will help control his rapid bone growth.
The Leonberger, like most giant breeds, is prone to gastric torsion, also known as bloat. This usually occurs during mealtime, specifically immediately before or after exercise. It is a life-threatening condition that causes the stomach to twist. Feeding him smaller and more frequent meals, at least an hour before or after exercise, is advised. It’s crucial to learn about the symptoms to look out for and seek immediate vet attention if it occurs. As your Leo is at high risk, some vets will suggest an operation to tack his stomach to his abdominal wall to prevent it.
Leonberger’s coat requires a lot of attention to keep it looking his best. And this is something that you need to commit to. Otherwise, it’ll leave him looking disheveled, and matting will cause both problems and pain. He sheds heavily throughout the year and even more during the shedding seasons. It’s safe to say that if dog hair drives you mad, the Leo is not the breed for you.
He has a super thick double coat. His undercoat is short, fluffy, and dense, and his outer coat is long, straight, and thick. Together they work to keep him warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. Throughout the year, he needs to brush every day. Use a metal comb to tackle the undercoat, and a pin brush or slicker brush is ideal for his topcoat. You’ll spend longer brushing him during the shedding seasons, and an undercoat rake is a must to manage his coat.
Pay close attention to the areas prone to matting, such as behind his ears and the back of his legs. Bathtime has never been easier with the water-loving Leo. But a walk-in shower is advised unless you’re the Hulk. Bathe him once every six to eight weeks with a gentle but concentrated doggy shampoo. And be sure to rinse and dry him off properly.
Other grooming requirements are weekly dental cleaning with doggy toothpaste. Check his ears for signs of a bacterial infection, including strong odors. Wipe these weekly with a cotton bud and ear-cleaning solution. Many Leos will need their nails trimmed at least twice a month too. Get him used to his grooming schedule from a young age to make it a much easier process.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
The Leonberger is a relatively rare sight in America, and he usually sits between the 90th and 100th spot in the AKC’s popularity contest. This means that you might have to travel to find a good quality breeder, depending on where you live. But it is super important to work with a breeder that does everything they can to produce healthy Leo litters. Expect to be put on a waiting list, but this is a top sign of a responsible breeder.
The average price of a Leonberger from a reputable breeder is around $2,000. Although this might seem like a lot, this pays for healthy and happy pups. Responsible breeders will screen for all the concerns listed above and produce health certificates to prove it. They will also begin the socialization process and get them used to humans and handling. A great place to start your Leo search is with the AKC’s list of reputable breeders.
Inviting a giant breed into your home also requires additional costs above the initial puppy price. From XXL crates to tough toys, high-quality puppy food, to costlier insurance, it all adds up. You also need to remember the lifelong costs, such as more expensive vet bills, bucket loads of food, and boarding. It’s safe to say the Leo is a more expensive breed than the Yorkie.
Rescues & Shelters
If buying a puppy isn’t an option for you right now, you should consider adopting a Leonberger from a rescue shelter. With so many dogs looking for their forever homes, it’s a great thing to think about. Leos are rare dogs, and so you can expect them to be snapped up when one does come along. Head out to your local shelter and speak to the staff there about your Leo needs.
There are also dedicated breed rescue organizations focusing solely on their chosen breed and their mixes. Justgiants is a rescue organization that focuses on giant breeds only. You can also check other online resources, and rescue groups on social media platforms when looking for a rescue dog.
As Family Pets
- The Leonberger is a gentle giant who adores his family more than anything in the world.
- He needs a daily fix of cuddles and will climb on all of your furniture whether he fits on it or not.
- Leonbergers are a well-balanced mix of energy and calmness.
- He hates to be left alone and needs a family that can spend most of their time with him.
- He needs at least one hour of exercise every day.
- As long as he is socialized well as a pup, he gets on well with other dogs and animals.
- Some Leonbergers have a high prey drive, so you need to prepare for this.
- He is eager to please and can be very obedient with early training.
- Ideally, he needs a large home with access to a secured yard.
- He loves children and makes a great choice as a canine sibling.
- He sheds a lot, and you’ll spend a lot of time grooming and cleaning.
The Leonberger is a rare dog breed, but not because he isn’t awesome. It has a lot to do with his enormous size. But if you have the space to accommodate him, you will soon learn that he is one of the sweetest dogs around. He adores each member of his family (especially the little ones) and will shower you in love and doggy kisses.
He needs certain things from his family, such as living space, 60 minutes of daily exercise, and constant company. But as you can see from our Leonberger breed guide, he is a relatively easygoing dog to have. Many breed lovers state that once you’ve had a Leo, you’ll be hooked for life. And it’s easy to see why.