Leonberger (Leo): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Leonberger dog in marram grass
AngelaBuserPhoto / Getty Images

The Leonberger, or Leo, is a giant dog with a hard-working spirit and a gentle disposition that hails from the city in Germany after which it was named. Although the breed almost went extinct in World War I, it was saved—and thankfully so, as the breed is intelligent, noble, and very loyal. Leonbergers make excellent working dogs but are also calm and affectionate companions. Mature males develop a pronounced lion-like mane, adding to their distinguished appearance.

Breed Overview

  • Group: Working
  • Weight: Males are 110 to 170 pounds; females are 90 to 140 pounds.
  • Height: Males are 28 to 31.5 inches and females are 25.5 to 29.5 inches at the shoulder.
  • Coat and Color: The head has a black mask over coat colors of lion-yellow, golden, red, reddish brown, sandy, or yellow-brown. The double coat is medium to long, thick, straight, and water-resistant.
  • Life Expectancy: 7 years

Characteristics of the Leonberger

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Leonberger

The Leonberger dog breed originates from Leonberg, Germany. During the mid-1800s, a gentleman named Heinrich Essig claimed to have bred a Landseer Newfoundland and a St. Bernard multiple times and later crossed the offspring with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Over the years, it is now believed that other dog breeds were crossed with early Leonbergers; however, no written records remain. The dog's appearance was bred to resemble a lion on the coat-of-arms of Leonberg. The breed became popular in the royal and imperial households of France, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy.

The first Leonberger clubs were established by owners of the breed in 1891. They were popular farm dogs and used to pull carts. They were used to pull ammunition carts in both World Wars. The breed nearly became extinct during World War I but was saved by a group of enthusiasts.

The Leonberger first appeared in the U.S. and Canada in the early 1900s. They were imported by the Canadian government to perform as water rescue dogs. The breed faded in the U.S. during the Great Depression. Over the years, the numbers of Leonbergers increased in Europe and, later, in the U.S. The Leonberger Club of America was formed in 1985, but the breed was not officially admitted to the AKC working group until 2010.

Leonberger Care

The Leonberger can be a drooler, so many owners will keep a "slobber cloth" handy. This breed sheds moderately but more so in spring and fall. Leos need routine grooming, specifically hair-brushing once or twice a week. They typically do not have any coat trimming or sculpting. Leos tolerate cold weather well, but due to their double coats, they can get overheated in hot weather. It is good to provide a cool place for a Leo in hot weather and to limit exercise to cooler parts of the day.

Leonbergers have a strong drive to work and protect. They need daily exercise to keep them fit and happy. In addition, Leos will benefit from some type of "job," such as guarding the home or obedience competition. In general, these are usually very calm, loyal, and loving companions. Leos are also highly intelligent dogs that respond very well to training. In fact, training and socialization are both essential for this breed.

The Leonberger is an affectionate and gentle dog breed that makes a delightful companion. This breed tends to be very intuitive about human emotions and forms a strong bond with its family. Typically, this breed gets along very well with children. These versatile dogs have a natural instinct to protect and assist people, making them wonderful service dogs and family pets.

leonberger dog puppy resting in the yard
onetouchspark / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the American Kennel Club (AKC). Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. Be aware of these conditions:

  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GVD): Commonly called bloat, this is a life-threatening situation common to many large dog breeds. It occurs when the stomach fills with gas or food and then rotates to trap the contents in the stomach and cut off the blood supply to the stomach and spleen. The stomach tissue dies and the stomach can even rupture. You will need to use feeding strategies to minimize this risk.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Large breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, an instability of the hip joint that leads to excessive wear on the joint and hip arthritis.
  • Entropion: This is a condition where the eyelid rolls in on itself. It can affect one or both eyes, and the lower and/or upper eyelids. It needs to be treated by a veterinarian.
  • Ectropion: This condition is the opposite of ectropion; the lids sag and roll outward.
  • Leonberger Polyneuropathy: This neuromuscular disease produces worsening tolerance for exercise, a hitched step, and wasting of the hind leg muscles. Research is being conducted into the genetics of this disease.
leonbergers as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

It is wise to give Leonbergers breed-specific formulas that meet their needs as a large breed. Leonberger puppies can be fed several times per day and grow to more than 100 pounds by their first birthday. Always provide continuous access to fresh drinking water.

Adult Leonbergers should be fed twice a day to help prevent bloating and GVD. They should not be given a large meal once a day. You can also minimize the risk of stomach torsion by providing an elevated feeding and watering arrangement so your dog can eat and drink while standing up. If your dog is prone to gulping its food, look for a feeding bowl that limits the amount of food that can be eaten at one time. You should also avoid vigorous exercise for an hour after a meal.

Leonbergers have a high potential for weight gain. You can minimize this by feeding for a specific amount of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes, and remove any uneaten food, rather than allowing free-feeding.

Pros and Cons of the Leonberger

  • An even-tempered dog that's friendly with other animals

  • Makes for a good watchdog

  • Highly intelligent and respond well to training

  • Requires a significant amount of grooming

  • Excessive amounts of drooling

  • Susceptible to hip dysplasia

Where to Adopt or Buy a Leonberger

While you might find a Leonberger at a local animal shelter, it's more likely that you will find the perfect dog for you from a Leonberger rescue group, such as the Leonberger Rescue Pals, which is dedicated to rescuing and rehoming unwanted, abandoned, or abused Leonberger and Leonberger mixes. Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions also works to find homes for this breed. The Leonberger Club of America also provides a list of breeders on its website.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether a Leonberger is the right dog for you, take the time to do thorough research. Find other owners and talk to reputable breeders. You may want to contact the Leonberger Club of America. Similar dog breeds to research include:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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