Leonberger (Leo): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a Leonberger (Leo) dog breed

CaptureLight / Getty Images

The Leonberger, or Leo, is a thick-coated 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, and some say the dog looks bear-like, instead.

Breed Overview

  • GROUP: Working
  • HEIGHT: Males are 28 to 31.5 inches and females are 25.5 to 29.5 inches at the shoulder.
  • WEIGHT: Males are 110 to 170 pounds; females are 90 to 140 pounds.
  • COAT: The double coat is medium to long, thick, straight, and water-resistant.
  • COAT COLOR: The head has a black mask, and over coat colors include lion-yellow, golden, red, reddish-brown, sandy, or yellow-brown.
  • LIFE SPAN: 7 years
  • TEMPERAMENT: Fearless, loyal, loving, obedient, adaptable, companionable
  • HYPOALLERGENIC: No
  • ORIGIN: Germany

Characteristics of the Leonberger

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. These versatile dogs have a natural instinct to protect and assist people, making them wonderful service dogs and family pets.

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 also 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

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.

Exercise

Experts recommend exercising your Leo with two 30 minute walks a day and another 60 minutes of free play. This dog loves to hike, jog, and swim, too. The breed has a superior lung capacity, webbed feet, and a waterproof coat, all designed for swimming.

Leos tolerate cold weather well, but due to their insulating 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.

Grooming

This breed sheds moderately but more so in the spring and fall. Leos need routine grooming, specifically hair-brushing once or twice a week. They typically do not have any need for coat trimming or sculpting.

In addition to coat care and bathing, a Leo needs regular toothbrushing and nail trimming.

Training

Leos are highly intelligent dogs that respond very well to training. In fact, training and socialization are both essential for this breed. They need basic puppy training and obedience courses when they are under a year old so they know you're the boss. However, this breed is highly sensitive so harsh treatment or yelling while training will only backfire and upset the pup.

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 elevated feeding bowls 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 setting up a feeding schedule for a specific amount of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove any uneaten food, rather than allowing free-feeding.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Leonberger

While you might encounter 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 that's dedicated to rescuing and rehoming unwanted, abandoned, or abused Leonberger and Leonberger mixes. If you choose to work with a breeder, expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 for a purebred Leo puppy.

Here are a few resources to help you start your search for your own Leo pup.

Leonberger Overview

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

  • Makes for a good watchdog

  • Highly intelligent and responds well to training

Cons
  • Requires a significant amount of grooming

  • Excessive amounts of drooling in some pups

  • Susceptible to hip dysplasia

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!

FAQ
  • Are Leonbergers good dogs to have around children?

    Typically, this breed gets along very well with children. But it's not always a recommended breed to have around young children because of the Leo's huge size. This sweet and gentle giant may topple over a toddler and hurt it without even realizing what it's doing.

  • Are Leos clean and fastidious dogs?

    No! If you value a constantly neat and clean household, this breed may not be right for you. Some Leonbergers can be droolers (some are not), so many owners will keep a "slobber cloth" handy. They love romping in the mud and water so expect them to trounce through the house with dirty paws, shaking the excess wet muck from their coats. They also shed a lot twice a year.

  • Does this dog like to cuddle?

    Yes! You wouldn't think a big old dog like Leo would love to cuddle, but this dog is truly a love bug that was bred first and foremost as a companion. It is not an aggressive dog with humans. Instead, the Leo is extremely affectionate and loves the warmth of humans.

Watch Now: 12 Giant Dog Breeds and What Makes Them Special

Article Sources
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  2. Costa, Joana et al. Clinical signs of brachycephalic ocular syndrome in 93 dogsIrish veterinary journal vol. 74,1 3. 25 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1186/s13620-021-00183-5

  3. Leonberger Health Panel. University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.