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Nicole Cosgrove

June 21, 2021


The Leonberger is a large to giant sized purebred from Germany, purportedly bred for the purpose of looking like a lion! It is a mix of other large and giant breeds including the Great Pyrenees, the Saint Bernard (longhaired) and the Newfie. Owners interested in the Leonberger should be active, have space and land or a large yard and have experience handling and training large dogs. It has a deep bark and fierce looks but its nicknames of Gentle Lion or Gentle Giant indicate its true nature. It is successful at guarding, obedience, tracking, search and rescue and water rescue.

The Leonberger at A Glance
Name Leonberger
Other names None
Nicknames Leo, Gentle Lion and Gentle Giant
Origin Germany
Average size Large to Giant
Average weight 90 to 165 pounds
Average height 26 to 32 inches
Life span 8 to 12 years
Coat type Water repellant, medium to long
Hypoallergenic No
Color Tan, black, yellow, brown, red
Popularity Not very popular – ranked 93rd by the AKC
Intelligence Quite good – but can be stubborn
Tolerance to heat Low – not good in hot weather or even warm
Tolerance to cold Excellent – can handle even extreme cold climates
Shedding Constant – expect hair around the home and daily vacuuming
Drooling Above average – they will slobber and drool when drinking, eating and when stressed
Obesity Above average – monitor its food intake and exercise
Grooming/brushing Fairly high maintenance – regular brushing and grooming needed
Barking Rare – not prone to being overly noisy
Exercise needs Active – needs owners who are active too
Trainability Easy to train – may even learn quicker than some breeds
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Low – not suited for the inexperienced
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Good but needs socialization
Good with other pets Moderate to good with socialization – can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Moderate – socialization and supervision is essential
Good apartment dog Low – not good for small spaces, needs a yard or land
Handles alone time well Moderate – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Fairly healthy but prone to some issues such as hip dysplasia and other bone/joint problems, eye problems, cancer and heart problems
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for dog treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $655 a year for miscellaneous items, license, basic training, toys and grooming
Average annual expenses $1410 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,500
Rescue organizations Several including LeoPALS, Gentle Giants Rescues and Adoptions and the Leonberger Club of America
Biting Statistics None Reported

The Leonberger’s Beginnings

There are a couple of theories about this breeds origins. One suggests that the Leonberger was bred in the early to mid 1800s in Leonberg, a town in Germany. The breeder was Heinrich Essing who was also the mayor of the town and his ultimate goal was simply to breed a dog that closely looked like a lion! He used a St Bernard, Newfoundland and a Great Pyrenees in the breeding and it proved to be a very popular dog especially with the royal families of Europe, France, Italy, Austria, the UK and Russia for example. However there is also evidence that dogs of the same appearance were around in the 16th century in Austria, so it is possible Essing was just the first to register the dog, which happened in 1846. It was also kept on farms and was used in draft work and as a watchdog.

As is the case with many dog breeds, especially those on the larger side, both world wars nearly brought this breed to extinction. In World War I many dogs were left to fend for themselves and by the end of it the records suggest only 5 dogs survived. After this breeders worked hard to revive them but then came the second world war. During this war they were used to pull carts for ammunition. By the end of the second world war there were in fact very few Leonbergers left and action needed to be taken to save the breed.

New Lease on Life

In 1945 German breeders and enthusiasts pulled together as many of the Leonbergers that were left as they could and worked hard to re-establish the breed. In 1949 a breed standard was agreed upon and in 1971 they made their way to the US. The look of the Leonberger changed as new breeds were used in its rescue. In 2010 it was recognized by the AKC and currently is ranked 93rd in popularity.

The Dog You See Today

The Leonberger is a large to giant dog weighing 90 to 165 pounds and standing 26 to 32 inches tall. It is a muscular and powerful dog with a water-resistant double coat that is straight, medium to long, and somewhat soft. Common colors are yellow, red, black, tan, brown, golden, cream and sometimes with white patches and a black mask. It has a thick mane of hair around its neck which is more obvious in males than females. There is also some feathering on the legs and tail. The tail hangs down, its feet are often webbed and it has a deep and broad chest. In places where it is still acceptable the back dewclaws are removed.

Its head is deep and rectangular in shape and usually males have larger heads than females. It has a slight dome shape and a long muzzle with a black mask on its face up to the eyes and perhaps above them but for show dogs it should not go above the eyebrows. It has a black and large nose, black lips and triangular medium-sized ears that hang to around he edges of its mouth and are held flat to its head. Males have flews that are a little loose so they are more likely to drool a little. It has medium-sized eyes that are almond sized and dark brown in color.

The Inner Leonberger


The Leonberger is very alert and makes a good watchdog, it will let you know of any intruder and since some can be moderately protective it may also act to defend you. This is not a breed though that is suitable for new owners, it needs experienced owners. This is a sensitive dog so harshness, loud fights and physical punishments are not something it will respond well to. It is intelligent, loyal and cheerful in nature and can be very lively too. With its owners and family it is affectionate and sweet, calm, loving and stable. It is more athletic and more bold than most other giant dogs.

This dog matures between the ages of 3 to 4 years so be prepared to have a large puppy like dog for a while. It is very wary around strangers and needs socialization and training as well as supervision. Without them that wariness can become something more serious and even turn to aggression. Its bark is deep and loud but it is not a frequent barker. They are not a clean dog, they will track in dirt and debris, some drool, water bowls will cause a mess and there will be generally doggy messiness!

Living with an Leonberger

What will training look like?

This breed is easy to train for experienced owners as it is intelligent, eager to please and capable. In fact less repetition is usually needed which means training is quicker. It does not respond to harsh methods, be positive, firm, consistent and controlled but fair, using treats, praise and encouragement at times. Along with good training you need to make sure socialization is carried out as early as possible. Get it used to different places and people and teach it what responses are acceptable. When it is not well socialized, some can become aggressive and some can become overly shy, anxious and scared.

How active is the Leonberger?

It is important that you are an active person as this dog is very active and it will need owners happy and committed to taking out every day. This is not a breed to live comfortably in an apartment, the space is just too small. Also it really would do better in a home that had a least a large yard, though some actual land would be even better. It should have a couple of long walks daily, but it also likes to hike, swim, pull carts or sleds and track. While time somewhere it can socialize and go off leash like a dog park is an option, take care and be sure about how it reacts to strange dogs. It is also not a dog inclined to chase balls or jump for Frisbees. When it is young and its bones and joints are still growing take care not to do anything with too much impact to avoid injury. If not given enough activity or stimulation it will become bored, hyperactive and even destructive.

Caring for the Leonberger

Grooming needs

This is a fairly high maintenance dog as it needs regular brushing, it sheds constantly so needs cleaning up after and where the coat is feathered is very prone to tangles so needs more attention. Expect hair everywhere and that shedding does get even heavier during seasonal times. Only give it a bath as needed to avoid drying out its skin and only use a dog shampoo. This dog can slobber when drinking, males are more likely to than females because their jowls are looser. Therefore there may be a need to clean them up and clean up after eating and drinking, as well as wiping them down when they come in from outside.

Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week. Its ears need to be checked once a week for infection and then given a wipe clean using a cleanser and cotton ball or a dampened cloth. Its nails should be clipped when they get too long taking care not to cut them too low down as it will hurt them and lead to bleeding.

Feeding Time

Leos need about 4 1/2 to 6 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into at least two meals to avoid problems with bloat. That amount could be more, as it can vary depending on your dog’s size, health, metabolism, level of activity and build.

How is the Leonberger with children and other animals?

Leos are good with children especially when raised with them and with socialization. It will play with them, is gentle and patient and affectionate too. Even if a situation becomes aggressive on the child’s side the dog is more likely to just walk away than react at all. Just be aware since it is a large dog it can still accidentally knock small children over.

With other dogs it needs a lot of socialization, training and supervision to be able to interact with them. It can be aggressive or at least on high alert around other dogs and dominance is especially an issue with dogs of the same gender. Socialization is also needed around other strange animals like cats, squirrels and such as it sees them as prey. With pets it has been raised with it can be taught to be more accepting.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

A Leo has a life span of 8 to 12 years and is considered to be fairly healthy though there are some issues it can be prone to. They include hip dysplasia, eye problems, cancer, bone and joint problems, heart problems, allergies, ILPN, digestive problems and bloat.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports in the US and Canada that cover dogs attacking people over the last 3 decades or so, the Leonberger is not specifically mentioned in any incidents. This is a large dog though and it can be prone to aggression when not bred or raised well. It is possible for it to become aggressive so it is important to make sure it is well exercised, supervised, trained and socialized. It needs firm and experienced owners who are able to give it the attention it needs.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Leonberger puppy is going to cost between $1500 and $2000 from a breeder of experience and for a pet quality dog. For a show dog from a top class breeder is going to cost even more than that. If you find one from a shelter or rescue it will most likely have been seen to medically which will cut down on your initial costs, and will cost less around $200 to $400. But it may not be a puppy, many rescue dogs are adult aged. As tempting as it may be to take the easier route, avoid backyard breeders and puppy mills and places that use animals from them like pet stores. If people stopped using them they would go out of business, the cruelty they practice would end, and people and dogs would be a lot better off!

When you have your puppy you need to take it to a vet for a physical exam, its shots, deworming, neutering or spaying and micro chipping. These will cost you around $300. Then there are some items you will need for your puppy, a collar and leash, crate, bowls and bedding for example. These will cost about $200.

Yearly costs will cover things like additional items, toys, food, medical needs and training. For dog treats and a good quality dry dog food expect to spend at least $270 a year. For medical basics like tick and flea prevention, shots and check ups along with pet insurance you can expect to pay about $485 a year. For miscellaneous items, toys, basic training, grooming and license it will cost around $655. This gives an annual starting figure of $1410.


Looking for a Leonberger Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

With socialization, training and a strong owner this is a confident, friendly and disciplined dog to own and is able to adapt. It is a giant dog though so be prepared for all that this entails. Owners without experience and ones who are not active should avoid this breed. It comes at a higher price than many breeds and is harder to find but make sure you find a good breeder even if that means taking more time to do your homework.

Featured Image Credit: sesheta, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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