Leonberger: A Guide to the Gentle Giant

The Leonberger, also known as Gentle Giant, Leo, or Gentle Lion, are typically more bark than bite.

These giant dogs are intimidating in more ways than one, but they are also sweet-natured and loving. As long as you’re on the right side of the fence.

Portrait of a magnificent Leonberger on snow
Magnificent Leonberger puppy on snow

This breed fascinates most who come across it. Large, fluffy, and soulful, this is a dog you should know all about.

Where does the Leonberger dog come from?

The Leonberger received its name from the town in Germany where they originate. Heinrich Essig, a 19th-century German politician and mayor of Leonberg, created this breed. 

The Leonberger was bred in the 1930s, by crossing a Landseer Newfoundland with a Saint Bernard. Later, breeders added the Great Pyrenees to the mix. So it’s no surprise that these dogs are so large. 

Essig wanted to breed a majestic dog that would walk proudly beside the aristocracy. And they did, including beside the Prince of Wales.

The dog represented the lion of Leonberg’s coat of arms. World War I almost saw the extinction of the breed. By the end of World War II, only eight Leo’s remained.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) accepted them as a legitimate breed in 2010.

Watch this video to find out more about Leonbergers:

What does the Leonberger look like?

The Leonberger is a graceful, regal dog that is both powerful and massive. Their appearance is visually impressive, while also making elegant movement possible for such a large body.

Their heads are deeper than they are broad, and are roughly rectangular. Gender is very noticeable. Males have noticeably strong masculine heads, while females have a slighter, more feminine head. Their eyes are almond-shaped, medium-sized, and dark brown.

Adult Leonbergers are barrel-chested, with deep and roomy chests reaching to the level of their elbows.

From their forequarters to their hindquarters, they are well-muscled, balanced, and firm, enabling them to move their bulk with grace.

Their feet turn neither in nor out and their toes arch. Their forefeet are generally rounder and tighter than the slightly elongated backs. The pads of their feet are black.

a full body side profile portrait of a Gentle Giant Leonberger
Full body side profile portrait of a Gentle Giant Leonberger

Leonberger size: How big do Leo’s get?

As their nickname reflects, the Leonberger dog breed grows to a giant. Once fully grown, the male is 28 to 31 inches (71-80cm) high at their withers, averaging 30 inches. Females, only slightly smaller, are 26 to 30 inches (65-75cm) in height.

Males weigh between 120 and 170 pounds (54 -77 kg), and female Leonbergers’ weight falls between 100 and 135 pounds (45 – 61 kg). They reach this size at a year of age, but only reach full adulthood at about 3 years.

It may already be clear: these are not good apartment dogs. They will easily knock things over, plus they need quite a lot of exercise. A large yard is far more suited to this breed so that they can run around.

a purebred Gentle Lion Leonberger smiling and posing with a lady
Purebred Gentle Lion Leonberger smiling and posing with his pet owner

A water-resistant double coat

Since the Leonberger was bred as a household pet and a working breed, their coats are well-suited for cold climates. They have a long, straight, durable outer coat that fits close to its body.

They also have a warmer, fluffier undercoat to keep them cozy. Since they have so much hair, they shed a lot, throughout the year.

Their coat colors include red, golden to red-brown, sandy, or even lion-yellow, with a black mask. 

And since the males have an impressive lion-like mane around their chest and neck, they may fool some unsuspecting passersby. 

Temperament: Are Leonbergers good family dogs?

Leonbergers are excellent family dogs, and their wonderful temperaments are a notable characteristic.

They are friendly, self-assured, intelligent, and trainable. If they get socialization and training early, they will make an excellent addition to any family. 

They are submissive to family members and friendly towards children. They can adjust to new dogs and other animals, including cats.

a Leonberger resting with a woman on a lake
Leonberger resting with a woman on a lake

While this dog breed is kindly and playful, they are also loyal and make very good guard dogs.

Passersby, when posing no threat, are treated with composure. But if you threaten their home, they will intervene. And since their deep bark and impressive size will turn away most would-be intruders, protection is just about guaranteed.

As previously mentioned, Leo’s reacts well to children. However, because they are so big, they should not be alone with very young children because they are playful and don’t always know their size. 

Why do Leonberger owners call their dogs ‘suckybergers?’

Leo’s tends to suck on blankets or toys when upset or anxious, to self-soothe. Their tendency to suckle is, fortunately, not tied to separation anxiety. 

They can be alone for up to 8 hours in the day, if they get enough exercise to burn energy, though they might bark a little to protest. They are companionable pets and would prefer your presence.

How to train a Leonberger

The Leonberger breed needs to meet various people and animals before they reach 20 weeks old.

These giant dogs will likely outweigh their owners, and will almost definitely be stronger. So they must be well trained and learn to listen to commands.

Leonberger puppies are smart and eager to please, so they are easy to train. Obedience training should form the foundation of their training.

If you’re interested in advanced training, Leonbergers excel in water sports, cart pulling, tracking, and advanced obedience training. They are even known to do water rescue

If you’re just aiming for the basics, like potty training, keep in mind that they respond well to consistency and positive reinforcement. 

a Leonberger being trained by a young woman
Leonberger being trained by a young woman

How to take care of your Leonberger

Leonbergers require moderate maintenance and a firm hand. They have high energy levels and will often need the same from you.

Since they have a double coat, this large breed is better suited to the cold climates they originated in. They are not very adaptable to hot weather and can overheat if the climate is too warm.

Exercising your Leonberger

Because the Leo is a working dog, these muscular canines require a decent amount of exercise.

An hour of walking a day should do it, but they should have a yard where they can run around to burn off any extra energy they may have.

Without sufficient exercise, Leonbergers often become destructive and unruly, especially in the adolescent phase.

And since they are so large, this can be incredibly difficult to deal with. Enough exercise is, therefore, essential.

Grooming: Do Leonberger dogs shed?

Leonbergers are quite the shedders and are not hypoallergenic. You should brush them once a day to keep their long coat in good condition and stop constant shedding all over your space. 

The long hair behind their ears and the back of their legs tend to mat, so they need extra attention. You should trim their nails every second week.

Feeding your Leonberger

Leonbergers should eat twice or even three times a day instead of once, as they are prone to bloat. Puppies need food four times a day until they are 12 weeks old.

A full-grown male may require up to 8 cups of food a day, depending on their activity level. Their food must be high-quality. Giant dogs need specific dog food, so it’s good to check what will suit them best.

Treats, while useful in training, can cause weight gain. Around 10% of their diet can consist of human food, but no more than that.

What health problems do Leonberger dogs have?

a Gentle Giant laying comfortably on the grass
A Gentle Giant laying comfortably on the grass

For a giant dog breed, Leo’s are strong and healthy. Hip dysplasia, which is a common issue in large dogs, has been well controlled through careful breeding. However, they are prone to certain health issues. 

Bloat / gastric torsion is common, and twists their stomachs, trapping gas inside. To avoid this, feed them regularly, and raise their food from the ground, so they don’t have to bend deeply.

Leo’s can inherit or develop heart problems and inherited Leonberger paralysis/polyneuropathy. As well as elbow dysplasia, digestive disorders, osteosarcoma, and allergies.

Their eyes are also sensitive to disease and may develop cataracts, entropion/ectropion eyelids, and progressive retinal atrophy. Fortunately, the Leonberger Health Foundation is researching how to alleviate these tendencies.

The average Gentle Lion lives to be approximately seven years old. This is four years less than the average life expectancy of purebred dogs but is an expected lifespan for giant breeds.

The most common cause of death is cancer. 

What is the average cost of a Leonberger puppy?

a Leonberger puppy in the forest biting a teddy bear
A Leonberger puppy in the forest biting a teddy bear

Leonberger puppies are very popular and may be hard to find. Their average litter size is six strong. The Leonberger price varies, depending on their breeding, but you can budget between $1500 and $3500

You should also budget approximately $2000 a year for their upkeep. Their food is expensive, and they eat a lot. And if they develop diseases, their vet visits might put you back even more.

Leonberger breeders

There are quite a number of breeders in the United States. For a comprehensive list, look at the Leonberger Club of America. Just be sure to check that you choose a reputable breeder who does genetic testing for hip displacement.

Leonberger rescues for adoption

If you don’t mind not knowing the breeder’s information and aren’t fussy about your Leo’s age, a rescue dog is a great option. Take a look at Adopt a Pet. You could also find a dog from a Leonberger Rescue or Shelter.

Should I get a Leonberger?

a huge Leonberger dog smiling
A huge Leonberger dog smiling

If you’re a first-time owner, you may want to reconsider getting a Leonberger german mountain dog.

While they are obedient, intelligent dogs, they do require a firm hand and good training. They also need a moderately active owner.

If you fit the bill, a reddish-brown giant Leonberger is sure to make an excellent addition to your house and family.

They are great watchdogs and companions and are often skilled in search and rescue missions. Just be sure to keep their size in mind for your space.

Further reading: Similar breeds to Leonberger

  • Sarplaninac
  • Hovawart
  • Mastiff
  • St. Bernard
  • Pyrenean Mountain Dog

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