This large German water dog, a born swimmer, is famed throughout Europe as an excellent lifesaver dog, and is also favored as a gentle companion for children.

The Leonberger was created in 1846 by Mayor Heinrich Essig of Leonberg, Germany, who crossed the Newfoundland with the St. Bernard to produce a dog that matched the one on the town crest, hence the breed's name. Probably the Great Pyrenees also figured in the breed's ancestry.

It has also been employed as a draught dog in Holland and Belgium and occasionally as a livestock guard.


Surprisingly, this fine breed began life as a discarded dog. When, in the 1830s and 1840s, the monks of St Bernard were trying to improve the breed of dog that takes their name, they experimented by importing some Newfoundlands to inject new blood. From these St Bernard/Newfoundland crosses they selected and retained the examples that looked most like their own breed. The others were discarded and it was from these rejects that the Leonberger was created.

Essig’s goal was to create a massive dog that would look like the heraldic lions in his town’s coat of arms. He added other breeds to the bloodline, in particular the Pyrenean Mountain Dog. The result is a huge animal with a height of 32 in (80 cm) and the colouring of a lion. The thick, long coat is usually fawn but can also be grey-fawn or orange. There are often darker markings in the head region. It has drooped ears and a bushy tail.

By the end of the 19th century this imposing dog was fully established as a new breed — a powerful and impressive property guard. It found favour, not just with local property owners, but also with a number of famous European figures, including the Prince of Wales, the Russian Czar, the King of the Belgians, Bismarck, Garibaldi and Wagner.

Then, during World War I, the breed all but vanished. By the end of hostilities in 1918 there were , only five of them left alive. Carefully organized breeding led to a revival of the breed until, once again, it fell victim to the ravages of war: World War II proved to be no kinder to it than World War I. This time, when peace returned, there were only eight examples surviving. Once again great care was taken to protect the breed and its numbers rose. Twenty-five years later, the hard work of the breeders had been rewarded and the Leonberger was at last re-established and has remained so ever since. It is now recognized by the Kennel Club in London and has been exported to a number of other countries across the globe.


Strong and fairly massive, with well-developed muscles, the Leonberger has a wide, medium-sized head with dark chestnut medium-sized eyes; a big black nose; a tight mouth; wide-set, feathered, round-tipped pendant ears; and a quite bushy and slightly curled hanging tail. Its weatherproof coat is long, forming a mane on the throat and feet. A black mask and muzzle should be present, but body color varies greatly from light or golden yellow to reddish brown, sand, and silverish gray.


The Leonberger moves with great mobility, yet is never hurried, and has a tender, loving nature.

This is a self-confident breed (‘Where does it sleep?’ — ‘Wherever it chooses.’). When there is no challenge, it is relaxed and genial, but it is also majestically strong when it is roused. With small dogs and children it is endlessly patient and surprisingly affectionate, and has been given the title of ‘Gentle Lion’. Thanks to its Newfoundland ancestry, it loves water and, given the slightest excuse, will plunge in for a swim.

General care

The Leonberger needs extensive daily brushing. Careful feeding and exercise in the first eighteen months of life is essential to ensure that the rapid bone development is healthy and sound.


Exercise periods should include a pulling routine.


Hip dysplasia and bone problems are not common, but they can result.


Usually five to ten puppies are born in a litter, and as the mother is quite massive, extra care will be needed to keep her from inadvertently crushing one or more of her puppies.

Gallery of Leonberger