ABOUT THE LEONBERGER

ORIGINS OF THE BREED.....

The Leonberger is a giant dog breed. The breed's name derives from the city of Leonberg,Germany. According to legend, the Leonberger was ostensibly bred as a 'symbolic dog' that would mimic the lion in the town crest. 

 

 

In the 1830's, Heinrich Essig, a dog breeder and seller and mayor of Leonberg claimed to have created the Leonberger by crossing a female Landseer Newfoundland with a "barry" male from the Great St Bernard Hospice and Monastery (which would later create the Saint Bernard breed). Later, according to Essig, a Pyrenean Mountain dog was added, resulting in very large dogs with the long white coats that were the fashion for the time, and pleasant temperament. The first dogs registered as Leonbergers were born in 1846 and had many of the prized qualities of the breeds from which they were derived. The popular legend is that it was bred to resemble the coat-of-arms animal of Leonberg, the lion.

 

 The Leonberger dog became popular with several European royal households, including Napoleon II Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Otto Von Bismarck Emperor Napoleon III and Umberto I of Italy. Essig's claim of breeding the dog as described is disputed. At least as early as 1585, the royal household of Austrian Prince Franz Metternich, of Wolfberg, father of Prince Metternich, owned dogs of the same description. Either way, there is no doubt that Essig named and registered the breed first. A black and white engraving of the Leonberger was included in "The Illustrated Book of the Dog" by Vero Shaw in 1881. At the time, Essig's Leonbergers were denounced as an indifferent knockoff of a St. Bernard — not a stable and recognized breed — and a product of a popular fad or fashion for large and strong dogs, fomented in part by Essig's prodigious marketing skills (he gave dogs to the rich and famous).

 

The modern look of the Leonberger, with darker coats and a black masks, was developed during the latter part of the 20th century by re-introducing other breeds, such as the Newfoundland. This was necessary because breeding stocks of the leonberger were seriously affected by the two world wars. During World War 1 most Leonbergers were left to fend for themselves as breeders fled or were killed. Reportedly, only five Leonbergers survived World War I and were bred until World War II when, again, almost all Leonbergers were lost. During the two world wars, Leonbergers were used to pull the ammunition carts, a service to the breed's country that resulted in the Leonbergers' near-destruction.

 

Leonbergers today can have their ancestry traced to the eight dogs that survived World War II.