The Breed History
The Leonberger originated in the 1800s in Leonberg, Germany. The origins are from many breeds, including Landseer Newfoundland, St. Bernard, and Pyrenean Mountain Dog. The first breed clubs were established in 1889. Leonbergers almost became extinct after each World War, but were brought back by dedicated breeders. AKC recognition occurred in 2010.
Breeding for Function
Their original purpose was to be a family, farm and draft dog. Today’s Leonberger excels as a multi–purpose working dog; the most important task being a reliable family companion.
Height at withers: Males 28 to 31.5 inches (72-80 cm), Females 25.5 inches to 29.5 inches (65-74 cm),
Weight: Males 130-170 pounds (59-77 kg), Females 100-130 pounds (45-59 kg).
Coat: Leonbergers have a medium to long, water resistant, double coat on the body and short fine hair on the muzzle and front of limbs. Mature males carry a mane. Coat colors are lion–yellow, golden to red and red–brown, also sand colored (cream, pale yellow) and all combinations thereof, always with a black mask. A small, unobtrusive stripe or white patch on the chest and some white hairs on toes is tolerated.
Longevity: 8-9 years.
Points of Conformation: Proportion of height at withers to length of body is 9 to 10. Bone is medium to heavy and in proportion to size of body with sufficient muscle to support frame. Head is rectangular with parallel lines. Stop is moderate. Eyes are dark brown, medium size, oval to almond shaped. Ears are of medium size, triangular, fleshy, hanging flat and close to the head. Nose is large, black, with clearly outlined nostrils. Lips are tight, with no drooling. Teeth are scissors to level. Withers are set above a firm level back that flows with a gently sloping croup into the tail. Chest is broad, roomy, and deep, reaching at least to the level of the elbows. Fore and rear quarters are well muscled. Shoulders are well laid–back, 90 degrees to the foreleg. Hind end is well angulated. Legs are straight and powerful. Feet do not turn in or out, with tight arched toes. Dewclaws are usually present in the front, and may be present in the back. The Leonberger has a ground–covering, even and balanced gait. The stride is powerful, easy, free and elastic, with good reach and strong drive giving the impression of effortless power. In motion, the Leonberger maintains a level topline. As the dog’s speed increases, the legs tend to converge toward the centerline.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
The gentle character and even temperament of the Leonberger is of utmost importance for fulfilling their role as a family companion. The Leonberger is self–assured and calm, with a steady, playful demeanor. He is willing to please and possesses a good capacity for learning. The Leonberger exhibits a marked friendliness towards children and is at ease in all situations, never showing fear, shyness or aggression. The Leonberger’s profuse coat tends to shed a lot, requiring daily brushing. The breed needs moderate daily exercise.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 14.1% affected. In a Czech study, 22.4% were affected. Reported at a frequency of 17% (including PennHIP diagnoses) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 4.8% affected.
Polyneuropathy/Inherited Motor And Sensory Neuropathy: It is believed that there are more than one causes of polyneuropathy in the Leonberger breed. Polyneuropathy is a disorder of axonal degeneration identified in the breed worldwide. Affected Leonbergers present with exercise intolerance, laryngeal paralysis, distal muscle atrophy and neuromuscular weakness. Affected dogs between 1–3 years of age have a more severe form of the disease compared to older affected dogs that present between 8–9 years of age. The ratio of affected males to affected females is approximately 2.5 to 1, and some research suggests that one form of the disease can be x-linked. An autosomal recessive mutation (LPN1) has been identified that accounts for approximately one-third of all cases of polyneuropathy in the breed. Dogs homozygous for this mutation will develop the severe form of the disease by 3 years of age. It is possible that dogs heterozygous (carrying one copy) for this mutation may develop the milder, later-age form of the disease. A direct genetic test for this mutation is available. The frequency of the disorder in the breed has not been determined. Genetic mutations for other forms of the disease have not been identified.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Leonbergers have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 16.21% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Osteoarthritis: Leonbergers have an increased incidence of arthritis. Reported at a frequency of 15% of all dogs over 5 years of age in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis11.1% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported at a frequency of 5.5% (9.3% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Panosteitis: A self-limiting disease of young, large breed dogs involving the diaphyseal and metaphyseal areas of the tubular long bones, characterized by medullary fibrosis and both endosteal and subperiosteal new bone deposition. Affected dogs show intermittent lameness. Treatment is with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. Reported at a frequency of 11% in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Cataracts: Nuclear, posterior nuclear, or posterior polar cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 5.94% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. In a UK study, 24.6% of Leonbergers had cataracts, with the posterior polar subcapsular form showing significant inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 2.7% (4.6% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Leonberger with a cataract.
Osteosarcoma: Malignant bone cancer, usually affecting the limbs. A Swedish study showed an increased risk in the breed, with a median age of onset of 7.2 years. Reported at a frequency of 3.2% (7.8% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.3,11 Umbilical Hernia: Congenital umbilical hernias are reported at a frequency of 5.4% in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Entropion: Rolling in of eyelids, often causing corneal irritation or ulceration. Entropion is reported in 4.34% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 3.2% in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.3,7 Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Reported in 2.28% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture (ACL): Traumatic tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. Treatment is surgery. Reported at a frequency of 2.2% (3% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Ectropion: Rolling out of eyelids, often with a medial canthal pocket. Can cause secondary conjunctivitis. Can be secondary to macroblepharon; an abnormally large eyelid opening. Ectropion is reported in 1.60% and macroblepharon in 2.05% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy: Leonbergers are a predisposed breed for this condition, resulting in heart failure. Undetermined mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 0.75% (2.1% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease): Immune mediated destruction of the adrenal gland. Typical presentation of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration can occur from 4 months to several years of age. Treatment with DOCA injections or oral fludrocortisone. Some affected Leonbergers were diagnosed with concurrent hypothyroidism, suggesting a polyglandular syndrome. Reported at a frequency of 1% (2% of all dogs over 5 years of age) in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Third Eyelid Eversion/Cartilage Anomaly: Developmental anomaly of the cartilage of the nictitating membrane. Eversion causes conjunctival drying and inflammation. Identified in 1.14% of Leonbergers CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Abnormality of cartilage development causing lameness in the shoulder, elbow, hock or knee. Severe cases may require surgery. Reported at a frequency of 1% in the 2000 LCA Health Survey.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate treatment. Reported as a breed health issue on the LCA website.
Perianal Fistula/Furunculosis: Inflammatory disorder creating perianal ulceration and fistulas. Treat with anti-inflammatory medications and tacrolimus. Reported as a breed health issue on the LCA website.
Isolated Case Studies
Leukoencephalomyelopathy: Two unrelated 2 year old Leonbergers (a male and a female) presenting with signs of progressive ataxia of all 4 limbs, proprioceptive deficits, and thoracic limb hypermetria. were found to have a slowly progressive demyelinating leukoencephalomyelopathy. This disorder must be differentiated from the polyneuropathies identified in the breed.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for an autosomal recessive polyneuropathy gene (LPN1) is available from the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and University of Bern, Switzerland.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip and elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination, and thyroid profile including autoantibodies. Optional testing includes a cardiac evaluation for congenital disease, canine good citizen certification, DNA submission to the CHIC DNA repository and a genetic test for LPN1. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommended testing: Patella evaluation
- Breed name synonyms: Leo
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, FCI, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (None): AKC recognized in June, 2010. Entire stud book entered.
- Internet resources: Leonberger Club of America: leonbergerclubofamerica.com
Leonberger Club of Great Britain: leonbergerclub.org.uk
Leonberger Club of Canada: leonbergerclubofcanada.com/temp/index.htm
LCA Health Committee website: leowatch.org
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