A Brief History of the Leonberger

A Victorian Age Breed: The early history of the Leonberger is clouded and tumultuous, revolving around Heinrich Essig (1809-1889). Essig was a successful businessman specializing in animal trading. He was also a politician, an alderman and a prominent citizen of Leonberg, a town on the outskirts of Stuttgart in southern Germany. Essig and his family surrounded themselves with a variety of rare and exotic animals. In dogs, they preferred large and imposing breeds. He bought and sold dogs for a span of fifty years, trading sometimes 200 to 300 dogs a year at the height of his career.

The time was ripe for a person like Heinrich Essig to flourish. Dog shows, dog books, and dog breeds began appearing everywhere. Large dogs, especially white or light colored ones, were all the rage. Our best records indicate that in 1846 Essig declared the “creation” of the Leonberger as a legitimate breed of dog. Essig was free to travel and promote his dogs; his niece, Marie, who was known as the “soul” of the kennel actually bred, trained and maintained the animals.

Essig’s Leonbergers caught the attention of popular German artists who used the dogs as models and this also increased their popularity. Through Essig’s marketing skill, his dogs found their way into the castles of royalty and the homes of celebrities worldwide.

The most famous of the early dogs in the United States belonged to a show business couple, who around the turn of the century toured all of America featuring their Essig-bred dogs, Caesar and Sultan in live theater productions. During this period, Leonbergers participated in the Westminster shows and in dog shows throughout the eastern United States. They are designated and listed in show catalogs and the AKC Stud books from 1887-1902.

Like other entrepreneurial individuals, Essig’s strong suit was vision and marketing communications, not attention to detail. Pressed by critics and dog fanciers of the time, Essig eventually wrote that he crossbred a black-and-white female Landseer with a long-haired Saint Bernard that he had acquired from the Saint Bernard monastery in Switzerland. The puppies were, of course, black and white. He reportedly then crossbred these dogs for four generations, outcrossing with a yellow-and-white Saint Bernard and later a white Pyrenean Mountain Dog that he had in his kennels. He was striving at this early stage for an all-white dog, because they were very fashionable at the time. It seems likely that local farm and butcher dogs with relatively fixed genetic characteristics, but not identified as a breed, found their way into the developing breed lines. It wasn’t until Essig’s death that his nephew bred Leonbergers that were consistently representative of the tawny colors and black masks that characterize the breed today. The town crest of Leonberg depicts a lion rearing up on his hindquarters. The crest image has become associated with the breed.

Essig died in 1889 without ever having defined a standard for the breed or a defensible description of his breeding program. It is a tribute to the qualities of the Leonberger that in spite of these obvious deficiencies, and in the face of ever harsher critics, that enthusiastic owners formed, beginning in 1891, the first Leonberger clubs.

An early club president, Albert Kull, was an artist with an eye for detail. He wrote the first standard for the Leonberger. This standard formed the foundation for all subsequent standards. Kull’s work did much to establish the credibility of the breed, and the Leonberger flourished.

World War I: The war almost rendered the breed extinct. If it were not for the determination and dedication of two men, Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans, the breed would surely have become a mere footnote in the history of German dogs. After the War, they scoured Germany searching for Leonbergers. They found 25. Of these, only five were suitable for breeding. Because of inflation and food shortages, it was unlikely that individuals could have personally and individually supported breeding programs, so in 1922 a group of seven people joined together to form a breeding cooperative. Within four years, they had selectively bred 350 Leonbergers. The organized breeding program of the cooperative brought about a revival of the breed, brought honor to the town, and provided foundation stock to establish several kennels. Most notably, these men established the official Breed Registry, which continues uninterrupted today. It is interesting to note that during this time, a pair from the cooperative produced two litters in New Jersey. These dogs were sold throughout America, but all signs of them disappeared during the depression.

WWII: In the early 1930s, the authoritarian control of the Third Reich began to influence the dog world, assuming control of all German breed registries. A Reich-governed Leonberger club was established. However, “unofficial” breeding, although very reduced, continued throughout the war in and around Leonberg. Both dogs and accurate records survived the destruction and the current German Leonberger Club was formed in 1948. Under the guidance of club president Robert Beutelspacher, the first modern-day standard and breeding regulations were written. In 1975, the German Club brought all the Leonberger breed clubs from the major European nations together and founded the International Union of Leonberger Clubs. Eighteen national clubs including the Leonberger Club of America (since 1987) meet annually in Leonberg to preserve and protect the breed.

Present Day: Leonbergers are well-known and popular dogs throughout Europe, with standards and breeding governed by national clubs under the auspices of the F.C.I. The rebirth of Leonbergers in America occurred from 1975-1985 when five different families independently brought Leonbergers from Germany to different parts of the country. Through serendipity and persistence they met and established the Leonberger Club of America with an independent registry, code of ethics and a set of breeding regulations. Campbell, Decher, Kaufmann, and Zieher are honored names in the Leonberger world and their breeding and influence continue to impact American Leonbergers. Yves Parent, the LCA Registrar for 27 years, is also counted among the celebrated founders.

Under the guidance of the Leonberger Union, the FCI Standard was the standard used by the LCA 1985 to 2009. In 2003, Leonbergers began participating in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Services Program (FSS). Today’s AKC Standard was written within the AKC guidelines with the aim of maintaining the breed true-to- type, as defined in the land of origin.

The Leonberger is an excellent family dog that confidently fulfills all the demands of modern day life. He is an all-purpose, utilitarian dog who will perform whatever job is required of him. He must never be shy or aggressive. He is known for his love of children, always friendly and dependable.

AKC Leonberger Standard

Official Standard of the Leonberger
General Appearance:
The Leonberger is a large, sociable working dog, muscular yet elegant,
with a proud head carriage. The breed is distinguished by its black mask, substantial bone,
balanced build, and double coat. Adult males are particularly powerful and strong and carry a
lion-like mane on the neck and chest. Bitches are unmistakably feminine. The Leonberger is a
dimorphic breed; a dog or a bitch easily discernible as such. Although imposing in size, the
Leonberger is graceful in motion. Natural appearance is essential to Leonberger type.
The breed is to be shown with no trimming, sculpting or other alterations.
True to the breed’s origins as a multipurpose family, farm and draft
dog, today’s Leonberger excels as a versatile working dog and devoted family companion.
Intelligent and lively, friendly yet vigilant, the Leonberger is attentive and self-assured in all
Size, Proportion, Substance:
An adult male is 28 to 31½ inches in height (30 inches preferred).
An adult female is 25½ inches to 29½ inches, (27½ inches preferred). Weight is in
proportion to the overall size and structure. When proportion, substance, and balance are present,
a slight deviation above standard is tolerated.
Height to length of body is 9:10.
Height is measured at the withers; body length is measured from point of shoulder to point of
buttock. The depth of chest is 50 percent of the height; brisket reaches to elbow. The angulation
of front and rear quarters is in balance. Overall balance and proportion are as important as height.
Strong bone in proportion to size of the body, well-muscled.
The head, in its entirety, is deeper than it is broad, rectangular shaped, with no wrinkles.
The length of muzzle to length of backskull is equal. Cheeks are only slightly developed. The
male head is strong and masculine, while the female head always expresses femininity.
Face is covered with a full black mask that extends from the nose up to and over the eyes. A
lesser mask is acceptable, but not desirable.
Good-natured, soft, and intelligent expression.
Dark brown is preferred over light brown. Eyes are medium size, oval to almond shaped,
neither deep-set nor protruding. Eyelids are close fitting, not showing any haw or sclera.
When alert, ears are level with top of skull and set slightly forward. They are of
medium size, triangular, fleshy, hanging flat and close to the head.
Tips are level with corners of the mouth.
As seen from the front and in profile, backskull is slightly arched. Skull is slightly longer than wide
and the width of backskull is only slightly broader than it is at the eyes.
Clearly recognizable and moderately defined.
Nasal bridge of even breadth, never running to a point, level or slightly arched (Roman nose);
never dipped. The jaw remains broad and strong between the canines.
As seen from the side, the planes of muzzle and backskull are parallel.
Large with clearly outlined nostrils, always black.
Tight, corners closed and dry, outer lips black in color. Some de-pigmentation due to aging is
Complete dentition of 42 teeth (20 upper, 22 lower), strong, meeting in a correct scissors bite,
lower incisors touching inside of upper incisors. A level bite is accepted.
Serious Fault – Lips – Drooling or wet mouth. Disqualification – Expression/Mask: Complete
lack of mask.
More than one missing tooth other than M3s.
Neck, Topline, Body:
Muscular, well set on shoulders, blends smoothly into withers, of
sufficient length to allow for proud head carriage. No dewlap.
Withers set above a firm level back that flows into a gently sloping croup. Rump not higher than withers.
Chest is broad, roomy, and deep, reaching at least to the level of the elbows, pronounced pro-sternum.
Well-sprung, oval. Underline: Only slightly tucked up.
Broad, compact, strong, well-muscled.
Broad, relatively long, gently sloped, flowing smoothly into root of tail.
While standing relaxed, tail hangs straight down with the last vertebrae reaching to or
below the hock. In movement, tail is carried no higher than the level of the back, with a curve up
at the end permitted. An exuberant tail carriage, though higher than ideal, should not be
confused with a high, incorrectly placed tail. Serious Fault – High tail carriage with tail curled
over back at all times, whether standing or in motion.
Well laid-back and well-muscled.
The shoulder meets the upper arm at slightly greater than a right angle. Shoulder and upper arm about
equal in length.
Close to body, neither in nor out.
Substantial bone, muscular, straight and parallel to each other.
Strong, firm and straight when viewed from front, slightly sloping when viewed from side.
Usually present.
Turn neither in nor out, rounded, tight, toes well arched (cat foot).
Rear Assembly:
Powerful, muscular with substantial bone.
In balance with forequarters.
Viewed from the rear, the legs are straight and parallel, with stifles and paws turned neither
in nor out, placed widely enough apart to match a properly built body.
Upper and lower of equal length, slanting and strongly muscled.
Angle clearly defined.
Substantial bone with a distinct angle between lower thigh and rear pastern; well let down.
Rear dewclaws may be present.
Turned neither in nor out, and may be slightly elongated. Toes arched.
Leonbergers have a medium to long, water resistant, double coat on the body and short
fine hair on the muzzle and front of limbs. Outer coat is medium-soft to coarse and lies flat. It is
straight, with some generalized wave permitted. Mature males carry a mane, which extends over
neck and chest. The male coat is typically longer than the female coat. The undercoat is soft and
dense, although it may be less so in summer months or warmer climates. In spite of the double
coat, the outline of the body is always recognizable. Leonbergers have some ear feathering and
ample feathering on fore and rear legs. Tail is very well furnished. Leonbergers are to be
presented with no sculpting, scissoring, trimming of whiskers, or any other alterations
whatsoever, except for neatening of the feet.
Parted or curly coat.
Coat colors are lion-yellow, golden to red and red-brown, sand colored (cream, pale
yellow) and all combinations thereof, always with a black mask. All colors may have black tips
(some with long black tips) on the outer coat, but black must not be the basic color. Dark coat
colors are accompanied by a lighter colored undercoat and feathering of front and hind legs, that
blend harmoniously with the basic body coloring. A small, unobtrusive stripe or white patch on
the chest and some white hairs on toes is tolerated.
Any coat color other than those listed. White hair on chest that exceeds 5 inches in width;
white extending beyond toes.
The Leonberger has a ground-covering, even and balanced gait. The stride is powerful,
free and fluid, with good reach and strong drive, giving the impression of effortless power. In
motion, the Leonberger maintains a level topline. Viewed from the front and from behind,
forelegs and hind legs travel straight. As the dog’s speed increases, the legs tend to converge
toward the centerline.
The gentle character and even temperament of the Leonberger is of utmost importance for
fulfilling their role as a family companion. The Leonberger is confident, with a steady, playful
demeanor. The breed is willing to please and possesses a good capacity for learning.
Serious fault – Quarrelsomeness or hostility towards people or dogs in normal situations;
unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness.
Any deviation from these specifications is a fault. In determining whether a fault is
minor, serious, or major, these two factors should be used as a guide: Deviation – The extent to
which it deviates from the standard; and Impact – The extent to which such deviation would
actually affect the Leonberger’s phenotype or ability to fulfill its role as a family companion, and
working dog.
Mask – Complete lack of mask.
Teeth – More than one missing tooth other than M3s.
Color – Any coat color other than those listed. White hair on chest exceeding 5 inches
in width, white extending beyond toes.
Approved July 12, 2016
Effective August 31, 2016