The Leonberger is a giant dog breed, whose name derives from the city of Leonberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is said that the Leonberger was bred as a “symbolic dog” to look like the lion in the town coat of arms. It is in the Working Group for dog shows such as Crufts, but not at the World Dog Show.
Leonbergers today, with darker coats and a black masks, were developed during the latter part of the 20th century by reintroducing 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 I, most Leonbergers were left to fend for themselves as breeders fled or were killed. Reportedly, only five Leonbergers survived World War 1, 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. Karl Stadelmann and Otto Josenhans are credited as the breed’s saviors, bringing them back from almost extinction. Leonbergers today can have their ancestry traced to the eight dogs that survived World War II.
Leonbergers were traditionally kept as farm dogs and were much praised for their abilities in watch and draft work. They also used to pull carts around the villages of Bavaria and surrounding districts. At the beginning of the 20th century, Leonbergers were imported by the government of Canada and were used as water rescue/lifesaving dogs.
The breed continues in that role today, along with the Newfoundland, Labrador Retriever, and Golden Retriever dogs; they are used at the Italian School of Canine Lifeguard. They have been used successfully as livestock guard dogs.
Leonbergers make excellent family dogs, their temperament is one of their most important and distinguishing characteristics. Well socialized and trained, the Leonberger is self-assured, insensitive to noise, submissive to family members, friendly toward children, well composed with passersby, and self-disciplined when obliging its family or property with protection. Robust, loyal, intelligent, playful, and gentle, they are well adjusted and easily adapt to most circumstances, including the introduction of other dogs. Early socialization and training are essential, as with all breeds.