12 Facts About Leonbergers: Germany’s Gentle Giant

Discover 12 facts about Leonbergers, a bear-like breed from Germany with a loving, protective personality.

Jun 24, 2024byJessica Montes

facts about leonbergers

Look over there! Is that a lion, a bear, or a dog? That’s what you might ask yourself when you see the incredibly fluffy and stocky Leonberger. This breed has a cuddly appearance and a strong work ethic, making it an excellent companion for those who want help around the home and do not mind long grooming sessions. Keep reading to learn about its origins, temperament, swimming abilities, and much more!

1 These Dogs Hail from Germany

Germany map
Photo by: Anthony Beck

Leonbergers were developed at the start of the 19th century in Leonberg, Germany. In this southwestern town, a breeder named Heinrich Essig set out to develop a large, royal dog that would resemble the lion on the town’s crest. Essig wanted a breed that was in demand with leaders; his wish came true when Napoleon III and Tsar Alexander II became owners.

To create the Leonberger, Essig carefully crossbred several massive dog breeds, including the Saint Bernard, Landseer Newfoundland, and Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Leonbergers began as versatile working dogs with impressive size and strength that made them excellent for cart pulls,

2 Leonbergers Have a Distinct Appearance

Leonberger dogs
Photo by: Leonberger Club of America

These canines are part-lion, part-bear in their appearance. They have a sturdy build, a broad chest, muscular limbs, and a recognizable lion-like mane that surrounds their faces. Leonbergers have thick, water-resistant double coats ranging in color from yellow to sandy to red and reddish brown.

Their earth-toned bodies contrast with the black “mask” that covers their faces and can extend to their necks and ears. Adult males can stand between 28 to 31 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 110 to 170 pounds, whereas females are about 25 to 29 inches tall and weigh 90 to 140 pounds. But don’t be intimidated by their large size; Leonbergers have gentle and affectionate expressions and kind eyes full of warmth.

3 Leonbergers Are Massive Shedders

Leonberger shedding
Photo by: Trine Helen Løken | AKC

A thick, bear-like coat comes with a high-maintenance grooming routine. Leonbergers need daily brushes to prevent matting, and even then, they are massive shedders. Owners can expect golden fur to line their floors, furniture, and clothing! Because these dogs have two coats with two textures and lengths, a full upper coat, and a shorter, softer undercoat, two brushes are needed.

A pin brush or slicker brush will leave the top layer tangle-free, while an undercoat rake (a specialized type of dog brush) can reach deep into the bottom layer and remove loose fur. These are valuable year-round grooming tools and are especially handy when Leonbergers go through their twice-a-year shedding. Based on their size, owners should set aside a few hours to tackle the fur brushing session.

4 The Leonberger is a Gentle Giant

Photo by: Leonberger Club of America

The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes this breed as friendly, playful, and gentle. It’s no surprise they are affectionate with their family and can get along well with children. If trained and socialized properly, they can become friends with other dogs or pets in the household.

Leonbergers might keep an even temper around familiar faces, but they also have watchdog instincts. These pups are moderate barkers and will use their voices to warn their owners about potential threats or dangers. They can warm up to strangers and new people once they realize everyone else in the household approves of them. Best of all, Leonbergers are highly adaptable dogs so they can thrive with changing environments, noises, and routines.

5 These Are Working Dogs That Enjoy Jobs

Leonberger cart
Photo by: Leonberger Club of Canada

Their watchdog nature comes from their original breeding purpose. Leonbergers are working dogs at heart, and they have the strength, intelligence, and trainability to help their owners inside and outside the home. As mentioned in the last section, these canines make it their mission to protect their household.

If they are in an area with snow, they can help with sledding to transport people or items. Luckily, their double coat provides insulation for extended periods of fun in the cold temperatures. During the warmer months, replace the sled with a cart to give them a pulling job regardless of the weather. Enthusiastic pups can even participate in competitions and show off their cart-pulling and navigating skills.

6 Leonbergers Are in the “Big Dog Club”

Photo by: slowmotiongli—iStock/Getty Images Plus

Thanks to its Saint Bernard ancestors, this breed is part of the Big Dog Club. While not an officially recognized association, this author likes to imagine that large breeds gather once a week, eat peanut butter cookies, and discuss their experiences as big dogs.

At the largest size, male Leonbergers are over two-and-half feet tall and weigh 170 pounds, which is as much as, if not more than, a human adult. Some other members of the Big Dog Club include:


These dogs are all part of the AKC’s working dog group and use their strength and brains to help and protect their families.

7 These Dogs Have Moderate Exercise Needs

Leonberger courses
Photo by: Leonberger Club of America

Under the AKC’s ranking of energy levels and playfulness, Leonbergers rank as a three out of five for both metrics. Puppies are more energetic than adults, but they still need their daily playtime. They might not be as demanding as other breeds, but they still need at least one hour of heart-pumping physical activity or play each day. A simple stroll might not be enough for them to get their zoomies out, so more intense activities, such as runs, hikes, bike-ride tagalongs, and swims are ideal.

Because they are larger dogs, they need enough space to chase, roam, and play comfortably. Leonbergers are not ideal canines for people who live in small apartments or homes without a large, enclosed backyard to run.

8 They Are Strong Swimmers

Leonberger water
Photo by: Leonberger Club of America

Another exercise idea is to take Leonbergers swimming. Their water-resistant coat keeps them warm, and their webbed feet work just like ducks’, making it easier for them to move in the water. These dogs love water! They can easily spend an afternoon paddling around or enjoying an aquatic version of fetch. For pups who can’t get enough of water retrieval games, they can compete in dock diving and test how far they can leap into a pool.

Their excellent swimming skills mean they are ideal for search-and-rescue training as well. Leonbergers can learn to swim as a pack, retrieve or deliver items, tow small boats, and complete wet scent searches. These can be valuable skills for families or create a path for the dog’s future as a service animal.

9 Like All Dogs, There Are Health Concerns

Hip dysplasia
Photo by: PetMD

Leonbergers can develop certain health issues, such as hip or elbow dysplasia and bloat. In the two former conditions, the hip and elbows’ sockets do not move smoothly, causing pain and deterioration of the joints. It can also refer to the abnormal growth of the surrounding cartilage and hip or elbow joints’ degradation over time.

Another concern for large breeds is bloat. It’s a life-threatening condition without a confirmed cause; however, it is believed that it develops from eating or drinking too quickly. Bloat causes the stomach to fill with air, expand, and even twist on itself. This prevents blood from moving to every part of the body, and without proper medical attention, can cause shock or death in dogs. Slow feeders and supervision during meals can ensure our furry friends consume their meals at a safe pace.

10 Leonbergers Are a Winning Dog Show Breed

Leonberger Neville
Photo by: The Kennel Club

In March, a three-year-old Leonberger named Neville won first place in the working dog category at the Crufts dog show, hosted by The Kennel Club. Neville became a finalist for the title of Best in Show and beat out more than 19,000 pups looking to claim a prize as one of the best dogs in the United Kingdom. While Neville didn’t win the top title, his place in the final round shows that Leonbergers are beautiful dogs with charismatic personalities. He’s a superb role model for other Leonbergers looking to make a name for themselves.

After his group win, co-owner Kerry Rushby shared their excitement with The Kennel Club. “Neville is absolutely fantastic! He has had an incredible career – I was a nervous wreck but it’s an absolute dream come true!”

11 They Forget Their Size

Leonberger lap
Photo by: Leonberger Life

Sometimes, Leonbergers seem to forget their large bodies and see themselves as compact Chihuahuas. This prevents them from making educated guesses about whether they can fit comfortably on a sofa or on someone’s lap. With one bold mood, Leonbergers affectionately cuddle with their loved ones as their fur swallows up their owners’ bodies and they channel their inner lapdog. It’s quite amusing seeing such a sturdy, powerful dog look so adorable and forget that they are the same size as their owner.

The cuddles will be worth not being able to see, getting a mouth full of fur, and feeling the numbness creep down your lower body. Who said there’s a limit to what qualifies as a lap dog?

12 Leonbergers Are Fashion Icons

Leonberger Superman
Photo by: Manonce | @leonbergersnyc Instagram

Leonbergers are just as comfortable being guard dogs as they are owning the runway. They have made multiple appearances in fashion designer Anthony Rubio’s fashion shows. Rubio specializes in pet couture and creates clothing and costumes for all breeds and sizes. Most recently, a young Leonberger named Superman strutted the stage in this year’s New York Fashion Week. Superman wore a black and brown sparkly top designed by Rubio and playfully stuck his tongue out during his segment.

This was the pup’s third show with the designer, and Superman is no stranger to being paraded in front of large crowds. His owner has shown him in several dog shows where he’s earned titles such as “Best Puppy” and “Best of Breed.”

Jessica Montes
byJessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.