What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
Leonberger Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2015
Noble and powerful, a good Leonberger is calm and steady, yet bolder and more athletic than most giant breeds.
The Leonberger enjoys swimming, tracking, agility, therapy work, pulling a cart or sled, and weight pulling -- all productive outlets for his energy. Fetching a ball or Frisbee, however, is not a natural activity for this breed.
The Leonberger is a loving, steadfast dog who thrives on being made an integral part of the family. Though protective instincts develop at maturity (three to four years) and he becomes more discriminating with strangers, he should never be aggressive.
His deep, imposing bark and confident presence should be enough to deter intruders. This stability, however, assumes early and ongoing socialization and a sound-tempered bloodline. Some Leonbergers are unfortunately shy and/or sharp.
Dog aggression can be a problem, and two Leonbergers of the same sex should not be kept together.
Obedience training should start at three months old. Heeling is imperative, because these powerful dogs can literally pull you off your feet. His determination to jump up into your face and lean against your leg (leading to the affectionate nickname "Lean-on-berger") can be disconcerting.
During adolescence, his hormones will kick in and he might start to test his owner, who must respond with consistent leadership and more training. This is especially true of Leonberger males.
Leos can be messy: Their huge paws track in mud; they may drool if stressed; and most play in their water bowls, dunking their heads and coming up slobbering. It is said that their natural look is slightly damp with leaves stuck to their coats.
If you want a dog who...
- Is giant and rugged, with a thick golden tawny coat
- Is bolder and more athletic than most other giant breeds and loves outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, and pulling a cart or sled
- Is usually steady and dependable with everyone
- Is sensibly protective, with a deep, imposing bark and confident presence
A Leonberger may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- A very large dog who wants to sit on your feet and lean his weight against your leg
- Rowdiness and exuberant jumping when young
- Destructiveness when bored or left alone too much
- Aggression or fearfulness toward strangers when not socialized enough
- Aggression toward other animals
- Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
- Heavy shedding
- Waiting lists (hard to find) and a high price tag
A Leonberger may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of the Leonberger
If I was considering a Leonberger, I would be most concerned about...
- Providing the proper balance of exercise. Young Leonbergers need enough exercise to keep them lean and healthy, but not so much that their soft growing bones, joints, and ligaments become over-stressed and damaged. Adult Leonbergers need more exercise to keep them in shape, but not in hot or humid weather for fear of overheating. The proper amount of exercise can be difficult to regulate in giant breeds.
Since you have to minimize their exercise, young Leonbergers can be very rambunctious. They will romp with uncoordinated gawkiness all over your house. You need to substitute extra quantities of companionship and supervision. Otherwise, left alone, young Leonbergers become bored and destructive -- and their powerful jaws can literally destroy your living room.
When you want a breed like a Leonberger, it would be ideal if you also have interest in canine training activities such as backpacking, carting, sledding, weight-pulling, tracking, or a similar dog sport, to keep your dog's mind and body exercised.
- Providing enough socialization. Many Leonbergers have protective instincts toward strangers. They need extensive exposure to friendly people so they learn to recognize the normal behaviors of "good guys." Then they can recognize the difference when someone acts abnormally. Without careful socialization, they may be suspicious of everyone, which could lead to biting. Some Leonbergers go in the opposite direction -- without enough socialization, they become fearful of strangers, which can lead to defensive biting.
If you have small children, or if you or anyone who lives with you is elderly or infirm, I do not recommend Leonberger puppies. Young Leonbergers (up to about three years old) can be bulls in a china shop. When they romp and jump, they do so with great vigor, and things can go flying, including people.
- Animal aggression. Some Leonbergers are dominant or aggressive toward other dogs of the same sex. Some have strong instincts to chase and seize cats and other fleeing creatures, including cats.
- The strong temperament. Leonbergers are not Golden Retrievers. They have a mind of their own and are not pushovers to raise and train. Some Leonbergers, particularly adolescent males, are willful, obstinate, and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
To teach your Leonberger to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My Leonberger Training Page discusses the program you need.
- Slobbering. Leonbergers are not supposed to be droolers, but those with loose jowls will do so when food is present, or when stressed. And most Leonbergers are messy drinkers who slobber water everywhere.
- Heavy shedding. Leonbergers shed a LOT. You'll find hair and fur all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops -- even in your food. Frequent vacuuming will become a way of life. Make sure you're REALLY up for this.
- Finding one and paying the price. In the United States, the Leonberger is hard to find, and many breeders are charging $1000 and up.
- Health problems. The lifespan of a Leonberger is short and an alarming number are crippled by bone and joint diseases and/or succumb to cancer in middle age.
To keep this breed healthy, I strongly recommend following all of the advice on my Leonberger Health Problems page.
To learn more about training Leonbergers to be calm and well-behaved, consider my dog training book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will make your Leonberger the smartest, most well-behaved companion you've ever had.
Teaches your dog to listen to you, to pay attention to you, and to do whatever you ask him to do.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a healthy Leonberger. Health problems have become so widespread in dogs today that this book is required reading for ANYONE who is thinking of getting a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog.
If you'd like to consult with me personally about whether the Leonberger might be a good dog breed for your family, I offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service.
Once you have your Leonberger home, you need to KEEP him healthy -- or if he's having any current health problems, you need to get him back on the road to good health.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy is the book you need.
Raise your dog the right way and you will be helping him live a longer, healthier life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.
Please consider adopting an ADULT Leonberger...
When you're acquiring a Leonberger PUPPY, you're acquiring potential -- what he one day will be. So "typical breed characteristics" are very important.
But when you acquire an adult dog, you're acquiring what he already IS and you can decide whether he is the right dog for you based on that reality. There are plenty of adult Leonbergers who have already proven themselves NOT to have negative characteristics that are "typical" for their breed. If you find such an adult dog, don't let "typical breed negatives" worry you. Just be happy that you found an atypical individual -- and enjoy!
Save a life. Adopt a dog.
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