History of the Leo

(Copied from the Leonberger Club of GB Website)

A Brief History of the Leonberger

The background of the Leonberger is a very clouded one. Many things have been written, sometimes accounts contradict each other and little proof has been given for many of the stories, but the Essig Legend below is one of the foremost of the possible early developments of the Breed we know today. The Leonberger is a German breed which explains why Germany is the only country allowed to change the FCI Breed Standard.

This account was written of Essig’s creation of the Leonberger : “Amongst his dogs there was a black and white Newfoundland female (Landseer type). He crossed her with a longhaired Barry-dog (St Bernard) he owned also. He crossed them for 4 generations, out crossed again with a Pyrenean Wolfhound (Pyrenean Mountain Dog) crossed again with a St Bernard”. There is, however, no proof that this is in fact what was done and that there were no other dogs involved. Essig started breeding in 1846, the date now attributed to be the birth of the Leonberger.

Today we know that there must be more dogs involved than the ones with which Essig claims he started the breed. Modern genetics tell us that it is impossible to create the Leonberger from the 3 breeds as described. At the height of his career he was selling up to 300 puppies a year. Essig was helped a lot by his niece Marie, who practically did all the kennel work. Later a relative, perhaps the nephew Essig mentioned once, took over the kennel. Essig died in 1889.

Albert Kull wrote the first standard in 1895, so we can say that the breeding started in 1895. Then came the First World War. The Leonberger would have disappeared were it not for the efforts of a few lovers of the breed – the Leonberger population was decimated. A very small number of people had succeeded in keeping their dogs alive, among them Albert Kienzle. The height of the dogs was brought down to at least 76 cm for males and to 70 cm for females (it previously had been at least 80 cm for males and 70 cm for females). In the 1960s the standard was again revised and the heights were changed to 72 cm minimum, and 80 cm maximum for males and 65 cm minimum with 75 cm maximum for females. One reason Leos in France are so much bigger is because they did not recognise this reduction in size for many years.

In the UK, Leonbergers came back firstly with Dave Gower who bought one for 10 bars of soap at the end of WW2. He also brought over a 2nd one and had a litter, but the line did not continue. However today’s Leos stem from those entering the country in the 70’s & 80’s.

The first modern day Leonberger, Catja v. Tannenhain was imported in 1975 and the first litter was born in 1981 from Xilja v. Chrumelbach of Glanzberg & Chatkantarra Adkin of Rossnick. Celia Peters, Fiona Karolus and Sonja Gorbould were the three people who re-introduced the breed and who deserve the credit for their perseverance and dedication which has resulted in the breed’s strength in the UK today. It is so much easier to import new bloodlines now with the advent of PETS, and many people have now added to the genetic diversity of the breed.

The Leonberger Club of GB held it’s inaugural meeting in October 1986 and was granted Kennel Club recognition on 30th November 1988. There were 45 members present at that first meeting and today there are over 400. The number of Leonbergers has risen to over 2000 in the UK with many more thousands world wide. In the last 15 years the number of puppies born per year has risen from 234 (1996) to over 450 (2006) and has levelled out to about 350 now – an amazing jump especially when you think that 10 years before that numbers were 1/10th (approx 20 in 1986).

Britain’s Leonbergers finally came of age at Crufts 2002, when the first set of Challenge Certificates were awarded. The first LCGB Championship Show was held on 9th June of that year. This show was the culmination of many years of hard work by many dedicated people and marked yet another milestone for the breed. From 7 sets of CCs in 2002 to 15 sets in 2007, 22 sets in 2009 and 29 sets in 2012, making up Champions and gaining multiple CCs has changed dramatically over the last decade.

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