History of the Breed
The background of the Leonberger is a very clouded one, full
of mysteries and turbulent tales. Many things have been written,
sometimes accounts contradicted others, and little proof has been
given for many of the stories. It was not until the early part of
the 20th century that litters were registered and records were
kept. The breed was officialy recognized by FCI in 1955.
|To start at the beginning, we go back to
the early years of the 19th century. In Leonberg, a small
rural town 20 km northwest of Stuttgart in Wurttemberg (Germany)
Heinrich Essig was born in 1809. He turned out to be a
very ambitious man, and he became a very prominent
citizen, elected to the town council and possessing a
strong talent for marketing and trading.
His greatest passion was for all kinds of
animals and his house (Schweizerhaus) was more like a
private little zoo, with all kinds of dogs, foxes,
turkeys, peacocks and so on.
|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, which is the date we now
attribute to be the birth of the Leonberger.
|In an article in the "Illustrierte
Zeitung", dated November 1865, there is mention that
Essig had 17 years of breeding experience. In another
paper (Illustrierte Handwerkers Zeitung Nummer 10
Jahrgang 1870) Th. Hering writes a story of a dog breeder
in Leonberg (Essig) where Essig claimed that he had been
breeding dogs for about 20-24 years. In the same article,
the dogs mentioned are Leonberger or Gotthard dog and a
picture was published to show to readers what they looked like.
Large impressive dogs were very much in demand and there
were years that Essig exported more than 300 dogs. The St.
Bernard was very much in favor, but had become very rare.
In fact, after a catastrophe in 1855, there was only one
couple left at the St. Bernard pass. These dogs were
crossed with Newfoundland females from Stuttgart, other
local dogs, and English breeders crossed them with
Mastiffs to obtain a more powerful head.
|So, it is quite
logic that sometimes Leonbergers were announced as a new
breed with the old St. Bernard blood. We see pictures of
what appear to be Leonbergers under the names Berghund,
Alpine Mastiff, St. Bernard, Leonhardiner and so on.
However, to add more confusion, sometimes St. Bernards
were presented with these same names. By the way,
according to records by the Monastery at the St.Bernard
pass it seems that the name St. Bernard was used for the
first time at the Show in Birmingham in 1862. As member of the town-council Essig was
not only able to promote the town of Leonberg but could
also do a lot of marketing for his dogs. By donating
Leonbergers to royalty and other celebrities like
Garibaldi, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy,
The Czar of Russia, and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, he
became very well known and he could easily sell more of
his dogs. At one time, Empress Elisabeth possessed 7
|It was quite normal that a successful
businessman was imitated. Since a written standard did
not exist, and therefore one could call every dog a
Leonberger, many more breeders or dog merchants went into
business. A wellknown trader in Leonberg was Mr. Burger; Mr.
Bergmann from Waldheim, promoted his Caesar in papers
and magazines, and Mr. Otto Friedrich, from Zahna,
publicized his Berghund Moulon.
As sales of Leonbergers flourished, the official
cynologists tried to ban these breeders from shows
because they believed it was unethical to produce dogs
only for the money.
Sometimes things were very confusing. For example, Mr. Essig
wrote in 1882 "My nephew will show three dogs in the Hanover
dog show. If they are judged as St. Bernard, Leonberger or
Newfoundland is of no importance to him."
|A woodcut of a dog
named Caesar was published in "Der Gartenlaube",
1885. It was probably this Caesar that got a prize of
honor at the 1880 Berlin Dog Show as "long-haired
Alp Dog". At another dog show, an English judge
found him a marvelous St. Bernard, while Dr. Kunzli, a St.
Bernard-expert, thought him to be a beautiful Leonberger.
In a sales brochure from
Mr. Friedrich in which he gives a description of all the
breeds he sells we find under chapter 6: "Der
Berghund (former St. Bernard)", a pompously ode on
the Berghund and a nice drawing of Caesar.
In chapter 8 he describes in a few sentences
"Der Leonberger or Boblinger Hund".
Even in the 20th century (1908) we find a reference to
the Leonberger or Boblinger Hund by the Italian
cynologist F. Faelli.
Today we know that there must be more dogs involved than the
ones with which Essig claims he started the breed. Modern
genetics tells us that is impossible to create the Leonberger
from the 3 breeds as described. In old photos we see black and
white dogs, black dogs, red or yellow colored dogs--all said to
|As said before Essig had his little
private zoo. 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 kennelwork.
Later a relative, the nephew Christian Essig, took over the kennel.
Essig died in 1887.
It was in the early 1880's that some breeding rules were
written by Kull (a painter from Stuttgart) and a Mr.
Boppel from Cannstatt. He was a judge and also a breeder
of St. Bernard.
It was after Essig and Burger in Leonberg died that the
first Leonberger Clubs were founded.
The Leonberger Klub Berlin began in 1891 and Klub fur
Leonberger, Heilbronn in1895. These two clubs probably
did not exist for very long, because in 1895 the "Internationaler
Klub fur Leonberger Hunde Stuttgart" was founded
The International Club
President was Albert Kull and he created the first standard for
the Leonberger. In 1901 the "Nationaler Leonberger Klub,
Apolda (Thuringen)" was also founded. These two clubs were
still active in 1904 when they were mentioned in Count van
Bylandt "Dogs Encyclopedia". If we look at the
portraits from this era, we see that the type has improved as a
result of the breeding rules and the written standard (or it may
be just a bunch of well-selected pictures.) The type is more
uniform and the almost white dogs are gone. Leonbergers were no
longer a bunch of different dogs but an official breed and again
quite popular. They did very well on shows and had their own
specialized judges. They were not unknown in Holland, France,
Austria and Bohemia.
Also in 1901, there was the "Internationaler
Klub fur Rottweiler und Leonberger, Stuttgart", followed in
1907/1908 by the "Leonberger-Klub Heidelberg". Our
guess is that the Heidelberg Club existed until perhaps after
World War I. (1914-1918). WW I turned out to be a real
catastrophe for the Leonberger. All written records
were destroyed, not only from the Apolda club, but also from the
Following the war, it is due to Stadelmann and Josenhans that we
have our Leonbergers today. Stadelmann started from zero with his
|The two men tracked
down Leonbergers, sometimes with unknown and sometimes
partially known ancestors. They found approximately 30
dogs and with about 6 males and 6 females, they began
breeding in 1922/1923. Following a lot of hard work,
Leonberger number 342 was registered in 1927. They
founded the "Leonberger Hunde Club Leonberg" in
1922 but the Club was renamed by the Reich in 1933 in
"Fachschaft fur Leonberger Hunde" and kept that
name until after WW II (1940-1945). During this war,
breeding continued and even after the war there were some
litters. In 1945, there were 22 puppies registered and in1947,
27 were registered.
After the war, rivalry struck. The
"Fachschaft fur Leonberger Hunde" was renamed to "Verein
fur Leonberger Hunde" and in 1947 the "Club fur
Leonberger Hunde" was established. Both clubs considered the
other an enemy, which was a pity.
People on both sides had brought the Leonberger through the tough
times of the war. In the fifties, the "Verein" no
longer existed. The "Club fur Leonberger Hunde" added
"Deutscher" to the front of its name in 1948 and is
still going strong today.
After WW II the committee leaded by Hans Weigelschmidt as
President and Albert Kienzle as Secretary worked very hard to
rebuild the breed. One of the first things they did was to revise
the German standard. The rather long (but well commented)
standard of 1895 was shortened. The height of the dogs was
brought down to at least 76 cm. for males and to 70 cm. for
females. (It previously has been at least 80 cm for males and 70
cm. for females). In the 60s the standard was again revised and
the heights were now changed to 72 cm.minimum, and 80 cm. maximum
for males and 65 cm. minimum with 74 cm. maximum for females.
Unfortunately this revised standard was never taken to the FCI,
so we had German judges that were judging according their
standard, and the international judges who were using the FCI
standard with the old heights. This caused some trouble between
France and Germany, because France had always defended the
standard of 1895.
After Weigelschmidt's death Dr. Herbstreith took over as
President, and Otto Lehman became later secretary. In 1964 Robert
Beutelspacher was in charge of the breeding records, and in 1968
introduced the first European breed-book. He became president Of
the DCLH in 1974, but in the meantime had discovered that there
were in fact 2 standards. One of the first things Robert
Beutelspacher did, as President was to take the German standard
to the FCI so at least every judge would be working with the same
standard. After Robert Beutelspacher death in 1991 Gerhard Zerle
became President of the DCLH.