Leonberger Care

The Leonberger dog breed (often called the Leo for short) is a gentle, playful--and gigantic!--breed that is probably the largest "companion dog" on the planet. These big, easygoing animals are beloved around the world, in part because they don't require a huge amount of care.

Below you'll find plenty of details on caring for a Leonberger: puppy development, exercise needs, diet and nutrition, and more. For answers to your questions about owning a Leo, keep reading!

Leonberger Breed Development

As a giant-sized breed, Leonberger puppy development typically spans 18-24 months from birth to full maturity.

Physical Development: Leo puppies grow rapidly in height and length for the first 7-8 months, then those growth rates slow somewhat while the adolescent "fills out" by gaining muscle mass and fat. A Leonberger normally reaches its full adult size (an average of 28 inches at the shoulders in height and 140 pounds in weight) by about 12 months of age.

Social Development: Leo pups develop steadily: they reach adolescence at about seven months, sexual maturity at 10-11 months, and full mental maturity at about 20 months (though some may retain their playful puppylike behavior for some additional months).

For specific milestones in Leonberger development, refer to the chart below:

Leonberger Exercise Needs

Due to this breed's giant size (and an accompanying tendency for becoming overweight) and a history as a working animal, Leonberger exercise requirements are fairly high. Luckily, these dogs are versatile and enthusiastic, so they'll gladly participate in a variety of activities--swimming, hiking, and even field trials--you undertake! They also make good jogging companions.

The typical adult Leo, depending on its age and overall activity level, will need at least an hour of proper exercise per day, which you can fulfill with a couple of good walks and a play session. You can start exercising your Leo puppy at three months of age by taking it on short (10-minute) walks, then increasing the walks' length and frequency as the puppy grows.

A few things to keep in mind when exercising your Leonberger: first, puppies younger than nine months old shouldn't participate in activities that include a lot of jumping, running, and navigating of stairs, as doing so can injure their still-developing joints and bones. And regardless of age, it's best to keep your Leo leashed when in public. While not aggressive at all, these dogs do have high prey drives, and will instinctively chase interesting-looking critters--squirrels, birds, even small dogs--if given the chance; a leash will help you control your Leo if it spots a "chase-worthy" animal. Even when exercising your Leo in your own yard, the area will need to be securely fenced to keep the dog from running off if it sees a critter. Leos also form deep bonds with their owners, so they'll be much more likely to participate in exercises you do together. (Putting your Leo out in the yard to exercise alone, in other words, won't do any good; the dog is likely to just lie in the shade waiting to be let back in!) And finally: these big dogs and their thick double coats tend to overheat easily in hot weather, so it's best not to exercise your Leo in sweltering temperatures.

Precautions aside, it's important to exercise your Leo every single day. These dogs are both playful and task-oriented, and if bored or restless they'll become disobedient and incredibly destructive. So consistent Leonberger exercise will be good for both the dog's and your own peace of mind. A few exercise ideas:

  • Walking/Jogging: Two 20- to 30-minute walks (or 15- to 20-minute jogs) per day is a good target
  • Swimming: These dogs usually love the water; great activity for hotter days
  • Tug-of-War: Excellent indoor, rainy-day activity; use a rope or old towel
  • Canine Sports: Leonbergers excel at agility trials, cart-pulling, and other competitions
  • Hiking: Great bonding activity; bonus if you can find a remote area where the dog can be off-leash

When indoors, it's good to give your Leo access to one or more balls or chew-toys that will allow the dog to burn excess energy. It's also recommended that you establish a regular exercise schedule for the dog, such as walks after breakfast and dinner and a play period in the afternoon.

Leonberger Maintenance

In terms of shedding and drooling, these dogs need a good bit of care. Leonberger shedding is moderate for most of the year, and heavy during the spring and fall shedding seasons--and because the breed was developed from other heavily-drooling breeds (the Saint Bernard and the Newfoundland, most notably), Leonberger drool is an unfortunate part of owners' lives.

Leos have abundant double-layered coats that shed some year-round--but when they "blow" their coats during the 2- to 3-week shedding periods each spring and fall, the shedding will be incredibly heavy. Owners say frequent brushing and the use of an undercoat rake (which will get daily use during shedding season!) will minimize the shedding some. Still, Leo owners will need to vacuum the floors and use lint rollers on clothes and furniture to pick up stray hairs on a regular basis.

And your Leo will drool in anticipation of food, after drinking water, and when especially excited or nervous. Owners are advised to keep spare rag or towel in rooms the dog spends its time to clean up excess slobber. And if the drooling is especially bad, owners can tie an old towel or bandanna around the dog's neck to keep its chest and neck from getting dirty and stinky from the drool.

Leonberger Diet

The Leonberger is a large dog--which obviously means it has an equally enormous appetite. The Leonberger diet, like that of any breed, should consist of food that contains plenty of animal proteins and carbohydrates for energy, vitamins and minerals for digestive and immune health, and omega fatty acids for coat and skin wellness.

Though opinions differ over what's the best dog food for Leonbergers, the most logical and nutritious choice is premium dry food. This high-quality food, while more expensive and difficult to obtain, contains balance portions of the above-listed ingredients that your Leo will need to sustain its health in the long term. Cheap, generic dog food is not recommended for this breed, because it contains mostly empty "filler" ingredients that simply won't provide your Leo with the daily nutrition it requires. In addition, a few owners and breeders prefer to feed these dogs a diet of only fresh/raw ingredients like lean meats, fresh fruits/vegetables, and other protein sources--so it's a good idea to add some meat or vegetables (chicken, raw carrots, etc.) to one meal a day for your Leo.

Some recommended brands: Royal Canin, Blue Buffalo, and Taste of the Wild have excellent lines of premium dry food.

And of course, your Leonberger is going to eat a lot of it! The typical adult Leo, depending on its age, size, and activity level, will need about five cups of dry food per day, divided into two meals. Leo pups, again depending on their age, will need a bit less: about 3½ cups per day, divided into three meals (not two) until six months of age. For further details on feeding your Leonberger from puppyhood through maturity, refer to the following chart:

*--Around this time, transition to adult food by first mixing in a bit of adult formula with the puppy formula. Over the course of a week, with each meal add a little more adult food to the mixture, until the dog is eating it entirely.

If possible, try to stick to the above-listed portions. Dogs of this breed will definitely overeat if given the chance, and will quickly become obese--and a fat Leonberger will have joint, breathing, and digestive issues, not to mention an even shorter lifespan. You can help control your Leo's weight by establishing consistent feeding and exercise schedules, by not feeding the dog table scraps, and by not leaving food in the dog's bowl all the time, thereby allowing it to eat anytime it wants. It's better to put your Leo's bowl down only at mealtimes, then pick it up 20 minutes or so after the dog begins eating.

If you're worried your Leonberger is overweight, give the dog this simple test: run a hand along its side, and if you can't feel any ribs, it's diet time. Decrease your Leo's daily food consumption by one-fourth, and add an extra walk or play period to its daily exercise schedule.