For those who would like to learn a bit more about the Leonberger 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 Leonbergers.
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.
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 be Leonbergers.
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
**credit to the Leonberger Union**