Sunday, January 16, 2011

Leonbergers: Two Ways

One of the new breeds of working dogs in the show this year is the Leonberger.  The name instantly brings to mind a big juicy patty of lion meat.  Okay, maybe that’s just me, but in researching the breed a little more, I found out two interesting ways to prepare the naming of a dog breed: promoting places and producing paintings.

First, according to the AKC,

Calm, gentle and sweet, the Leonberger excels as a multi-purpose working dog, but its most important task is being a reliable family companion. They are friendly dogs that are willing to please, making them excellent therapy dogs. Despite the breed’s lion-like looks and large size, the Leonberger is actually quite light on its feet and graceful in motion. They can be red, reddish brown, sandy, or yellow brown and may have a black mask.


The Leonberger originated in the 1800s in Leonberg, Germany. Their original purpose was to be a family, farm and draft dog. The breed caught the attention of popular German artists who used them as models, and they’ve even been featured on the stamps of various European countries as well. Leonbergers almost became extinct after World War I, but two men were determined to keep the breed alive and recreated them from a very small number of dogs.
Interesting: dogs as art models. Then, in looking further at its history, more find out more specifically,

Heinrich Essig, a prominent citizen of Leonberg, Germany, in the 19th century, had a passion for collecting animals of all kinds.

Though there is no written proof, it is said that in 1846 Essig, bred a Landseer Newfoundland female with a St. Bernard male, crossing them for 4 generations. He then out crossed with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and crossed again with a St. Bernard. The Leonberger breed was born.

Large, impressive dogs were very popular, and Essig exported more than 300 dogs in the following years. He donated Leonbergers to royalty, using his position on the town-council to not only promote the town of Leonberg, but also his dogs. At one time, Garibaldi, the Prince of Wales, King Umberto of Italy, and the Czar of Russia all owned Leonbergers. Empress Elisabeth of Austria owned seven of them.
Giving designer dogs to royalty is a timeless tradition when pushing particular breeds. In this case, Essig killed two birds with the one working dog by using his political position to promote the dogs, and using his puppy proliferation skills to promote the town.

But something more struck me about the tale of Essig’s exploits.  A Landseer Newfoundland? I’d never heard of it. 

According to a dog breed info site:

The origin of the Landseer stems back to Germany and Switzerland. In the USA and Great Brittan the Landseer is considered the same breed as the Newfoundland, however in some European countries the Landseer is a totally different breed than the Newfoundland. Landseers in Europe have longer legs than newfies, Landseers are not so massive, they are more sporty dogs. In shows, they compete separately.
But I’d seen this dog somewhere before and its name could not be mere coincidence. This was simply not enough information to satisfy my curiosity.  Since it’s not a breed recognized by the AKC, good old Wikipedia confirmed what I suspected - The Landseer is named after the artist Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, who featured them in many of his paintings.[!!! Exclamatory emphasis mine!]

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838

Saved, 1856

Lion: A Newfoundland Dog, 1824

I recognized Landseer's name because his work is featured prominently in the book, The Dog: 5000 Years of Dogs in Art.

Cool beans, huh?

And if neither of these discoveries thrills you, that’s okay.  Not everyone is lucky enough to be as continuously delighted by the relationship between man and dog and art as I am.  I just wanted to share some of my enthusiasm.

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