Before reading further, please take a moment to view this video because it shows you the
end result of casual or impulse buying of dogs.  This is a daily occurrence in one shelter, but more than 2,000 shelters exist in the United States, where the same actions occur every day.  Leonberger Rescue has already taken purebred Leos from these shelters, but eventually, the numbers in need far outweigh any groups' ability to provide assistance, and all breeds face the same fate.

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Finding a reputable breeder was once as simple and uncomplicated as crossing the street.  Red for stop and green for go. The Leonberger Club of America (LCA) was the sole registry for Leos in America, as well as the only club representing the breed. For the most part, LCA breeders adhere to a Code of Ethics which is enforced; each dog is evaluated by a panel of trained “evaluators,” measured against a written sheet with a detailed list of questions that cover health, structure, and temperament.  Genetic screenings are required before the dog is assessed and put into a breeding category.  Not all dogs are allowed to be used in breeding programs and "accidental breedings" are not encouraged. The LCA recommends a fair price and most breeders sell their puppies for the recommended price which can vary as high as $1,500. 

As with all things, times change and life becomes more complex.  A new club has formed that seeks to bring the Leonberger to the American Kennel Club.  Depending on your point of view, becoming an AKC breed may not be the end of the world but it can mean the end of buying a puppy knowing you have some sort of guarantee from a club that requires ethical behavior from its breeders.  I do not mean the “AKC,” which is not a club, it is simply an organization that registers dogs, conducts dog shows, and offers a quasi-guarantee that the dog is a purebred.

The Leonberger in this country is in transition. In 2007, the AKC appointed the Leonberger Club of America (LCA) as the parent club for the breed.  That was great news because the LCA is the original founding club in the United States, with a strong Code of Ethics, and many other breeding guidelines.   The COE's are the guiding philosophy of the founding members of a club, and are, therefore, important to you as a demonstration of ethics and values.  Currently the LCA offers AKC registration under the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service program which allows the Leonberger to participate in Performance events but not in Conformation.  However, there are numerous LCA clubs that provide opportunities for Conformation showing.  Visit the LCA website for more information.

Leonberger Club of America
     LCA Breeding Regulations
     LCA Code of Ethics
AKC Foundation Stock Service Registry


If you choose not to buy from an LCA breeder, you should read this page as many times as you read the FACTS ABOUT LEONBERGERS article because you will be conducting your own interviews; you're on your own in determining the ethics and values of your AKC breeder. AKC does not guarantee the health or temperament of any AKC breed or AKC registered dog. 

AKC Breed Clubs are formed to provide more activities for dog owners—agility, obedience, tracking, water and field trials and of course, conformation.  AKC Judges become the “evaluators,” after they have been approved to judge a breed.  Buying a puppy from a club affiliated breeder is better than simply selecting a breeder from a sign in a pet shop or an ad in your newspaper.  Each breed club has a Code of Ethics which is usually available on their websites.  The Code of Ethics is constructive because it gives you some information about the basic values of the club, though adhering to a Code of Ethics is mostly an honor system.  Another benefit of purchasing from a breed club member is “education.”  Breed clubs offer mentoring, conduct seminars, have newsletters and email lists; they interact with each other to spread information. If a disease suddenly surfaces within a breed, the breed clubs will usually share that information.  If a disease appears to be genetic and is increasing, the breed club not only funds research but gets matching funds from the AKC Canine Health Foundation.  For all of these reasons, buying from a national breed club “member-breeder” is highly recommended. 

Most, if not all parent breed clubs will prohibit the sale of puppies through pet stores.  To learn more about the puppy mills that supply puppies to pet stores, visit these websites:


Leonbergers imported from Europe have inadvertently ended their journey sitting in a Missouri Auction House where, ultimately, they were purchased by puppy mills, mainly in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A handful of Leonbergers have already been sold in Pet Stores at prices that are triple those asked by breeders of either club.  Read the story of Beaux, a Leonberger puppy from a Pet Store in Orlando Florida and hopefully, you will understand why you should avoid buying any Pet Store puppy, especially of a large or giant breed. 

A new and equally distasteful means of selling puppies is through the Internet.  If you purchase a puppy from a pet store, you know you cannot assume the puppy comes from healthy dogs living in adequate surroundings. The horror of puppy mills is no secret in the United States, regardless of the terms used to describe these places: commercial breeders, USDA licensed, high volume breeders—the names keep changing but the miserable fact that people breed animals solely for money without regard to health or mental well-being, of either parents or puppies, never changes!  The AKC registers these dogs and provides all of the accouterments as if these puppies were bred by reputable, conscientious, dedicated breeders who used available genetic screenings and care where their puppies live and ultimately, the family that buys it.

Buying a puppy from a photo found at one of the growing number of online puppy seller sites is the latest and perhaps the least honest way for these like-minded breeders to sell the same poor quality dogs.  It’s easier to sell puppies online than to transport them to pet stores for sale—you only need a website building program, a digital camera and some puppies.  Literally, no overhead and if you are good with words, you can sell the Brooklyn Bridge at least 500 times before someone figures out they have been taken for a fool!   

To help you fulfill your dream of finding a reputable breeder, someone who will guide you through the growth and behavior stages from puppy to adult, someone who will tell you the latest vaccine protocols, the type of food needed by your puppy, someone who can answer your questions for the next few years, we offer the following information.  Print this out and take it with you.  Ask as many questions of a breeder as you would of a car salesman.  If the breeder does not ask you about yourself, your family and your previous experience with dogs, leave and find someone who cares about their puppies.


"AKC:" As mentioned above, the words AKC mean American Kennel Club, the registering organization for purebred dogs in this country. The AKC does NOT guarantee the health or temperament of a puppy and does not guarantee a breeder to be conscientious or ethical. The AKC simply registers the litter and will register your puppy, all for a fee. This registration is not always a guarantee of breed purity because even the AKC admits the registration is only as good as the breeder who registers dogs. There are no AKC representatives checking each litter to be certain they are purebreds. That is up to you to ascertain. Therefore, do not let these words give you a false sense of security or in any way influence your purchase of a puppy. The American Kennel Club is interested only in putting on dog shows for purebred dogs, and those dogs must be AKC registered.

"CH:" The initials mean, "Champion." Frankly, it has come to mean very little and again, it is NOT a guarantee of overall quality. To become a Champion, a dog must be entered in dog shows and eventually, it must receive 15 points, including two majors (a major is a show with a large entry).

A hundred years ago, the intent of dog shows was to exhibit the best specimen of each breed. With the high cost of purebred dogs and their popularity, those ideals have almost disappeared. Many AKC judges are "politically" aligned with professional handlers or well known breeders, therefore, they DO NOT necessarily award a win to the dog but to the owner or handler. That is not to say all shows are conducted in this manner but you would have no way of knowing if the "Champion," received his title based solely on the dog's merit or the owners connections. "Just about any dog can become a Champion given enough time and money," is a statement used by experienced dog fanciers. For that reason, keep in mind, the word "Champion" is not an indicator of quality. Most importantly, a show title DOES NOT guarantee the health of a "Champion" or any puppies produced from a breeding. One simple word, "Champion," can add hundreds of dollars on to the price of a puppy--a meaningless word with a heavy price tag. There is a great deal more involved in this controversial topic but time does not allow further discussion here.


"OFA" stands for the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a research group that evaluates x-rays of hips, elbows, and patellar (knee cap) luxation.  In giant breeds like the Leonberger, hip dysplasia can result in a painful, miserable life for the affected dog, ending in early euthanasia.  There are hip replacement surgeries available but they are painful and cause great expense to the owner, which is why you should read this section carefully and then follow the links to learn more about canine hip diseases. 

Most dysplastic dogs are born with normal hips but due to genetic, environmental and other factors, as the puppy grows, the soft tissues surrounding the joint start to develop abnormally causing the bones to move apart instead of hold together.  The joint capsule and the ligament between the two bones stretch, adding additional instability to the joint.  As this happens, the articular surfaces of the two bones become misaligned with each other causing a dislocation or subluxation.  This subluxation is the actual cause of hip disease.  Hip dysplasia is a crippling disease that is believed to be inherited.  Until a genetic screening becomes available in the future, puppy buyers must continue to rely on certifications offered by non-profit organizations like OFA and Penn HIP. 

OFA requires one x-ray of the hips in an extended position.  The x-ray can be done by any veterinarian with or without anesthesia or muscle relaxants. The veterinarian submits the x-ray to the OFA with an application for Certification.  At the OFA, the x-ray is evaluated by three (3) radiologists before a diagnosis is assigned to the dog. The ratings are Excellent, Good, Fair, Borderline, and Dysplastic (mild, moderate, or severe).  Although dogs must be two years old or older to get an OFA rating, the foundation will evaluate preliminary x-rays on dogs at least 12 months of age. If the dog does NOT have hip or elbow dysplasia, the OFA issues numbers and certificates for the evaluations.

If you are importing a Leonberger from another country, refer to the following link for a comparison of ratings between OFA and certifications offered in
Europe, Germany, Australia and England.

OFA also issues a certificate on the patellar (kneecap) if the knees are normal. When the x-rays indicate a degree of dysplasia or luxation of the patellar, the OFA will NOT issue a number or a certificate. Because these conditions are accepted as having a polygenic base of inheritance with other factors, it is recommended that both parents and both sets of grandparents have OFA numbers. Patellar luxation is also genetic, however, since the certification has been available for a short time, the grandparents will not have been certified but the parents should be checked. If you have questions about the authenticity of these certifications, contact the OFA at (314) 442-0418, or visit their webpage:

The OFA now offers certifications on autoimmune hypothyroid disease, a condition that is found in all breeds.  Leonbergers have been diagnosed with hypothyroiditis, which is controlled with twice daily thyroid hormone supplements. The mode of inheritance has not yet been isolated for this condition but the number of affected dogs increases annually. Research with human populations and some studies with canines indicate a maternal link to the disease. It is presently accepted that puppies are given a predisposition to hypothyroiditis through antibodies produced by the mother and delivered during fetal development and again, in the mother's milk. This can occur only if the mother has not been checked for the disease which may be sub-clinical (in an early stage), without visually evident symptoms. A complete thyroid panel based on laboratory outlines established by Dr. Jean Dodds should be conducted on the bitch prior to breeding and before the onset of estrus (her heat cycle). The test should be repeated annually since the disease can occur at any stage of a dog's life. A Leonberger should be in the mid-range of normal, unless the dog is entering mid-life (7 years and over), when normal thyroid levels diminish slightly.

Since it is easy to treat, some breeders do not see it as a condition that would prevent breeding the affected dog—probably the reason why the disease continues to increase.  For more information on thyroid disease in dogs, visit these websites:

“PENN HIP” is a new method for assessing joint laxity, which is the amount of looseness of the hip ball in the hip socket.  This laxity is believed to be the primary cause of degenerative joint disease.  A Penn HIP trained and certified veterinarian conducts 3 x-rays of each patient's hips.  Each x-ray is done in a different position which provides more of a three-dimensional look at the hips.  Penn HIP is always done under sedation or general anesthesia. After the x-rays are developed, they are submitted to Penn HIP for evaluation. A Hip Evaluation Report is sent back to the owner and veterinarian indicating the patient's distraction index (DI), which is the measure of passive hip laxity. It also indicates the dog's Hip Laxity Profile and what percentile the dog falls in for its individual breed. Dogs with a DI of 0.3 have tighter hips and are less likely to develop hip dysplasia; those with looser hips whose DI values approach 0.7 or more are at greater risk.

Penn HIP can be conducted on dogs as young as 16 weeks, while OFA certification requires a dog to be at least 24 months old, however, preliminary x-rays when the dog is 12 months old can be submitted to OFA for evaluation.  Penn HIP evaluation reports rank each dog to other dogs of the same breed. A dog with a percentile ranking of 30 percent has tighter hips than 30 percent of the dogs evaluated. In other words, 70 percent of the dogs evaluated have tighter hips than the patient.

For a valuable and informative discussion on the comparison of OFA and Penn HIP, visit these pages:

Visit the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn HIP website for a thorough look at the process and the science behind this new hip evaluation procedure:

To learn more about OFA, Penn HIP and dysplasia, visit these links:

"CERF" are the initials of the Canine Eye Registry Foundation maintained for the benefit of breeders and owners of purebred dogs to assure some degree of clearance on genetic eye diseases. Nearly all breeds have some eye problems; many of these disorders end in blindness. Leonbergers are predisposed to a number of genetic eye diseases, and both parents should have a CERF certificate. These certifications are good for one calendar year, because eye problems can develop later in a dog's life. Annual certifications are required. No, it's not perfect but presently, it is the only eye clearance available and since the exam must be completed by a Board Certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist, you know the parents have been thoroughly checked. Eye diseases found in Leonbergers include cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), glaucoma, entropion, ectropion and persistent pupillary membranes (PPM).  These are all inherited diseases.  CERF can be reached at (317) 494-8179, or

"CONTRACT:" A contract is only as good as the parties who signed. It is, however, an indication of some sense of responsibility on behalf of the breeder. By reading the "guarantees" granted to you the puppy buyer, it will give you an idea how informed and experienced the breeder may be. If you are required to breed the dog and give "puppies back," RUN do not walk to the door and leave.   No reputable breeder would ever insist a total stranger breed a dog, especially based solely on the   conformation and unknown health problems of an 8-week old puppy! It indicates that money is the motivation in breeding dogs. As the "Lemon Laws" increase state-by-state, contracts will gain significant legal standing but currently; a contract is only a piece of paper.

A good article on this topic is available at Nolo Press.


You see a litter of adorable puppies but the breeder has not done any genetic screenings as outlined above. What should you do? Of course, the decision is yours but remember breeding dogs is a business because the end result is a SALE. There are breeders who will try to convince you it is an "adoption," or "acquiring a new family member," these are appeals to your emotions, a subliminal way to weaken your business sense. You are in fact, paying a good deal of money for something the law views as a "product." In the business arena, if you have the money to make a purchase but demand good quality, warranties and some assurances, there is always someone qualified to meet your high standard. By demanding these screenings, by refusing to settle for less, breeders will have no choice but to raise their standards to your level. 

There are some breeders who claim to have these health checks completed on their dogs but when asked to give a potential puppy buyer copies for their own files (which is your right), they are unable to produce the paperwork. You want to see these health certifications yourself, do not simply accept the word of someone who is going to be making a good deal of money from the sale of each puppy. Do not accept excuses such as "I've been in the breed so long, I can visually assess a dog's structure," or "I have no need to test since I have never produced any diseases." These statements have no foundation in reality!   You should be well acquainted with the FCI breed Standard so you can compare the parents to the Standard for structure and conformation. Conduct your own temperament tests on the puppies to determine which one would be most suitable for your lifestyle.

The puppy should NOT be allowed to leave its litter until it is at least 8 weeks old. A breeder who willingly sends off younger puppies, is anxious to be free of the work and is probably unaware of the critical stages in the mental development of puppies. Avoid this type of breeder.  As you can see from the above tests and recommendations, purchasing a Leonberger from a pet store is an invitation to disaster. ALL Leonberger puppies sold in pet stores are bred in puppy mills in the mid-west. Rarely are they from a local breeder. When they are from a local kennel, the breeder's decision to sell puppies without proper screening and education of the new family is a demonstration of their ignorance and indifference to the fate of their puppies. These puppy mills or commercial breeders do not CERF or conduct thyroid panels, but more importantly, the puppies do not receive sufficient human contact from birth through the 8th week, the most vulnerable stages for Leonberger puppies. When you purchase from a pet store, you cannot see the parents and ultimately, puppies are genetic duplicates of their parents-- what you see is what you will get, with the exception of color.

The "FACTS ABOUT LEONBERGERS," sheet is for your protection. Read it thoroughly and then measure its content against the information you receive from a breeder. The FACTS sheet is based on seeing first-hand why things can go wrong. Usually, it is the result of misinformation, a form of overzealous salesmanship! Take your time and do not allow the sweetness of a puppy to sway you, because within a few months the puppy will be large enough to do as it pleases and problem behavior is never "cute." If you're shopping for a puppy, leave your emotions at home. The emotional trauma of trying to save a genetically sick Leonberger is devastating to you and your family. Be pragmatic about this important decision, which is a lifetime commitment to the dog, and one that will impact on your family. 

For more information on the breed, temperament testing, socialization, training, health and on raising a dog like the Leonberger, the following titles are suggested reading.

The Leonberger, (in English) by Guido Perosino, Available from the author or the
LCA Leo Bowtique.  or write Dr. Perosino,
Guido Perosino, "il Cerreto" Via dei Colli, 20 06080 Bettona (Pg) Italy

 “Leonberger A Complete Canine Compendium” by Madeline Lusby; Interpet Publishing; (June 2002) Available from

The Leonberger,(in English) by Angela White, t.f.h. Books. England, 1998.
Available from the Leonberger Club of
Great Britain or from

The History of the Leonberger in Great Britain, (in English) by Larry Rahmer.
Available from the Leonberger Club of
Great Britain.

One of the best ways to gain knowledge about the breed is to join the online email lists, and/or a Leonberger club like the LCA which has its own, private “members only” email list.  By participating in one of the lists, you get to know the breeders, learn about health problems, and have an invaluable resource of experienced people to answer your questions:

     The Leolist is filled with Leo owners and breeders throughout the world:

 © 2004 by Barbara Bouyet