Will Registry in the American Kennel Club Harm the Leonberger?

Bacchus is a 7-year-old Leonberger. Generally, their life span is from 6 to 8-years old. However, some Leonbergers live until 13-years old.

The American Kennel Club recently added the Leonberger dog to its registry of purebreds. This is still causing controversy among some members of the Leonberger Club of America who previously controlled the breed.  The LCA had imposed strict breeding requirements to test male and female dogs for health and conformation standards previous to breeding. While the AKC requires some health testing, their requirements are not as stringent as the LCA, and the long-term health and breed standard of the Leonberger may be jeopardized.

 The Leonberger was accepted into the American Kennel Club on June 30, 2010.  It is the 167th breed added to the AKC registry.

  The AKC, founded in 1884, sponsors dog events and registers purebred dogs. According to the AKC, a purebred dog has ancestry from the same breed.  When a puppy is registered with the AKC, the dog’s lineage is included on the pedigree.

  “The biggest argument we had with the AKC was they stopped short of having heavy disciplinary measures spelled out” if the breeders did not follow the breeding rules, said Bill Wilson, the treasurer of the LCA who initially opposed the club joining the AKC but eventually supported it.  He added that while the LCA remains the “parent club” that oversees the Leonberger breed, it does not have any “enforcement capabilities” under the AKC.

 The only regulation that the AKC has is that both parents have pedigree papers, Wilson said.  He also said that the AKC markets puppies to the community as if they are a “Good Housekeeping Seal registry.”

  On the positive side, Wilson added that the AKC spends money on research, education and non-show activities.

   The Leonberger, or “gentle giant,” was categorized as a “rare breed” before AKC


 Heinrich Essig, an elected official in Leonberg, Germany, created the breed during the 1800‘s.  Essig wanted a dog that resembled the lion on the Leonberg crest. He bred a St. Bernard with a Landseer Newfoundland. He eventually added a Great Pyrenees to the mix. The Leonberger breed was introduced at the Oktoberfest in Munich in 1870. The Leonberger stands 25 1/2 to 31 1/2 inches tall at the shoulders. They have a long-double coat that protects them from the weather. Their coat ranges from “lion” yellow to brown, and their fur often has black tips. Leonbergers also have a “dry mouth,” which prevents drooling.

They have webbed feet, are considered strong swimmers, and have an instinct for water rescue.

  The Leonberger is considered a “working dog,” because they pull sleds and carts, protect homes and farms, and are used for therapy and agility training.

 Judy Johnston, a governing committee member for the LCA,  said  she wanted the AKC acceptance because it was inevitable, but she wanted the LCA to become the parent club. A parent club promotes their breed through education and community programs.

“It had worked out pretty well” for people interested in participating in many dog shows, Johnston said. However, she said that AKC competition is “cut throat” since some people pay professional handlers.

 Johnston said that the biggest fear before joining the AKC was that the breed would become extremely popular and breeding would be compromised. She said she doesn’t think that has happened.

Beverly Travis, the breeders’ assistant with the LCA, said that she was totally against joining the AKC. She added that the AKC is concerned with money and power not the breed’s welfare.  For example, she said that the cost to register one puppy with the AKC is $20.

 Travis said that the LCA tested potential Leonberger parents for hip, elbow, eye and thyroid problems.  She said that the dogs had to meet certain standards for breeding purposes.  The AKC runs similar tests,  she said, but dogs only have to pass the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals test, or hip test, for breeding eligibility.

 Travis added that the LCA website has a section called the Canine Health Information Center where a consumer can view the results of all of these tests. She suggests that consumers educate themselves about health issues before purchasing a Leonberger.

 Travis said that the popularity of the Leonberger breed has greatly increased under the AKC.  She also said that because AKC dog show judges prefer smaller dogs, she fears the Leonberger will be bred to fit that mold. She added that AKC membership and breeding will ultimately impact the Leonberger’s health.

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