Have you met Winter? She’s a Leonberger. Yes, Leonberger. The name is a derivative of Leonberg, Germany. The breed was created to look like lions in the late 1700’s to guard grand castles and large estates throughout southern Europe. Furthermore, they had a second role: to be a loving and loyal family companion.
In an effort to achieve each trait, multiple breeds were bred with one another, and alas! Perfection was achieved. The cross between a St. Bernard, Great Pyrenees and Newfoundland gave the noble gents their “ideal” dog, and thus the Leonberger was born.
They enjoyed a high social status for many decades and were only owned by those of a high social status. And then, war. These hard working, loyal, loving giants were sent in to horrific battles, and thousands were lost. The depleted population began to grow, when once again, war. By the end of World War II, only a few hundred Leonbergers were left, and the breed began to gently fade away.
In the 1980’s, by chance, a group in Germany united for one simple cause: to repopulate the Leonberger population.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. I was backpacking through Europe after college graduation. After a long bus ride to a very small town in Austria, I visited a tiny church that I vowed would be the place I would be married one day. As I turned to walk down the cobblestone path, daydreaming of love and marriage, I encountered an animal that literally took my breath away. What was it? A small pony? A large dog? No, couldn’t be, with all of that long hair. It was pulling a small carriage. A working animal, no doubt, but what?
An incredible dog, affectionately known by locals as a “Leo.”
Almost two decades later, some dreams faded while a great deal were only yet to be realized. Still, like a faint sound in the background, there was something missing.
It was Winter.
Winter is my Leo, and she’s a gem. I found her through a horse and Leo breeder in Washington: Starfire Farms. Beyond being incredibly high maintenance, stubborn and lazy, she is kind, sensitive, protective, and adores children.
Why am I sharing this story? Because I have repeated it more times in the past four years than I have repeated any other story in my lifetime. Whether at either of our homes, in Truckee or Sausalito, I am asked over and over and over and over: “What kind of dog is this?” A Leonberger.
“Is it a male or female?” Female.
“How much does she weigh?” 150.
“What is her name?” Winter.
“Is she protective?” Yes.
“But friendly?” Very.
“May my children pet her?” Of course, she loves children (as she kisses their gorgeous faces).
“Are the males bigger?” Yes, up to 200+ pounds.
“Wow, so tell me now, what is the combination that makes a Leonberger?” St. Bernard, Newfoundland and Great Pyrenees. They were bred to look like lions at noble estates in the 1700’s.
“Really! Are they AKC recognized?” Yes.
“Where do you find them?” Only about 1,500 in the United States.We recommend Starfire Farms.
“Are they good guard dogs” Let’s put it this way, a stranger will not come up our driveway, and she’ll chase a bear or coyote away for miles.
“May I take a photo?” Of course. (She’s been in thousands by now.)
Why do I reference her as a marketer’s dream? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve relayed the series of questions above, I could pay off my car — twice. Is Winter a beauty like Giselle? Nope. Is she Heidi Klum? German with great hair, long legs, and gorgeous eyes yes — but still not Heidi.
Winter is her own marketing machine. She generates more attention than any person, animal or item that I’ve ever seen. There are no prep teams, designer clothes, or stage photo shoots — nor is there product development, market research, or photo shop.
She is a Leonberger — the purest example of the brand in itself. Winter has charisma, swagger, beauty, and most of all, a loving confidence you simply cannot ignore.
Am I biased? Terribly. Is she really “that big of a deal” when out and about? Give me a jingle and you can take her for a spin. And if you’re really smart, you’ll have her wear your logo on a custom made coat. She’ll take care of the rest.