Leonbergers can make excellent Therapy & Service Dogs
There is much more to the Leonberger than a huge and gorgeous cuddly bear who loves to be hugged by everyone.
Due to their gentle temperament and their unique sensitivity, they can make great Therapy dogs. They work well in this field of visiting care homes, hospitals or schools with their owner or out in the community and will give joy and happiness to many people who are unable to own their own dog. They are the perfect height for anyone who is in bed and able to stroke them with ease. The difference it can make to someone just to feel the soft fur in their hands is immense and sometimes quite emotional to witness.
Many volunteers also go in to special needs schools where some children find great benefit from reading to a dog rather than a person. In this instance, The Leonberger is a great listener.
Basic obedience training is necessary for a therapy dog, the dog must be over six months of age, be of sound temperament, and must pass an assessment for this type of work, which is usually done on a voluntary basis. It can be very rewarding and is a great way of bonding with your dog.
We have had four dogs who have done Therapy work in our local community for many years. Below, we share photos of precious moments with past friends that we made along the way, people who eagerly awaited our regular visits.
Betty in particular always looked forward to seeing Elsa, she most definitely loved her and would insist on holding on to her lead for as long as was possible. We met the whole family who always came along when they knew we would be there to visit, we became great friends and they took photos of Elsa, Ozzy and our other dogs to adorn the walls of their Mum's room. Some can be seen on the photos below. When we had puppies, we would take them in especially to see Betty and she would cuddle them for the whole time of our visit. Betty was very special to us and is remembered with great fondness. We are very proud of our late Elsa for all the joy she brought to this lady in her last few years of life. Ozzy also made many people smile and loved his visits.
Service Dog/Assistance Dog
Leonbergers are extremely intelligent, they are eager to learn, and with good solid training they can be very good Service Dogs too. This is very different from a Therapy Dog, this a working dog.
A person who may consider a SD, must first of all have the ability to take such a large dog in to their home environment, finances, feeding, grooming and vet bills are very important considerations.
Despite the Laws that a registered SD is allowed in public places, restaurants etc. A large hairy dog may not always be welcomed in those areas, not to mention the negative attention that such a big dog might receive from some of the general public. Not everyone is familiar with the size of a Leonberger and we must never forget our own first impression of the breed, which is usually "OMG I've never seen a dog so big!!"
Due to their substantially larger size,, they are strong, robust and have more stability than that of a smaller dog. There are several areas of specialised training that can be accomplished, a disabled person may need personal help from an assistance dog, a deaf person may need a trained hearing dog to alert them when a bell or telephone rings. There are professional trainers for every aspect of Assistance or Service Dogs, where great emphasis will be given on the safety of both handler and dog. Other examples of light mobility service dogs are bracing, balance and blocking.
There are mixed views on Mobility Support for severely disabled people, it is known that SD's generally have shorter lives and those who are used constantly for leaning support while walking, will not live to an old age due to the nature of their work.. For this reason it is not recommended that a severely disabled person would rely totally on the dog, but would use suitable mobility aids as well.
It is more appropriate to use the dog for light, stationary work or Episodic Mobility Support where there is less stress given on the body of the dog. Light mobility work would be bracing a couple of times per day and occasional balance work.
It is very easy to train a Leonberger to block as they do this action quite naturally. For a disabled person who suffers with balance issues, the dog would be trained by command, to immediately stand in front or behind the person to enable them to regain their balance and prevent a fall.
Another instance could be in a crowded public place, if a person feels closed in by people or anxious, the dog can be used to block people from getting too close.
We have several dogs who have experience with mobility issues and who are often used for counter-balance. We have also trained some of our own dogs to brace on command but we have done this using common basic training methods.
Leonbergers have also been known to alert owners who suffer epilepsy which has enabled the owner to get help in time to avoid injury or worse. A personal friend of ours never trained her dog for this purpose but from a young age he had the ability to sense an oncoming attack and alert his owner. If this happens during the night, he barks to wake her. He is now nine years old and has done this for most of his life.
Leonbergers have a superior quality about them that makes them excellent companions for people with mental health issues. They are sensitive, compassionate, patient, loving and forgiving; very in tune with their owners mood and great benefit can be gained from their tactile stimulation.
They offer many therapeutic benefits for a wide variety of psychiatric conditions, see links for more details.
It is well known that children in particular who suffer various forms of ADHD/Autism/ Asperger, have responded well after bonding with a fully trained PSD, there have been many reports of improved behaviour. The dog is complementary to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and both can work well together.
The Leonberger has the perfect temperament in this instance, they have to be bomb proof and non reactive to a child in a rage. While they cannot fix the problem, evidence suggests that episodes can be lessened by the presence of a dog. A dog would always be a loving pet and it's safety in all situations would be paramount. Serious consideration is needed and the help and advice of Qualified PSD trainer would be essential.
Added to this, Leonbergers make wonderful and trustworthy companions for children and are renowned for their laid back attitude and for not being jealous of a new addition to the family. They are known to wait at the child's side until they are old enough to become their new play mate. Here, Summer meets Jordan for the first time. Thank you to our dear friend Cathy for allowing us to share this very precious moment.
Their hearts are as big as their body and they will befriend anyone who poses no threat to his family. Although not a guard dog but a watchdog, he will care very deeply for his immediate family and will block you with his body if he feels you are under any threat. Usually, the sight and sound of an unhappy Leonberger is enough to ward off anyone with an untoward intention. They do make you feel incredibly safe when out on a walk with them. They certainly have the "WOW" factor and will draw attention wherever they go.
This page has been written as a guide only to give another view of the capability of The Leonberger breed. We have based many aspects on our own experiences over the years and general knowledge and research that is available. We make no claim that we are qualified or professional dog trainers, we are not.
Links are provided here to give professional views/advice and we always recommend contacting a Qualified person when considering any breed of Service Dog, of which there are many.