Löwchen

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS)
 
Photo of adult Löwchen

The Löwchen was a popular lap-dog among the European aristocracy for centuries. They are gentle, playful and thoroughly charming dogs whose effusive characters and cheerful nature kept them at the centre of royal courts. Traditionally, they were groomed to appear like little lions with their haunches and legs closely-cut to leave a mane of wavy hair over the neck and head. However, once you’ve felt their soft coats, you might be too addicted to petting them and decide against a traditional clip!

Löwchen are friendly dogs who play well with children and are energetic enough to keep up on brisk walks. While they’re not aggressive dogs, they like to warn their owners when a stranger is approaching. This can lead to false alarms and plenty of barking if you live on a busy street or within earshot of the stairwell. The Löwchen nearly became extinct towards the end of the 19th century and remained rare throughout the 20th century. However, their affable nature seems to be winning over more and more hearts since they are no longer as rare as they used to be.

About & History

The origin of the Löwchen, pronounced ‘lerv-chun’, is disputed. The name is German but there is no agreement on where the breed is from. Some say that they are from Northern European countries, like France or the Netherlands, another theory places their origins in the Mediterranean, while others argue that their origins lie in Russia or as far away as Tibet. What is certain, and evidenced by many portraits, is that the Löwchen has not changed its appearance for hundreds of years. The Löwchen was first mentioned in 1442 and consistently appeared in art and literature from then on, although some of the instances attributed to Löwchen may be other members of the Bichon family with a similar clip. This breed was popular with the aristocracy but was not exclusive to the upper classes. As such, they were found as much on farms as in palaces. The Löwchen was bred primarily as a companion dog, however, they also functioned as rat catchers and alarm dogs.

Their name translates to “lion dog”, which refers to the traditional clip rather than the breed’s temperament. Their loving and playful nature kept them popular for centuries, often appearing in paintings with their owners. As the centuries passed, the Löwchen’s popularity declined with only a few remaining by the end of the 19th century. Fortunately for the Löwchen, a breeder, Madame Bennert, took up their cause and spent many years preserving the breed through the devastation of two world wars. In 1944, she established a breeding program with the help of Dr Rickert that ensured the continuation of the breed into the latter half of the 20th century. The breed spread to Britain in 1968 and to the USA in 1971 where it was recognised by the Kennel Clubs of both countries. Although the Löwchen is still a rare breed, they are far from extinct thanks to the breeders who worked to preserve them.

Appearance

Löwchen Large Photo

The Löwchen is a toy dog with a small stature. A fully grown Löwchen reaches a height of between 25 and 33cms at the withers and weighs 4 to 8kg. Their head is short and broad, topped with two ears that hang down. Their muzzle is short with a black or brown nose depending on the coat colour. The colour of the eyes also varies with coat colour from dark to light brown. The Löwchen’s body should be short but in proportion to the legs. There should be a moderate tuck up of the abdomen.

The coat is long and wavy with a silky texture. They have a single coat and don’t shed. The coat is traditionally clipped to give the appearance of a lion. The haunches and legs are clipped short except for a bracelet around each ankle. A third to half of the tail is also clipped short. The rest of the coat is left to grow naturally, giving them a mane of wavy hair. The breed standard accepts any coat colour or combination of colours with the most common being:

  • Black
  • Black and Tan
  • Black and Silver
  • Cream
  • Chocolate
  • Blue

Character & Temperament

Löwchen were bred to be affectionate and playful companions. They love attention and interacting with their owners but don’t like to be left alone for long periods. This doesn’t mean they need to be mollycoddled. They are robust dogs who enjoy rough and tumble as much as sitting on their owner’s lap. Although Löwchen may be wary of strangers, they are generally friendly dogs that are not aggressive. In this respect, their bark is definitely worse than their bite. They will act as guard dogs and enthusiastically let you know if someone is approaching, even if they’re only passing by the window.

Löwchen can be determined to challenge the rules. They will often takeover their home, charming their owners with their disposition.

Trainability

Photo of Löwchen puppy

Löwchen are intelligent and inquisitive dogs. Coupled with a strong desire to please their owners, they are eminently trainable. As with all dogs, socialising is a very important part of training, as it allows them to become familiar with new people, dogs and situations. A poorly socialised Löwchen might not get along with other dogs and react with fear to new situations.

As with other small breeds, they can be harder to house train. Their small size makes them stealthy and you might not notice when they’ve urinated or defecated indoors. If you don’t correct them quickly, they won’t learn. So it’s best to take puppies outdoors regularly or be extra vigilant as to their whereabouts when indoors.

Health

Löwchen tend to live between 12 and 14 years. Although generally healthy, the Löwchen is genetically predisposed to problems with their eyes and joints:

  • Cataracts – Cataracts can have a diverse range of causes and have a genetic component. A cataract is an opacity of the lens that progressively reduces vision and can eventually lead to blindness. Löwchen are predisposed to old-age cataracts. Luckily, the condition can be treated with surgery and is not painful during its development.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) – This is a degenerative disease that causes progressive blindness as photoreceptors are lost from the retina. There is no treatment and the condition will always end in blindness. To reduce the chances of buying a Löwchen that will develop PRA, it’s always best to source them from a reputable breeder with a testing regime.
  • Patellar Luxation – The patellar, more commonly known as the knee cap, usually slides seamlessly between ridges on the femur. If the boney components of the knee are misaligned, the patellar can slip out of the groove in the femur causing lameness and an abnormal gait. If left untreated, the constant luxation can predispose to arthritis. The degree of luxation can vary and more severe grades will require surgery to correct them.
  • Distichiasis – This condition describes an abnormal hair or hairs growing on the inside of the eyelid. As you can imagine, this is uncomfortable and painful in itself, but can also lead to corneal ulcers. Any Löwchen with constantly weepy and red eyes should be checked for these errant hairs, which can be permanently removed.
  • Congenital Deafness – This condition has been reported in Löwchen puppies from some bloodlines. The puppies are born deaf so an unresponsive puppy may not just be ignoring you. Any suspected deafness should be checked by a vet to exclude severe ear infections.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Even though they’re small, the Löwchen is an energetic breed. Although they don’t require as much exercise as larger breeds, they should be taken outside for at least 30-minutes a day to run around and play. They are good walking companions who will be able to keep up with a brisk pace.

Grooming

The Löwchen sheds very little, so it is a candidate for those who don’t want dog hair everywhere. However, they’re not low maintenance in terms of brushing. Their long, wavy coat is prone to matting so should be brushing daily. This gives you the opportunity to check their skin and ears for any irritation or rashes. For a traditional cut, the coat should be clipped to 1/8 of an inch from the final rib to the haunches and also the legs. The tail should be clipped for a third to a half of its length with the end left unclipped. Bracelets should also be left at the ankles and wrists. Of course, clipping is optional and owners in colder climates might prefer to leave their dogs unclipped.

As with other breeds, it’s important to keep their nails trimmed if their exercise isn’t wearing them down. They should also be introduced to a teeth-cleaning regime to prevent the build up of dental plaque and gum disease. The Löwchen is not averse to being bathed and can be washed every four to six weeks.

Famous Löwchens

There are no famous individuals, however, examples of Löwchen can be seen in many portrait paintings of European aristocracy from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

Cross-Breeds

There are no recognised Löwchen cross-breeds.

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