The Löwchen, the Little Lion Dog, has been one of the best kept secrets for decades. With many desirable traits packaged in a compact size, you might think that the breed was a mythical unicorn. The breed has always been fairly rare, nearly going extinct in the not so distant past. Today, the breed faces extinction once again, namely pressure from outside forces that disapprove of the purposeful breeding of dogs and the need for a larger network of dedicated breeders.
With the breed’s future in our hands, owners need to assume the role of breed ambassador with a badge of honor. An encounter with your remarkable Löwchen may be the only opportunity you get to mold the public’s impression of the breed and perhaps recruit a budding fancier.
What is a Lowchen?
The Little Lion dog is a small non-shedding companion dog clipped to have the appearance of a lion with an affectionate, lively, and curious temperament. The coat doesn’t naturally grow that way. The breed standard calls for a dog between 11-13 inches at the shoulder (updated AKC standard as of 2022), with an inch of variance on both sides. Any color and pattern combination is allowed in the breed, and it is common for Löwchens to change colors throughout their lives. The single coat actually has a mix of thinner undercoat hairs mixed with thicker guard hairs giving it a dual texture. Both types of hair are non-shedding and contribute to a silky coat that can have waves.
The history of the Lion is somewhat of a sordid affair. While there are bits and pieces of Löwchen-like dogs scattered throughout art from the 1400’s, documented pedigrees are a new world practice. Putting together the puzzle of breed histories is no easy task with many other breeds claiming to be the foundation of the Löwchen and the other way around. Several countries also boldly defend their stake in the origin of the breed. The only thing that is certain is that there isn’t consensus on the breed history until the time when Madame Bernert began her quest to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction in the 1940’s. It was then that documentation of the breed lineage began.
Sturdy and Agile
While the Löwchen is a portable size, they have substance to make them sturdy enough for rough and tumble play. Lions frequently live with dogs many times their size with great gusto, often running the household. This nimble breed is quite capable of defying physics in a very Cirque Du Soleil fashion. Their size, speed, and ability to negotiate obstacles make them an ideal companion for companion sports like obedience, agility, fly ball, and rally.
The Löwchen is dense for their size, and they typically fall into the 10-17 lb range. They should feel heavy when lifted. They can easily fit into a size 200 crate, and they can comfortably travel in the largest size Sherpa or a Large/XL Sturdi bag under a typical seat on a plane. Their compact size does lead to a problem that many owners face. There is always room for another one.
Almost Too Smart
This breed’s level of intelligence rivals that of adult humans. They are unique problem solvers, often times many leaps and bounds ahead of their owners. Their brains make them excellent partners for competitive obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt. You might take your puppy to observe a few training sessions only to find out that he has already perfected exercises. But don’t jump in too soon, for their smarts means that they might find a shortcut for the exercises, and you will be unpleasantly surprised that those short cuts turn into a disqualification in the performance ring.
Brains with creativity can also get these fun loving lions into trouble. It has been witnessed that some have gotten on top of tall furniture with a single jump. Some have escaped their padlocked crates leaving the crate and lock intact. No crack is too small. No desirable food is out of reach. A Löwchen will solve all problems presented to them. Owner beware of being outsmarted by your own dog.
This ancient breed was designed for companionship, and they are extremely attuned to their people. While they are easy to train and quite biddable, they tend to want to do things on their own terms. Sometimes it is expressed in a number of ways that make them seem incredibly stubborn. They might run circles around owners trying to catch them. They might refuse to be picked up and put into the car, only to jump in on their own. Leave the nuances of your ask up to them, and they are perfectly happy to comply. Ask them to comply on your terms, and you might get the finger.
Opinionated with a Passion
Löwchens do not bark. Löwchens curse. When they have something to say, it can sound like someone machine gun cursing in the worst way possible. Often times, the cursing is out of joy or demands. Be thoughtful that you are not accidentally rewarding the cursing. It can be comical to have a ball of hair unleashing vocal wrath, but your ears will thank you for keeping it curbed. This trait isn’t pervasive as there are many quietly opinionated Löwchens who rarely make audible noise while they give you the stink eye. When it is there though, you will certainly know.
You might also hear a concept called strong nerves. In humans, we refer to it as stress hardiness. Löwchen are not nervous dogs. They should not be coddled nor should they require coddling. Adult dogs should be able to encounter new environments without avoidance – but rather they may startle, sound the alarm, recover, and investigate. They should not skitter away in fright.
Mix in some tenaciousness and you have a dog that sees nothing wrong with bringing home an opossum through the dog door. You have a dog that will curse out a horse. You have a dog that will kill and eat a mockingbird for breakfast. And you have a dog that will protest with the drama of 1,000 Lifetime movies.
If there is a gene for comedy, it is stamped well into the breed. When there’s something they want, like your loving affection, a little lion might turn to comedy to pique your attention. From putting on acrobatic acts to climbing onto the highest piece of furniture, putting on an act is in the genes. There is no better place for Löwchens to put on a show than when they have an audience. It is to be expected that some Löwchens will dance, fly, or somersault their way around a conformation ring. Handlers should take note to embrace such behavior as a part of the written standard.
Easy, Breezy Coat
The adult Löwchen coat does not require much day-to-day maintenance for companion homes, and its non-shedding quality is a great option for those who suffer from allergies. A good brushing every few days for dogs in a shortened coat or puppy cut is sufficient for keeping mats at bay.
For those who exhibit in conformation, coat care is considerably more involved. Frequent clipping and brushing starts when puppies are young. There is certainly a reason to finish dogs out of the puppy class to be able to shed the responsibilities of show dog coat care. Once puppies start to coat change around a year old, the grooming commitment grows exponentially. It will feel like the dogs are constantly matting up in a matter of minutes. Your life with a Lion includes a pin brush permanently affixed to one hand and a spray bottle of conditioner affixed to the other. There is no need to worry as this is only a phase that will soon pass. Owners who are able to get through the coat change are rewarded with lovely, easy to care for locks.
Now keeping a Löwchen in pristine specials quality coat is a labor of love. To maintain coat that moves like a shampoo commercial, it requires frequent bathing, daily brushing, and the most tender care if it does get matted. This level of grooming isn’t required for class animals, but it is a must for dogs that are being campaigned.
Strong like Ox
The Löwchen is relatively free of health maladies with no breed specific issues that are fatal. While there have been cases of young dogs with medical concerns, the vast majority of health issues are a byproduct of aging. The recommended health tests for the Löwchen are patella exams, eye exams yearly, and hip conformation.
Long Live the Lion
The Löwchen are loved for their creative antics, sassy opinions, and their clownish behaviors. The future of the breed depends not only on our love for the dogs in our home, but also on our efforts to promote the breed that we cherish. It is our duty to ensure the longevity of the Löwchen dog for many generations to come. With a great breed, comes great responsibility of ensuring its future beyond our lifetimes.
Jennie Chen holds a PhD in social psychology. During her graduate career, she studied human temperament and behavior in relation to hormones. Now she studies human behavior in the digital world. You can contact her at Jennie@romanreign.com.