Is this the guide dog of the future?

IT WEIGHS 10 stone, looks like a lion and can knock down a man with a friendly pounce.

Yet the Leonberger, a German watchdog crossed from a St Bernard and a Newfoundland, may be the guide dog of the 21st century.

The dog, which was bred to pull carts and drag drowning people from water, is being put through its paces by the charity, Guide Dogs for the Blind.

It is one of several unusual breeds - including poodles and Bernese mountain dogs - being trained by the organisation to add to its standard supply of labradors and retrievers.

The charity is putting several unorthodox breeds to the test in the hope of spotting undiscovered talent - and giving blind people more variety in the dogs they choose.

Australian shepherds, Bouvier des Flandres, boxers and even rottweilers have taken part in the organisation's rigorous educational programme.

Several have qualified in the past year, including a number of standard poodles - and several more are due to start training soon. The poodle is proving an ideal dog for people with asthma or allergies to dog hair because it does not moult. But owners have special instructions to take the dogs for a regular haircut.

"They don't have poodle show cuts. But the people who take them have to go to the poodle parlour regularly and get the dogs clipped," said a senior guide-dog trainer.

Senior staff from the charity have surreptitiously been scouting round Cruft's dog show for talented animals they can take on as puppies or young adults. But they are wary of breeding them until a type has a proven track record. In the past, a dalmatian was successfully trained, though the breed is regarded as rather boisterous.

"We haven't eliminated anything. We wander round Cruft's and say, 'Maybe we should give that a go'," said Neil Ewart, Breeding Centre manager, who is in charge of choosing suitable dogs. "Some day we might discover another perfect breed. It does us all good to see something different like the Leonberger occasionally. They are huge. Leonbergers are obsessed with water: they jump in."

Labradors and retrievers - and a cross between the two - are still regarded as the ideal guide dog (1,200 are bred by the charity each year with 4,500 working on the street) but some blind people have been calling for more individual companions.

Leonbergers are being allocated to tall men who want a big, unusual dog and do not mind chatting about it to the public. They are regarded as too strong for women and too much of an attention magnet for shy people.

The breed has also been excluded from work in big cities because it is too large to go on buses (it knocks people down if it turns around), the owners have also been advised to try to keep the dogs away from ponds, streams and beaches.

One Leonberger puppy, named Elsa, has recently started work after finishing a two-year training course.

Another puppy, called Faith, is in a "puppy walker" foster home undergoing a year's training. Another Leonberger puppy, now being weaned, is set to start work by the end of the year.

The dogs spend a year getting used to unusual situations and sounds, including busy roads, trains, markets and shops while under the care of volunteer "puppy walkers". They are taught basic commands such as "up up" (keep going), "forward", "leave", and "busy" (go to the lavatory).

Anne Hope, a Birmingham volunteer, has trained three Leonbergers over the past year. She is now educating Faith, which is already as big as an adult labrador.

"I was asked, 'Do you want a challenge,' and I said yes," said Anne Hope. "I didn't know the Leonberger breed at all. They are a lot more energetic than normal dogs. They want to go a mile a minute but have to learn to go at a sensible pace and not bounce around. They learn very, very quickly. We have to introduce them to several different situations. They have no brakes. I have been knocked over when they have been out free running in the fields."

MOVE OVER, LABRADORS - THESE MAY BE THE NEW DOGS FOR THE BLIND

Bouvier des Flandres: a medium-sized Belgian working dog originally used for herding cattle. It has a coarse curly coat, floppy ears, a beard and a square face. This rugged, powerful dog comes in dark grey, fawn and black. It is regarded as intelligent, calm and sensitive.

Australian Shepherd: despite its name, does not originate from down under, but originates from the Basque sheepdogs of Spain. It looks like a border collie with no tail, but is stockier with a patchy coat. It has an even disposition and is never shy or aggressive. It can turn its intelligent mind to tracking and herding.

Bernese Mountain Dog: originally used to herd sheep and cattle, this large shaggy dog was introduced to Switzerland by the Romans, whose mastiff-style dogs bred with the Swiss sheepdogs. It is sleek and elegant, ideally black with a white nose and white chest. It is typically 25 to 27 inches high.

Leonberger: a very big dog reaching up to 32 inches tall, with an equable, self-confident temperament. Originating in the German town of Leonberg, it was produced from crossing St Bernards with Newfoundlands. It is either tan or "conker" coloured, and has a slightly wavy coat with a prominent mane across the throat and chest. It usually has a black nose and ears, and was originally bred for its appearance, to pull carts and for water rescue.

Boxer: a self-assured and fearless animal with traces of Great Dane and bulldog in its blood. It was first seen in its present form in the late 1800s and originates from Germany. It is typically 22 inches tall, and tan and black with a stocky figure. Regarded as "a guarding breed of a high order", it is intelligent and can be stubborn.

Rottweiler: a very strong and imposing dog introduced into Britain in 1936. It came from Germany, where it was used to guard livestock, and is the descendant of animals taken to Germany by the Romans. Although it has a reputation as a ferocious guard dog, it is not by nature nervous or aggressive.

Standard Poodle: bred as a duck-retrieving dog in the marshes of Germany. It is over 15 inches high, with a curly coat. It is often clipped in many different styles. It is a jovial dog by nature, is even-tempered and devoted to its owners, but is too often dismissed as a clown.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own