A charming but rare little dog, the origin of the Lowchen is unclear. Thought by some to have derived from Asian stock, the Lowchen resembles some of the smaller Asian breeds in its physical characteristics. There is however, no way to know for sure if the Lowchen breed actually has Asian blood in its lineage. A more likely theory is that the breed was developed from a European foundation, as the Lowchen has been documented in that geographic area for centuries. Dogs similar in look and grooming style have been seen in European draperies, woodcuts, and in both famous and obscure art dating as far back as the medieval period.
Lowchen fanciers claim the breed definitively existed as early as 1434, noting the appearance of what appears to be a Lowchen in the painting “The Arnolfini Marriage” by Jan van Eyck. The artist, however, never stated the actual breed depicted and fanciers of other breeds such as the Brussels Griffon have also laid claim to the image as an early representation of their breed. Other artists believed to have used the Lowchen in their works include Albrecht Durer; who included the Lowchen in some his works of the 1500’s, and Francisco de Goya; who likewise included the breed in his woks of the 18th and 19th centuries. This visual history of the breed has led to the commonly held opinion that the Lowchen is originally of European decent.
Where in Europe, however, is still up for debate; some claim the breed is from Germany, while others claim Holland, Belgium, or France, and still others argue a Mediterranean lineage. While the Lowchen’s genesis may never be known, what is, is that the breed has been documented as a separate and distinct type for more than 400 years, and is one of the rarest dog breeds in the world. For those believers in a more Northern European origin, the Lowchen is thought to be a relative of the modern Poodle. Those arguing a Mediterranean heritage would claim that the Lowchen belongs to the Bichon family, as the name “Bichon” is translated from French as “lap dog with silky hair”. The breed family of Bichon includes breeds like the Bichon-Frise, Bichon Maltese, Bichon Havenese, and the Bichon Bolognese, to which the Lowchen has a strong resemblance.
Whatever its precise lineage, the name “Lowchen” translates from German as “little lion”. A name that is indicative of the distinctive lion cut that has been given to the breed throughout history, making it easy to recognize in the art coming out of Europe since the 15th century. Found in the royal households of Princes and Princesses alike, as well as the homes of peasants living in country cottages, the Lowchen was once a very popular companion to man. Bred to be loving and devoted companions, the Lowchen proved to be terrier-like in that they were useful at chasing vermin away, as well, despite their size they were fierce little guardians of the home. The Lowchen was a favored breed by the aristocracy and high royalty of the courts of Europe prior to and continuing after the Renaissance. The court ladies often groomed the natural Lowchen in this distinguishing lion trim, as lions represented strength and power, important virtues of the aristocracy.
Another reason for the signature lion trim was certainly more fascinating. The Lowchen has very warm skin. In the castles of ancient Europe, it could get very cold. The ladies found that if the back third of the Lowchen was shaved, not only would he look unique and stylish, but they could place the shaved part of the dog under the covers of their beds to keep their feet warm at night. During the daytime, the dog could continue its service as a hand warmer for the ladies, as they could be warmed by holding the dog close and wrapping their hands in its lion mane. The Lowchen became known as the “hot water bottles of Europe.” It is also said that when a knight lost his life in battle he would have a lion carved at the foot of his tomb. If the knight were to die a peaceful death, a Lowchen would be carved at his feet.
Despite a long and rich visual history, the Lowchen was not known by written account until 1555. When Conrad Gessner, in his “Histories Animalium”, mentions the Lowchen breed for the first time. From 1756 on, the Lowchen was included in written classifications of dog breeds under differing names, but most often referred to as the “Lion Dog”. The Poodle and the Bichon were often included in these documents as well, clearly showing that by this time the Lowchen was already a distinct and separate breed. The Lowchen is referred to in many old dog books and some older encyclopedias, including “The Animal Kingdom” by Gmelin (1700’s), Cassell’s “New Book of the Dog” (1881), and “Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopedia” (1934-35).
Because of its charming and playful nature, and its fierce loyalty, the Lowchen was highly regarded by all who kept one in their home. There are folk stories of the loyalty and devotion that the Lowchen breed has for its human companion. On such story is of the most well known Lowchen, called “Bijou”. Living an aristocratic life in the Weilburg Castle, Germany, in the 18th century, Bijou was a doting companion to his master. It is said that upon his masters leaving the castle for a hunting excursion, little Bijou, overtaken by grief and disappointment at being left behind, jumped from a castle window in an attempt to follow his master. The jump was 60 feet from window to the Lahn River below. It is uncertain whether Bijou survived the jump, but he became renowned for his devotion, loyalty, and fearlessness. The story of Bijou and the dog’s virtues were memorialized with a life-sized painting of the brave dog, which still hangs in the castle to this day.
Although the breed initially enjoyed a history of being a venerated and popular, by the 19th century the Lowchen’s numbers had began to dwindle significantly. The rising popularity of the Toy Poodle may be part of the reason the breed began to see a decline. The Toy Poodle which resembles the Lowchen in both grooming and size soon became the favorite amongst the nobility. The Lowchen which was at that time, as it had been throughout history, a relatively rare breed became a mere curiosity to those who actually came across one, and was thought to be a dog breed that had gone extinct by many others.
There were some that tried with little success to revive the breed during the early 1800’s. The earliest documented breeder was Dr. Walthier, of Germany who explained that the breed was originally called ‘Leoninus’ (meaning “lion-like”) because of the breeds hair style, not because it possessed a fierce lion-like personality. A true resurrection of the breed wouldn’t take place until the late 1800’s and into the turn of the century. Starting with Herr Professor Kurt Konig, from the Zootechnisches Rotenburg (Zootechnical Institute in Rotenburg) who began gathering Lowchens and other breeds for genetic research. Konig and his assistants preferred and subsequently gathered only healthy dogs that had lively and outgoing personalities for their studies. He called the dogs gathered into his breeding program Kobaldt-Mascotts and Kobaldt-Daumlinge. Once enough adequate specimens had been gathered, Konig closed his breeding program to any outside dogs. He was not attempting to save the Lowchen, or any other breed, but the results of his breeding program did help the Lowchen’s numbers.
Also around this time, another early breeder, a Belgian man by the name of Maximillian Coninck was also breeding and exhibiting Lowchen. In 1896, a Madame Bennert was searching for an ideal pet to include in her family. She discovered the Lowchen and sought to acquire one. She contacted Coninck, and Bennert subsequently obtained her first Lowchen from him. The relationship she developed with this dog would begin a lifelong love affair between Bennert and the Lowchen. She had a deep love for the breed and an enthusiastic interest in its history and its future. Having no intention of becoming a breeder in the beginning, Bennert eventually came to realized that the dog was a rare breed with declining numbers. It was not however, until the on-set of World War II (WW II) that Bennert decided she had to do something to try to preserve her beloved Lowchen breed from certain extinction. She had seen the devastation that the First World War had created for many breeds and she had even seen the extinction of some and did not want the Lowchen to have this same sad fate.
In 1945, as the end of WWII occurred, Bennert began an attempt at locating quality Lowchen to establish a strong foundation for the breed. She managed to find just three Lowchen over the ensuing three years. Of the dogs, Bennert wrote:
“After a long and disappointing search I finally found two wonderful females; one was blue and came from (the town of) Lille, and the other was biscuit colored and came from the area of Diegham. After a long search I finally found a blue male and this was the beginning of the breed’s second chance.”
Bennert bred these dogs, her first litter from them being born on April 13th, 1948. For the following decade, Bennert would promote the breed and travel in search of remaining Lowchen. It was then that Bennert would come to contact the aforementioned Herr Professor Konig, now in his elder years. Together the two would determine that some of the dogs he had bred were indeed of the Lowchen type. In 1957, a female Lowchen was transferred from Konig’s breeding program, into Bennert’s. This would be the only dog she would receive from Konig’s litters, and what became of the rest is unknown.
While later searching for a canine hunting companion for her nephew, Bennert came upon a Dr. Rickert in Germany. A veterinarian with a specialty in genetics, Rickert was asked by Bennert to advise her on a Lowchen breeding program. He agreed to be her advisor, and over time they became good friends. They would visit one another when possible, and would often discuss how to preserve the Lowchen breed. Now an older woman, Bennert encouraged Rickert to take over the breeding effort she had begun. Having no real interest in being the breeder of small dogs, Rickert initially declined her offer.
In 1960, the Lowchen was recognized as the “rarest breed in the world” by The Guinness Book of World Records. Soon after, Rickert acknowledged that if he did not become involved in breeding the Lowchen, his dear friend Madame Bennert’s lifetime of work to save the Lowchen breed would have been for nothing as the breed would likely disappear. In the early 1960’s, Bennert’s Lowchen line was transferred to the care of Rickert. With his newly acquired line of Lowchen, he began the Von den Drei Lowen kennel. The first Lowchen litter born to Rickert’s kennel arrived on April 10th, 1963. The second litter came roughly a year later, on February 16th, 1964. This second litter would become extremely important in the history of the Lowchen breed. The Lowchen breeds worldwide, that are living today can trace their lineage back to the dogs whelped in this second Von den Drei Lowen litter. The dogs born on that day in 1964 became the foundation to all modern breeds of Lowchen.
The efforts of Bennert and Rickert would be continued by a German woman named Fran Ostertag. She would become the founder of the Livland Kennel, after purchasing her first Lowchen. In 1966, she met Bennert and they became fast friends. Bennert transferred much of her research to Ostertag. Ostertag remained an active breeder and Lowchen enthusiast until her health prevented her from doing so. She would be the link between the early Lowchen breeding and research conducted by Bennert and Rickert, and modern breeding lines of Lowchen.
In 1968, Elilidh Stenning imported the first two Lowchen into England. Later that year, Eilish Banks of Cluneen Kennel imported two of her own. Banks imported five more Lowchen in 1970. Other English kennels began to import Lowchen as well, and their numbers increased gradually. But even with this increase, the breed remained rare and uncommon. In 1971, it was recognized by the Kennel Club (KC). Again in 1973, The Guinness Book of World Records mentions the Lowchen when it stated: “The rarest breed of dog is the Lowchen, of which 65-70 were reported in March, 1973.” Banks’ Cluneen Kennel produced a dog called Cluneen Adam Adamant who would be recorded by Guinness as the most expensive Lowchen ever when in 1976 Banks refused a 10,000 pound offer of purchase for Adam Adamant.
The Lowchen would finally make an appearance in America in 1971, by way of England. At this time, the Lowchen was still known as the “Lion Dog”. Also in 1971, The Lowchen Club of America (LCA) was formed and the breed’s name was officially changed to “Lowchen”. Admitting it to the Miscellaneous Class in 1996, the American Kennel Club (AKC) registered its first Lowchen. Just two years later, in 1999 the Lowchen breed received full recognition by the AKC and was subsequently placed into the Non-Sporting Group. The Lowchen is currently shown in the Toy Group in England and throughout Europe.
Although remaining a very rare and special breed, the Lowchen is now safe from extinction due to the tremendous efforts put forth by early breeders. The Lowchen is currently recognized by all major kennels throughout the world. The Lowchen was ranked 147th out of 167 breeds on the AKC’s 2010 most popular dog breeds list.
A stylish dog of aristocratic heritage, the Lowchen sports a lion-trimmed coat and a lively attitude. The Lowchen’s expression is happy and alert. An attractive dog, the Lowchen was a favorite with the elite of society for centuries. The breed is known for its distinctive grooming style, and has been groomed in this way since Pre-Renaissance times, giving it the nickname of the “Little Lion Dog”.
Standing just 10 to 13 inches at the withers, and weighing in at roughly 12 to 18 pounds, the Lowchen is the perfect sized lap dog. The body is just slightly longer than it is tall and is muscular and solidly built. Correct proportion is important in this breed.
The head of the Lowchen is held as proudly as it is held high, giving suggestion to its noble past. The skull is broad and flat between the ears, which are pendant shaped and set just above eye level. The ears are of medium length, but well fringed. A moderate stop is evident. The large round eyes of the Lowchen are set deep in the skull. They are set well apart and face forward in their gaze. The eyes are generally dark brown, but some allowance is made for lighter eyes in accordance with coat coloring in the dog. The muzzle of the Lowchen displays an overall roundness in form. Adequately defined and broad, with strong jaws displaying a precise scissors bite. All incisors fit in a straight row and upper teeth overlap the bottom in a tight, square fit.
The faintly arched neck is of good length and carries the head high when the Lowchen is in motion. It leads into a straight topline to the tail, fitting easily into the shoulders of the dog. The smooth musculature of the shoulders descends into straight forelegs of good length, with elbows held close to the body. The front feet of the Lowchen point straight and are small and round, with deep pads and arched toes that are close together. The Lowchen possesses a strong loin, well-muscled and solidly built, with strong hindquarters. The back feet are slightly smaller than the front, but built much the same in shape. The tail is carried high and plumed at the top. Carried in a tight curve (called a “cup-handle”) with the plume touching the back when in motion, the tail may be held in a dropped fashion when standing.
The coat of the Lowchen, or more specifically the unique way in which it has been trimmed throughout the centuries, is a most distinguishing characteristic of thebreed. Looking much the same as it has since it was first recorded in art dating to the 1400’s, the Lowchen’s signature style is the lion-trim, meaning the back third of the dog’s body is clipped close to the skin with a “mane” of hair allowed to remain natural on the front of the dog. A plumed tail is included in this trimming style as well as cuffs of hair at the ankles of all four legs. The Lowchen possesses a soft textured single coat. There should be a wave to the hair but never curls. The coat is naturally dense and long, with thicker hair being present around the neck and withers. When shown in the dog show arena, the coat must always display the lion trim, however all colors and combinations of colors are permitted without preference to one over another.
A loving companion to the aristocracy for centuries, the Lowchen was bred to be outgoing, with flawless manners and a social nature. The Lowchen makes friends easily and often. The breed is full of energy and cheer; Lowchen love to be around people. It is a little socialite with a sweet and pleasing personality. The Lowchen is loving and affectionate toward those individuals that it is familiar with, great with children, and pleasant to other pets and animals. The Lowchen is a devoted companion, often choosing a preferred family member as its favorite and showering adoration and affection on the chosen one. Although it may be more reserved in its show of affection towards newcomers and strangers, the Lowchen is congenial, being well-mannered and accepting of newer members of the group. The AKC’s breed standard describes the Lowchen’s personality when saying: “the Lowchen’s outgoing and positive attitude made the breed a pleasure to be around.”
The Lowchen, as a breed is accommodating toward others, but this should not be mistaken for a weakness in the dog. The Lowchen is to be taken seriously. The breed, like many others of the Toy Group is a fierce watchdog who takes that position in the family seriously. The Lowchen enjoys being perched in a spot that allows it adequate view of anyone or anything that may approach the home. The breed is quick to alert of any new arrivals to the area. Attentive watchdogs, Lowchen are focused and alert. It is said of the ancient Lowchen, that the breed would be placed in the bedchambers of ladies of the court to alert guards to male visitors to the boudoir.
With this watchdog status bred into the early Lowchen, the breed today is known as a barker. Any activity will be seen by the Lowchen as a reason to notify its owner of the happenings. If not properly taught to control its barking, a Lowchen may bark incessantly and become a nuisance. Early correction of this type of uncontrolled barking can prevent the Lowchen from becoming an annoyance. Regardless of the tendency to bark, the Lowchen is smart and has a strong desire to please. Proper training will help the Lowchen to develop into a well-adjusted dog that will bark only when appropriate.
Proper training can also help the energetic Lowchen breed stay physically and mentally satisfied. The breed excels at the basics of understanding commands, displaying obedience, and proper behavior. Once these skills are sufficiently performed, the Lowchen may begin more advanced training. The Lowchen breed has proven itself to be highly successful in advanced obedience training, as well as at tricks and agility competitions. The Lowchen is a friendly and sensitive breed; therefore any training that is undertaken with the breed should always be positive. Harshness will cause the dog to become withdrawn, nervous, or anxious.
Being of a sensitive nature, the Lowchen is also vulnerable to separation anxiety. The Lowchen’s history as a companion dog is centuries old and deeply inbred into the Lowchen’s personality. It most enjoys being with its friends and family and will not tolerate well, being left alone for long periods of time. Feelings of loneliness may lead to anxiety in the dog, the result being destructive behavior and nuisance barking. Early socialization is also essential to the development of the Lowchen breed. If not properly socialized with new people and other dogs/animals, the Lowchen breed has a tendency towards shyness and suspicion when uncomfortable. This discomfort can even lead to fighting and defensive biting/snapping at others if left unresolved.
The Lowchen may be a small dog, but it has boundless energy and enthusiasm. It is playful and active, although as a breed, the Lowchen does not require an excessive amount of physical exercise. A daily walk and trips to the park a couple times a week should satisfy the Lowchen’s need to run and play, as well as its desire to socialize. The Lowchen breed, although small in stature, has proven itself to be a sufficient jogging companion on short distance trips. Even with its tiny legs, the Lowchen will keep the pace. The breed does just as well in an apartment or condo as it would in a large home. As with all dogs, a fenced yard is best and the dog should always be walked on a leash for safety, although the Lowchen is not overly inclined to chase things or wander off. The Lowchen makes a good companion to the elderly do to its low-maintenance activity and exercise requirements, and its pleasant and affectionate demeanor.
Something to consider about the Lowchen, that it true for many small breed dogs, is that housebreaking can be a long and difficult process. It is simple for a small dog to sneak behind furniture or into hidden areas, and if the dog goes to the bathroom in the home and it is not immediately noticed, it cannot be corrected; therefore the dog may make a habit of it, believing that it is acceptable behavior. Patience and a watchful eye will be necessary until the dog matures and is able to control its body adequately.
Overall, the Lowchen is an ideal companion to a family, or for a first-time dog owner. Its lively attitude, good manners, and responsiveness to obedience training make the breed easy to maintain and a pleasure to be around. Once properly trained and socialized, the Lowchen will be a loving and devoted friend. The breed is however, still very rare and the one trouble you may have with the Lowchen is in fact finding one.
The Lowchen’s standard of appearance and its unique grooming style have been consistent and recognizable for centuries. Well documented in art since the 1400’s, the Lowchen’s lion trim is what makes the breed unique among other toy breeds. The Lion-clip is what gave the Lowchen breed its nickname “the little lion”, and is still used today as it has been throughout the centuries as the ideal style for the dog.
From the last rib to the dog’s bottom, the hair is clipped very close to the body. The tail is further clipped in this manner leaving a long plume at the end. Both the front and hind legs are also clipped close to the body, allowing for “bracelets” or cuffs of long hair left at the ankle, with the feet being completely trimmed. The dog should receive a full grooming once every 6 – 8 weeks. In the show arena, the Lowchen should always display this signature look with no further trimming or tidying up of the unclipped coat permitted.
Aside from the lion trim’s requirements to maintain the signature look, the Lowchen should be brushed regularly to prevent dirt and debris from collecting in the coat and to prevent knots and matting. As with all dogs, special attention should be paid to the ears, teeth, and eyes when grooming the dog to detect and prevent any health concerns. The nails should be trimmed regularly.
As the Lowchen breed is rare and has been purebred for centuries, the health concerns for the breed are somewhat minimal. Living a full life of 12 to 14 years on average, the Lowchen is considered to be a healthy and vibrant breed.
The most common health concerns associated with the Lowchen breed are:
Hepatic Carcinoma has also been mentioned as a minor concern for the Lowchen breed.