by Jane Cook, New Jersey USA
The Little Lion Dog (‘Petit Chien Lion’ or ‘Lowchen’)
Published August 1979
The Breed Itself
An extremely hardy, easily cared for small personal dog. Little Lions are loving, responsive and clever, with reasoning power beyond that of many dogs. Small enought to dwell in a city apartment and to travel conveniently in the car. Sturdy enough for an active, rough-and-tumble life.
The personality of the Little Lion Dog is outgoing – they love people. Almost completely lacking in fear, they rush to investigate strange objects and noises! They are not particularly aggressive towards other dogs. Perhaps because of their stable temperament, they are eager to learn and easily taught.
A “square”, we propotioned animal; size may range between 10 and 13 inches at the shoulder. Any colours, including spots, are acceptable, but they are not often pure white. The coat is semi-harsh, of medium length. In most, the hair grows naturally in rough “lion” pattern with a ruff about the head and shoulders. It is usually clipped to emphasise these lines, but unclipped, the dog is not unattractive. The tail is carried high over the back with a plume (not a pom-pom) at the tip. The dog is never sissored to final perfection; a rough appearance is to be preferred. Their elegance derives from well-bred stance and movement rather than fussy grooming. Little Lions have an easy, careless grace!
In the Beginning?
The origins of the Little Lion Dogs are rooted in antiquity. Centuries ago they came from the Mediterranean area – the southern parts of France, Italy and Spain. Representations of the breed are found in “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries in the Cluny Museum in France (15th century) and are part of the scene in many paintings and tapestries throughout Europe – in the Louve, the Prado, and in the Museums of Fine Arts in Amsterdam and Brussels. We have found Lion Dogs depicted in oil on wood in St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium (16th century), and in tapestries also of the 16th century in St Etienne’s Cathedral in Toulouse, France. In comparatively modern times, Little Lions were often painted by Goya, whose benefactress, the Duchess of Alba, owned several of the breed.
Today, the breed is recognised by the Federation Cynologique Internationle as “Petite Chien Lion”, and is considered by that organisation to be of French origin. In both Germany and English, Little Lion Dogs are known as “Lowchen”.
A few decades ago the Little Lion Dog had almost become extinct. A dog fancier in Belgium, feeling that the breed was worthy, bought up all the good specimens she could find and worked to perfect a new line within the breed. She devoted herself to this task for twenty years and succeeded in producing excellent stock. Unfortunately she died recently, but her work is being carried on in Germany, where there are several good breeders. “Lions” were brought into England only a few years ago, and into the US in February, 1971. Of course, they are not recognised by the American Kennel Club – Little Lion Dogs are still a very rare breed.
The Fascination with Working with a Rare Breed
Generally conceded to be the rarest of pure-bred dogs, there are probably less than 300 Little Lion Dogs in the world today. We now have the American standard, modelled after that of the F.C.I. We hope to work toward perfect conformation. It will be a long but very interesting project.
The Little Lion Dog is no – right now – for the extrovert who must win in the show ring. Little Lions were originally solely pets and companions and that must be their purpose now! For those who wish to pursue a long range program to improve the breed (and not just increase it!) it will be a fascinating and very rewarding interest.
For those who wish to own a pure-bred rare and different personal dog, the Little Lion Dog is a likely candidate!