The Lhasa Apso, also known as the Tibetan Apso, the Apso Seng Kyi (Tibetan), the Bearded Lion Dog, the Hairy Lion Dog, the Talisman Dog, the Shantung Terrier, the Sheng Trou, the Apso and the Lhasa, originated in the isolated reaches of the Himalayan Mountains and has remained largely unchanged in type and temperament for thousands of years. The name "Lhasa" undoubtedly refers to the capital of Tibet. The term "apso," which is Mongolian, may mean "goatlike," in reference to the breed's long, coarse coat. This sturdy little dog was bred as a watch dog, to guard Buddhist monasteries and homes of Tibetan nobility. The Lhasa Apso was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1935, as a member of its Non-Sporting Group.
The Lhasa is perhaps best known for his unique appearance: his long cloak of hair, necessary in the harsh climate of his homeland, is parted in the middle and drapes down each side of an elongated body from head to tail. His feathered, up-curled tail is carried in a screw over the back and lies off to one side, and he characteristically has hair falling well over his eyes, with an accompanying moustache and prominent beard. The Lhasa Apso was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1935, as a member of its Non-Sporting Group.
Lhasa Apsos can vary quite a bit in size, but dogs typically stand about 10 or 11 inches at the withers, with bitches being slightly smaller. The average Lhasa Apso weighs 12 to 18 pounds. Their cascading coat is heavy, straight, hard, dense, neither woolly nor silky and of good length. It requires daily grooming to prevent matting and tangling. To simplify the grooming process, many owners prefer to keep their Lhasa in a shorter clipped "puppy cut" rather than in full show coat. Potential owners should note that this breed's hair grows continuously. Lhasas come in colors ranging from blonde to black. Occasionally, a purebred Apso bitch may produce smooth-coated puppies, which are called Prapsos, when bred to males of particular lines. Careful breeding has gone a long way to eliminating these "surprise packages."
The Lhasa Apso is originally from the remote mountains of Tibet – particularly near the sacred city of Lhasa – where they were bred as sentinels and companions for temples and Buddhist monasteries, with special efforts taken to fix a type closely resembling a lion in color and shape. The breed's keen intelligence, sharp bark, acute hearing and innate ability to distinguish friend from foe made them perfectly suited to these tasks. The origin of the Lhasa Apso is not clear. Some experts suggest that the smallest puppies of the larger Tibetan Terrier sheepdogs, whose legs were too short to make them effective flock herders, were given to the monks and became foundation stock for the breed. Others say that this is complete conjecture. The word "apso," which is not Tibetan but rather Mongolian, suggests a northern component to the breed.
The monks selectively and purely bred these dogs for centuries and jealously guarded them from outside influence. Legend has it that when a monk (lama, or priest) died but did not reach Nirvana, he was reincarnated as one of the sacred monastery dogs. Occasionally, between the 16th and 20th centuries, the Dalai Lamas (the spiritual leaders of Tibet) presented small lion dogs as gifts to the Imperial families of China and to other dignitaries, as tokens of peace, prosperity and good fortune. These Lhasas were incorporated into strains of small Chinese dogs, no doubt contributing to the formation of the Shih Tzu and the Pekingese.
Before the 1930s, both the Lhasa Apso (a monastery dog) and the larger Tibetan Terrier (a working sheepdog) were referred to as "Tibetan Terriers," which causes confusion when exploring the history of both breeds. Because they were so closely guarded in Tibet, the Lhasa Apso was late to become well-known among outside dog fanciers. One or two may have filtered out of Tibet in the 1800s, as Victorian paintings occasionally depict dogs quite similar to the Lhasa. Serious breeding outside of Tibet began around the turn of the century, when British explorers and emissaries brought them back from travels to Tibet. The Kennel Club in London recognized the Lhasa Apso in 1908 as the "Lhasa Terrier, 10-inch type," to distinguish it from the taller and leggier "Lhasa Terrier, 14-inch type." World War I nearly decimated the breed, but it reappeared in the 1920s.
In 1922, Colonel and Mrs. Eric Bailey acquired a pair of Lhasas when they lived on the Tibetan border in Sikkim. They returned to their English homeland in 1928 with six of their sturdy little dogs, which they showed as the "Lhasa Terrier, 10-inch type" for several years. The Kennel Club (England) finally decided to separate the Lhasa Apso from the larger Tibetan Terrier in 1934. Unfortunately, World War II was a roadblock to implementation of this change, and the breed descended into near obscurity. After the war, fanciers slowly rebuilt the Lhasa Apso breed, which finally achieved Championship eligibility in the Kennel Club (England) in 1965.
The breed fared somewhat better in the United States, where it gained a firm foothold during the 1930s and 1940s. During that time, the thirteenth Dalai Lama presented at least three Lhasa Apsos to Mr. and Mrs. Suydam Cutting of New Jersey. Three more quickly followed, and together they formed the foundation of the breed in North America. The American Kennel Club recognized the Lhasa Apso in 1935; today, it is one of three breeds of Tibetan ancestry being shown in the Non-Sporting Group. During the rest of the 20th century, the Lhasa Apso rose exponentially in popularity, until it became one of the most sought-after of all small dogs world-wide. A Lhasa took Best in Show at the Crufts World Dog Show in 1984.
Modern Lhasa Apsos thrive equally on large estates and in tiny apartments. They continue their service as sentinels, spirited show dogs and beloved companions in the United States and many other countries. The breed's highly acute sense of hearing also makes them highly valued as service dogs for the deaf.
This average life span of a Lhasa Apso is 12 to 15 years, although then can live upwards of 18 years. Breed health concerns may include progressive retinal atrophy, pyloric stenosis, sebaceous gland tumors, keratocanthoma, hydrocephalus, intervertebral disc disease, entropion (usually lower lids), distichiasis, ectopic cilia, caruncular trichiasis, keratoconjunctivitis sicca ("dry eye"), prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane ("cherry eye"), refractory corneal ulceration and pigmentary keratitis and urolithiasis (calcium oxalate, struvite, silica). The most serious hereditary disorder in this breed probably is renal dysplasia, which is an often fatal familial kidney disease.
Lhasa Apsos originated in Tibet, where monks used them to guard the monastery grounds. The monks also used the Lhasa Aspo in some religious ceremonies and generally held the dogs in the highest of regards. Today, Lhasas are trusty companion dogs who still take their watchdog role quite seriously. Lhasa owners agree, these dogs have no clue how small they are. They are fearless and often times bossy dogs who demand the attention of people whenever they are in the room. Some can be quite clownish, making mischief or performing for a laugh. They believe they are the center of the universe, and like any self-respecting diva, Lhasas can be quite moody. Despite their egos, Lhasas generally have a heart of gold and bring great joy to the homes they reside in.
Lhasa Apsos don't require an excessive amount of physical activity to maintain health or happiness. They should be walked daily to maintain fitness, and be allowed to run and stretch their legs at least once per week. They can live in homes of any size, from farms all the way down to city apartments, and they are capable of adapting their physical activity to match the physical activity level of their owner.
Training requires a lot of patience and a gentle hand. Lhasas can be willful, and if they decide they don't want to do something, they simply won't do it. Harsh treatment will often result in the dog retaliating. Lhasas respond best to food rewards, short training sessions and varied routines. Absolute consistency is important when working with a Lhasa Apso as they will see your bending the rules as an invitation to walk all over you. The time it takes to train a Lhasa is well worth the effort. Once leadership is established and the Lhasa learns that there is food in it for him, will step up to the plate and perform the tasks at hand.
Early and frequent socialization is important with this breed. They are naturally suspicious of strangers and this can get out of hand in the form of excessive barking and even nipping or snapping. It is imperative to teach a Lhasa to accept new people as welcome visitors.
Lhasas Apsos are not the best choice for families with small children. These dogs can be moody, possessive of their toys and food and will not take kindly to being teased. Older children should be taught to respect the Lhasas boundaries.
Lhasas are genetically hard-wired to be watch dogs, so even if you properly socialize your dog to accept visitors as welcome, it can be nearly impossible to train the barking alert out of them, and they will alert you (and the neighborhood) to every incoming person, vehicle or animal that comes his way.
Gay and assertive, but chary of strangers.
Variable, but about 10 inches or 11 inches at shoulder for dogs, bitches slightly smaller.
All colors equally acceptable with or without dark tips to ears and beard.
The length from point of shoulders to point of buttocks longer than height at withers, well ribbed up, strong loin, well-developed quarters and thighs.
Heavy, straight, hard, not woolly nor silky, of good length, and very dense.
Mouth and Muzzle
The preferred bite is either level or slightly undershot. Muzzle of medium length; a square muzzle is objectionable.
Heavy head furnishings with good fall over eyes, good whiskers and beard; skull narrow, falling away behind the eyes in a marked degree, not quite flat, but not domed or apple-shaped; straight foreface of fair length. Nose black, the length from tip of nose to eye to be roughly about one-third of the total length from nose to back of skull.
Dark brown, neither very large and full, nor very small and sunk.
Pendant, heavily feathered.
Forelegs straight; both forelegs and hind legs heavily furnished with hair.
Well feathered, should be round and catlike, with good pads.
Tail and Carriage
Well feathered, should be carried well over back in a screw; there may be a kink at the end. A low carriage of stern is a serious fault.
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Sources: American Kennel Club