Information about the Lhasa Apso

The Lhasa Apso is a non-sporting dog breed originating in Tibet. It was bred as an interior sentinel in the Buddhist monasteries, who alerted the monks to any intruders who entered. Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet and apso is a word in the Tibetan language meaning “bearded,” so Lhasa Apso simply means “long-haired Lhasa dog,” although there are also some who claim that the word “apso” is a corruption of the Tibetan word “rapso,” meaning “goat-like”, which would make the equivalent translation “wooly Lhasa dog.”

Male Lhasa Apsos should ideally be 10.75 inches (27.3 cm) at the withers and weigh about 14 to 18 pounds (6.4 to 8.2 kg). The females are slightly smaller, and weigh between 12 to 14 pounds (5.4 to 6.4 kg). The breed standard requires dark brown eyes and a black nose, although liver-colored lhasas have a brown nose. The texture of the coat is heavy, straight, hard, neither woolly nor silky, and very dense. They come in a wide variety of colors including black, white, gold, red and parti-colored with various shadings. Lhasas can be with or without dark tips at the ends of ears and beard. The tail should be carried well over the dog’s back. The breed standard currently used by the American Kennel Club was approved on July 11, 1978.

Having been bred as an indoor monastery sentinel dog by Tibetan Buddhist monks, Lhasa Apsos are alert with a keen sense of hearing and a rich, sonorous bark that belies their size. The ideal Lhasa temperament is to be wary of strangers while being loyal to those closest to them. They can be very aggressive to strangers if left untrained. They rank 68th in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, being of fair working/obedience intelligence.

Lhasa Apsos are independent as well as companion dogs who want to please their owners, yet they may be suspicious toward strangers. Unique personality characteristics of Lhasa Apsos have gained them a reputation as being a very emotive breed that, in most cases, prove themselves to be completely fearless. Lhasa Apsos often show happiness by rubbing their head on their owners, running and rolling around, or sitting on their owner’s feet.

A Lhasa Apso responds to exercise and discipline with a calm assertive energy. These dogs require socialization with dogs and other people early as puppies and throughout their lives. They require patience and may be slow to house train, but in return, they can be quite comical, entertaining and caring companions. They aim to please their owners and enjoy training. While their personality belies their size, they need a home that is mindful that there is a small dog in the house to prevent injury. They enjoy vantage points in the house where they can view all that is going on. They have a sharp bark.

If properly trained early as a puppy, the Lhasa Apso will come to appreciate bathing, hair combing and clipping, but they generally do not enjoy bathing or swimming as this is not part of their breed traits.

The Lhasa Apso is a long-lived breed, with many living in good health into their early 20s. The average age for these dogs is 12-14. There are few health problems specific to the breed. Their vision may deteriorate with age but they are not sight-oriented dogs and they endure blindness with few noticeable changes in behavior.

The Lhasa Apso originated in the area of Tibet over 4,000 years ago as a small breed of mountain wolf. They were domesticated and actively bred perhaps as long ago as 800 BC, which makes it one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world. Recent research has shown the Lhasa as one of the breeds most closely related to the ancestral wolf. (Others are Akita, Shiba Inu, Shar-Pei, Chow, Basenji, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Saluki, Afghan, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Samoyed.)

Referred to in Tibet as Apso Seng Kyi, which can be translated as “Bearded Lion Dog”, the Lhasa’s primary function was that of a household sentinel, guarding the homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries, particularly in or near the sacred city of Lhasa. The large Tibetan Mastiffs guarded the monasteries’ entrances, but the keen hearing and sharp bark of the Lhasa Apso served to warn residents by acting like a burglar alarm if an intruder happened to get past the exterior guards.

It was believed that the bodies of the Lhasa Apsos could be entered by souls of deceased lamas while they awaited reincarnation into a new body. Lhasas in Tibet were never sold. The only way a person could get one was as a gift.

In the early 1900s, a few of the breed were brought by military men returning from the Indian subcontinent to England, where the breed was referred to as “Lhasa Terriers”.

The original American pair of Lhasas was a gift from Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama to C. Suydam Cutting, arriving in the United States in 1933. Mr. Cutting had traveled in Tibet and met the Dalai Lama there. At this time, there was only one Lhasa Apso registered in England. The breed was called first the Apso Lhasa Terrier, then the Lhasa Apso. The American Kennel Club officially accepted the breed in 1935 in the Terrier Group, and in 1959 transferred the breed to the Non-Sporting Group. In the UK, they are placed in the Utility Group.

Certain characteristics which are part of the breed type evolved as a result of geographical and climatic environment, the high altitudes, the dry windy climate, the dusty terrain, the short hot summer and the long bitterly cold winter of the Himalaya region. Among these are head features, the coat, eye-fall, the musculation and body structure, the general hardness and longevity of the breed.

Recently, DNA Analysis has identified the Lhasa Apso as one of the 14 most ancient dog breeds, verifying that lap dogs and companion dogs were among the first dogs bred by humans.

Currently, there is worldwide concern that it is necessary to breed some of the original Tibetan Lhasa Apsos into the Western bred line which is now 60 years old, to maintain the Tibetan authenticity of the breed. The two lines now differ in some ways which is a concern to breeders who want to properly preserve the breed.

Like most mammals, all dogs slough off dander. Since dander and many other allergens become trapped in hair, and shed hairs are light enough to spend considerable time airborne indoors before settling to the floor to be removed during housecleaning (an activity which can, ironically, help them stay airborne), shedding of the coat is a typical way in which house-pets spread their allergens in a domestic environment.

Coming from the extremely cold weather of the Himalayas, the Apso has a double coat: only the undercoat, which is soft, will shed out once a year; the outer coat, consisting of coarse outer guard hairs, does not shed. Many owners do not show their dogs’s full coat and tend to keep their Lhasa Apsos in a “puppy clip.” People with allergies can co-exist with the low-shedding breeds of dogs, including the Lhasa Apso, when they are properly managed.