The Lhasa Apso is a popular small dog, prized for both their looks and silly, loving attitude with their people. They can be more difficult around strangers and younger children, and despite their small size, they can have quite the attitude. They also are not a low maintenance breed, although they are cherished by owners who enjoy having a dog they can groom and style in a variety of ways.
Origin and History
The Lhasa Apso is an ancient breed that has existed for at least a thousand years. They were bred to serve as guard dogs for the monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains, home of the Dalai Lama. "Lhasa" comes from the name of the capital city of Tibet. "Apso" may be related to the word "abso" which comes from their original name, "Abso Seng Kye," which means "bark lion sentinel dog."
The lion symbolism has meaning to the breed as the Tibetans believed in a mythical beast, the snow lion, which was the guardian of all of Tibet. The breed was brought to the United States in the 1930s by world traveler Charles Suydam Cutting, who was gifted some dogs by the Dalai Lama himself. These dogs were used to develop the breed in the U.S., and they were the first Tibetan breed recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1935.
While the Lhasa Apso can be loving and affectionate with children, they generally are not the best choice for a home with small children. They are known to nip at toddlers and younger kids who don't understand how to interact properly with a dog. They also do not appreciate a lot of noise, rapid movement, and activity, so a boisterous home full of kids isn't going to be a Lhasa's best environment.
The Lhasa Apso is a small dog, weighing about 13 to 18 pounds. Males are slightly taller, measuring at 11 inches at the withers, and females are usually around 9 inches at the withers. Their bodies are longer than they are tall. They have a tail that curls up, twists, and hangs over their backs. Their heads are rounded with a narrow skull shaped somewhat like a dome and a short, but not brachycephalic, muzzle. They have small, rounded ears that fall downward.
The most distinguishing physical feature of the Lhasa Apso is their straight, heavy coat. Abundant hair can be found on their long, feathered tail, ears, and over their eyes. Their coat on their head, chest, body and legs is long and luxurious and at full length extends to the ground. The coat is a hard double coat that was designed to keep these dogs warm in the cold Tibetan climate.
The Lhasa Apso's coat, which is made of hair instead of fur, is not hypoallergenic, though it's possible some people with allergies tolerate it more than fur. The coat can come in just about any color, but the most common ones are black, black and tan, brindle, brown, cream, fawn, golden, gray, grizzle, parti-color, red, red gold, sable, silver, and white.
The Lhasa Apso has a fierce but loving personality. They can be playful, affectionate, and even downright silly with their families. Yet these same dogs will be right out front to tell strangers to leave and they take their guard dog duties seriously. Barking is definitely a tendency of the breed, especially when they feel the need to alert the household.
While they are devoted to their people, they also are confident dogs that can handle being alone. They can live with other dogs and pets, especially if they are raised with them. They have been known to get into squabbles with other dogs, so you should be aware of this if you want a multi-pet household.
Because Lhasa Apsos have a very intense personality, there's definitely some tips a Lhasa owner should employ when they bring one home. Like most small dogs, Lhasa Apsos have a reputation for being harder to house train. Introduce Lhasas to crate training as soon as possible, which can make the house training process much easier.
Early socialization is a must for this breed. Get your puppy into a puppy socialization class right away and bring them back often. Since these dogs are wary of strangers, the more chances they get to learn to enjoy meeting people, the better. Continue on with at least a basic manners obedience class after puppy socialization classes. Because the Lhasa Apso can be a very smart and independent dog, learning how to communicate positively with them through training can be invaluable for your happy life together.
Work with your dog to stop barking right from the start. The longer they get to "practice" this behavior, the harder it is to teach them a new one. If your Lhasa puppy is reinforced for a "quiet" command, they'll learn faster to cease barking when asked.
The Lhasa does not have excessive exercise needs, and this makes them great dogs for people in apartments and condominiums, as well as seniors and people with less active lifestyles. A good 10- to 20-minute walk each day is enough to keep most Lhasas happy. They will enjoy playing with you as well, but they're just as happy to hang out with you on the couch.
There are several health problems that are commonly found in the breed:
- Eye problems: These occur frequently, including cherry eye, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).
- Patellar luxation: This is a condition of the kneecap moving out of joint that can cause lameness and pain for the dog, as may require surgery to fix it.
- Sebaceous adenitis: An autoimmune disorder that affects a dog's skin, specifically the sebaceous glands.
- Familial inherited renal dysplasia: A disease of the kidneys that is inherited at birth and can greatly shorten a dog's lifespan.
The average lifespan for a Lhasa Apso is about 12 to 15 years, although the oldest Lhasa on record lived to age 29. With proper care and attention, your Lhasa may reach a ripe old age.
The Lhasa Apso is definitely not a low maintenance dog when it comes to grooming. If you want to own a Lhasa, there are some tips you should be aware of before you bring one home.
A Lhasa Apso's coat should be brushed and combed once a day and baths should occur once or twice a month at least. These dogs need to have the hair around their eyes, ears, anus, and genitals regularly trimmed to keep them clean and also improve their vision.
Find a professional groomer that you can bring your Lhasa to, even if you decide you want to do all the work yourself. It's useful to have backup if you find yourself unable to keep up, especially during busy time of year, vacation, or due to a health issue. If expense is not an option, you may prefer to bring your dog to a groomer regularly and have them handle the bulk of the work caring for your dog's coat.
Some owners choose to have their Lhasa Apso's beautiful "show" coats clipped entirely into a puppy cut to make caring for them easier on a daily basis. A groomer can do the clipping for you or you can learn to do it yourself. Because grooming is such an important part of a Lhasa Apso's life, you should acclimate them to it as soon as possible as a puppy. Pair grooming with wonderful things like treats, toys, affection, and whatever else your puppy loves.
Fun Facts About the Breed
- They are one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world.
- It was once thought that the spirits of deceased lamas or priests might enter the bodies of Lhasa Apsos while they awaited reincarnation into a new body.
- Tibetans thought that Lhasas were good luck emblems that brought their owners health, prosperity, and tranquility.
- The AKC first recognized the breed in 1935. These dogs were first known as the Lhasa Terrier and assigned to the Terrier Group. In 1956, they were reclassified into the Non-Sporting Group.
Purchasing or Adopting a Lhasa Apso
If you're planning on getting a purebred Lhasa Apso puppy, the average price for a "pet quality" dog will be around $900 to $1,300. Puppies from champion show lines will cost more depending on the breeder. You can look for breeders through the American Lhasa Apso Club.
Make sure that you interview your breeder carefully and ask to meet the parents of the litter. Because of the breed's more intense personality traits, you want to ensure they're breeding for excellent temperament and health, and are providing socialization, as well.
If you decide you'd prefer to rescue an adult Lhasa Apso, the national breed club has a Facebook Group with resources for dogs needing homes across the U.S. You can also find Lhasa Apsos in local rescue groups and shelters using Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet. Because they are not a rare breed in the U.S., it's not hard to find dogs in rescue.
Since these dogs are naturally hesitant around strangers, make sure you take the time to meet any prospective dogs needing homes and get as much information on them as you can. Some dogs may have a harder time than others acclimating into your home if you already have other pets and especially if you have young children.
Is the Lhasa Apso the Right Dog For You?
The Lhasa Apso is a fierce little lion of a dog that can be an excellent companion in the right home. They're a great choice for small apartment living and quieter lifestyles. While they can do well with families, they are a more challenging dog to own with small children. They also require a lot of grooming, even if you decide to go with a regular puppy cut. When considering the annual cost to own one, you should factor in the expense of grooming products and supplies as well as professional grooming sessions.