Lhasa Apso: Breed Facts & Temperament
Smart, playful, confident and protective, the Lhasa Apso is a big dog in a small dog’s body. They may look all elegant and adorable, but make no mistake, these dogs are sturdy and fiercely protective of their human families. Originally bred by nobility and monks as guard dogs for palaces and monasteries, the Lhasas have been associated with the Dalai Lama for centuries. Today, the Lhasa Apso dog is primarily held as a companion pet who, despite its fairly small frame, makes for an excellent protector. If you’re thinking of getting this beautiful, longhaired dog for yourself, this article is for you. Here, we talk about the Lhasa Apso breed in detail, including the dog’s history, health, temperament and so much more.
History of the Lhasa Apso
The Lhasa Aspo is a very old breed hailing from Tibet, Lhasa city. For centuries, this thousand-year-old dog served as a guarding pet and companion at Buddhist monasteries and palaces in the Himalayan Mountains. The name itself is a clear indication of the breed’s origin: as mentioned, Lhasa is the (capital) city in Tibet, while Apso is a word in the Tibetan language. There is some confusion over the “apso” word though; some claim it is an anglicized version of the Tibetan word for “goatee”, while others believe it’s a compound noun meaning “bark-guard” or “longhaired dog”. What we do know, is that the Lhasa is also known as Abso Seng Kye in Tibet, which translates to “Bark Lion Sentinel Dog”.
Since its inception, the Lhasa has been considered good luck, even sacred among dogs. This is probably because they were used as sentinel dogs in monasteries, but also because of the breed’s elegant and proud appearance. Another thing played a role in the “sacredness” of Lhasa: they were incredibly hard to get by regular folks. The myth was so great back then, that people believed that when an owner of the Lhasa Apso dies, their soul enters the body of their pet. The Lhasas were not even allowed to leave the country except when given as gifts by the Dalai Lama!
Giving Lhasa Apso puppies and dogs as gifts by the Dalai Lama is actually what popularized the breed throughout the world. In the late 1940s, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama bred and gave several Lhasas, helping establish the breed in the USA. However, the first Lhasas entered the US a few years before, in 1933, when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama gave a couple of Lhasas as gifts to Charles Suydam Cutting, a famous explorer, naturalist, author and philanthropist. Two years later (1935), Lhasa Apso was recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Quick Facts About the Lhasa Apso
The Lhasas are a very interesting breed: they’re happy and playful comedians at heart, but also regal, proud and fierce. They’re affectionate with their family but very aloof with strangers. If this sounds interesting and like something you’d like in a pet, keep on reading because in the “Quick Facts” section, we reveal all about the Lhasa Apso dog!
- This is an ancient breed: recorded history goes back to 800 B.C., when the Lhasas lived in isolation with Tibetan Buddhists in monasteries.
- The Lhasas were originally bred as guard dogs: they served as watchdogs inside monasteries and palaces, while Mastiffs served outside.
- This is a cold-weather dog: originated from Himalayan Mountains, the Lhasa can weather out cold and snowy conditions with ease. In fact, the breed was originally associated with the Tibetan Snow Lion!
- Lhasas live extremely long lives: this is one of the longest-living dog breeds in the world. They are known to live into their late teens and beyond, with an average lifespan ranging from 12 to 15 years. That said, many Lhasas live beyond 20. The oldest Lhasa lived to be a whopping 29 years old!
- The Lhasa Apso is highly independent: although affectionate with their human family, the Lhasas are first and foremost independent. They don’t need constant attention or affection gestures, and will do fine on their own if you work a lot or travel often.
- They require a lot of grooming: beauty comes with a price, and the price for the Lhasa’s beautiful coat is lots of grooming! Whether you decide to keep your Lhasa’s coat long or you opt for a puppy cut, regular visits to the groomer are a must!
- They can be used as hearing dogs: because Lhasas have very sensitive hearing and are intelligent, they’re often used as service dogs, or more specifically, hearing dogs. They assist deaf people by physically alerting them to common sounds like alarm clocks, telephone rings, smoke alarms, etc.
- Their short nose can cause breathing problems: like many small dogs, Lhasas can have breathing difficulties when exercising due to their facial structure. Because of this, they should never have lengthy, strenuous exercise sessions, but shorter and more frequent ones.
Things You Should Know
Whether you’re considering getting a Lhasa Apso or you already own one, learning a thing or two about the breed can help you take better care of your pet. Here we cover everything you need to know about this proud and ancient breed, including its health and temperament, how much grooming they need, tips on how to best train them and more.
The Lhasa Apso is generally a sturdy, healthy dog and one of the longest living breeds. But, like all other breeds – especially purebred dogs – the Lhasa too is prone to certain health problems. Bear in mind that your dog may not get any of these diseases ever, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re thinking about getting this breed. Also, knowing which diseases your pet is susceptible to can help you recognize the signs early, which, in case they end up having a serious health problem, can lead to early treatment and therefore better outcome.
In any case, here are some of the diseases that the Lhasa Apso breed can suffer from:
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): this is an inherited canine disease of the eye which involves a gradual but certain deterioration of the retina. In its early stages, the disease causes dogs to became night-blind only. Because it’s progressive, it worsens over time and dogs start losing sight during the day as well. Thankfully, the disease is pain-free, and your dog can adapt to the condition very well, especially if the disease is caught early and they receive effective treatment plan(s). If your Lhasa suffers from PRA, do no worry too much – they can still thrive and enjoy life; just ensure they remain in familiar surroundings during their entire lifetime.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS): KCS, or dry eye, is an inflammation of the eye that occurs when the dog’s tear duct doesn’t produce sufficient tears. Characterized by a gooey, yellowish discharge, irritation and pain, it’s often mistaken for conjunctivitis. If your Lhasa develops KCS, they will need proper daily care and treatment, including artificial tears and medication. In some cases, surgery is necessary.
- Cherry eye: this disease affects the third eyelid in dogs, causing inflammation and swelling. A red mass – similar to a cherry – forms at the inner corner of the eye, hence the name. Typically, surgery is the only treatment.
- Sebaceous adenitis (SA): SA is a genetic skin condition that is sometimes mistaken for allergies. It occurs when the dog’s immune system attacks the sebaceous glands, resulting in extremely dry and itchy skin, hot spots and lesions, scaly patches, hair loss and secondary skin infections. Its presence can be discovered only by biopsy, and the usual treatments include special medical shampoos, ointments and oils. Often, antibiotics are necessary too.
- Patellar luxation: a luxating patella is a common condition in small dogs in which the patella (kneecap) dislocates out of its normal location. The dislocation is painful and can cause cartilage damage and ligament tears, so it’s important to treat it on time.
- Familial Inherited renal dysplasia: this is the most serious disease in the Lhasa Apso breed as it affects the kidneys. Dogs who suffer from this condition have smaller kidneys that are also irregular in shape. The severity of the diseases varies: extremely affected puppies are excessively thirsty and abnormally small and can suffer from renal failure, while mildly affected adult dogs may show little to no symptoms.
The Lhasa Apso is a very intelligent dog, but they’re also independent, strong-willed and often manipulative. As you may have guessed, they’re not exactly easy to train. That said, they can learn almost anything if they want to. So how do you go about this? First, you should make learning a fun exercise. Lhasas are smart and clever but they’re also fun-loving and will learn just about anything you make interesting to master. In other words, no repetitive drills, yelling or badgering allowed – Lhasas appreciate a patient, positive and fun approach. Use treats, toys and other positive reinforcement methods in plentiful amounts and you should have a well-behaved Lhasa in no time.
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This all being said, a creative approach to training is only half of the work here. Equally important is consistency, or routines. To teach your Lhasa good manners, it’s crucial to be firm but kind and consistent but not boring in your training approach.
It should also be noted that for Lhasas, early training and socialization (puppy classes) are crucial.
Lhasas are dogs with moderate energy levels. They don’t need a lot of exercise, but some regular physical activity is still absolutely essential. They’re happy to live indoors but some outdoor activity, such as playing fetch and short daily walks, is recommended. Generally speaking though, the Lhasa Apso breed is smart and self-sufficient for the most part, so even if you sometimes don’t have time to walk them, they’ll let off steam themselves by running around the apartment or fenced yard.
Because they’re very intelligent, Lhasas also need plenty of mental stimulation to go with their physical exercise. So, besides short daily walks (10-15 minutes, 2-3 times a day), games and canine sports are also recommended. When walking with your Lhasa, take their toy(s) with you, play fetch and other games you both find interesting.
To keep your Lhasa healthy and happy for years (maybe even decades), it’s important to feed them a high-quality diet that is rich in bioavailable protein. Healthy fat is also important for their skin and coat, so choose brands and recipes that prioritize protein and fat in their formulas. For reference, most breeders recommend feeding a commercial food that contains more than 14% of fat.
Be careful not to over-feed your Lhasa. They tend to utilize their food very well, so over-feeding is not only unnecessary, but it can be detrimental as some dogs experience digestive issues when eating too much. Of course, you do want to increase their food if they’re highly active, pregnant or breastfeeding. Puppies also need more calories than adult dogs and should be fed a puppy specific diet. Overall, the diet of Lhasas should not be complicated – both dry and wet high-quality commercial foods are recommended and you can also supplement with homemade cooked high-protein meals if you think it’s necessary.
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If you’re looking for an easy-to-groom dog, you may want to look elsewhere. The Lhasa is an elegant dog with a long, beautiful coat that needs lots of care and grooming to be at its best. Whether you decide to go for long or puppy cut though, regular maintenance is a must, so it’s crucial to get your Lhasa accustomed to being groomed at an early age, while they’re still a puppy. Because this long, lustrous coat requires a lot of work on a regular basis, it’s important to make the grooming sessions a positive experience. Use praise and treats to reinforce calm and cooperative behavior and you (or your groomer) will have a much easier task at hand.
While your Lhasa will require lots of regular brushing (at least a few times a week, ideally every day), as well as bathing (about every two weeks), at least you won’t have to deal with a lot of shedding. This breed sheds slowly and continuously (like humans) due to their long coat, which, as a result, prevents individual hair strands to become airborne. This also significantly reduces the amount of dander in the air as compared to other breeds. But is Lhasa Apso hypoallergenic? While people with allergies may co-exist with this and other low-shedding breeds, we wouldn’t exactly call Lhasas hypoallergenic; after all, all dogs slough off some dander.
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Alright, so you’ve learned everything there is to be learned about this breed, including health, exercise, training, nutrition and grooming. But what about Lhasa Apso temperament? Are they the right fit for you and your family?
While smart, protective and playful, the Lhasa Apso is not a pet for everyone. They can be stubborn and manipulative (some folks compare them to willful toddlers!), sometimes domineering, so they’re not suitable for first-time owners. To be well-behaved, they require a firm but loving hand, and preferably an experienced pet parent. This is all to say that, like any other breed, the perfect Lhasa Apso does not come ready-made from the breeder or shelter. If not trained and socialized on time and consistently, they can develop all kinds of unpleasant behaviors, including excessive barking, digging, fighting with other pet, even children. But with the right approach? Lhasas can become loving and well-behaved pets, fierce protectors, and indeed, companions for life.