Standing less than a foot high at the shoulder, Lhasas are small but hardy dogs of aristocratic bearing. They’re famous for a floor-length, flat-hanging coat, parted in the middle and draping each side of the body. A feathery tail curls over the back in the distinct manner of Tibetan breeds. The breed’s fans say the dark, oval-shaped eyes—peeping through lavish facial hair—are the windows of a Lhasa’s merry soul. The complete picture is unmistakably Asian: exotic, elegant, and serenely well balanced.
This thousand-year-old breed served as sentinel dogs at palaces and Buddhist monasteries isolated high in the Himalayan Mountains. For centuries Lhasas have been associated with the Dalai Lama. In the late 1940s, dogs bred and given as gifts by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama helped establish the breed in America. In Tibetan folklore the country’s protector is the mythical Snow Lion, and Lhasas, the “bearded lion dogs,” are the Snow Lion’s earthly representatives. Lhasa is the name of Tibet’s sacred city; Apso means “longhaired dog.”
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.
Lhasa Apsos thrive on high-quality food. Since they usually have thick skin to support their heavy hair coat, Lhasas need a diet with good protein and fat levels. Breeders recommend a food with fat level above 14 percent. The protein source (meat, fish, game, etc.) depends on the individual dog’s tolerance and taste. Most Lhasas tend to utilize their food very well, and even slight overfeeding can lead to unpleasant digestive outcomes. Food can be fed dry, or slightly moistened with a little flavor enhancement such as cooked meat or a grain-free canned food. Whether to feed once or twice a day is a personal choice for owners, but dogs thrive on consistency, so it is recommended to keep the frequency and time of day constant.
Long hair or puppy cut? Both require regular maintenance, and this is a choice for the owner to make. Lhasas in a puppy cut or other clip still should be brushed regularly and bathed between visits to the groomer. Long hair requires regular brushing, using the right tools and techniques. Expect to bathe a long coat at least every two weeks, and brush at least once between baths. Thorough rinsing is essential, as shampoo residue irritates the skin. Conditioners and finishing sprays make grooming easier. Freshly bathed long or clipped hair should be thoroughly dried and brushed, as damp hair, even when clean, will mat.
The Lhasa is generally not a couch potato and is adept at self-exercise. They will race around an apartment to run off energy, entertain themselves in a fenced yard, or take their owners on a brisk walk. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise. They excel at agility, can do scent work, and have been known to retrieve and herd. There are talented Lhasas certified as therapy dogs working in hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, and prisons.
Lhasa Apsos will please you if it pleases them to please you. They are highly intelligent, sometimes compared to a willful toddler. They can learn just about anything that a trainer makes interesting enough to master—on their terms. They do not appreciate repetitive drill and can become uncommonly stubborn if bullied or badgered. Most cases of unacceptable Lhasa behavior involve situations with inconsistent, improper, or nonexistent human leadership. This is a breed for creative, motivated people who enjoy a canine companion of like mind.
The Lhasa Apso is generally a robust, healthy dog. The most serious health problem in the breed is hereditary kidney dysfunction, which can be present in mild to severe form. There is no reliable test to detect carriers. Prospective owners should seek out experienced, conscientious breeders who are aware of the condition and remove affected individuals from their breeding programs. Breeders have made great progress toward eliminating this problem, and the risk of acquiring an afflicted puppy from a knowledgeable breeder is slim. Other conditions to inquire about are dry eye, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), slipping stifles, hip dysplasia, and cherry eye.