The Lhasa Apso is a non-sporting dog breed originating in Tibet. It was bred as an interior sentinel in the Buddhist monasteries, to alert the monks to any intruders who entered.
Having been bred as an indoor monastery-sentinel dog by Tibetan Buddhist monks, Lhasa Apsos are alert with a keen sense of hearing. The ideal Lhasa temperament is to be wary of strangers while being loyal to those closest to them. Left untrained, they can be very aggressive to strangers. They rank 68th (out of 79) in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs.
The Lhasa Apso originated on the Himalayan plateau in the area of Tibet. They were domesticated and actively bred perhaps as long ago as 800 BC, which makes the Lhasa Apso one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world.
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.
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 the “Lhasa Terrier”.
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 travelled in Tibet and met the Dalai Lama there. At this time, there was only one Lhasa Apso registered in England. The breed was at first called the Lhasa Terrier, later 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.
Today, in the US, there exists a unique group of Lhasa Apsos known within the fancy as the Gompa dogs. (Gompa is the Tibetan word for a monastery’s main meditation hall.) These Lhasa Apsos are direct descendants of the Lhasa Apsos from the Drepung monastery in Tibet, where, in 1941, Lama Gyen Yeshe was gifted Preserving the Future, Enlisting the Past his first Lhasa Apso by a High Reincarnate Lama. In the 1980s, nine Lhasa Apsos bred by the late Lama Gyen Yeshe or sired by one of his dogs were brought into Canada. Bred together for a number of years, descendants were eventually registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC). In 2000, the remaining descendants entered the United States as part of a successful rescue. Since then, organized efforts have been made to maintain the dogs and preserve the line.
Lhasa Apsos are independent as well as very loyal and eager-to-please dogs, yet they may be suspicious toward strangers. While Lhasa Apsos show loyalty to their owners, they will let their masters know when they don’t want to do something. They will lie flat without moving, “put on the brakes” and refuse to walk forward or try to back away. Time and patience will build trust between the Lhasa and owner.
The male Lhasa Apsos is ideally around 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-coloured Lhasas have a brown nose. The texture of the coat is heavy, straight, hard, neither woolly nor silky, and dense. They come in a wide variety of colours including black, white, red, and gold with various shadings.
Lhasas have long coarse hair which causes the weight of the hair to be heavy. Due to the long length of hair, Lhasa Apsos do not shed hair the same way as other breeds. Instead, they shed hair like humans, slowly and continuously, as to keep their hygiene clean and risk of matting and tangling low.
Coming from the extremely cold weather of the Himalayas, the Lhasa has a double coat: an undercoat to keep them warm and an outer coat consisting of guard hairs for protection and aiding to keep their coat flat and smooth.
Routine brushing and bathing are necessary, not only to keep up on the slow continuous shedding but also to remove any dirt and debris that may get caught within the hair strands. A Lhasa with a thick, coarse outer coat will likely require less grooming than a Lhasa with a lot of undercoats and soft, less coarse top coat.