Crossing the great divide
by Dorothy Kendall, Orlane Lhasa Apsos

No. 1 – Acknowledging a division amongst Lhasa breeders.During the early 1950’s and 1960's, Lhasa breeders hurled charges and counter-charges against one another relating to the integrity of their unique bloodlines … resulting in damaged relationships, angry confrontations, and a solidification of position on the issue. Sixty years later, it seems little has changed!

No. 2 – What has caused this division? When the first Lhasas from England were imported into this country, a great hue and cry rose from the already established Lhasa breeders who said the imports were really Shih Tzus. These established American breeders based this theory strictly on the basis of the British registrations, rather than the dogs themselves. Despite this, AKC’s John Neff allowed those dogs to be accepted into the registry as Lhasa Apsos.

Whether or not he should have done this is a moot* point – it was done, it won’t be changed, and those imports were absorbed into the general Lhasa population. 1)

No. 3 – Has this division harmed the Breed? There is no doubt in my mind that a great deal of animosity has been deliberately created – first among breeders in the United States, and now worldwide. Whenever a group of people set themselves apart as having the only correct bloodlines (the purists), they are falling into a dangerous trap. Their own research has proven that two of the original dogs used in their bloodlines are behind the original English imports. If they then try to establish that only their Lhasas are correct according to the Standard for the Breed, they must fall back on several old standards written in the early 1900’s, or change the current Standard. This ostracizes all those many breeders striving to breed what they perceive as correct type as outlined in the currently accepted Standard, regardless of bloodlines.

If consistent winning in the ring is not a criterion of excellence, then we as American breeders must base our ideas of what constitutes quality on the American Standard and its interpretation. Our current Standard is short, and does not define a "dog", but rather those characteristics that differentiate the Lhasa Apso from other purebred dogs. This Standard was arrived at by consensus of the parent club (The American Lhasa Apso Club) and its members.

The English Lhasa Apso Standard has already been changed considerably from the American Standard, and is currently accepted by the FCI. Now we have a proponent to change the FCI Standard. It would seem the "purists" do not welcome our American exports overseas! (This may be one way to avoid competition, and keep the status quo.)

No. 4 – What keeps this argument going?Since those early American breeders had established their bloodlines on imports from Tibet and some of the same dogs behind the English imports, why was there so much hostility and vilification towards the new dogs and their owners? Most of us can understand the basic premise of "pure breeding" and why any dilution of bloodlines that could seriously impair the quality of the breed would be unwarranted.

I think this can be answered rather easily by understanding the necessity felt by many for "control", and the advantage of having been "there" first without much competition. If the new dogs had not been competitive, I doubt any more complaints would have been heard from all those concerned. Competition being what it is, the "generic" show dog seemed to catch the judges eye early on – consider the two dogs that competed with great success in the 70’s; BIS Ch. Karma Frosty Knight O’ Everglo and BIS Ch. Kyi-Chu Friar Tuck. These two were quite dissimilar in type, with Frosty being from the "pure" lines, and Tuck being the Americanized version.

Both dogs won Best in Shows - both dogs were handled competently - one was big, one was smaller - one had a coat "to the standard", the other had a voluminous, thick coat - but both showed with great enthusiasm, they were great showdogs. Would you consider them "generic" by any means? One dog was much closer to the standard than the other, but because of the judges perception of the handler, the lesser dog did morewinning. How do we combat this? We don't - we just have to continue showing dogs that are true to the standard.

Things have changed since those early days – the bitter anger and hostility of those first early breeders has been reborn into a cold hard logic based on "Breed Type". The idea of a breeding program striving for any "improvement" has been struck down, and replaced with regression rather than progression. Some of the early dogs from both backgrounds have been defamed and cast as "villains" by those considering themselves "authorities"2).

No. 5 – What would result by dividing the breed into two registries?First, who would determine which criteria upon which to base the division? One proponent of this division, when asked the question "What criteria are you using to split the breed?" answered "Head, eyes, bite, neck, body, front, rear, angulation, coat, size and movement." Well, I guess that’s pretty inclusive, isn’t it?

Neck, front, rear, angulation and movement are all related to structure, not type. These are generic qualities not addressed in our current Standard, assuming that "dog people" understand how these relate to normal canine structure. The length of neck, for instance, depends on placement and angles of the shoulder – and while length of body depends on pelvic placement and structure, the Standard calls for more length than height.

When considering type, however, we are dealing with a look, rather than bone structure. Consider the two Cocker Spaniels shown today – the English Cocker and the American Cocker.

(Which are the English Cockers, and which the American? 3 of each.)

The original English Cocker today remains quite similar to its early foundations in the US. The American version is somewhat different, but as you can see from the photos of American and English Cockers, much of the difference is how the dogs are posed and groomed. The American Cocker has a heavier coat, and slightly different head type. Is this what we want to do with the Lhasa Apso?

The "Original Lhasa" would derive its type from some of the old Standards and articles on the breed, such as quoted below:

"like a Skye with a Scotch Terrier head"

"The terrier type (though all Tibetan dogs have the tail curling strongly over the back), strongly resembles the Skye Terrier.""In size they vary but smaller are considered the more valuable."

"The size varies a good deal, but the really small ones, though up to recently rarely bred in this country are most valued on their own and fetch long prices in the East.""Tommo, which is so like his imported and much lamented dam (which died when giving birth to her second litter), is, I think, the most typical Lhasa in this country, with his short legs, immense paws, heavy coat, lovely shape, and massive head. "

"I do not know if the Indian Kennel Club's decision to separate the Lhasa Terriers into two distinct breeds, calling the 14­15 inch dog the Tibetan Terrier, and the 8 inch dog the Lhasa Terrier, will have any bearing on the Lhasa breed in this country or affect our Lhasa classification in any way."

This sounds very interesting to me … a long, low Terrier-type smaller-the-better dog (with a massive head) about 8-10 inches or so in height! Yes, I can live with that – it conflicts in no way with our present American Standard!

But I have come to know the "purists" over time, and their next step would be to qualify these descriptions to bring their Standard closer to the American Standard! They want it both ways, you see – and it’s hard to argue logic with them.

Next, who would make the division, and how would it be managed? As we can see, poor specimens could fit in either category. Would it be like the Beagles, where if a dog grows over 12", he could be shown in the larger size Beagle ring? Or could a puppy from parents registered as an American Lhasa only be shown in the American Lhasa class, in any country?

Certainly these are questions to think about, and discuss rationally without hyperbole and emotional rantings.


*Adj. Subject to debate; arguable: a moot question.
a. Law. Without legal significance, through having been previously decided or settled.
b. Of no practical importance; irrelevant.

1) Even though these imports brought in much needed diversity, excellent health and temperament, they were immediately categorized as mongrels by the purists.

2) How does one become an "authority" on the Lhasa Apso?
Frankly, I would question that designation if only based on longevity in the breed. Many of these so-called authorities have only bred one specific line of dogs; much less other breeds, and cannot consider themselves authorities on the entire breed. Others that have done extensive research have done so mainly with the idea of proving their own specific ideas, rather than an unbiased look at the various bloodlines.
The Hamilton Farms in New Jersey certainly did not stamp any particular "type" on the dogs they bred and exhibited; Dorothy Cohen who bought out the Hamilton Farms Lhasa Apsos looked for a particular "type" that appealed to her, and not necessarily that of the original imports.