of the Lhasa in style and balance
by Dorothy Kendall, Orlane Lhasa Apsos
The mature Lhasa Apso in full coat portrays the very
essence of beauty and style, and can be appreciated by the novice as
well as those very familiar with the breed. Because of the coat, some
find it difficult to judge the Lhasa, whereas familiarity with coat
movement betrays faults even more obviously than some of the scissored
or shaped breeds.
Breed Characteristic (or type) is what we see first
when the Lhasa walks into the ring, or the living room, and should never
be confused with balance or structure. While both are basic ingredients,
they must never dominate, but only append type. We as breeders can take
some liberties with type when striving for soundness, but what we take
into the ring should always exemplify type.
Breeders and judges often speak of the many different
types of Lhasas that appear in the rings around the world, when I would
assume they refer to styles rather than type. There are certain characteristics
that are very important to type; i.e. a flat, form fitting coat that
does not obscure the outline ... the tail well over the back and upright
head carriage ... the rectangular rather than square shape ... all contribute
to the "look" that says - Lhasa Apso!
While structure is very important to proper movement
and good topline, excellent type does not wholly depend on it. If you
select only on the basis of structure (whether in the ring or the litter
box), breed characteristics may be lost, only to be replaced with sound,
mediocre dogs that lack style and balance, as well as type. Since the
Lhasa is a basically normal structured dog, it is easier to find faults
in construction than to find quality in type and balance. Our standard
makes this apparent, for example, when allowing for a less than perfectly
straight front, while requesting it as an ideal to work toward.
The Lhasa Apso was referred to as the "Lhasa
Terrier" at one time, and the term fits him well - an agile, small
dog of medium bone and substance - never coarse or overdone. A long
rib cage, coupled with a short, strong loin gives him strength and endurance
... the slightly achondroplastic or shortened leg keeps him from the
"square" appearance of the Poodle or Tibetan Terrier, without
lending itself to the long body subject to various structural problems
and lack of balance. This accounts for the Lhasa weighing heavier than
he looks - he is never racy, or toyish, or fragile in appearance.
The term "balance" is much like "beauty"
and apparent in the eye of the beholder. A superior judge is often referred
to as having a "good eye" for a dog and is fortunate to be
able to quickly assess the overall balance (and type) of the dogs in
the ring. Good balance in the Dachshund or Boxer would never fit the
Lhasa, so the matter of defining balance can be tricky, at best.
For one thing, balance in any breed can never be acquired
by training, handling or grooming ... only enhanced. Style is another
matter entirely; temperament, training, conditioning, and handling are
very important to style. Add to this some exaggeration of type, and
Voila! a new style is introduced. While most breeders agree on the basic
correct type, we all have our preferences in style that we cling to.
It has been my good fortune to exhibit, as well as see dogs shown in
Europe, Canada and the United States ... and I see less variation in
type than might be expected. Imports and exports have done well overall,
demonstrating that breeders are doing a good job with the Lhasa.
Those breeders and judges who have not come from a
multi-breed background tend to view the Lhasa as a very unique small
canine. There is a tendency to place more importance on individual detail
rather than the overall picture. I have seen Lhasas with lovely type
and balance thrown out because of a faulty mouth, toeing out in front,
or even incorrect eye shape when there was nothing comparable in overall
quality in the ring. Breeders do this many times when choosing puppies
to keep from a litter - evaluating with a fine tooth comb, picking on
minor details that offend them personally, and overlooking those dogs
that could really help their breeding program.
You may have heard breeders or judges lamenting the
proliferation of new types, wishing to go back twenty or more years
to the original "correct" type. Thanks to the miracle of home
movies and videos, we can go back and see some of the great old dogs
that made such an impact on our breed many years ago, and we discover
that while type has not changed, we see a vast improvement in presentation,
structure and attitude. Temperament in our Lhasas is of primary importance,
even before type ... possibly the only thing as important is good health
and lack of genetic defects. It's an old adage, but very true ... ninety
percent of our Lhasas go into pet homes - and there we must provide
stable, intelligent animals that speak well for our breed.
Because Lhasas are shown with more "style"
today, they do contrast with what we remember ... but the basic type
remains unchanged. Some of the original breeders in the United States
put their stamp on the breed in the early days, changing the agile little
mountain dog into a rather cumbersome, low-stationed and heavier dog
with voluminous coat. Some of these Lhasas would have had trouble negotiating
a steep incline, much less the rocky outcroppings of their Tibetan homeland!
Although kept as treasured guardians of the Potala, Lhasas depicted
by old photographs as the original imports were never coarse or dragging
in coat. We have changed our Lhasas into "hothouse flowers"
... placing more emphasis on quantity of coat, rather than the preferred
hard, straight texture ... forced to confine them to exercise pens,
using every cosmetic means at our disposal to give the appearance of
proper condition. Not only is this a disservice to our Lhasas, but the
average pet buyer is unable to cope with the necessary stringent coat
care, and usually resorts to shaving or trimming which detracts from
What can we as breeders and judges do to retain original Lhasa
type without sacrificing soundness and style?
1. First, we must never confuse poor structure with
correct type. In other words, to have poor shoulder construction with
resulting loss of neck and head carriage is not excused by saying the
Standard does not reference neck ... this is a normal canine, and what
is considered normal structure is appropriate to the Lhasa. Steep croups
with low-set tails coupled with shoulders set too far forward on the
ribcage are not the correct way to get the rectangular look of the Lhasa,
nor is the long, narrow and weak loin which gives the same appearance.
2. Long, straight legs belong on the Terrier, not the
Lhasa Apso -- while bowed and crooked legs are incorrect, it's impossible
to put a Terrier front on an achondroplastic dog such as the Lhasa without
losing the Lhasa look. (In an effort to improve fronts, we may get animals
too tall, too square or too rangy.)
3. We must be able to accurately assess balance on
the Lhasa without being influenced by hair and handling - this is why
the more Lhasas we can get our hands on, the easier it becomes to determine
the norm for the breed. While the differences are very slight, they
can make a bigdifference in outline and general stance. A Lhasa that
might appear square to the inexperienced eye may in reality be found
to be the proper length in body in a "hands on" situation;
remember, we want "longer than tall" but not so long as to
4. Don't be misled into believing one line is superior
to another by virtue of being original ... Lhasas have been a mixed
lot from their inception, coming as they do from a area where strict
breeding practices have never been defined, and various small, shaggy
dogs of several origins were combined to make up what we call the "Lhasa".
Although the original imports were kept in a strict breeding program,
their offspring were influenced by the various prejudices of their owners
who changed them to suit their fancy ... but today our Lhasas are a
blend of the best from all lines.
With the current emphasis on more and more coat, and
the practice of showing everything on a tight lead at breakneck speed,
type and style is definitely being changed to favor the "win at
any cost Showdog". I have always been a strong proponent of fluid,
unrestrained movement in the Lhasa, but at their own pace ... and find
it offensive to be told to slow a dog down, when doing so can interrupt
the gait and throw the dog offbalance. If a dog is made well, and can
move out well on a loose lead, he shouldn't be penalized for that.
The Lhasa Apso in the United States is in the hands
of a dedicated, hard working group of people who love the breed, and
are determined to foster their best interests by supporting educational
Seminars such as these, promoting responsible breeding and ownership,
while continuing exciting breeding programs. The future for the Lhasa
looks great as we move forward - won't you join us?