The concept 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 general appearance.

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 lose balance.

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?