Welcome to the wonderful world of Lhasas
by Dorothy Kendall, Orlane Lhasa Apsos

Having lived with and enjoyed the Lhasa Apsos for almost thirty years, you might think I would be prejudiced about their character. You would be right, of course, because there is nothing like spending time with dogs to get to know them better - but I must add in my defense that I've been associated with a lot of breeds over the years as an all-breed professional handler, groomer and breeder.

What makes the Lhasa Apso different? Most medium and small dogs (and I don't mean Toy size) have a tendency to be busy, to be anxious, and to depend on their owners for reassurance and lots of attention. Some dog lovers like this, and need the constant demonstration of their pet's undying adoration ... others prefer a companion that isn't always clinging, climbing on them, or pushing for attention.

Lhasas, with their typical Oriental inscrutability, seem to be observers as much as participants in their daily routines ... but don't let them fool you, they know exactly what is going on and seldom miss a cue! They are quiet, and very clean in their habits, being easy to housebreak even as young puppies - they are also quickly locked into routine, and dislike disruption of daily habits. Being of a suspicious nature by virtue of their origins, Lhasas tend to question your motives - and can be rather stubborn about their likes and dislikes. Crediting you with the common sense any good Lhasa has, they consider you their equal - unless you are so foolish as to demand (what they consider) something unreasonable from them; then you may have a battle of wills on your hands! This is why it's so important to determine who is the "leader of the pack" in the early months of your Lhasa's life - because they are quick to learn, and have long memories, you must establish dominance at a very early age, or you might become just another pack member subservient to their demands!

Lhasas have gotten a bad rap from the Veterinarian and Grooming Shop community today - they forget that many of their clients came from Pet Shops, where temperament was probably not considered a priority; this breed does not adapt itself well to kennel confinement. They need close human contact, and most serious breeders today have made a concerted effort to eliminate any hint of aggressiveness from their breeding animals. Lhasa babies are adorable, and should love people, even strangers; avoid a puppy that hides or cowers under things, urinates when picked up, or jumps out of its skin when touched.

Starting with a puppy gives you an opportunity to teach him respect from the beginning - respect for your wishes, and respect for other people. There are excellent "Kinder Puppy Training" classes in many areas, a wealth of written material on behavioral training available, and the advice of the breeder from whom you get your puppy. Harsh or painful methods of training just don't work on the Lhasa - they will rebel and fight back; but love and consistent discipline will earn their undying adoration. Take the time to learn how to train your puppy, and you will be rewarded for years to come, for they are very long lived breed.

Like any long coated dog, Lhasas require grooming - a task that requires discipline on your part - a commitment to groom on a weekly basis, even when you don't feel like it. There is no magic formula of shampoos, detanglers, or special equipment needed; just the determination to keep ahead of tangling or matting. A large pin brush, small cushioned slicker brush, and a wide toothed metal comb are the basics ... a table dryer speeds up the job, but a hand dryer can be used. People shampoos are the wrong PH for dogs, and any shampoo should be mild, never a harsh detergent. Avoid heavy, sticky conditioners which can gum up a coat - less is better than more. Once a week too much? There are many attractive clips that offer the convenience of wash-and-wear comfort for your little shaggy friend.

Nothing is more disgusting, and even dangerous to your Lhasa's health, than a dirty, matted coat over numerous skin problems. Mats are caused by scratching, and scratching is caused by an itch ... what causes the itch? As Shakespeare said, "Therein lies the rub!"; you must find and eliminate the itch if you are to have a beautiful coat on your Lhasa, and this is not always an easy task. Fleas are a major source of problems, but are easily identified, and can be eliminated - no matter where you live, you can have a flea-free environment, regardless of what you've been told.* Bacteria and Fungi are another source of itches, but like Sarcoptic Mange, rarely present a problem unless the animal is debilitated, and has a poor immune response. Allergies are usually the response to flea infestations or poor diet, but may tend to run in certain bloodlines - these can be difficult and expensive to treat. It's important that breeders strive for correct straight and hard coats that are easily managed, and buyers should look for those puppies with flat, sleek coats rather than the fluffy little puff-balls.

The History of the Lhasa Apso is fascinating, from its inception over 2000 years ago in the remote and mysterious Himalayan Mountains. The rigors of climate and altitude required a small or medium size animal with a harsh, protective outercoat over a softer insulating undercoat- and a compact, muscular body surprisingly strong for its size. The Lhasa slept with his family for warmth (many of their herd animals slept in the same room), and the Tibetan nomadic life-style made "survival of the fittest" more than a theory. Strangers were few, encountered with grave watchfulness rather than aggressiveness, and this characteristic is still seen in the Breed today.

There has been a great deal of research on the history and background of the Lhasa Apso, from books and letters, and word of mouth. People have visited the AKC Library and looked for pedigrees on all the original imports, with Reg. Numbers - and found some missing, and other discrepancies or confusion between dogs with the same names. Some of the Lhasas were traced to imports from England, registered as Shih Tzus - which are currently behind some of the Shih Tzus of today. The early California lines of La Sa Gre and Glen Pines used these dogs in their breeding programs, and produced small, refined gold dogs with straight legs and shorter backs ... rather untypical of the heavier bodied and bow-legged Shih Tzu then seen. One early import of Hamilton Farms, Ch. Tatsienlu, who sired many of their top winners, was registered as a Tibetan Terrier through Shanghai, China - so any claim to a "pure" line can only refer to those breeders who have isolated their bloodlines from others, and only used dogs from within their own program. Some of those same imports behind both Lhasas and Shih Tzus were probably responsible for the happy, outgoing temperaments seen uniformly in bloodlines carrying them.

I'm sure the Tibetans themselves with their many different but similar breeds, didn't have strict line-breeding practices in their 2000 year history; this coupled with the fact that many of these small dogs were carried between China and Tibet as gifts, contributed to the genetic pool. American breeders of the Lhasa Apso in the past forty years have been surprised to find the genes for smooth coats popping up in litters of fully coated siblings (resembling Tibetan Spaniels); and occasionally the "giant" occurs, that is 16" or more in height! I've seen the advertisement placed in the Westminster Catalog of 1954, 1955, and 1956 that offered puppies for sale "... from 10 to 13 inches" in size. These facts only reinforce my belief that the Lhasa Apso is a combination of genetic influences, likely brought about by their Tibetan environment. Dr. Marley (long time breeder) has done an excellent article on the Lhasa Apso, entitled "Made in Tibet", which explores the physiological effect that climate produces on the dog, and the Lhasa Apso in particular..

Whatever genetic makeup went into creating our current Lhasas, breeders have now established pure lines of true-breeding little dogs, and any attempt to introduce one line as superior to another by virtue of its background or history seems rather self-serving. We must give credit to those early fanciers who went to the expense and effort to bring in the first Lhasa Apsos, for upon those foundations were built the beginnings of the breed as we know them today. How fortunate for us!

My perception of the Lhasa Apso is that of a silhouette first (because of the beautiful coat draped from head to toe), and then the balance of length of body to leg length, and then to tail set-on and head carriage. The head is unique, and very important to correct type ... and should never be long nosed or Terrier in Type, and must be free of coarseness in skull. Big round eyes are as incorrect as small, beady slitted eyes ... and the mouth should be level, or slightly undershot with a jaw wide enough to hold full dentition. A scissors bite is not correct for this breed. The Lhasa should have a "soft" expression - not downfaced, or snipy - with one third muzzle to two thirds skull. This is not a long-backed breed, just longer than tall, and should not appear "dumpy" or low to the ground. Their size is ideal for family life - 11" in height at the wither, and about 14 to 18 lbs. is the norm; we don't want to get them too large to fit under our arm, but never toyish or fragile and subject to bone and joint problems. All in all, a moderate little dog with a sturdy constitution, and an intelligent friend of the family.