Lhasa Apso

Lhasa Apso
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Lhasa Apso is a breed that is originally from Tibet, where he was regarded as a watchdog for the palaces and monasteries. Though he is no longer a palace guard, he still serves a family companion. However, he still has a protective streak over his family and takes all measures to keep them safe. Despite his size, he is a very sturdy dog with an independent nature.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group:Companion dogs
Height:Nine to eleven inches at the shoulder
Weight:Twelve to fifteen pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

The Lhasa Apso is a large dog trapped in a small body. He’s been bred for hundreds of years as a loyal watchdog, and that same trait exists in the modern dog. He serves as a loyal guardian of the home and family. His protective nature can be surprising to those who are unfamiliar with him, especially since he doesn’t appear fierce. He’s naturally suspicious of strangers, but he is never unusually aggressive.

The Lhasa Apso is highly intelligent and can be independent for a dog its size. His mischievous nature can make it difficult to keep him under control, but early socialization and training can help to curb his bad habits. This also redirects his natural tendencies to be wary of new people that he meets. The time spent training him, however, will foster loyalty and joy for his job, as well as companionship that will last a long time.

His independent nature means that his goal in life may not always be about pleasing you. Even with sufficient training, he may not be the most obedient dog. Consistency with training and obedience is key, and if your dog doesn’t realize that you’re in charge, then he may seek that position for himself. Otherwise, the Lhasa Apso is full of curiosity and loves to play. He remains slow to mature, and will still have his puppy behaviour well into the age of three years old. If you’re new to dogs or to this dog breed, then this should be kept in mind in order to avoid becoming frustrated when they don’t listen to your commands at first.

What the Lhasa Apso lacks in constant obedience, he makes up for with his god looks. He has a splendid long coat that is quite thick to keep him warm. Daily brushing and required in order to remove tangles and mats. Bathing on a frequent basis may be necessary as well in order to maintain his looks and eliminate any dirt if he chances to go outside. Many owners choose to trim the coat shorter, especially around the face. Even this choice does come at a price, as not many owners are experienced with trimming a dog’s coat in order to keep him looking his best.

it comes to children, the Lhasa Apso is known for being impatient with clumsy children, and won’t be afraid to nip them to let them know he’s done. He has more of an affinity with adults than children, especially if the latter doesn’t know how to be gentle with them.

Main Highlights
  • The Lhasa Apso has been known for being independent, so he may take actions to please himself rather than you. This can make him seem disobedient at times, but by being consistent with training, he will learn to listen to you.
  • He can become a natural leader if he’s allowed to roam over your home, and that means over you as well. Letting him know who is boss will teach him his place.
  • The Lhasa Apos’s nature is to be a protective watchdog, so he will need to be taught good manners when guests are coming into the home. Early socialization skills will show him what acceptable behaviour is for new people that he meets.
  • The Lhasa Apso is slow to mature, and often retains his puppy behaviour for a while, long after he’d become an adult. This can make it a little more difficult for him to house train, so a crate is definitely recommended.
  • The Lhasa Apso requires a lot of grooming, especially on a daily basis. Expect to spend a lot of time brushing and combing your dog, or spending a lot of money taking them to a professional groomer.
  • Dental care is necessary, as they are prone to teeth and gum problems. Brush their teeth on a regular basis and have them checked regularly by a vet.
Breed History

The Lhasa Apso breed was originally bred in Tibet, and he takes his name from the holy city of Lhasa. They were bred exclusively by monks in monasteries for thousands of years, and served the role of guardian and protector. He is known in Tibet as «abso seng kye», which translates to «bark lion sentinel dog». His thick coat is extremely protective, given that his native climate experiences both intense cold and extreme heat throughout the seasons.

The breed goes back as far as 800 B.C.E., and was considered a symbol of good luck. They were nearly impossible to obtain, as they were considered sacred by temples and monasteries all over the country. It was legend that when an owner of a Lhasa Apso died, the soul entered the body of the dog. For this reason, they were rarely allowed to leave the country unless they were presented as gifts by the Dalai Lama himself.

From the beginning of the Manchu Dynasty in 1582 until as recent as 1908, the Dalai Lama presented gifts of the Lhasa Apso breed to the Emperor of China and the members of the Imperial family. They were always provided as pairs, as this was believed that it would bring the family good luck and prosperity for the future. The first of the breed didn’t arrive in the United States until 1933, where a pair was presented as gifts to C. Suydam Cutting, who was a traveler and naturalist. It was these two dogs who became the foundation of his stock for the breed. The American Kennel Club then accepted them as a breed two years later in 1935.


As with most breeds, females are slightly smaller than males, but this difference isn’t much to be very noticeable. They can stand anywhere from nine to eleven inches at the shoulder, and can weigh between twelve to fifteen pounds.

Personality and Character

The Lhasa Apso has an interesting mix of personalities that makes him very interesting: not only is he mischievous and playful, he’s also regal, independent, and protective. He takes the job of guarding the home very seriously, which makes him an excellent watchdog. He does like to be the top dog, so puppy classes are essential to making sure he doesn’t take over the home. With the right amount of training, they can be very strong and kind leaders.

The breed is not extremely active and is more content to remain indoors than to do outside for a romp in the grass. He doesn’t need a lot of exercise in order to make him happy, but he does enjoy short walks and play sessions with his humans. This makes it easier for him to bond with the members of his family, which further reinforces his protective streak. Don’t be surprised if he starts following you from room to room to join in on any activities being partaken in. His independent nature ensures that he is content to spend some time alone when his owner is away. Thankfully, the breed does not suffer from separation anxiety.

Their temperament is determined by a number of factors, so if you’re getting your puppy from a breeder, it’s a good idea to meet one or both of the parents. This can give you some idea of what to expect from your dog in the future. The best puppy should be one that is curious and willing to be held by new people.

Health and Potential Problems

Lhasa Apsos are generally healthy dogs, but like all pure breeds, they are prone to certain health conditions that can affect the quality of their lives in the long run. Be sure that the breeder who you’ve obtained your puppy from has done the necessary health screening on the parents and puppies to rule out any health complications in the future. However, there are some conditions that may not present themselves until your dog is fully grown. When these arise, be sure to inform your breeder so that future litters won’t suffer from the same conditions. Here is a list of some of the diseases that Lhasa Apsos are prone to.

  • Cherry Eye: This malady occurs when the gland known as the third eyelid swells. It looks like a red mass at the inner corner of the dog’s eye. The treatment for cherry eye is usually surgery.
  • Patellar Luxation: also known as slipped stifles, this is a common problem in small dogs. The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, although many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
  • Allergies: these are a common ailment in dogs, and the Lhasa Apso is no exception. There are three main types of allergies: food allergies, which are treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet; contact allergies, which are caused by a reaction to a topical substance such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, and other chemicals; and inhalant allergies, which are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. Treatment varies according to the cause and may include dietary restrictions, medications, and environmental changes.
  • Sebaceous Adenitis: this is a serious problem in dogs. This genetic skin condition is difficult to diagnose and often is mistaken for hypothyroidism, allergies, or other conditions. When a dog has SA, the sebaceous glands in the skin become inflamed for unknown reasons, and they’re eventually destroyed. Affected dogs typically have dry, scaly skin with hair loss on top of the head, neck, and back. Severely affected dogs can have thickened skin, an unpleasant odor, and secondary skin infections. Although the problem is primarily cosmetic, it can be uncomfortable for the dog. Your vet will perform a biopsy of the skin if SA is suspected. Treatment options vary.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Siccacommonly known as dry eye, this is an inflammation of the eye that occurs when the tear production is deficient. The symptoms, a gooey yellow discharge, can be mistaken for conjunctivitis. Treatment includes medication, artificial tears, and sometimes surgery.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophythis is a family of eye diseases that involves the gradual deterioration of the retina. Early in the disease, affected dogs become night-blind; they lose sight during the day as the disease progresses. Many affected dogs adapt well to their limited or lost vision, as long as their surroundings remain the same.
  • Familial Inherited Renal Dysplasiathis is a developmental or genetic defect of the kidneys, which are noticeably small and irregular in shape. The disease varies in severity: severely affected puppies are excessively thirsty and small for their age, and they often suffer renal failure. Mildly affected dogs may show no symptoms.
Care Features

The Lhasa Apso is a great choice for owners who don’t have a lot of space. They fit quite well with apartment and condo living. He does, however, enjoy some play time outside in a fenced yard. A few short walks every day will keep him happy, as he isn’t a high-energy dog. Being cooped up inside all day long won’t result in him going stir-crazy, so you don’t have to feel obligated about taking him out every single day, especially when the weather isn’t the best. You can provide him with play time indoors with a few toys, as long as they are a bit mentally stimulating.

House training a Lhasa Apso can be a bit challenging from their independent streak and slow maturity rate, so a crate is definitely recommended to make the process easier. Training should be positive and consistent in order for your dog to get the idea of what is expected of him.

Feeding Schedule

The recommended daily amount of food for your Lhasa Apso is about 3/4 to 1 cup of food a day. This should be divided between two meals so that he can get what he needs to maintain his energy. However, this is only a rough estimate, and can be increased or decreased depending on the needs of your dog. This should take into account his size, age, metabolism, and energy levels, as not every dog is the same. The kind of food being provided also makes a difference, as higher quality food will stay with him for much longer and be slower to digest.

Food should not be left out all the time or this can promote overeating. You can determine the state of your dog’s health by feeling his spine and chest. If you cannot feel his ribs without pressing hard, then he is overweight and needs to lose some weight. You can reduce the amount of food and/or increase his exercise.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Lhasa Apso is known for his gorgeous coat. It is long and straight, and quite dense. It comes in a variety of colors, such as honey, black, white, slate, or partially-colored. To maintain this look, however, requires a lot of time and patience. Regular brushing on a daily basis is enough, and bathing can be done every two to four weeks. Many owners choose to hire a professional groomer to take care of all of their dog’s needs. It’s definitely not a coat for beginning dog owners to deal with.

Your dog’s teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week in order to keep their teeth and gums healthy. This can be a difficult schedule to maintain, so providing toys and chews that are designed to clean their teeth can also help this process.

The nails should be trimmed at least once or twice a month in order to prevent tearing, especially if walking your dog down the street doesn’t wear them down. Be sure of the length you’re cutting the nail, as doing so too short can lead to bleeding and can lead to your dog mistrusting the process.

The ears should be checked on a weekly basis to see if there is any redness or bad odor; signs that there could be an ear infection. Use a cotton ball and special ear-cleaning solution to clean the outside of the ear as often as you need. Never push the cotton ball into the ear canal.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Children are definitely not at the top of the list of people that a Lhasa Apso wants to spend time with. He can be intolerant of the antics of children, and won’t be afraid to nip to say he’s had enough. He’s best suited in a home where there are older children who know when to give him the space he needs. Young or rowdy children are definitely not recommended.

He does like being the top dog, so this can make him somewhat of a bully to other dogs within the home. With proper socialization and training, however, he can learn to get along with other dogs without having to push them around. He won’t shy away from larger dogs either, believing that he’s one of them.

If you want the compact size of a small dog with the personality of a large one, then the Lhasa Apso is the breed for you. They’re eager to engage in big dog activities, such as hiking, so you can have a traveling companion with you who won’t shy away from the more fun activities in your life. They’re not an extremely active dog, however, so their status should be monitored when they are engaging in high-energy level activities. No one would think that such a graceful looking dog could be so plucky and adventurous.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.