The Lhasa Apso Dog Breed: Everything You Need to Know

The Lhasa Apso is a small yet sturdy dog with a rich history that started thousands of years ago in isolated Himalayan monasteries. 

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Lhasa Apso breed and explain its history, physical traits, personality, and health. 

History and Origin of the Lhasa Apso

The Lhasa Apso, also known as the bearded lion dog, has its roots in Tibet, a country marked by rugged landscapes and spiritual traditions. For centuries, Lhasa Apsos were bred by Tibetan monks as watchdogs for the isolated Himalayan monasteries and temples. 

The Breed’s Development

The Lhasa Apso’s history started thousands of years ago when Buddhist monks developed the breed for the purpose of being a sentinel dog. The breed was well-adapted to isolated living, high altitudes, and extreme temperatures. 

Despite their small size, Lhasa Apsos were fierce protectors of the sacred sites they guarded. They were trained to alert their handlers and other larger dogs at the property of potential strangers or intruders. 

The Breed’s Significance 

The Lhasa Apso’s name is derived from two words, Lhasa – the Tibetian sacred city, and “apso,” which means “longhaired dog.” According to Tibetan folklore, the protector of the country is a mythical Snow Lion and Lhasa Apsos are his earthly representatives.

Introduction to the Western World

The Lhasa Apso was first introduced to the Western world in the early 20th century, but it was not until the 1930s that the breed gained widespread popularity.

In 1935, the American Kennel Club recognized the Lhasa Apso. Today, the breed is a beloved companion and watchdog, valued for its loyalty, intelligence, and protective nature. 

Physical Characteristics and Appearance

The Lhasa Apso is a small yet sturdy dog with a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other breeds. Here are some of the key physical traits of the Lhasa Apso. 

Size and Weight

Lhasa Apsos typically weigh between 12 and 18 pounds, with an average height of 10 to 11 inches at the shoulder. They are classified as a small breed, but they have a sturdy build and are not easily intimidated.

Despite their small size, Lhasa Apsos are also courageous and tenacious. Originally bred as watchdogs in Tibet, their small size allowed them to navigate small spaces and alert their owners to potential intruders.

Coat and Colors

The Lhasa Apso’s coat is one of its most distinctive features. They have a thick, lush, and double-layered coat that comes in many colors, including black, black & tan, golden, cream, grizzle, red, red gold, and white. 

While the Lhasa Apso’s coat is beautiful, it requires a lot of maintenance. Breed members need to be brushed regularly to prevent matting and tangling. They also need bathing and proper hairstyling. 

Distinct Facial Features

The Lhasa Apso has a broad head, large, dark eyes, and a distinctive beard and mustache. The ears are small and set high on the head, giving the dog an alert expression.

The hallmark of the Lhasa Apso breed is the long and lush coat that covers the dog’s eyes completely. Beneath the coat, the dog has a strong and sturdy body frame.

Lhasa Apso Temperament and Personality

While small in size, the Lhasa Apso is famous for its “big dog” personality. The breed is courageous and does not back down in the face of challenges. Here are some key temperament traits of the Lhasa Apso. 

Loyal and Affectionate Companions

Lhasa Apsos are loyal and affectionate towards their owners. They thrive on human companionship and form strong bonds with their families, with whom they are also protective.

Lhasa Apsos are often described as being “velcro dogs” due to their desire to be close to their owners. They will often follow their humans from room to room and enjoy snuggling up on the couch for some quality cuddle time.

Independent and Stubborn Streak

Despite their affectionate nature, Lhasa Apsos can also be quite independent and stubborn. They have strong personalities and are not easily handled, especially by inexperienced owners. 

The independent streak can make training a challenge. However, with positive reinforcement, patience, and consistency, they can be trained to be well-behaved and obedient companions.

Alert and Protective Nature

The Lhasa Apso was bred as a watchdog, and this trait is still evident in the breed today. They are highly alert and will bark at any potential threats, making them an excellent early warning system.

In addition to their watchdog abilities, Lhasa Apsos are also known for their protective nature towards their families. They may be small, but they will not hesitate to stand up to anyone they perceive as a threat to their loved ones.

Health and Lifespan of Lhasa Apsos

Like all breeds, Lhasa Apsos are prone to certain health problems. Here are some of the most common issues to be aware of:

Common Health Issues

Lhasa Apsos are prone to several health issues, including: 

  • Orthopedic Issues: Hip dysplasia (HD) and patellar luxation (slipping stifle) are frequently diagnosed in the breed  
  • Kidney Dysfunction: A congenital problem in which breed members develop multiple kidney cysts while young pups 
  • Eye Conditions: Common eye issues in the breed include cherry eye, dry eye, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

Lifespan and Aging

The average lifespan of a Lhasa Apso is between 12 and 15 years. As they age, they may develop arthritis or other age-related issues, so it’s important to keep them active and maintain a healthy diet.


The Lhasa Apso is a unique breed with a rich history and distinctive appearance. Bred to be sentinel dogs at Tibetan sacred places, this dog is still true to its protective ancestry and watchdog skills. 

While they have a strong personality and require some extra attention when it comes to grooming and healthcare, they make excellent companions for those who are willing to put in the time and effort.

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