9 Fascinating Facts About Lhasa Apsos

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The Lhasa apso is a unique dog with a fascinating history and its own personality. Although it is a small dog, a Lhasa apso is not generally what you would call a lap dog. Instead, it's small size hides a much bigger personality that is actually based on the Lhasa apso being an indoor guard dog. And the history of Lhasa apsos in the United States is related to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. There's more to these small dogs than meets the eye! Read on for 9 fascinating facts about Lhasa apsos.

Lhasa apsos are small dogs with big personalities.
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1. The Lhasa apso originates in Tibet.

The American Lhasa Apso Club indicates that the breed originated in Tibet, perhaps as long ago as 800 B.C. The first known pair of Lhasas in the United States were gifts from the 13th Dalai Lama in the early 1930s (the first Dalai Lama, or Tibetan spiritual leader, was born in 1391, and the lineage has continued in an unbroken line of reincarnated spiritual leaders ever since, according to Tibetan beliefs). A traveler named Charles Suydam Cutting returned to the United States with two Lhasa apsos, and would go on to establish the breed in the U.S. In Tibetan culture, Lhasa apsos were rarely sold, but instead were highly prized gifts.

2. The Lhasa apso has been a recognized breed since 1935.

The American Kennel Club recognized the breed and approved its breed standard in 1935 and is the group's 97th recognized dog. When the dog first came to the United States, it was known as the Lhasa terrier and was assigned to the Terrier Group. In 1956, the breed was assigned to the Non-Sporting Group, which the AKC considers good house dogs and watch dogs.

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Lhasa apsos were historically used around Tibet as indoor guard dogs.
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3. The Lhasa apso is named for the city of the gods.

Lhasa is the name of the capital of Tibet. In Tibetan, the word Lhasa literally means "city of the Gods," from from "lha" meaning "god" and "sa" meaning "city." The meaning of "apso" is less clear. Merriam Webster says it means "small hairy dog." The American Kennel Club says the word "apso" could just be a misspelling of the word "abso," which is part of the breed's original Tibetan name, "abso seng kye."

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4. The Lhaso apso is a barking lion.

OK, not actually! But the Encyclopedia Britannica says that the dog's original Tibetan name, abso seng kye, means "bark lion sentinel dog." This hints at the dog's historical job as an indoor guard dog. Lhasa apsos were traditionally kept inside the homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries on guard duty, while the larger Tibetan mastiff was kept on guard outside the home. Another possible translation is "bearded lion dog."

A Lhasa apso's Tibetan name could mean "bearded lion dog."
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5. Lamas might be reincarnated as a Lhasa apso.

Since the Lhasa apsos were highly prized as guardians for Buddhist monasteries and temples, their fates have been intertwined with lamas, or Buddhist spiritual leaders. The American Lhasa Apso Club says that after a lama dies, its soul could possibly enter into the body of a Lhasa apso while they awaited reincarnation into a new body.

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6. A Lhasa apso is not a Shih Tzu.

It is easy for a Lhasa apso to be confused with a Shih Tzu, because both are a small dog with a long, double coat. Both breeds are quite similar in their appearance, because the Shih Tzu was actually developed from the Lhasa apso. But according to the breed standard, the Lhasa apso is slightly bigger at the shoulders at between 10 and 11 inches tall and the Shih Tzu between 8 and 11 inches at the shoulder. Both breeds have a curly tail, but the main difference is their personalities. The Shih Tzu was bred as a companion dog, whereas the Lhasa apso was actually used as a guard dog, which makes them more wary of strangers.

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Lhasa apsos were revered by the Tibetan spiritual leaders known as Dalai Lamas.
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7. Lhasa apsos have a long life span.

The AKC says the average life span of a Lhasa apso is 12 to 15 years old, although many can live to their late teens, and some beyond 20. Some sources say that the oldest Lhasa apso lived to be 29 years old and died in 1939.

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8. Lhasa apsos need special care.

The AKC breed standard says Lhasa apsos have a thick skin because their double coat is so heavy. This means they fare well on a diet that is high in protein and fat, with a fat level of 14 percent at a minimum recommended. Even if their flowing locks are clipped, their hair still demands that they be brushed regularly and bathed every couple of weeks. Their activity level is moderate, as their not couch potatoes but not racing dogs either.

A Lhasa apso has a thick double coat that can be styled long or clipped.
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9. Lhasa apsos are trainable...if they want to be trained.

The AKC says you might need to make it worth your Lhasa apso's while in order to embark on a training program. It's not that they can't be trained, but just more like they won't go along with you if they don't want to. They are highly intelligent, and given their past job as guard dogs, they might be happier if they have a job to do. You might even try your Lhasa apso on an agility course.

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