Lhasa Apso breed: the barking lion dog, symbol of luck

László Enikő

2023. August 8 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

This small dog was once the signal dog of Tibetan monasteries and palaces. True to this, he is a confident and attentive dog who never misses a beat. For a long time, it was held in high esteem, as some were believed to be reincarnated as lhasa Apso.


Thanks to his keen ears, he hears everything and therefore signals everything. The lhasa Apso is an excellent signalling dog, and is also naturally suspicious of strangers. It is not only its looks, but also its personality and history that are remarkable. Here’s what you need to know about this not at all lapdog!


This ancient dog breed originated in the mountains of Tibet, where its ancestors lived centuries ago. They were the signal dogs of monasteries and palaces. The large Tibetan Mastiffs guarded the outside of the estate, while the small lhasa dogs would signal inside if someone got past the guard dogs. These small dogs were held in high esteem and were not traded, only given as gifts to high ranking people. The lhasa symbolised luck and appreciation. The Buddhists believed that the dog was placed directly in front of the person at the stage of reincarnation. In their religion, the souls of monks or lamas are reborn in lhasa apsos, just before they become human beings.

The breed takes its name from the capital of Tibet, Lhasa; its Tibetan name is Abso Seng Kye, which means barking lion dog. Some sources believe that the abso tag is the origin of the apso part of the breed’s modern name. Others believe that the apso tag comes from the Tibetan word rapso, meaning goat, referring to the dog’s goat-like coat. There have even been theories that these puppies were once used to guard wild goats, but this is probably just a myth.

The variety only arrived in Europe and the United States of America in the early 20th century. It was first exhibited in Europe in 1929. Today, it is still a relatively rare breed, ranking 86th in the American Kennel Club’s 2022 list.

Breed standard

The Lhasa Apso is a small breed of dog, well balanced, giving the impression of a confident dog. His movements are free and relaxed. Head well prominent above the eyes with abundant beard. Skull moderately narrow, not completely flat but not arched. Cheeks straight, with pronounced stop. Nose black. Eyes dark, medium sized. Ears tapering, densely tufted. Bite scissor-shaped. Neck covered with a strong, dense collar, more pronounced in males. Length greater than height. Body well ribbed, strong loins. The limbs are well furred, the paws are rounded and well padded. Tail set on high, well laid back and covered with thick fur. Undercoat dense; topcoat straight, stiff, heavy, not woolly or silky, and long. Colours may be gold, sand, honey, slate grey, smoke grey, dark grey, brown, black, white or multicoloured. The ideal height for males is 25 cm, females are slightly smaller. Life expectancy is 12-15 years.


This small dog fancies himself as a big dog, and is not afraid to express his opinions even to dogs much bigger than himself. He keeps a two-step distance from strangers, but is not aggressive. Nevertheless, it is worth getting him used to different stimuli as a puppy. His keen sense of hearing allows him to alert his owner to any nearby events. He is very self-aware, acting almost as if he knows that his ancestors were the most treasured treasures of the Tibetan monks. He is a clever dog, but can be stubborn if asked to do something he doesn’t like. With his family, he is a very loyal, affectionate and loving companion. He likes to be close to his master, but sometimes gets into his own way; after all, the guardian of the palaces has to be able to make decisions on his own.

Ideal environment

This hardy puppy is not a typical lapdog: he likes to run free and keep an eye on what’s going on around him. He doesn’t do well in solitude, but he loves children and is a good playmate. So he is recommended for a family where he won’t be left alone for long hours. Also an ideal choice for older people.


His long, thick coat requires daily grooming, which is why many people nowadays trim their coats to a uniformly short length. His undercoat can tangle easily, especially on the legs, so he needs a thorough combing every day. It is also worth checking frequently to make sure there is nothing stuck in the coat that doesn’t belong. Its thick coat protects it from the cold and heat, but on hot summer days it needs to be very careful not to get heat stroke. Bathing is only necessary if he is very messy. His ears should be checked and cleaned regularly. As they are covered with thick fur, they are difficult to ventilate and the dog can easily get an infection. His eyes should also be wiped frequently with wet cotton wool. If his claws become too long, they should be trimmed.

Common health problems

The hardy, robust Lhasa Apso is a long-lived and healthy breed. It can also present with patellar luxation, a relatively common condition in small dogs. It may have eye problems such as cherry eye, dry eye or progressive retinal atrophy. He may also have Tracheal Collapse, allergies or Sebaceous Adenitis, or kidney problems.

(Literature: János Szinák – István Veress: Kutyakalauz, János Szinák – István Veress: A világ kutyái II., David Alderton: Kutyák, Joan Palmer: Kutyákalauz, Dr. Pál Sárkány: International Dog Encyclopedia, Paul McGreevy: Dogs, Sarah Whitehead – Beverly Cuddy: Dogs)

companion dog lhasa apso small dog

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