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January 27, 2008

Breed Profile: Lhasa Apso

By: Jamie Klinger-Krebs

Though the Lhasa Apso can sometimes come across as regal and hoity toity, this headstrong and protective breed is very much the contrary. Originating from Tibet, the Lhasa Apso is a breed that has remained unchanged for centuries and though it is fastidious by nature, they are also serious little guard dogs. What they lack in size they can certainly make up for in bark.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Lhasa Apso is also known in Tibet as Abso Seng Kye, or the “Bark Lion Sentinel Dog.” These small wonders were originally used as special dwelling guard dogs. While large mastiffs were kept outside to prevent intruders from entering a residence, Lhasa Apsos were kept inside as special “indoor” guards. Because of this work, the small breed quickly adapted their intelligence and quick hearing to develop a finely tuned instinct for distinguishing strangers from family members.

Along with the Tibetan Spaniel and Tibetan Terrier, the Lhasa Apso is one of three natively Tibetan breeds in the AKC Non-Sporting Group. It was also the first of the three admitted to the AKC in 1935.

“The fact that Lhasa Apsos are a very independent breed, their goal in life is not necessarily to please their owner,” says Sandy Brunelli-Kornkven, director of LhasaLuv Dog Rescue, Inc. of Mukwonago. “This is quite different from most breeds of dogs and why Lhasa Apsos are a breed that is not for everybody.”

Because of their protective instinct, Lhasas are highly intelligent and while they can be trained in obedience using the right methods of positive reinforcement, they are not by nature an obedient breed, adds Brunelli-Kornkven.

“The Lhasa Apso has a curious, loving and stubborn personality,” explains Jan Graunke, a registered merit breeder of AKC champion Lhasa Apsos in Manitowoc. “They can be quite silly and happy, but they can also be protective. Most breeders’ puppies are well socialized which gives the puppy a happy personality. Puppies that are handled from birth and have a lot of stimulation grow up to be happy little guard dogs. Unfortunately, there are some Lhasas that are not as well socialized nor trained, these dogs can become aggressive.”

Because of the nature of the breed, both Graunke and Brunelli-Kornkven do not recommend the Lhasa Apso to homes with young children, usually under the age of 14. “The reason behind this is simple,” explains Brunelli-Kornkven, “a good majority of Lhasa Apsos surrendered to shelters/rescues, in our rescue at least 75-80 percent, are given up because they bit or nipped a child, most commonly a child between the ages of 2-8. Lhasas are very notorious for being intolerant of children. Unfortunately, many of the Lhasas that come into rescue either have been manhandled roughly by a child or teased so they are quick to nip at them. However, if a Lhasa Apso is acquired by a reputable breeder and socialized with children at a very young age they can be good with children. The children must be taught to be respectful of the dog.”

Despite their fastidious tendencies, however, the Lhasa Apso is a popular breed in many households. “Lhasas make good pets because they are loyal companions – a large dog in a compact body,” says Graunke.

“They have a natural tendency towards being wary of strangers, but their loyalty to their family is one of their most wonderful traits,” adds Brunelli-Kornkven. “Lhasas do have a mind of their own and are definitely not pushovers to raise and train. Many are quite willful, stubborn, and want to be the "Top Dog" in the home, so to speak.”

Though wary of strangers, Lhasas can also be playful and are very well-mannered house dogs. Requiring minimal exercise (usually a daily walk to maintain a healthy weight); they can be great companions for condo or small home owners. “Many owners enjoy the human-like qualities Lhasas have because of their expressive facial features and their ability to be very sensitive to their owner's human feelings,” adds Brunelli-Kornkven.

Along with being an intelligent little guard dog, the Lhasa Apso is also a popular show breed. According to the AKC the coat of a Lhasa Apso can range from heavy, straight, hard, not woolly nor silky, of good length, and very dense. With such variations, this is a breed that requires a certain amount of grooming.

“A good grooming routine that starts as a puppy to maintain a healthy coat is the best approach,” says Graunke. “Learning to be groomed by brushing, clipping, bathing and blow drying keeps the Lhasa healthy and clean. We recommend that the Lhasa go to the groomer every six weeks or that the owners learn to maintain the coat themselves.”

Though the Lhasa Apso is considered a healthy, hardy breed, several common health issues can arise including cherry eyes (third eyelid eversion), hernias and teeth issues, says Graunke. There are also several very serious health conditions such as kidney disease and liver shunts. “Both of these are occurring less and less due to research and proper breeding. Reputable breeders know their dog’s pedigree and know their genetics.”

For Graunke, the Lhasa Apso stands out from other breeds because of its medium size, soft, serene eyes, and playful attitude. “The Lhasa is a big dog in a little dog body. The beautiful coat takes a lot of work, but at a dog show is so beautiful that it can take your breathe away. They live a long time and that was important to us – a lifelong companion.”

With a long life-span (an average of 14-15 years, though many live longer), a long memory and a protective attitude, the Lhasa Apso is certainly a lovable breed. However when acquiring a dog or puppy, both women agree that adopting or purchasing from a reputable breeder or rescue organization is paramount.

“The Lhasa Apso has and is being exploited by puppy mills because of its hardiness and litter size, says Graunke.”Do your homework. Ask questions. See the parents, littermates, grandparents. Check references – ask for references. Get the names of breeders from the parent club, such as the American Lhasa Apso Club.”

“Lhasas are not dogs that should be spoiled or babied,” adds Brunelli-Kornkven. “They are dogs that require a very strong dominant owner. This is why it is imperative people really explore the breed they are considering before they bring the dog into their home. It will save a lot of heartache in the long run.”

Jamie Klinger-Krebs is a freelance writer who writes a regular monthly column “Pet Talk” on www.gmtoday.com.

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