The Lhasa apso (pronounced “LAH-suh-AHP-so”) is a smart and willful small dog with a big personality. They’re often described as funny, merry, and eager to please. Originating in Tibet, the Lhasa was bred to be a watch dog in palaces and Buddhist monasteries high in the Himalayas. “Lhasa” comes from the city in Tibet and “apso” is a Tibetan word that loosely translates to “dog.” This ancestry reveals itself in the modern-day Lhasa—they’re alert and loyal to their owners, though often wary of strangers.
The Lhasa is known for its long, straight, dense coat and signature hair part that gives it a lion-like mane to match its lionhearted spirit. Owners should expect to brush their dogs regularly to keep them happy and healthy for the duration of their above-average lifespan. Lhasas are non-shedding and have low dander, so they’re an excellent dog for owners with allergies.
Cost varies widely based on a number of factors (including location), but according to Don Evans, president of the American Lhasa Apso Club, you can expect to pay between $1,400 and $1,800 for a puppy from a reputable breeder.
Full-grown male dogs are about 10–11 inches tall and weigh 12–18 pounds, while female pups are slightly smaller. Lhasa apsos have gorgeous black, tan, cream, white, and/or red-colored coats, but they can also be blue, gray, and silver, though those are less common. They have black and brown button noses, long beards (if their hair is allowed to be kept long), and slightly longer snouts than similar snub-nosed dogs like the Pekingese.
Lhasas have confidence and chutzpah to spare, so much so that they are known as abso seng kye (bark lion sentinel dog) in Tibet where they were first bred. Ask any Lhasa owner and they’ll tell you about this little dog’s smarts, though their high intelligence and independent nature can mean they’re tougher to train. That said, Evans points out that their charm and faithfulness make these dogs “worth it if you’re up to the challenge.” Their fierce loyalty means they’ll always have your back. They are often aloof with strangers at first—which is not surprising since they were bred to protect palaces from intruders.
Lhasa apso puppies can take up to three years to mature emotionally. However, with a dedicated owner and lots of praise, their energy can be channeled into learning new things. Lhasa apsos excel in agility training courses and some have even been known to herd livestock or work as therapy dogs. “In addition to being lovable pets, Lhasas are versatile—they can and do participate in all types of American Kennel Club events such as obedience, rally, agility, dock diving, scent work, and trick dog,” Evans says.
Lhasas are fiercely loyal to their tribe and do well with adults and older children who respect their boundaries. “Lhasas can make great family pets—even with small children—as long as the children understand (with the parents’ direction) to give the dog some space,” Evans says. If properly socialized and trained, Lhasas can get along with other dogs and pets, but know that the Lhasa likes to be the boss.
Lhasas will tolerate being left alone for reasonable periods of time, but think twice if you have neighbors who would be disturbed by any warning barking while you’re away. “They are not a ‘yappy’ dog, but with their keen hearing, they will alert you to unexpected events,” Evans says. Their small size might make them seem like ideal apartment dogs, but their bark might prove otherwise.
Lhasas need a moderate amount of exercise. A 20-minute walk once or twice a day and some playtime in the house or yard, especially during the puppy stage, will do.
The ideal Lhasa owner is someone with “a sense of humor, intelligence, and who likes interacting with their pet,” Evans says. He advises that new owners be patient and understand that just like with other dogs, it can take your Lhasa apso time to adjust to its new surroundings.
When it comes to grooming, the Lhasa apso is definitely high maintenance. Its long and lavish coat can get quite tangled and matted if not cared for correctly—daily brushing and a bi-monthy bath is recommended. Some owners opt to keep their dog’s coat short in a “puppy cut” style so that it’s easier to maintain, but both aesthetic choices are equally adorable.
Other common health issues for Lhasa apsos include cherry eye (a red mass at the inner corner of the dog’s eye), allergies, and a genetic skin condition called sebaceous adenitis, where the sebaceous glands become inflamed.
With the right care, Lhasa apsos live long lives—12–15 years on average. Some have even been reported to have lived well into their twenties.
If you buy a Lhasa from a breeder, it’s important that they be reputable and dedicated to maintaining healthy animals. The breeder should be able to show you lineage records that prove their dogs are healthy enough for breeding.
Lhasa apsos have a regal history that begins over 1,000 years ago in Tibet, when they were bred as sentinel dogs who stood watch inside palaces and Buddhist monasteries high in the Himalayan mountains, according to the American Kennel Club. Legend has it, the brave little Lhasa apsos inspired this ancient Tibetan saying: “If the snow-lion stays in the mountains, it is a snow-lion; if it comes down to the valleys, it becomes a dog.”
Lhasas have held popular status with Buddhist monks and Dalai Lamas over the centuries—they are difficult to buy and thus a highly prized gift. Some Tibetian Buddhists believe that the souls of lamas (priests) are reborn as Lhasa apsos in the stage of reincarnation just before they are reborn as humans.
- Centuries ago, Dalai Lamas gifted Lhasas, often in pairs, to the emperors of China because they were thought to bring good luck and prosperity, the AKC says.
- A parent breed of the Shih Tzu, Lhasas were bred with Pekingese to form these watch dog descendants of China.
- Per the AKC, the first Lhasas came to the United States as gifts from The Dalai Lama in 1933 and were accepted in the American Kennel Club in 1935.
- The regal Lhasa has famous owners including Gwen Stefani, Ellen Degeneres, and Jane Lynch. Elizabeth Taylor, Kurt Vonnegut, and Liberace were also huge fans, the AKC says.