Get to Know the Lhasa Apso: The Tibetan Sentinel

This glamorous pooch has a long history that includes centuries with the Dalai Lama; the first in the U.S. were gifts from the 13th Dalai Lama.

Caroline Coile  |  Mar 10th 2015


The Lhasa Apso is one of the most ancient breeds of dogs, behind many of today’s breeds, and it was among the most popular glamour dogs just a few decades ago. But dog popularity is fickle, and he’s been steadily working his way down the charts, waiting for a new generation to realize what a cool dog this Cousin Itt imitator can be!

More interesting things about the Lhasa Apso

  • The Lhasa Apso may be confused with the Shih Tzu. The Lhasa is larger and longer bodied. At dog shows, the hair on his head is traditionally parted in the middle rather than pulled back with a bow.

  • DNA studies indicate that the Lhasa Apso is among the 14 most ancient AKC breeds.

  • The dog was revered in Tibetan monasteries, where she barked when visitors came. They were called Abso Seng Kye, which means “bark lion sentinel dog.” It was believed that the souls of deceased lamas could enter the dogs’ bodies while the lamas awaited reincarnation.

  • Some breed historians believe the word Apso is derived from the Tibetan word “rapso,” meaning “goat,” in reference to the dog’s goat-like or wooly coat. Although the coat doesn’t seem that goat-like to me …

  • The dogs were called Lhassa Terriers when they came to England in the early 20th century.

  • The first two Lhasas in America were gifts from the 13th Dalai Lama in 1933.

  • The AKC recognized them as the Lhasa Terrier in 1935 and placed them in the Terrier group. They were renamed the Lhasa Apso in 1944 and reassigned to the Non-Sporting group in 1959.

  • The Lhasa Apso is currently the 63rd most popular AKC breed, plummeting from 38th a decade ago.

  • The Lhasa is one of the few breeds that the AKC has allowed to incorporate unregistered dogs from Tibet into the AKC gene pool, a decision made in 2011.

  • Only one Lhasa Apso has ever won the Non-Sporting (or Terrier) group at the Westminster dog show, back in 1977. None has ever won Best in Show there.

  • In 1984, a Lhasa Apso named Champion Saxonsprings Hackensack won Best in Show at England’s Crufts dog show, the largest dog show in the world. In 2012, the same award went to a Lhasa named Champion Zentarr Elizabeth. Lhasa are a member of the Utility group in Britain.

  • Owners include Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Liberace, Eva Gabor, Bob Hope, Barbra Streisand, Kurt Vonnegut, Ellen DeGeneres, Bob Mackie, Jane Lynch, Bethanny Frankel, and Gwen Stefani.

Do you own a Lhasa Apso? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.