The fascinating history of the Lhasa Apso

The Lhasa Apso is a special little dog with a unique history. Here are some interesting things to know about the origins of this lovable breed.

Where does the Lhasa Apso originate from?

These lovely long haired dogs come all the way from Tibet, the home of the Himalayas. In this harsh mountain environment, the little dogs evolved to withstand high altitudes and severe weather conditions. The light there is very bright and there is a strong glare from the snow, so it’s lucky that these dogs have a thick layer of fur which warms their bodies and shields their eyes from the sun.

Where did the name Lhasa Apso come from?

The name refers to the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, where these dogs were first found. The word for Apso has a few different Tibetan translations, but probably the most accurate of these is “bearded one”. So, these dogs were first referred to as the bearded ones from Lhasa. The word “Apsok” is sued in Tibet to refer to long coated breeds in general.

Origins of the Lhasa Apso breed

It’s thought that the Lhasa Apso breed dates all the way back to 800BC, but the earliest records from Tibet date from around 639 AD so we don’t know for sure just how long these dogs have been around for.
When Buddhism spread from India to Tibet in the seventh century, and it brought with it the idea of the Buddhist god of learning, who travels as a priest with a small dog at its side. The small dogs were said to have the ability to transform themselves into snow lions so that the priest could ride on their backs. So, it is said that this is how the Lhasa Apso came to be associated with the idea of these sacred snow lions.

Lhasa Apsos were kept in monasteries by Buddhist monks in order to guard the monasteries against intruders. Alongside the small Lhasas, huge Tibetan Mastiffs were also kept which were useful in warding off any potential attacks from strangers. The Lhasas tended to be given as gifts rather than sold as a commodity. This is because it was believed that the Lhasas carried with them the souls of fallen monks. The dogs were also given to people making the huge journey between Tibet and China as they were said to bring safe passage to those who accompanied them. So, they became central to the lives of the Tibetan people and were very important little dogs.

There was a fair bit of cross breeding in Ancient Tibet and this is evident in today’s Lhasa Apsos – sometimes their litters produce dogs very similar in looks to the Tibetan Spaniels, which are in fact a separate breed. It’s also thought that there is a connection between the Lhasa Apso and the Tibetan Terriers, which are a slightly longer legged breed. Perhaps the closest relative of the Lhasa Apso is the Shih Tzu, which originated in neighbouring China and have a very similar appearance to the Lhasa. The two breeds often get confused with each other.

Later history

Lhasa Apsos were brought to Britain as far back as 1854, but it wasn’t until 1908 that they became champions in the eyes of the Kennel Club.

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