C. Marley

What makes a Lhasa Apso? In a word, Tibet. Many breeds are obviously man made, showing little evidence of natural selection for a particular environment. The Tibetan breeds are more obviously the products of nature. There are four recognized Tibetan breeds. Of these, the Lhasa Apso most clearly displays the "Made in Tibet" stamp.

Tibet is situated on a high plateau (mostly above 12,000 ft. or 4,000 meters), bounded in the south and west by the Himalayas, (29,000 ft. / 8700 meters), and north, by the Kunlun Shan, (25,000 ft. / 7500 meters). Since the latitude of the plateau is from 30 to 35 degrees, the same as northern Florida, the intense solar radiation is sub-tropical while the altitude keeps the temperatures sub-arctic. The climate of the entire plateau is arid and cold varying from a short grassland steppe in Amdo, to a true high desert on the Chang Tang Plateau in the north. The only agriculture takes place in the valleys, watered year round by glacial runoff from the surrounding ranges. For uncounted centuries, the Tibetan people have lived and developed their domestic animals in this inhospitable land; a life ruled by the mountains.

We know little of the prehistory of Tibet, but it is believed that this vast area, over a million square miles, was inhabited by tribes of nomadic herders and hunters. These people had contact, quite early on, with the other people of the surrounding areas and established trade routes linking China, India, Mongolia and Russia.

Tibet's history began in the 6th century with the establishment of the kingdom of Yarlung in the south. Srongtsen-Gampo, a powerful chieftain of that time, expanded his territory into parts of Nepal, Kokonor, Turkestan and China. Srongtsen-Gampo married the Tang dynasty Chinese princess, Wen Ch'eng, who, with help of the Nepalese Princess, Bribstun, was instrumental in introducing Bhuddism into Tibet. Bhuddist monasteries began to appear toward the end of the 8th century.

In 1206, Genghis Khan invaded central Tibet, By surrendering, the Tibetans preserved their right to self-government. Under Genghis' grandson, Kublai-Khan, Tibet lost most of its independence and was ruled from the new Chinese capitol of Beijing. After Kublai Khan, there was a gradual decline in Mongol power over Tibet. In the 16th century, the office of the Dalai Lama was created by Altan Khan, to establish some control over the tribal factions in Tibet, and a period of relative peace settled in.

In the 18th century, the Chinese again invaded Tibet and occupied Lhasa. Shortly thereafter, the Bhutanese invaded, and still later the British. The first British exploratory mission, in the late 1800's. was to the Trashi Lumpo monastery. Later, in 1904, another British expeditionary force reached Lhasa, to enforce the signing of trade agreements. Lhasa Apsos began appearing in Britain in considerable numbers shortly thereafter. When the Chinese Republic was proclaimed, the Dalai Lama expelled the Chinese garrison, and declared the independence of Tibet. The Chinese never recognized Tibetan independence, and as we all know, reasserted their claim by invading Tibet once again in 1950 and 1959.

Prior to the 1920's several British observers visiting the area, and living in the southern edge of the Himalayas, in India, brought back accounts of the fascinating dogs of the region. One of these early descriptions, appearing in a British magazine in 1904, formed the basis of our present day standard of the Lhasa Apso breed. In the late 1920's Col. F.M. Baily, a member of a political mission to Tibet, imported a number of Lhasa Apsos to Britain. An American friend of the Bailey's, Suydham Cutting, visited Tibet in 1930, and brought back several Lhasa Apsos to the US. Several more importations were made by the Cuttings, establishing the Hamilton line of Lhasa Apsos in this country. In England, very few if any descendants of the original Bailey imports remain unmixed with lines from other sources, but a number of Americans continue the breeding of an intact line of descendants of the original Hamilton imports. Their objective is to maintain the unique qualities and characteristics of the breed as it was when Bailey and Suydham Cutting first saw it in Tibet.

As a biologist and physician, and for the past 38years a breeder of Lhasa Apsos, I have always been fascinated with the physiological and evolutionary aspects of the Lhasa Apso. How did this little dog come about? So the first thesis of my presentation is that the Lhasa Apso is a truly unique product of his environment . . . in much the same way as are the Eskimo breeds. Secondly, I hope to show you how the Apso's physical and mental characteristics represent a survival strategy. Last I will attempt to demonstrate the importance of these survival strategies to the various characteristics which comprise breed type, and the need to maintain those natural characteristics which evolution has conferred on this breed.

The altitude, extremes of temperature, lack of rainfall, and the rugged terrain itself, make the Tibetan Plateau perhaps one of the harshest inhabited areas on earth. Each of these factors exerts its own influence on all the creatures that live there. Domestic animals of Tibet, and the entire Himalayan region are very little different from the wild forms from which they came. The reason for this is undoubtedly that the environment allows very little tampering with Nature. (The Yak is certainly not a creature that one would chose to create as a beast of burden. Yet in the high passes of the Himalayas, this domesticated wild ox, is the only animal capable of the job.) We will therefore examine each one of these challenges of nature, and its influence on the structure and temperament - the essential "type" - of the Lhasa Apso.

Galen Rowell, his book, "My Tibet", which was based on extensive travel in that country, mentions the uncanny resemblance of the eastern Sierra in California, to the Tibetan Plateau. In fact, probably the nearest example of a Tibetan type of climate we have in this country, (USA) can be found near the summit of Mt. Whitney, in California. This barren granite rampart juts abruptly up from the Mojave Desert to a height of 14,495 ft. (4,348 meters), a height similar to most of the Tibetan plateau. At this height, there is perpetual cold wind, while the sun beats down ferociously from an indigo sky. Daytime temperatures a few miles away in the desert, can rise to 120 F. (49 C), while the night temperature on the mountain can drop to subzero levels. The atmosphere at this height is so thin, and oxygen so scarce, that some healthy young people can suddenly develop pulmonary edema and die unless promptly evacuated to lower altitude. This is the kind of climate that shaped the Lhasa Apso.

The Lhasa Apso was developed probably more by happenstance than by design. Knowing what we do about the Tibetans, it is unlikely that they did selective breeding as we understand it. Early Tibetans were hunters and herders. Pastoral people have always depended on dogs: large dogs to hunt with and to guard flocks, medium sized herding dogs, and small dogs as companions and guards inside the tents. Without invoking any particular religious significance, we know that dogs have always been important to Tibetans, as they are to most pastoral cultures. The Tibetans lived a humble and rigorous life, and could offer little in the way of creature comforts to any of their animals. Much like the Eskimos' dogs, the Apsos shared the hardships of their masters' lives and survived or died according how well they met the challenges of the environment, and the ravages of disease and parasites.

Conservation of Heat:
The first demand of the Himalayan Tibetan climate is that an animal be able to conserve heat. Heat is produced as a byproduct of metabolism, the burning of food calories. The tissue with the greatest metabolic activity is muscle. Bone and fat are less metabolically active, although fat has excellent insulating qualities. It follows that a cold adapted animal would have a body with a substantial muscle and fat mass, and less bone mass than a closely related strain adapted to a temperate climate. Heat loss can also be limited by insulation of the surface. Both subcutaneous fat, and an efficient, dense, double coat, will help conserve heat.

Whereas the amount of heat produced by an animal is proportional to its mass or volume, heat is lost to the environment mainly through the body surface. The surface area of the body, like any other area, is directly proportional to its height times its length. The ratio of mass to surface area assumes great importance in a cold climate. Small animals have a greater surface area relative to their mass than do large animals. Long legged, lean animals have greater surface areas than short legged stocky animals. Even in Human racial strains we can identify the influence of climate on the body type of long time inhabitants. The Eskimo people are short and stout, with short extremities, and a high percentage of body fat. Some equatorial African tribes show exactly the opposite configuration: long lean bodies, high surface area, low body fat. To limit heat loss in the cold adapted animal, the body should be as compact as possible and the extremities as short as possible.

To summarize the strategy of heat conservation: Maximize the mass, (muscle), minimize the surface area, (shorter extremities, compact body), and insulate, (coat, fat).

The second climatic challenge is that of solar radiation. The same coat that insulates against cold can protect against heat and extremely bright UV radiation. A hat and umbrella would be helpful. (Heavy headfall, tail over the back?) Panting, which uses the surface of the lungs to expel heat, is quite efficient at desert humidity.

The strategy for heat and solar radiation is: covering, (coat, tail over the back, headfall) and respiration (large lung surface).

High altitude places unique demands on animals. Some of the adaptations seen in human populations are poorly understood even today. To live comfortably at 16,000 ft. requires not only an increased respiratory capacity, but changes in the cellular chemistry as well. All mountain populations have developed a typical physique short, stout extremities, and long torsos with enlarged thoracic cavities. Most mountain dwellers have also developed significantly higher red blood cell counts, and higher hemoglobin concentration, in order to extract more oxygen from the thin air.

The strategy for animals at high altitude, as for people, is: high respiratory capacity (large lungs, good airways), structural efficiency (elimination of nonessential excess body mass) and sometimes, chemical accommodation.

The Tibetan terrain can be summed up in three words, "up and down". The plateau must not be thought of as a flat, albeit high surface. Millions of years ago, the drifting subcontinent of India slowly crashed into the Asian continent, throwing up the Himalayas, and uplifting the Tibetan plateau, a geologic process that continues today. The entire uplifted area is wrinkled by innumerable smaller mountain ranges. The surface is arid, rocky and dusty, and there is not much level ground. Man and animal must have good climbing apparatus, strong and surefooted. Feet must be tough and well protected. Bodies must be built for stamina rather than speed; for walking, climbing and jumping rather than trotting or running on level ground, as plains animals do.

The terrain strategy can be characterized as: good feet, strong climbing and jumping equipment.

In summary, the adaptive strategies which lay down the prerequisites of Lhasa Apso "type" are three.

Let us examine the Lhasa Apso, point by point as the standard does, and try to understand, in detail, how the Lhasa Apso accommodates the biologic imperatives of Tibet.

To fulfill his function as a sentinel, the Lhasa Apso needs to be a calm, intelligent, alert, and independent dog. The Apso's suspicion of strangers is an attribute prized by the Tibetans. Although with his intimate friends he can be extremely sensitive, affectionate and playful, he never loses his air of self possession. The Lhasa Apso cannot be a waster of energy, a nervous, hyperactive dog. He must not be surly, skulking or fearful. He is a naturally dignified and sensible companion, but he is not characteristically over-anxious for approval from his owners.

The ideal showdog has a somewhat different personality. He should be very dependent and tractable, eager to please, with a tendency to hyperactivity. Apsos of a typical temperament often do not make good showdogs. (What sensible person or animal spends an afternoon alternatively standing posed and running in circles in the company of a bunch of other fools doing the same thing?)  I have often heard "show breeders" assert that they are not breeding "pets", but "showdogs".  But do we have the right to alter the natural physical or mental attributes of this unique little companion, the product of millennia of evolution, for no other reason than to satisfy the demands of a rather frivolous hobby?

A mountain animal is not of necessity any particular size. However, the Lhasa Apso's function as an indoor sentinel would suggest a handy size. In fact, the Apso is about as small as a dog could be and still be viable in the Tibetan climate. The smaller the linear dimensions of an animal, the greater the surface area is in proportion to the mass. This means that a very small animal has a much greater surface (from which to lose heat) in comparison to its mass, (which produces heat). These very little animals usually have very high metabolisms, live in protected burrows, and hibernate through unfavorable conditions. None of these adaptations are available to canines.

The outdoor showring tends to exaggerate the length and cut the apparent height of dogs, especially small dogs. Breeders have responded to this pressure by selecting for a taller, squarer dog. The height of most of the Lhasa Apsos in this country has increased to the point where a correct sized Apso looks abnormally small. For those Judges who have trouble keeping before them a mind's eye picture of 11 inches, I might suggest carrying an ordinary piece of typing paper around for reference.

No particular color confers a survival advantage to a domestic animal. The strong sunlight in Tibet does make dark eye and nose pigment favorable, as it sunburns less easily.

The Lhasa Apso has evolved the body shape that enables him to survive in Tibet. He is of necessity a rectangular dog. Heat conservation demands two things: that muscle mass be maximized for heat production, and that appendages be kept as short as possible to minimize heat loss. A rectangular outline allows heat conservation and also the needed length of body to accommodate large lungs for respiration at high altitude.

Because of the altitude, the lungs have to be voluminous for the size of the dog, and capable of considerable expansion. The best shaped chest for this purpose is not a barrel, which lacks the ability to expand, but rather a moderately rounded chest with long slanting ribs. Chest capacity is achieved by elongation of the chest cavity rather than by assuming a barrel shape. 

Some people are extremely critical of the "long, low" Lhasa Apso. The fact remains that this animal achieves its high altitude breathing capacity through elongation of its ribcage and relative shortening of its extremities. Thus the "short back" and "up on leg" so sought after by some breeders is a type feature of low altitude creatures, and not suitable for a small Himalayan dog. Extreme body length however, increases surface area and heat loss. In fact the apparent length of the Apso is not so much a lengthening of the body as it is shortening of the legs, thus reducing surface area while maintaining mass.  The tendency to extreme length (for respiratory capacity) is held in check by the need to conserve heat. The Apso body shape is the result of a beautifully balanced series of compromises, modified by the constraints of the environment, and avoids all extremes.

As mentioned earlier, the show ring has tended to change the shape of the dog to a taller, shorter bodied type. In accomplishing this change, essential heat producing mass has often been sacrificed, along with the length of ribcage so necessary to survival in the animal's native environment. Although a very long body usually carries with it heavy bone, inconsistent with the breed's agility, a very short body will not have enough rib length or mass to be consistent with survival in the Himalayas. In the an otherwise well balanced Lhasa Apso, "long-bodied" is actually a misnomer.  The well balanced apso has the same proportions of head and neck to body length as any natural breed: only his legs have been slightly shortened to achieve his rectangular outline.

Rugged terrain requires good jumping equipment. A strong loin and hind quarter provides the necessary strength. From the heat requirement, we already know the dog must be relatively massive, mainly from muscle. However the need for efficiency (no excess baggage) and agility (a clumsy mountain animal doesn't last long) limits the amount of mass. The compromise is a dog that has more muscle than normal for its size (feels heavier than expected) and at the same time has less (and shorter) bone than is "normal" for that amount of muscle. In short, Apsos, like the people of the Himalaya, are robust and sturdy, yet small, tough and agile.

While the standard is silent on the subject of movement, the environment dictates an efficient and economical gait, a trait shared by of other mountain animals. At home, as a companion and guardian, the Lhasa Apso likes to perch on a high wall where he can watch for intruders. However, when traveling with his human, the Lhasa Apso is quite capable of covering long distances over rocky mountain passes, running ahead of the slower yaks and horses. He proceeds by leaps and bounds, picking his way slowly where necessary, and galloping for short stretches. His hind quarter must be built for leaping and pivoting, capable of placing his hind feet well under his body, and should include a moderate bend of stifle. His loin must be strong and very flexible, never weak or hollowed, and the croup moderately (normally) angled, not flat or tipped up.  The tipped or flat pelvis carries with it a hollowed or sagging loin section which lacks the necessary mechanical strength to transmit the full power of the rear to the front of the body, and predisposes to back problems.

When the Apso does trot, we want to see the most economical gait possible. The typical trot of a wild canine represents the most efficient ground covering gait. These animals all single-track. Some Apsos, with their slightly shortened legs, and greater relative mass, may not achieve a perfect single track, but we do not want to see a wide-based bouncing or rolling gait more typical of Chinese breeds.

The modern show ring has tended to standardize gait for all breeds to "that gait which looks best moving in a small level circle at a fast trot". The trot is probably not the native gait for an animal that spends most of its time walking or leaping. While no one could object if a correctly built Apso also has a spectacular gait at the trot, this has very little to do with being the best (typiest) Apso. The Lhasa Apso should give the impression of moving effortlessly, in a smooth, workmanlike manner, without bouncing, pounding, rolling or excessive rear kick-up. Strength, agility, surefootedness, endurance, and economy of movement are the hallmarks of the Lhasa Apso. Exaggerated action in any gait is atypical because it wastes energy, a potentially lethal problem at extreme altitude and temperature.

This is, of course, the very coat that the Apso needs for protection and insulation. A certain amount of felting of the undercoat may be advantageous to the animal as a method of wind proofing. The correct straight, hard, double coat would still leave most of the topcoat open. Shed undercoat in this type of coat tends to move to the ends of the guard hairs and be cast out naturally. Incorrect silky or woolly coats would offer little protection, and dense matting close to the skin can cause sores due to traction on the skin. A trait of many Lhasa Apsos, the bane of the exhibitors existence, the tendency to groom themselves by trimming and combing their own hair, probably has an important survival function for a long coated dog which receives little grooming from its human companions.

The correct Lhasa Apso coat is the most obvious casualty of the showring. Handlers prefer a softer more voluminous coat, which can be sculpted to conceal or alter the outline of the dog. In Tibet, these coats would constitute a serious unsoundness, which is probably why travelers to the region report seeing so few animals there with this type of coat.

There is some misunderstanding of the term "of good length". The standard is not asking for a perfectly trimmed coat dragging on the ground, or even floor length. The standard is requesting evidence that this is a longhaired dog, which is longhaired all over and not in a pattern like an Afghan. To penalize a dog for its youth or lifestyle, or because of the inexperience of its groomer, will never improve the breed. In fact, the practice of rewarding overgrooming is detrimental to the health and well-being of the animals, some of whom literally spend their lives sitting on tables or in crates so they will not break a hair. But the Apso is a watch dog and companion, not an ornament. A dog exhibiting a good quality of coat, with sufficient length to demonstrate its allover pattern, even though it has some chewed or broken spots from rough play and outdoor exercise, is much to be preferred to an impeccably presented animal with an immense coat of improper type.
Le and Phema
Tibetan imports Le and Phema 

The Lhasa Apso muzzle is a compromise between shortening to conserve heat and the requirement for a nasal chamber of adequate length to warm and humidify the inspired air. At one third of the total head length, it falls midway between the normal 1:1 head of the wolf type, and the extremely foreshortened heads of some ornamental breeds. The bite is the one which most often goes with this slightly modified head. The original standard adopted in both Britain and the USA in 1934 stated that the "mouth is level, otherwise slightly undershot preferred". The statement "mouth level" means that the upper and lower jaws are equal in length. The tooth occlusion in this situation will be either level, level-scissor or reverse scissor. (The "level-scissor" is a bite where the jaws are level, but the upper teeth overlap the lower. It is not a true scissor bite as in the German Shepherd, which is a true scissor mouth.) A level mouthed dog will have a typical apso expression regardless of the dental occlusion... (In fact a "level mouth" would be a level mouth even with no teeth at all.) A secondary choice would be slightly undershot.

For quite a number of years the AKC in its official "Complete Dog Book" defined level mouth as "the normal canine mouth" (ie scissor bite). In 1978, the American standard changed the word "mouth" to the word "bite", thereby drastically altering the meaning. A level "mouth" refers to the jaws being level, which means the teeth can be level, scissor, or reverse scissor, whereas level "bite" means only one thing: a "pincer" bite. This change of one word has brought about the present confusion regarding level and scissor bites. The change in the words "mouth" to "bite" caused a level-scissor bite, which was perfectly acceptable as a "level mouth" in 1977, to be less acceptable in 1978.

Perhaps it would be useful at this point to introduce a very early description of the breed, written in 1901 by a gentleman by the name of Sir Lionel Jacob, an official of the British Military Government of the Punjab, in Northern India, and one of the founders of the Kennel Club of Northern India.

Drury, W.D., British Dogs, Vol. 1; The 3rd Edition

"Here in full is the 1901 Description of the "Lhassa Terrier, an interesting little breed formerly found under the inappropriate name of Bhuteer Terrier.

Head. Distinctly Terrierlike. Skull narrow, falling away behind the eyes in a marked degree, not quite flat, but not domed or appleshaped. Fore face of fair length, strong in front of the eyes, the nose, large, prominent and pointed, not depressed; a square muzzle is objectionable. The stop, size for size, about that of a Skye Terrier.

ed. note: Because of Sir Lionel Jacob's engineering background, and familiarity with concepts like trajectory, it is reasonable to speculate that "falling away behind the eyes" refers to the descending "trajectory" of the stop just posterior to the eyebrow, rather than some modern interpretations that these words are descriptive of the sides of the head.

Mouth quite level, but of the two a slightly overshot mouth is preferable to an undershot one. The teeth are somewhat smaller than would be expected in a Terrier of the size. In this respect, the breed seems to suffer to an extraordinary degree from cankered teeth. I have never yet seen an imported specimen with a sound mouth.

Ears. Set on low, and carried close to the cheeks, similar to the ears of a dropeared Skye.

Eyes. Neither very large and full nor very small and sunk, dark brown in colour.

Legs and Feet. The fore legs should be straight. In all shortlegged breeds there is a tendency to crookedness, but the straighter the legs the better. There should be good bone. Owing to the heavy coat the legs look, and should look, very heavy in bone, but in reality, the bone is not heavy. It should be round and of good strength right down to the toes, the less ankle the better. The hocks should be particularly well let down. Feet should be round and catlike, with good pads.

Body. There is a tendency in England to look for a level top and a short back. All the best specimens have a slight arch at the loin and the back should not be too short; it should be considerably longer than the height at the withers. The dog should be well ribbed up, with a strong loin and well developed quarters and thighs.

Stern. Should be carried well over the back after the manner of the tail of the Chow. All Thibetan dogs carry their tails in this way, and a low carriage of stern is a sign of impure blood.

Coat. Should be heavy, of good length and very dense. There should be a strong growth on the skull, falling on both sides. The legs should be well clothed right down to the toes. On the body, the hair should not reach to the ground, as in a show Yorkshire; there should be a certain amount of daylight. In general appearance the hair should convey the idea of being much harder to the eye than it is to the touch. It should look hard, straight and strong, when to the touch it is soft, but not silky. The hair should be straight with no tendency to curl.

Colour. Black, dark grizzle, slate, sandy, or an admixture of these colours with white.

Size. About 10 in. or 11 in. height at shoulder for dogs, and 9 in. or 10 in. for bitches."

This original description of the breed was sufficiently well regarded that it served as the basis for subsequent English and American standards. As one can easily see from the language employed, the 1934 English and American standards used whole sections of this 1901 version. ( I happen to think it was superior to any of the present day standards, especially in its description of the body, legs and head.)

The English Standard has been altered twice since 1934. The English have recently opted for a more "Oriental" rather than Central Asian type face with an undershot muzzle, central Asian breed. The latest English change in the standard, while accepted by FCI, was rejected by their cousins in Australia. The new English standard of bite, which described the teeth as being in a straight line between the canines, was one of the major objections by the Australians. (Teeth in a straight line is a characteristic of the Bulldog, the Pekinese and several similar breeds, but not typical of the Lhasa Apso.).

The the majority of the original dogs which came from the Himalaya as gifts from the Dalai Lama or collected by the Baileys and Cuttings did not have turned up, undershot mouths. Photos and descriptions of the breed from the thirties and forties show this quite clearly. The much earlier description of the breed, printed in 1901, stated " Mouth quite level, but of the two a slightly overshot mouth is preferable to an undershot one.".  Most of the recent specimens brought from Bhutan have had scissor bites. 

Aside from strong historical arguments for rejection of the significantly undershot mouth in favor of the level mouth, there are even stronger biologic arguments. The undershot mouth, in which there is no occlusion between upper and lower incisors, is a unhealthy mouth, leading to early loss of teeth. Teeth are kept healthy, as any dentist will tell you, by contact and pressure from the teeth in the opposite jaw. Without this pressure, the teeth are extruded, and bone is lost from around the unopposed teeth, causing them to be loosened and lost early in life. In the grossly undershot bite, the canines are misoccluded, whereas in a level or reverse scissor bite, the lower canines fit into the space between the lateral incisor and canine of the upper jaw. This relationship is important in "anchoring" the bite in a stable occlusion. If the lower incisors lie in a straight line between the canines, there is malocclusion of the canines, with loss of stability of the anterior bite.  Because the undershot bite, in which the upper and lower incisors do not touch, and the canines do not mesh properly, is unhealthy (just as unhealthy as a "parrot mouth"), and a biologic disadvantage, it is not a suitable bite for a Tibetan dog.

Not yet mentioned, is the fact that our little Tibetan could use a complete set of good strong teeth. These would come in handy if he has to pick up an occasional rodent to supplement his diet. All too often we see little rice-like teeth which have short roots and are lost early. These dental abnormalities are real disadvantages for a Tibetan dog.

The description of the head coat is exactly what our Tibetan needs to protect him from the cold, wind, dust and sun. The skull is the type expected on a modified head of these proportions. The straight fore face is important. It provides the most efficient air passages. Not mentioned in the standard is the need to avoid extreme snipiness, as seen on some Lhasa Apsos today. Besides the unpleasant expression and bad dentition that a very narrowed muzzle creates, narrowing of the airway is a handicap to easy breathing at high altitude. Missing or crowded incisors are an indicator of insufficient width of muzzle. Jaws which can hold a full complement of strong well-spaced teeth generally have sufficient bone to house an adequate airway. Likewise a very short nose is accompanied by breathing problems resulting from redundant palates, narrowed nasal cavities, and the increased mucus production needed to offset the increased tendency to dry out. The nose leather and nostril have to be of good size. A small, too short, or pinched nose would be lethal at high altitude.

In England and on the Continent, much is made of "chin" as an essential component of Apso expression. I find considerable anatomical evidence to contradict this view. In addition, the Standard, both in the USA and Europe, states that "a square muzzle is objectionable".  A square muzzle is defined as a muzzle whose end is blunt or makes a right angle with the end of the nose leather: in other words a muzzle with a prominent "chin".  We must conclude, therfore that a prominent chin is undesirable, since it usually results in a square muzzle. With a correct level or slightly undershot mouth, a visible chin is only seen in those animals with small, upturned noses and short upper lips. 

Not only is an adequate nose necessary for survival, but in all early descriptions of the Lhasa Apso, a pointed or prominent nose leather is mentioned. If a Lhasa Apso has the necessary large nose leather and large open nostrils, that nose will "overhang" the lower lip to some degree, making the "chin" relatively inapparent even with a fairly undershot bite. If the nose leather is right, the only way to have a prominent chin is to have a massively undershot or turned up jaw, like a bulldog. The small upturned nose with a short upper lip is a Chinese feature, not typical of Tibetan dogs because of their need for good breathing structures, but characteristic of the Chin, Pug, Pekinese, and ShihTzu. The Apso has a largish nose leather, and a level jaw, in which the teeth may be level or slightly undershot. This allows the lower lip to be visible, but the Apso does not display a prominent "chin" unless his bite or his nose is unsound.

There is another feature of the head, not mentioned in the standard, which is important to the Lhasa Apso. The Apso has a prominent malar bone which brings the eye into a more frontal position than on most dogs, and protects the eyes from dust, injury, cold and desiccation. This bone supports the outer half of the eye, and imparts an almond shape to the eye. Without this rather prominent bone placed just beneath and behind the eye, the eyelids lack support and tend to fall away from the eyeball, making the eye rounded and more protuberant, thus exposing it to injury and drying. This frontal eye placement is a feature of the heads of all four Tibetan breeds, and has a lot to do with the uniquely "Tibetan" expression they share. (Frontal eye placement also contributes to good binocular vision, necessary in a mountain watchdog.) This malar bone is a facial bone, which adds slightly to the width of the head at the level of the eye, and should not be confused with the skull, (the cranium) which is narrow, nor with the zygomatic arch. The zygomatic arch is a ring of bone, well behind the eye, which allows the muscles of chewing to pass from the lower jaw to a broad attachment on the cranium. In the Lhasa Apso this arch is well developed, and constitutes the widest dimension of the head.  

There is some confusion about the phrase "falling away behind the eyes in a marked degree".  At least one other author has interpreted these words as referring to the cheekbone or zygomatic arch, stating that this arch should not be prominent in the apso.  However, the apso has a slightly brachycepahic head with a more forward placement of the orbits.  This causes a more prominent zygoma than a normocephalic dog would have.  See Fig.3

" would suggest that all three phrases are pertaining to the same thing, namely the top of the skull.  The meaning of "falling away" becomes quite clear in that case, describing a forehead that does not rise behind the eyes as does the skull of the Shih-Tzu, but "falls away" to the flattened top of the cranium.  Fig.4

It has been argued that the head "doesn't matter on a Lhasa because it is not a head breed". This argument is a transparent bid for acceptance of poor type. In fact, the standard spends about one third of its words describing the head. Moreover, many aspects of the correct head are essential to survival in the environment of origin, and as such, are the very basis of type in this breed. Judges should be aware of this and try not to award top honors to an animal with a really atypical headpiece.

With shortening of the head there is a tendency toward a prominent, round eye. This tendency is checked by the fact that such an eye would be easily injured by cold, drying wind, dust, sun, and the very headfall needed to protect the eyes. An Apso with prominent eyes would certainly be blind at a young age in the Himalayan environment. Recent visitors to the region report seeing not one Apso with a round bulging eye. Dark pigment is less susceptible to solar damage.

The Lhasa Apso ear is rather small, set rather high, only slightly below the crown of the head, held close to the warmth of the head, under a blanket of headfall. The ears are quite mobile and tend to lift the heavy headfall away from the orifice when the dog is alerted. This is the very best ear he could have for protection from weather, dust or injury. A large, low set spaniel or hound type ear would freeze easily, with its weight of hair would obstruct the keen hearing necessary for this breed, and is susceptible to parasites and infection.

The running and jumping gear of our little Tibetan is of utmost importance. Well protected with hair, his legs must be short, strong and well muscled. The Apso does not have the straight front construction or stiff movement of a terrier. He needs the resilience and elasticity of a cat to cope with mountain terrain on his short legs. The pasterns and hocks are well let down. This is a necessity for an animal which must run and jump in snowy conditions. All of us have watched our Apsos on a snowy day scampering like rabbits across the top of the snow. The straight pastern and "up on toes" posture of a terrier, would not allow the Apso to run on top of the snow. Rather he tends to have sloping pasterns which turn out slightly and he stands on his pads as well as his toes. Not only are the tops of his feet covered with hair, but the soles of the feet as well. Thick masses of hair grow from between his pads, giving additional protection against cold and sharp stones, and a sort of snowshoe to keep him on top of deep snow.

Since the Apso's extremities are somewhat shortened, we cannot expect terrier type straight front legs. In fact the (almost pigeontoed) front we find on some terriers is a manmade aberration. All efficient four legged (and two legged) creatures tend to turn their feet out slightly. If you don't believe this, just watch your own feet as you walk. Just as we do not expect a Fox Terrier front, do not want a Pekinese front either. A certain amount of turning at the pastern of a Lhasa Apso is acceptable, but no more than is necessary for an efficient, elastic, single-tracking gait.

All Tibetan dogs have large tails over their backs. The Apso uses his tail as parasol in the hot sun, and at night as a blanket, to cover his nose or tuck around his privates.  The original Standard of points, written at the turn of the 19th century,  indicated that inability of the Lhasa Apso to carry the tail over the back was a sign of "impure blood".  That has, in the 20th century, been translated into "a serious fault."

Recently there has been some discussion as to what circumstances of "low carriage of stern" constitutes a serious fault.  The Standard does not specify.  We normally think of "serious faults" as permanent defects in conformation, and not tempotary changes in posture.  Although the tail is normally carried over the back, it can also be dropped and carried low when a dog is relaxed or anxious, so what some interpret as a "serious fault" at one moment, may not be there a few seconds later.  It is my contention that "low carriage of stern" should be interpreted as the permanent inability to carry the tail over the back and not a temporary change in posture.

The "tailset" is not mentioned in the standard.  Much is made by show breeders of a high tailset.  A very high set tail goes with a somewhat hollowed back and a flat croup. This construction, a feature of some animals (the Hackney for instance), is arguably incorrect even for a trotting animal.  Despite the tail carriage over the back of the Apso, a flat or tipped up croup and a hollowed back are most definitely unsound construction for a jumping animal. Judges should take care not to place undue emphasis on features which, however attractive in the ring, are really not intrinsic to this breed.

Likewise, no mention is made in the standard of a level topline. Almost everyone seems to find the level topline desirable. Indeed there is a tendency lately to desire a sloping topline like a setter. But before we make the level topline a sine qua non of quality, we ought to ask what use this would be to the animal. A general consideration of the construction needs of jumping animals would suggest that efficient conformation for an Apso would include being a little high in the rear. Do you suppose that is why we see this "fault" so often? In fact, the English breeder and judge, Lady Frieda Valentine, who acquired her first Lhasa Apso in the early 30's and judged many of the early dogs, felt that this was an important aspect of Lhasa Apso type. In her judging in the last few years of her life, she often complained that the dogs had lost their "poops". (referring to the raised poop of a boat, rather than our more elemental use of the word) 

IN CONCLUSION: After reviewing the evidence, I think most everyone would agree that the Tibetan environment has been the major force in producing this remarkable, tough little creature. I guess the most natural question to follow is, "Now that we took him out of Tibet, what will we do with him?". Will we continue to value him as the marvelously integrated series of natural adaptations that he is? Will we select for the same qualities that nature did, and keep him true to type? Or will we follow the prevailing tendency (in all breeds), to change type based on the current fad in the showring, until he is just another little hairy showdog with no biologic relationship to his origins.

All too often, the influential breeders are the ones most anxious for wins in the show ring. In response to the pressure to win, rapid changes in type can occur, based on the success of an unusually showy specimen, or the political power of the owner. Judges have the responsibility of preventing breed type degradation, by learning what true breed type is, and withholding honors from atypical specimens.

When judging the Lhasa Apso, one must be able to separate those qualities native or essential to the breed from those which are "addons". At the very least, a careful consideration of the true nature of the breed can help breeders and judges to form a more realistic reading of the relative importance of particular "faults".

When deciding if a particular "fault" is important to breed type in the Lhasa Apso, the question to be asked and answered is "Is this feature important to the survival of this animal if he lived in Tibet?". Qualities essential to survival in its original habitat such as fundamental soundness, coat quality, head type, body type, have to be given the greatest weight. A large prominent eye, a soft, downy coat, too short a body, shoulders which do not allow flexible reach, a rear which does not move under the dog, . . . these all would be serious handicaps to a dog living semi-wild in Tibet.  However, other "faults", such as a scissor bite, are in fact advantageous: i.e. the teeth are retained longer because of the normal functional occusion.  Attractive non essentials, such as flatness of topline, flashiness of movement, length of coat, grooming, which have only to do with our artificial appraisal in the show ring, must play a minor role if we are to preserve the unique qualities of this breed.

The Lhasa Apso is a wonderful work of nature: a canine expression of the Himalayan environment. Like an endangered species, the true Lhasa Apso is worth preserving for the very fact that he is a primitive and authentically natural breed. No true animal or nature lover could argue otherwise. I can only hope the owners, breeders and judges of Lhasa Apsos will continue to study him, cherish him, and judge him for the truly wonderful thing he is.  Breeders and judges must work together to preserve him or lose these qualities forever.
Photo taken recently of a Bhutanese boy and his Apso. Note the remarkable similarity to the 1950 photo of Le and Phema.

The good news for those of us who value his natural qualities is that a remnant population of true Lhasa Apsos is still alive, well and typical in the Himalayas, evading extinction for the moment at least. With the easing of travel restrictions in Chinese territories, visitors have recently brought many photos and accounts of Tibetan dogs. I feel strongly that all breeders and Judges have an obligation to seek out and study the pictures and accounts of animals who are now coming once again from Tibet..

In the early 80's, a Canadian visiting Nepal obtained a number of Apsos from a Tibetan refugee Monk.  He has been breeding them since that time, but due to misunderstandings, he has been unable to register his dogs in Canada.  A small group of these dogs now resides in Colorado.  Now registered by UKC, we hope one day they will receive AKC registration, because these dogs offer a much needed source of new genetic material in the breed.

I have personal communications with several recent visitors to the Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal, Bhutan and northern India. Photos from various countries bordering Tibet show Apsos of good type, very similar, in fact, to the Tibetan imports of the 30's and 40's. It is encouraging that the latest photos and reports from the Himalayas show that our (good type) Lhasa Apsos have not yet strayed too far from their origins. A European friend recently gained admittance to Bhutan, (a closed country) and visited many Tibetan expatriates living there. She was the guest of the Queen of Bhutan, and therefore had the good fortune to obtain three lovely Apsos from an 80 year old Tibetan lady living in Bhutan. This Tibetan lady had obtained her first Apsos from refugees from Lhasa, members of the Tibetan nobility. These animals are excellent in type and after breeding them for 3 generations, under the supervision of the Klub fur Tibetische Hunderasse, they will be able to receive German registration papers. We are hoping to see more authentic Himalayan dogs emerge as European visitation to these areas increases.