The Lhasa Apso is a non-sporting dog breed originating in Tibet. It was bred as an interior sentinel in the Buddhist monasteries, who alerted the monks to any intruders who entered. Lhasa is the capital city of Tibet and Apso is a word in the Tibetan language meaning "bearded," so Lhasa Apso simply means "long-haired Lhasa dog," although there are also some who claim that the word "Apso" is a corruption of the Tibetan word "rapso," meaning "goat-like", which would make the equivalent translation "wooly Lhasa dog."

The Lhasa Apso originated in the area of Tibet over 4,000 years ago as a small breed of mountain wolf. They were domesticated and actively bred perhaps as long ago as 800 BC, which makes it one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world. Recent research has shown the Lhasa as one of the breeds most closely related to the ancestral wolf. (Others are Akita, Shiba Inu, Shar-Pei, Chow, Basenji, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Saluki, Afghan, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Samoyed.)

Referred to in Tibet as Apso Seng Kyi, which can be translated as "Bearded Lion Dog", the Lhasa's primary function was that of a household sentinel, guarding the homes of Tibetan nobility and Buddhist monasteries, particularly in or near the sacred city of Lhasa. The large Tibetan Mastiffs guarded the monasteries' entrances, but the keen hearing and sharp bark of the Lhasa Apso served to warn residents by acting like a burglar alarm if an intruder happened to get past the exterior guards.

It was believed that the bodies of the Lhasa Apsos could be entered by souls of deceased lamas while they awaited reincarnation into a new body. Lhasas in Tibet were never sold. The only way a person could get one was as a gift.

In the early 1900s, a few of the breed were brought by military men returning from the Indian subcontinent to England, where the breed was referred to as "Lhasa Terriers".

The original American pair of Lhasas was a gift from Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama to C. Suydam Cutting, arriving in the United States in 1933. Mr. Cutting had traveled in Tibet and met the Dalai Lama there. At this time, there was only one Lhasa Apso registered in England. The breed was called first the Apso Lhasa Terrier, then the Lhasa Apso. The American Kennel Club officially accepted the breed in 1935 in the Terrier Group, and in 1959 transferred the breed to the Non-Sporting Group. In the UK, they are placed in the Utility Group.

Certain characteristics which are part of the breed type evolved as a result of geographical and climatic environment — the high altitudes, the dry windy climate, the dusty terrain, the short hot summer and the long bitterly cold winter of the Himalaya region. Among these are head features, the coat, eye-fall, the muscle and body structure, the general hardness and longevity of the breed.

DNA Analysis has identified the Lhasa Apso as one of the 14 most ancient dog breeds, verifying that lap dogs and companion dogs were among the first dogs bred by humans.

 

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