Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
Since the beginning of the Manchu Dynasty in 1583 and until as late as 1908, it was the custom for the Dalai Lama of Tibet to make presentation of one of the special breed of dogs native to the sacred Lama villages to members of the Imperial families of China and other dignitaries. It was considered a great honor to receive one of these dog gifts and, moreover, it supposedly brought good fortune to the recipient. This dog was the Lhasa Apso.
In the mysterious land of Tibet beyond the northern boundary of India, the Lhasa Apso has been in existence for probably some 800 years. Travel has ever been rare in that wild and mountainous country and visitors to these lands had no opportunity to see these dogs as they were kept within the sanctity of the homes of the mighty in the villages around the sacred city of Apso. Hence, they were never mentioned by early travelers. It has been suggested that the Lhasa Apso has a place in the religion of Tibet but evidence for this belief has never been brought forth from the mysterious land where Mount Everest reaches skyward.
The Lhasa Apso is purely Tibetan, known in his homeland as "Abso Seng Kye" which means "Bark Sentinel Lion Dog." When it first made its appearance in England it was known as the Talisman Dog and Sheng Trou and then, for a time, a few were called Lhassa Terriers; others were called Apsos. About 1934, the Tibetan Breeds Association was formed and a strong movement started to get the breed and type according to a standard. It was then that the present name was established.
The coat is profuse, heavy, and inclined to be shaggy, possibly the reason for the "apso" in the name which is from the Tibetan "rapso" meaning goat-like. This dense coat is characteristic of the four breeds' native to Tibet, which is understandable in a country of intense cold at certain times of the year. All of the breeds also carry their tails curled up over their backs. These are the Tibetan Terrier, raised everywhere in the country, the toy Tibetan Spaniel, and the large, powerful Tibetan Mastiff. The huge Mastiffs are used in Tibet as the outside guard dogs but, within, it is the Lhasa Apso who is used as a sentinel. Generations of breeding and training as a watch dog have made one of their chief characteristics a propensity for being bright, hardy, and alert and having a keenly-developed instinct for detecting friends from strangers. They are extremely responsive to affection and are devoted companions to their owners.
In a general description of the Lhasa Apso would be that they are gay and assertive but leery of strangers. They size for the males are ten to eleven inches with the females being slightly smaller.
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