TYPE DOWN THE AGES OF OUR LHASA APSO
Unfortunately we cannot trace facts that will prove that the little shaggy dog evolved in Tibet or whether it came from other countries. The Tibetans claim the breed as of great antiquity and little altered in type over a span of some two thousand years.
Lhasa Apsos are a basic type of canine, the only part that is different is the long profuse treble coat. This could have evolved in Tibet as a protection against the extreme weather conditions. Such long coated dogs are found in Russia, Mongolia, and Afghanistan. As trade routes were opened up with horses and mule caravans, it is possible that there was an exchange of dogs along the route. Actually the traders were not interested in Tibet as such, but were looking for routes to China, the Mecca of civilization where spices, silk and fine pottery could be obtained for wealthy European customers. Many South Mediterranean travellers took a route through Turkey, Afghanistan, Tibet, to the far east. As whole families went on the long treks, which might last several years, they took livestock along with them and small dogs were always good for barter. If you look closely at the Bichon Group that was developed in Southern European one can see a very strong resemblance too a basic Lhasa. Go on into Afghanistan and their Spaniel, though higher on leg, have many of the same features. In China the old long coated Happa probably the Chinese Crested, not to forget the Shih Tzu which is known as the Tibetan Lion Dog, are all strongly related.
If we can recognise a strong possibility that all these breeds are related then we are well on the way to understanding much that goes to make "Basic Type" of the lhasa Apso. They all have a naturally long coat all over their body. Most have a medium to short length of leg and are not excessively long backed. Most have an oval eye, all are family pets or warning dogs, the bark being stronger than their bite, most are about ten inches in height and within the adult weight band 12 to 16 lbs. There is a variance in nose length, from between a third and a half, all are plagued by dentition with reverse scissor bites being repeatedly thrown even in breeds where the standard has been altered to scissor bite. The Shih Tzu is the only one of this group to have the head shape altered radically. The breed having a round skull, a short nose, a round eye, a deep stop and basically a broad undershot jaw. However, many of the golden Lhasa as seen in Southern and Eastern provinces of Tibet had these features too. Only the dogs from Western and Northern Tibet had the most markedly leaner skull with the slighter stop and more muzzle. The Tibetans always assured us they were indeed the same breed. If this is so, did environment play a part in the evolution of the Apso; as the Northern climes are the more sever in Tibet, did the Apso have to develop a harsher coat as protection against high winds. Did he have to develop a length of muzzle and large, wide nostrils for intake of air? The lungs of an Apso are big in proportion to the size of dog required again for the rarefied air of most of Tibet.
So we find that most of the features that go to make up basic Type have either evolved or been bred into the apso during its time in Tibet. I believe the head proportions are basic to the original Apso, that the slightly longer body over height of leg is prepotent , the neck strong and well arched. No picture I have ever seen of an Apso in Tibet ever exhibited a long neck, if anything by our eyes it looked rather stuffy. Perhaps we are altering the neck proportions. The early dogs looked leggy by today's standard but that might well be because the front leg long bone was much straighter and rounder. They appeared to be well tucked in at elbow, giving the impression of having medium lay back of shoulder and they had a well developed brisket. The rib cage should extend a long way down the body and the coupling between rib cage and pelvis is short, the topline strong, firm and level. Are we altering these features for type? The correct chest should reach down to just above the elbows. The tail was a feature of the early Apso; it was long when straightened out it used to reach up to its neck. There was always a kink at the end that could not be straightened. The tail was then carried in a graceful curve along the topline with the adult feathering falling either side of the body. Are we losing the length of tail or is it now being carried badly to one side of the flank?
Finally movement. The whole standard gives an impression of a sturdy but not coarse dog. Firm of topline, weight equally distributed on all four limbs - and so they were. They were capable of moving with a fair speed, not excessive and no wasted movement. Are we deliberately altering this breed type just for sake of fashion. I think we are overdoing the speed of the Apso and thus we spoil its natural outline when it is trotting. Speed up the trotting and we have single tracking, particularly so if there is an increase in the height of leg.
I suppose the rear of the Apso is the part that has altered the most. Some of the dogs moved too close and did not have enough angulation. Probably due to rough, hilly conditions of Tibet. Now we have gone over board. We expect the hind quarters to carry out a major part of the propulsion, and this is wrong. The hind legs have a half share with good front action taking on their fair share. can you imagine an Apso in Tibet prancing along kicking up its hind legs high into the air, giving a flick out with its pads before it got very far. The Apso should be synchronised in movement effortless and untiring. The Apso should have power in the rear, he needs it to be able to jump the way he does that is from a sitting position, but the front should not be so poor that the rear power is needed at full blast for propulsion.
I haven't mentioned the one feature of type we are losing, and that is expression, yet expression meant a great deal. It is an indefinable feature that makes an Apso an Apso and not just any long coated dog. It has to do with the frontal placed eyes, the medium stop, the length of muzzle and the fact it is not down cast. It is to do with the crest at the back of the skull. It is to do with the depth so muzzle , shallow and it looks wrong and if the dog is scissor bite then the jaw line slips away and above all it is to do with showing of a black, glistening, bottom lip. We say a square muzzle is objectionable but isn't that exactly what we are aiming for in our desire for a wide mouth? True the mouth should not be narrow and we do not want the canines to go way round the corners or we will never hold a tight reverse bite, but equally we do not want the jaw to become so square and we have to have a great cushion of flesh to cover the teeth and end up with a bulldog mouth.
If we where type lies in the Lhasa Apso and however difficult some of these features of type are to hold, we can still remain true to the original ~Apso, but if we let type slip through our fingers and accept dogs lacking type because they are so glamorous then the Lhasa Apso will become extinct and in its place will be just another long coated breed which no longer has links with its homeland.
by the late
THELMA E MORGAN