From THE NATIONAL DOG Newspaper, Australia, Editor Frances Sefton
F. Sefton

LIKE MOST BREED STANDARDS , that of the Lhasa Apso contains many phrases  that are not specific, and are open to varying interpretation.

When the  interpretation  is made by an Apso breeder and/or exhibitor it is likely to be based on their own dogs, partly on what  they have learned from others,  perhaps earlier  breeders  and partly on what they have learned from books on the breed (which   may, or may not, be biased, depending on who wrote them).

When the  interpretation  is made by a  judge, there may be a variance  depending on whether  the  judge is a specialist (when the previous paragraph probably applies) or an all-breeds judge – and the latter’s interpretation  will  in all probability be based on his/her  knowledge  of  his own breed’s standard, on what  he/she  has learned  from  breeders  and  exhibitors  of  Lhasa Apsos  he/she   has  talked   to,  and  on  what  he/she  has  learned  from  books  on  the  standard.

Add  to  this  that  there  are  slight  variances  in  the  standard which  are  used in  different  parts  of  the  world.  And  so  you  get  a  further  variance  in  the  interpretation  of  the  ideal  Lhasa  Apso.

Breed  standards,  then,  can  only be  regarded  as a guide.  The  limitations  of  the  written  word,  particularly  when  words  which  are  not  specific  in  their  meaning  are  used,  become  patently  obvious.  Take  the  word  “medium”, a  very  common  word in  the  breed  standards.

How medium ? Medium  size, medium  length,  medium  height, medium  stop, may  all mean  different  things to different people.

Breeding dogs has never been , and  can  never  be a science, in the  same  way that  breeding some   livestock  is. When  you  breed  cattle  for  meat, or  cows  for improved  milk production  you are  dealing with one  property  only.  When  you  breed  dogs  you  are  dealing  with a  highly complex  whole, and  attempts  to  breed  by the “book” and  apply  scientific  principle  frequently  fail.  Breeding  dogs is, in  fact,  mainly  an  art,  and  science  can  only  provide  some aid, not  the  whole  answer.

So  don’t  be too critical of  the ambiguity of  the  breed  standard.  Instead  of  wishing  that  there   were  more  specifics  (exactness  of  height,  weight,  proportions)  take  a  look at  it  from  a  different  viewpoint.  Read  instead  between  the  lines, an research  the  reasons  behind  the  use  of  some of  the  phrases.


A  look  ,at  the  historical  background  of  the  breed  is  the  first  step. The  environment  in  which a  breed  developed  is  the  most useful  key  to  the breed  type  that  there  is.  There  is  always  a  reason  why  certain  characteristics  have  become  fixed  in a  breed  and  make  it  unique   from all  others.

The  Lhasa  Apso  comes  from the  area  known as Tibet, a  place  of  high  altitude  an  climatic  extremes.  Most  of  the  breed’s  development  took  place  naturally,  unaided  by  the  assistance  of  Man except  in  the  loosest  sense. 

It  is  not  a  breed  like  many of  the  British Terrier  breeds which  had  certain  characteristics  deliberately  bred for. 

The  Lhasa Apso  is  very  much  a  result “survival  of  the  fittest”. The  characteristic  head , for  instance, although  showing  some  signs  of  the “brachycephalic” which  is  the  short  head  as  compared  to  the  normal  long  head, is not  as  exaggerated  as  the  head of  the   true “brachycephalic”, i.e. the  Pekingese, Shi Tzu, King Charles Spaniel, Griffon.  Such a  head,  with its  nasal  abnormalities, would  never  survive  ultimately  in  the  high  altitudes  of  Tibet.  Nature  has a  habit  of  making  adjustments  in  each  generation  in  order  to  preserve  a  species.

Therefore  it  is  possible  to  go  through  the  breed  standard  and  apply  knowledge  of the background  and  original  environment  of  the  breed  in  order  to  understand more  clearly the  various  unique  characteristics that  make  up Lhasa  Apso “type”. Breed type is  basically what  the  standard  is  talking  about.  It  is  not concerned  with “soundness” as  such, only  to  the  extend   that  the  breed  should  be  able  to   survive,  to  eat,  to  move  and  to  procreate.

Preservation  of  the  breed’s  characteristics is  what  the breed  standard  is  all  about; without them  there would be  no  breed.

This text by Mrs. Sefton is nearly as important as the standard itself.

" In judging these dogs, breed characteristics are of paramount importance "

Its reading casts a new light on the standard. The characteristics it so often refers to in the first 1935 standard.

This standard was established on the 9th of April 1935 at Lady Freda Valentine's house Piccadilly Street-London in the presence of Colonel and Mrs. Bailey and many other connoisseur after long discussions. This print was given to me by Lady Freda Valentine herself.

Unfortunately this sentence has been deleted thereafter which is a pity for the breed since the absence of caution leaves the door open to various interpretations of the standard, which has been the case over the last years.

Mrs. Sefton insists particularly on the breed characteristics shaped by its environment and not by man’s hand. This means that the breed is rustic, which is far away from its image in to days exhibitions.

The grooming plays a great part you will say, but this is not all. This questionable beauty sitting has changed the type of the dog. More plumed and spectacular  tails have been looked for.

A few dabs here and there,  like the painter who completes his work, have been enough to change the nature of the dog. Let us not be scared by the words,  to degenerate  it, in the true sense of the term.

Forty years ago when I met the Lhasa Apso, discovering this dog was for me a fascinating experience as for many others. At that time I knew nothing about this breed and I used to listen very carefully to every thing that was said around me amongst breeders and fanciers

I noticed that the leitmotiv was teeth and fur. Fur and teeth, as if the dogs were nothing else but a hairy mass with a jaw.

Only a few people could make you appreciate the nice almond shaped eyes; the pointed arch shape of the fore part of its chest, wider  in the middle and   the ribs extending well back ; a screw tail as  tight as possible with a kink at its end and set perpendicular to the spine ; the specific hair implantation around the neck giving the dog its typical beard more pronounced in males than in females; the aloof and deep expression of their look so different from the sweet and ingenious look of many Lhasas to day.

All I have just listed is a part of the characteristics of the breed, many more can be added concerning morphology, gait, behaviour, size etc …

Obviously, if during many years the most significant points of the breed have been teeth and fur it is not surprising that many other characteristics have been lost.

On the other hand to change a rustic dog into a show dog may be an achievement, but it is an aberration.

In fact, what is a show dog to a breed ? It is a false picture of reality. It is a trompe-l’oeil.

Who from the judge or the handler has been the first to sacralise the show dog ? I think is it the handler but the judge who has given his support has more responsibility because he is the guardian of the breed.

The handler looks for innovation according his fancy without taking care of the dogs welfare.

The judge is to a large extend responsible for the drift of the breed. Of course, he is influenced by fashion, we live in Show era, so let us make show.

Today that nature is taking back its place and that it is more respected, it is far the judge to reintroduce what he has ignored by his too superficial approach of the breed or may be just because he was not aware of.

" In judging these dogs, breed characteristics are of paramount importance "

In this respect it is amazing to notice that in most  Lhasa Apso sites on internet, the 1998 standard still appears the FCI standard which is currently in force  dates from April 2004 (Translation of the Kennel Club standard November 2003).

It is very important because it restores one of the essential characteristics regarding dog’s chest.

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