Lhasa apsos are known in their home country of Tibet as the abso seng kye, or "bark lion sentinel dog.” The breed was developed hundreds of years ago as watch dogs for monasteries, and were introduced to the United States in the 1930s. Lhasa apsos today have given up their sentinel status to take their place as popular show dogs and household pets. However, the little dogs retain many of the behavior traits that once made them trusted sentinels.
As watchdogs for monasteries, temples and the homes of Tibetan nobility, Lhasa apsos were kept just inside the entrances of buildings, often backing up a huge mastiff chained to a post in front of the building. The Lhasa apso’s history endowed the breed with a calm, independent demeanor. They don’t expect to be pampered, but they can sometimes be bossy. They enjoy being the center of attention. Lhasa apsos are affectionate and loving toward their human families, but can also be possessive of their toys or food, and do not like being teased. The American Lhasa Apso Club describes the breed as both mischievous and dignified, with the ability to reason and a tendency to be manipulative.
Interactions with People
Lhasa Apsos were developed not just to be guard dogs, but also to live in the family home, side-by-side with humans. Today, they thrive when part of a family, and do well with children and other pets. According to the American Lhasa Apso Club, Lhasa apsos usually bond most closely with the adults in the family. Though they’re no longer used as sentries, they retain their instinct to protect home and family. They will alert their owners to anyone approaching the home, in addition to every car that drives by and every animal that passes. No matter how well trained they are, it can be difficult to curb their tendency to bark. The bark is much louder than one would expect for a smaller dog like the Lhasa Apso. As watch dogs they were valued for their quick hearing, a quality that today makes them excellent service dogs for the deaf.
Highly intelligent, Lhasa Apsos are capable of learning new things, but along with their natural independence comes a willful streak. The American Lhasa Apso Club says the breed is “not, by nature, an obedient breed,” and says consistency is crucial to training, as are patience and gentle corrections.
Patience during training is essential, as Lhasa apsos respond negatively to rough treatment. Because they are naturally suspicious of strangers, they require early and ongoing socialization and training so they’ll accept visitors. Without it, they may bark excessively at strangers, or nip and snap. Lhasas may easily get bored when training, and they respond best to short training sessions with plenty of variety in the exercises.