Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier

Shih TzuShih Tzu

The introduction of Buddhism into China in 500 A.D. and its equivalent, Lamaism into Tibet in 632 A.D. brought with it the development of the three breeds we shall consider here. All three breeds were based upon grave statues and spiritual lion-dogs which date as far back as the birth of Buddhism.

History of the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso

Grave Statue 900-1000 ADGrave Statue 900-1000 AD

The History of Companion Dogs tells how small 'sleeve dogs' were recorded in China in the ancient Chinese Sacred Books of Fo-Hi written about 3,468 BC. Then 4,000 years passed by and 6 Chinese dynasties rose and fell. Meanwhile, short-mouthed dogs were recorded in China by Confucius, born in 551 BC. By the end of the first century A.D. Chinese books became a little more specific about these and other types of small dogs. For example, they spoke of the "Pai," a "short-legged" and "short-headed" type of dog, which "belonged under the table" which was quite low. The Chinese used to sit on mats around these tables to eat their meals[3c].

Development of the 'Spirit Lion Dog'

Spirit Lion Dog c 1700 ADSpirit Lion Dog c 1700 AD

The 'Spirit Lion-Dog' had its beginnings in 260 BC when the Indian Emperor erected stone and wooden pillars capped by a crouching lion, bearing Buddhist inscriptions. These became spirit-lions which were displayed wherever there was an opportunity for such ornamentation. For example, the superstitious Chinese belief was that a gargoyle in the form of a spirit-lion placed on roof corners of Chinese Temples would eat any fire or wind that could cause damage to the building[3b].

Buddha riding his LionBuddha riding his Lion

By around 500 A.D, the 'spirit lion' associated with Buddhism guarded entrances to Chinese Temples. Although the Chinese never worshipped this 'spirit lion' and seldom used it in sacrificial ceremonies, it was used in religious ceremonials which secured its place among the superstitious. For example an early Lama Gospel states:

" The lion is the King of Beasts. It's power of increase is without limits. Similarly it may diminish and become like a dog. So is the anger of man"

It then explains that a person who keeps his anger under control shall be free of disaster and distress. But if this person's fury fails to be bridled it will increase to the size of the lion. But when diminished, would turn back into a small 'spirit lion-dog'. So it is through this lion-dog's form that the nature of anger became known to man"[3].

Development of the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso

Modern Shih TzuModern Shih Tzu

The first mention of the long-coated earthly representation of this 'spirit-lion dog' was in 1371 A.D. when it was called 'Shih' a Chinese word meaning 'lion-dog'. Then the Shih Tzu's centrally placed black saddle marking became highly prized because of this Buddhist association with the harnessed lion[1]. Other features included a yellow coat or a white blaze on the forehead and on the tip of the tail. These still remain in today's Shih Tzu Breed Standard as does the 'chrysanthemum-like effect' referring to the hair growing backwards up the bridge of the nose. Similar superstitions which influenced the breeding of both the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso survive to this day in quaint couplets and proverbs in Chinese writings[3c].

The role of the Eunuchs

Tibetan Terrier PuppiesTibetan Terrier Puppies

Credit to the development of the Shih and Llasa Apso must be given more to the efforts of the palace eunuchs (castrated or de-sexed men) than that of the Emperors. As China and Tibet were a very poor countries, boys which became eunuchs ensured they had a better life because they could be employed by Palace Emperors to perform lowly tasks like general housework. However eunuchs could receive promotions gaining positions of trust such as Emperor's advisors. This could be reward for breeding a 'lion-dog' with features favoured by the Emperor and his ladies.

Ancient Trade Route Lhasa - PekingAncient Trade Route Lhasa - Peking

History of the Tibetan Terrier

Prior to Lamaism arriving in the formerly nomadic Tibet, there was some trade with China. But once Buddhism and its equivalent Lamaism was introduced, the amount of trade increased. This was despite the ten-month 2,000 mile journey along the mountainous trade route shown in red on the accompanying map, between the capital cities of Lhasa in Tibet and Peking in China.


Caravans consisted of yaks and mules carrying loads of wool, hides, borax and amethysts, and herds of sheep and goats guarded from predators by fierce Tibetan Mastiffs.

Llasa Terrier c 1900Llasa Terrier c 1900

Dogs which herded these flocks are now called Tibetan Terriers. Remnants of their herding ancestry remain in their distinctive feet which enabled them to work on the steep slippery mountainsides that were covered in ice and snow. However these former herding dogs have erroneously retained the label 'Terrier' from the taller 14" variety of the former Lhasa Terriers in today's name 'Tibetan Terrier'. But the 'Lion-dogs' which accompanied these caravans which we now call Lhasa Apso were exchanged as gifts between Tibetan and Chinese Emperors[1a].

The Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier become Pure Breeds

Llasa ApsoLlasa Apso

The separation into today's three breeds began in 1902 when an application was made to the English Kennel Club to classify Lhasa Terriers into two heights, 10" and 14", despite the label 'terrier' not being based on how terriers worked.

Lhasa Terrier 1905Lhasa Terrier 1905

The smaller 10" Lhasa Terriers continued to be exhibited in England with the first Champion 'Rupso' pictured here on the right preserved by taxidermy. But the name changed in 1928 when six small dogs more of the type we know today were imported from Tibet into England and were called 'Apso Seng Kai'. The Tibetan word 'Apso', means goat-like because of the beard, 'seng' means lion and 'kyi' means dog. So the English Kennel Club re-named them 'Lhasa Apso'.

Tibetan Terrier 1975Tibetan Terrier 1975

Meanwhile the Shih Tzu was developing into a pure breed in China and became known under many names, some even Tibetan! In 1930 after Lady Brownrigg first imported the Shih Tzu to England, others followed. At first dogs from both Peking and Tibet were known as Apsos. Then it was decided that dogs from Lhasa in Tibet with longer noses and legs would be called Lhasa Apsos and dogs from Peking in China with shorter rounded heads and shorter legs would be called Shih Tzu.

In 1934, when deliberations by newly formed Tibetan Breeds Association decided recognition of two separate breeds - the 10" high Lhasa Apso and the 14" - 16" high Tibetan Terrier, it left their Chinese cousin, the Shih Tzu to be separately classified as a third breed[2a]. This certainly did the trick as by 1975, the Tibetan Terriers had developed such outstanding breed type, the bitch pictured was selected to found the breed in Australia.

Shih Tzu Best Puppy Bitch Sydney Royal 1973Shih Tzu Best Puppy Bitch Sydney Royal 1973

History of Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier in Australia

In 1954, English breeders Soo and Tony Dobson brought English Shih Tzus Pai Ho of Taishan, Wen Chin of Lhakang and Chloe of Elfann to Australia[6]. From this original stock Mrs Gwen Teele founded her 'Geltree' prefix and brought Shih Tzu to the forefront in Victoria when, just 9 years after the breed arrived in Australia, Laurie and Joan Reeves 'Ch Geltree Ty Ching' won Best Exhibit in Show all-breeds. In 1964 the Shih Tzu Club of Victoria was formed and Dr P Cunningham became prominent in Adelaide. During the next ten years Shih Tzu were also gaining top awards in NSW with Lee and John Sheppard's bitch 'Ch Tsuyung So Sweet Sum Wun' pictured here with her trophy won for Best Puppy Bitch in Show at Sydney Royal 1973[5].

'Cheska' Llasa Apso 1975'Cheska' Llasa Apso 1975

1961 saw Mrs Joan Beard's four English 'Ramblershot' Lhasa Apso arrive in Australia from UK breeder Mrs Dudsman. These were Dzom Tru, Da Norbu, Trag Pon and Sing Gi, the latter appearing in many of Australia's foundation pedigrees. Although Llasa Apsos had their beginnings as Tibetan Apsos in the Toy Group here, when the Kennel Club UK classified them as Lhasa Apsos and placed them in the Non-Sporting Group, Australia followed[6a].

Then 1971 saw the arrival of Derek and Frances Sefton's kennel of 'Cheska' Lhasas[5a]. Frances' dogs had a huge impact here on our Llasa's Apso's. But Frances' personal impact was on our entire dog world! A journalist by profession, Frances was clever, dedicated and astute. Today copies of her popular 'National Dog' newspapers' have become collectors' items.

The foundation of the Tibetan Terrier in Australia in 1975 is discussed in the section above.

Comparison between the Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier

These are all 'shock-headed' dogs or long coated dogs, which have hair falling well over the eyes but not affecting the dog's ability to see. Note that the taller, shorter bodied Tibetan Terrier is more lightly built than the Shih Tzu or Lhasa Apso, and has unique feet.

Shih Tzu Lhasa Apso Tibetan Terrier
Shih TzuShih Tzu Lhasa ApsoLhasa Apso Tibetan TerrierTibetan Terrier
Skull The rounded head is broad and wide between the eyes. 

The moderately narrow skull is neither quite flat nor domed. There should be neither bony ridges over the eyes nor pronounced cheek muscles. The whole head is covered with heavy furnishings with a good fall over the eyes.

The skull is neither broad, nor coarse, nor domed or absolutely flat between ears. It is of medium length and narrows slightly from ear to eye so the cheeks are curved, but not overdeveloped. The whole head well furnished with long hair.
Foreface The square, well padded, unwrinkled muzzle should be about one inch long. Furnished with a good beard, the whiskers grow upwards on the nose which gives a 'chrysanthemum-like' effect.The black or liver nose nose should be slightly uplifted so the top of the nose leather is in line with or slightly below the lower eye rim. The muzzle is straight, about 3.8 cm (1 1/2 ins) long and furnished with good whiskers and beard. But the muzzle is not square. Instead, the length from tip of nose to stop is roughly one-third of the total length from nose to back of the skull. The muzzle is strong with a well developed lower jaw. The length from stop to tip of nose equal to length from stop to occiput. Nose is black. The lower jaw carries a small, but not exaggerated amount of beard.
Stop Definite Medium Marked but not exaggerated.
Eyes The eyes should be large, dark and round and placed well apart. In liver or liver marked dogs, a lighter eye colour is permissible. The dark eyes should be medium sized eyes and frontally placed. The large, dark brown eyes should be round and set fairly wide apart. The eye rims should be black.
Ears The ears should be large, with long leathers set just below the level of the skull. They should be so heavily coated they appear to blend into hair of neck. The ears should be pendant, heavily feathered with dark tips being an asset. The V-shaped, pendant ears heavily feathered should not be too large and set fairly high on the side of, but not too close to the head.
Mouth The mouth should be wide, slightly undershot or level, and the lips should also be level. The mouth should be a reverse scissor bite but the incisors should be almost in a straight line. Full dentition is desirable. The mouth should be scissor or reverse scissor bite with the incisors set in a slight curve, evenly spaced and set perpendicular to jaw. Full dentition is desirable.
Shih TzuShih Tzu Lhasa ApsoLhasa Apso Tibetan TerrierTibetan Terrier
Neck The neck should be of sufficient length to carry the head proudly, giving the Shih Tzu its appearance of an arrogant carriage. The neck should be strong and well covered with a dense mane. The medium length neck should be strong and muscular, allowing head to be carried above level of back.
Body Proportions The level topline is longer from withers to root of tail than the height at withers. The length of the body from the point of shoulder to the buttocks is greater than the height at withers. The level topline from point of shoulder to root of tail is equal to the height at withers.
Body The shoulder blades are well laid back, and the chest broad and deep. The short forelegs have ample bone so should be as straight as possible, consistent with their broad chest. The hindquarters are muscular and the hocks straight when viewed from the rear. The topline should be level, the shoulders well laid back and, as the dog is well ribbed up, the forelegs should be straight. The fairly well sprung ribs should reach the elbows. The shoulders are well laid back, with good length of upper arm. The forelegs are straight and parallel and the hindquarters well muscled.The loin is slightly arched and short ending with a level croup.
Feet Round Round and catlike The unique feet are large and round and although heavily furnished with hair, the dog should look flat-footed because its toes should not be arched.
Tail The heavily plumbed tail is set on high and carried gaily well over the back. This makes it appear approximately level with the skull, giving a balanced outline. The well feathered tail is set on high and carried well over back. Although there is often a kink at the end, it should not be like a pot-hook. The well feathered tail is of medium length, set on fairly high and carried in a gay curl over back. A kink occurring near the tip is permissible.
Shih TzuShih Tzu Lhasa ApsoLhasa Apso Tibetan Terrier puppyTibetan Terrier puppy
Gait The arrogance of the Shih Tzu is evident from its smooth-flowing stride with its drive from the rear showing a full pad when moving away, and the front legs reach well forward. The Lhasa Apso has free and jaunty movement 'like moving on a cushion of air'[2c].
The smooth, effortless stride has good reach and powerful drive with the hind legs tracking neither inside nor outside the front.
Coat Although the dense but not woolly outer coat is long with moderate undercoat, it should not restrict the dog's movement. Although a slight wave permitted, it should not be curly. The head hair should be tied up without adornment, enabling the dog's ability to see. The top coat is heavy, straight and hard, not woolly or silky, and of good length. There is also a dense undercoat. The Tibetan Terrier is double coated with a profuse long, fine, straight or waved top straight or wavy top coat that is not silky, woolly or curly. But the undercoat is fine and woolly.
Colour The Shih Tzu can be any colours except merle permissible. A white blaze on forehead and white tip on the tail is highly desirable in parti-colours.
The Lhasa can be golden, sandy, honey, dark grizzle, slate, smoke, black, white or brown or parti-coloured.
The Tibetan Terrier can be any colour except chocolate. They can be white, golden, cream, grey or smoke, black, parti-coloured or tricoloured with liver or merle permissible.
Size The Shih Tzu may weigh 4.5-8 kgs (10-18 lbs), but ideally should be 
4.5-7.5 kgs (10-17 lbs)
A Lhasa Apso dog should be Dogs: 25 cms (10ins) at the shoulder with bitched slightly smaller. The Tibetan Terrier dog should be 36-41 cms (14-16 ins) at the shoulder with bitches slightly smaller

References and Further Reading

Published as - Jane Harvey "Ancient Breeds from Chinese Temples" Published in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 1 January 2018, Pages 20 - 21

[1] Gay Widdrington, 'Shih Tzu Handbook' Self Published Morpeth Northumberland UK 1971 'Tibetan Origin' Page 3

[1a] ibid 'Journey from the Roof of the World Page 4

[2] Frances Sefton, 'The Lhasa Apso' Self Published Spit Junction NSW Australia 1970 Chapter One 'Early Origins' Page 2

[2a] ibid., Chapter Two 'In the Western World' Page 10

[2c] ibid., Chapter Three 'The Standard Analised' Page 41

[3] V.W.F. Collier, 'Dogs of China and Japan' Published by Frederick Company 1921 Chapter 5, 'The Chinese Lion' Page 103

[3b] ibid., Chapter 5, 'The Chinese Lion' Page 104

[3c] ibid., Chapter 9, 'Points of the Chinese Pekingese Type' Page 161

[3c] ibid., Chapter 8, 'Evolution of the Pekingese Type' Page 143

[4] Kim Dennis-Bryan and Juliet Clutton-Brock - 'Dogs of the Last Hundred Years at the British Museum' Published by British Museum (Natural History), London (1988) ISBN 0-565-01053-0 Page 85 Tibetan Terrier Page 85

[5] 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 'The Shih Tzu' by John Sheppard Page 275

[5a] ibid., 'The Lhasa Apso' by The Lhasa Apso Club of NSW Page 215

[6] Frances Sefton, 'Shih Tzu - an Asian Gem' Special Breed Supplement Published by National Dog Newspaper, Windsor NSW April 1976 Page 9

[6a] ibid., E.Emery,' The Llasa Apso History and Origin  - History in Australia' July 1979 Page 12