Why the Decline in Lhasa Apso Popularity?

by Joyce Johanson

Many of us who belong to the American Lhasa Apso Club have become concerned lately when AKC statistics demonstrate that Lhasa Apso popularity is declining. I'd like to share with you some of my thoughts on the subject. I think there are a lot of myths or untruths "out there" about the breed, especially related to grooming and temperament, that cause prospective newcomers to the breed to change their minds.

(1) Daily Grooming?? I recently read an article on one of those "find the right breed for you" websites that told people a Lhasa required DAILY brushing. UGH! Tell me that is not a turn off for anyone interested in the breed? I can tell you all that, while I often groom a Lhasa every day, I have never brushed the same dog every day. Even the champion I was specialing recently, who has a ton of coat, did not receive (nor did he require) daily grooming. About twice, three times a week at the most is all the long-coated dogs seem to need. Grooming is not difficult and it has to be done if you don't want the dog to mat, but EVERYDAY... ??? I. Don't. Think. So.

Most Lhasa owners buy the breed because they love its personality and most owners don't care about having a dog dripping in coat. Heck, even those of us who show our dogs almost always clip the coat once the dog has its championship! As I've been telling people for years, "A clipped Lhasa is a perfect pet. You can have a short-coated dog that doesn't shed! How can you beat that?"

(2) Nasty Dispositions?? Some people believe the Lhasa Apso is a "nasty" breed? Definitely not in my experience. So where did the reputation come from? I have some theories...

When the breed became popular back in the 70's and 80's, the puppy mill breeders jumped quickly on the bandwagon, purchasing and breeding Lhasas with no other goal than to produce puppies, sell them quickly, and make money. There were no thoughtful considerations regarding structure, health, or temperament prior to a breeding. The flood of cute fluffy puppies into pet shops, purchased by people attracted to their appearance with little knowledge (because, to be honest, very little knowledge had been published "back then") about the breed itself, did indeed result in Lhasas with quite nasty dispositions. The breed's reputation has been suffering ever since.

People who purchase a Lhasa puppy need to know that Lhasas are smart, independent, (some might say "stubborn") dignified, and easily offended. Their sense of right and fair play requires an approach to training that avoids yelling and physical punishment. By that I don't just mean "don't hit;" obviously you should not hit any dog. I also mean things like shaking the dog or jerking on his lead. Lhasas think highly of themselves and most are eager to please their people. They respond well to treats and praise and training games that are fun, upbeat, and intellectually stimulating.

Grooming is part of a Lhasa's life, so a large part of early training involves training the dog to be groomed. Although many people prefer to keep their Lhasas shaved or in a puppy clip of some sort, early training is still needed because those Lhasas will be visiting the groomer and need to know how to behave so they will be welcomed at the grooming shop. I honestly believe that one reason the "nasty" adjective became linked with the Lhasa is the fault of owners who "routinely" take their matted to the hide Lhasas to the groomer maybe twice a year. Those dogs don't behave well because they have not been trained to be groomed. The poor groomer has to face a dirty, matted, scared dog who associates being at the grooming shop with getting hurt. Growling and snapping does occur. I blame the owners for ignoring the dogs' needs and putting them in a situation for which they are totally unprepared to cope.

And, yes, there are Lhasas that are just plain nasty to the core, just like there are nasty individuals of any other breed, and just like there are nasty people of all ages from all walks of life and all ethnic groups. In my opinion, we should not label an entire group as bad because some of its members are rotten. That goes for dogs as well as people!

(3) Lhasas and Children?? We breeders may be contributing to the decline in Lhasa popularity by the information we provide about the breed in our ads and on our websites. In an attempt to protect our dogs, we often end up giving the breed a bad image, especially when it comes to Lhasas and kids.

It is true that many Lhasa breeders refuse to sell puppies to people who have young children. I find that interesting because most of us are parents, and now grandparents. Our own children were raised with our Lhasas, and now our grandchildren get to visit and play with the dogs. In our case, we owned, showed and bred Lhasas for 5.5 years before our first child was born. The dogs and children were raised together and expected to get along! They did.

In spite of my good experiences with Lhasas and children, I am often leery about letting people with young children buy a puppy - and it is not because I distrust the Lhasas as a breed or my own puppies as individuals not to "be good with children." It's more that I don't trust other people's children to "be good to the puppy!"

For example, we once adopted a Lhasa female whose breeder had taken her back from the people she sold her to because the breeder heard reports that the puppy was being abused. As it turned out, the rumors were true. Chrissy was being poked at and teased when she was in her crate. The children would also put her on a lead and drag her on her belly down the sidewalk when she refused to walk. Now, what is true about Lhasas is that they have long memories, they bear grudges, and like any other dog or person that has been bullied, they reach a saturation point where they will retaliate. So, yes, Chrissy growled at the children, and even when she came to our home where she was safe, she was always touchy and protective about her crate. Some memories are just hard to erase. I'm sure other breeders have had similar experiences that have resulted in the "not available to homes with young children" statement in their ads.

A Lhasa Apso is fine in a home with children whose parents teach them respect for animals and other people. When people tell me they have children, I generally ask the ages. I ask them to be honest with me and themselves about how the children behave and if they, as parents, can honestly attest to how the children would interact with the puppy. Sometimes we come to an agreement that the situation is a good one for a puppy. At other times, the potential buyers opt to wait a few more years until the child is ready to interact appropriately with a puppy.

Some Lhasas, like some people, simply don't like children. Children's unexpected movements, screeching, general exuberance, and unconscious disregard for others are annoying.

Other Lhasas, like most people, love children so much! I once sold a young adult female to a single person who lives in a large city. The dog was born after our children were grown and before the grandchildren were born, so she had never even seen a child. Yet, her owner tells me the dog loves children and when she goes for walks and sees a child, she cries until her owner allows her to greet the child. Liking or disliking children is a personal preference, not a breed characteristic.

My life has been truly blessed with an abundance of Lhasa Apsos since the happy day in 1973 when we bought our first Lhasa puppy. To be adored by such big, loving hearts is indeed a humbling experience.

If you read this and would like to share what is special about your Lhasa or why you are in love with the breed or why you think there is a decline in the breed's popularity and what we can do about it, email me at Lhasas@joyslynslhasaapsos.com to share your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you.

Please note: Permission to reproduce and/or circulate information in this article is granted. However, the article must be disseminated in its entirety and credit must be given to Joyce Johanson, Joyslyn's Lhasa Apsos. Thanks!

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