Small, long-haired dogs, Lhasa Apsos are an ancient breed originating on
the high plateau of Tibet in the Himalayas. Hardy and well adapted to extremes of climate and altitude,
they served as sentinels within Tibetan monasteries and homes, resulting
in a temperament that is
Small, long-haired dogs, Lhasa Apsos are an ancient breed originating on the high plateau of Tibet in the Himalayas. Hardy and well adapted to extremes of climate and altitude, they served as sentinels within Tibetan monasteries and homes, resulting in a temperament that isalert, independent, and discriminating toward strangers.
With evidence of existence for millennia, the geographical isolation of Tibet resulted in scattered information reaching the rest of the world. Until the last forty years only diplomats and adventurers traveled to isolated regions of the Himalayas. Near the turn of the twentieth century several foreign diplomats were gifted with Lhasa Apsos by His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama, introducing the breed to western civilization.
In the first month of the Water Bird year, 1933, the 13th Dalai Lama gifted several Lhasa Apsos to C. Suydam Cutting marking the breed's entry into the United States. In 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama, followed by many Tibetans, fled Tibet after the Chinese takeover ending the breed's exportation from Tibet, but they are still found in regions of the Himalayas particularly in Tibetan settlements in Nepal and India in addition to Bhutan, Sikkim and Lahdak performing their traditional role of sentinel and companion.
Descendants of the early imported Lhasa Apsos are now shown competitively around the world, and have been bred to meet westernized standards. In the years since the Cuttings' Hamilton Farms breeding program established the Lhasa Apso in the USA, selection has led to the 'look' so prized in the show ring today. As with many efforts in breeding and cultivation - from cattle to crop seeds - the original manifestation of the breed differs slightly from the Lhasa Apso of the 21st century. The Gompa dogs are not only smaller than their Western cousins, but the move differently: they are lighter, springier, covering less ground with their strides. often carrying their tails looser. Most striking, though, are their smaller, almond-shaped eyes, which are set obliquely into their playfully intelligent faces.
While they are not separate from the Lhasa Apso breed, Gompa Lhasa Apsos are distinctive in that their Himalayan origin is more recent. They are directly descended from the dogs in the Drepung Monastery in Tibet. These little Gompa dogs ( in Tibetan, gompa refers to the main meditation hall in the monastery) were protected and fostered by Lama Gyen Yeshe, a breeder who in 1941 received his first Apso from High Reincarnate Tulku Dode Rinpoche of the Drepung Monastery.
As with many indigenous breeds, records and pedigrees were not kept, other than in the minds of the breeders. According to Lama Gyen Yeshe, the Lhasa Apso experienced two lines of breeding. The Lhasa Apso, known as the People's Apso or Patos, was found in the homes of ordinary inhabitants of Tibet and neighboring Himalayan countries. The Gompa (monastery) Lhasa Apsos were kept and bred only by monks within monastery walls. Patos were never allowed inside the monastery walls to be mixed with the Gompa dogs, although Gompa dogs often sired puppies outside the monastery walls, bred to Patos.
As a consequence of relatively recent importation to the West and not being bred for a written western standard, their physical characteristics are true to the Apsos that once ran through the great halls and passageways as part of Tibetan monastery life. Gompa Lhasa Apsos reflect the pragmatic breeding philosophies of their Tibetan keepers. It is this heritage that the Gompa Lhasa Apso Preservation Program seeks to foster.
The breeding program, directed by Debby Rothman of Gompa Kunza, picks up the tradition first entrusted by Lama Gyen Yeshe to Gerald D'Aoust of Canada and continued by Cecile Clover of Gompa Lotus in Virginia. Bred today, as they have been for centuries to be companions and guardians in the mountainous "roof of the world", these hardy small dogs are agile and nimble with the look of eagles in their eyes. Like all Lhasa Apsos, they are loyal, devoted companions, maintaining a keen sense of watchfulness. Many resemble closely their Western-bred cousins, while others retain a more 'primitive' appearance often seen in historic photos.
The importance of the Gompa Lhasa Apso Preservation Program cannot be overstated. Here, in the Gompa dogs, lies the origin of the Lhasa Apso. Their Tibetan monastery heritage makes them a priceless treasure - heirlooms of the past. The Gompa dogs stand as a legacy from Tibet, speaking for their ancestors from a country whose monasteries have been destroyed and whose tradition of shaggy little dogs running to sound alarm or settling peacefully beside the monks for companionship has disappeared - lost forever.