Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu – What’s the Difference?

lhasa apso vs shih tzu

Long silky hair, beautiful eyes, slender bodies… Am I talking about the latest round of supermodels? No, it’s the Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu dog breeds! These little cutie-bugs never fail to garner smiles from everyone they meet. And I believe their personalities grab the attention as much as their innate beauty.

The confidence these fabulous breeds exude is enough to make Kim Kardashian envious. Did you know the tiny Lhasa Apso was bred for centuries to be watchdogs for royal palaces and Tibetan monasteries? Or that Shih Tzu means “little lion dog?” 

Besides that, we have all the scoop on these two breeds to see if the Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu adds up to be dogs that are dramatically different or quite similar. And we want to take you along. Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Connected Heritage of Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu

shih tzu vs lhasa apso

Before you think these breeds are little yappy dogs that don’t have much “smarts,” we’d like to tell you how it really is. For centuries, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus, pronounced “Sheed-zoo,” were pampered by emperors and rubbed elbows (noses?) with royalty. They were, after all, just doing their jobs. 

But Lhasa Apsos, around since at least 800 AD, also served as watchdogs at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. When an intruder approached, these sturdy little dogs would bark, which signaled to the guard dogs (mastiffs) that something was amiss, and you could guess what would happen from there. With their acute senses and intelligence, they were able to tell friends from foes.

These little guys, like other dog breeds, were gifted to the elite in Tibet, which was a sign of good fortune, and it’s said that the Dalai Lama gave one to the emperor of China.   

On to the Shih Tzu’s origins… They’re said to be a cross between a Lhasa Apso and a Pekingese, but at least the Lhasa is an ancestor. Centuries ago, Shih Tzus were developed to be companions of royals by breeders in the palace of the Chinese emperor.

Until the 1930s, these beauties were kept from commoners and only allowed behind palace walls. The ancient breed we know today was developed by Britain’s General Douglas and Lady Brownrigg, who had received them as imports. They’re one of the longest-living breeds there are today.

The Shih Tzu was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1969. So, what do these two breeds have in common?

Both breeds came from Tibet centuries ago. (Lhasa is the capital, and Apso is Tibetan and loosely translated, meaning “dog.” They were companions of royalty and gifted to royal family members but rarely if ever, sold. Each breed was kept from the general public since they were treated as special gifts to emperors only. 

Both arrived in America around 1940 and are two of the most favorite dog breeds today.

Differences Between Lhasa Apso And Shih Tzu

Differences Between Lhasa Apso And Shih Tzu

Group

  • Lhasa Apso: Non-sporting (AKC)
  • Shih Tzu: Toy (AKC)

Size

lhasa apso shih tzu
HEIGHTWeight
Lhasa Apso10”-11”13-15 lbs.
Shih Tzu8”-11”9-16 lbs.

Facial Features

Lhasa Apso: When their hair is long, they have “beards” and also have slightly longer muzzles/snouts than other flat-faced breeds like the Pekingnese. Their eyes are almond-shaped.

Shih Tzu: Quite noticeable on the Shih Tzu, and equally adorable, is their undershot bite. When their mouths are closed, their lower jaw protrudes more than the upper, which gives them an underbite when their mouths are closed. Their eyes are round.  

Color and Coat Type

dogs that look like shih tzu
  • Lhasa Apso’s coat: Dense, thick, hard 
  • Shih Tzu’s coat: Dense, luxurious double coat with long, flowing hair and tails that curl over their backs
  • Lhasa Apso coat color: Red, Yellow, Brown, White, Black
  • Shih Tzu coat color: Black, blue, brindle, brown, red, silver, white, double-colored, tri-colored 

Personality

Lhasa Apso: Independent, assertive, devoted, confident, comical, intelligent

Shih Tzu: Lively, courageous, outgoing, playful, affectionate 

Health Issues

Lhasa Apso: 

  1. Eye problems like “Cherry eye” and glaucoma 
  2. Hip and renal dysplasia
  3. Allergies
  4. Skin conditions
  5. Patellar luxation (kneecaps)

Shih Tzu:

  1. Patellar luxation
  2. Hernias
  3. Liver issues
  4. Eye issues
  5. Allergies  

Level of Energy

shih tzu or lhasa apso

Lhasa Apso: Between low and high

Shih Tzu: Between low and high

Social Needs

Lhasa Apso: Their openness to strangers and playfulness level is a bit higher than medium. It might take them a little while to warm up to visitors.  

Shih Tzu: Their openness to strangers and playfulness level is a bit higher than medium. They shouldn’t have people “pushed” on them. Let them move at their own speed to get to know them. 

Similarities Between Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu

shih tzu lhasa apso mix

These breeds each have double coats, which may have protected them from the Himalayan harsh temperatures. They both go back over 1,000 years, making them ancient breeds. They’re close in size, small dogs carrying good weight, and are both loving and intelligent. 

This is highly important: Both breeds are brachycephalic, meaning they are flat-faced and could have difficulty breathing. This is due to breeding practices over hundreds of years that focused on the looks/physical characteristics of the breeds rather than their health.

They must be watched closely when they go outside in the heat or humidity, where it can become even more difficult to breathe. They also can’t be overexercised. When you notice them snorting and sniffling, that’s most likely a sign they’re trying to get a good breath. I know. It’s tragic!

The good news is we can help by adopting one rather than buying one. This saves two dogs in the process of each adoption… The one you’re adopting and the one who fills its position.

They have similar looks while also having certain differences, looking so alike it may take a dog connoisseur to tell them apart. Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus interact well with children, seniors, and families. They certainly want to be in the middle of everything you’re doing. 

Both breeds have medium energy levels, which is good due to their being brachycephalic. A nice short walk and a run in the backyard or inside an apartment will be just fine for them. Just keep it nice and cool inside. 

Talking about Shih Tzu vs. Lhasa Apso, each breed is highly adaptable, so they’ll be happy as clams on a farm or in the city. Don’t forget that they love being out and about, so bring them along with you.

Both breeds also excel in dog sports like obedience, agility, and rally and often have spectators “ooh-ing and ah-ing” over them. This is partly due to their flowing, gorgeous hair, if left uncut that turns them into superstars.

Of course, their alert and delightful personalities add to the attention they receive. They can also be trained to be wonderful therapy dogs.

Similar to the Shih Tzu, the meaning of the word “Lhasa Apso” means “Bark lion sentinel dog,” which is exactly what they were. Well, they weren’t lions, but with all that hair, they could mimic their manes.   

Did the Shih Tzu Line Come Close to Extinction?

Did the Shih Tzu Line Come Close to Extinction

Yes. Too close. During the Communist Revolution, the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi died. She had supervised a world-renowned breeding program of Shih Tzu, Pekingese, and Pugs. The breeding program broke up, and Shih Tzu numbers fell dramatically during the first half of the 20th century. In fact, only 14 dogs were used to revive the breed, and that they did.

We can be thankful to military personnel stationed in European countries who brought the Shih Tzu to the US in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. They had been imported from China to England and had then spread across Europe.

It was in 2014 when the first Shih Tzu won a champion title and an agility title.

FAQs

Which Is Better: Shih Tzu or Lhasa Apso?

There is no “better” breed than another. The best breed, by far, is the one you adopt and bring home.

What Is the Temperament of a Shih Apso?

Not being a full-bred dog, the Shih Apso is a hybrid/cross between the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso. They can develop personality traits from either or both breeds. Most likely, they will be happy, intelligent, and highly affectionate. They, of course, could also be somewhat needy and stubborn. 

What Two Breeds Make a Lhasa Apso?

Only two purebred Lhasa Apsos can develop another one. 

Wrap-up

We hope by now you’ve been able to differentiate these two fantastic breeds and be able to see their similarities as well. They can live just about anywhere, need special attention to their health needs, and are as affectionate as a breed can be. 

If you’d like to adopt a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso, check out your local rescue, shelter, or animal sanctuary, or look into breed-specific rescues that often have them. Petfinder and North Shore Animal League are also both wonderful, reputable resources. If not, do extensive research to find a reputable breeder. 

If you have an open heart and lap and are looking for a small dog, one of these breeds might be perfect for you. Just remember, they might make you start styling your hair differently. 

Jen Flatt Osborn
Born with a pen in her hand and a deadline (and probably a tail), Jen considers writing a vocation, an art, and a release. She’s a freelance copy/content writer who specializes in the pet industry. Previously, she was the founder/director of an animal sanctuary for 12 years, taught classes to middle school students about dog behavior, and has lived a life full of devotion to animals and their welfare. As a vegetarian, Jen advocates for the humane treatment of every living creature. She currently lives with one delightful canine who encourages her to put her head out the car window more often.

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