Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus are both ancient small breeds from Asia with a shared bloodline—but what are the differences between them? In this informational post, we compare the history, personality traits, activity level, and health of these two commonly confused breeds.
The history of the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu goes way, way back. Back over a thousand years to Tibet, where Lhasa Apsos were guardians of the inner sanctuaries of Buddhist monasteries. Their service as alarm dogs to the monks, plus the Lhasa Apso’s lion-like appearance, explain the meaning behind their name of “bark lion sentinel dog.”
Shih Tzus were originally a cross between Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese and were brought from Tibet to China as a gift for Chinese emperors. The name Shih Tzu roughly translated means “little lion dog.” In the palaces of the Chinese emperors, these little lion dogs were interbred with short-faced Chinese breeds like the Chinese pug or Pekinese. As companions to royalty, they were bred with fanciful and jester-esque features to earn another name, “chrysanthemum dog,” due to their coats of many colors and their hair that grows like flower petals around their faces.
Since Lhasa Apsos are a parent breed to Shih Tzus, it’s no wonder they’re so commonly confused with one another.
Both are small dogs. However, the Lhasa Apso is slightly larger at 10-11 inches in height and 12-18 pounds in weight compared to the Shih Tzu’s height of 9-10.5 inches and weight of 9-16 pounds.
Both have long coats. Lhasa Apso coats are floor length and flat-hanging, traditionally parted in the middle. They have feathery tails and extravagant facial hair, with cultivated whiskers and beards that make up their lion-like appearance.
Beyond the chrysanthemum facial hair, Shih Tzus have long flowing double coats and their tails curl over their backs.
The colors of a Lhasa Apso’s fur are typically gold and white, black, black and tan, red, cream, and white. A Shih Tzu’s coat can come in even more colors: gold and white, red and white, black mask gold, solid red, black and white, solid black, solid liver, liver and white, blue and white, brindle and white and silver and white.
Owing to their ancestry as protectors, both breeds are barkers as well as companion dogs who prefer the indoors. Both can be effectively trained as therapy dogs.
Lhasa Apsos were bred as sentinels for monasteries, so they’re more of an indoor watchdog. They’re cautious around strangers and have a ready bark to alarm you of an intruder, which may include your friend who approaches without a proper introduction.
Lhasa Apsos are affectionate with their family and happy to receive as little or as much attention as you can give. They’re born with an independent streak. According to the American Kennel Club, they’re highly intelligent, “willful toddlers.” They’re better dogs for a household with older children or adults, as they have poor reactions to hair, ear, and tail pulling. Early socialization with other dogs is also advised.
Shih Tzus are lap dogs whose goal in life is to please their people. As former pets of royalty, they love to be spoiled but are pleased with any attention you can give. They’re outgoing, playful, and affectionate—good with both kids and dogs. To remind you how much they love being around you, they’ve been known to mischievously run off with their favorite family member’s shoes.
Both are excellent apartment dogs, as they only require moderate exercise. Once a day walks or a daily playtime will keep them in fine form. If you happen to miss a day of exercise, they’ll gladly use the length of your apartment as a track field and your furniture as makeshift hurdles to get their wiggles out.
Lhasa Apsos are the Ravenclaws of the dog world: highly intelligent dogs who respond well to consistency and leadership. On the other hand, Shih Tzus are the Hufflepuffs: people pleasers who respond well to praise and positive reinforcement. Spoil them when they’re good and ignore them when they misbehave.
Punishment or harsh discipline will backfire with these two. If a Lhasa Apso feels bullied, you’ll have an impetuously stubborn dog on your hands. If a Shih Tzu feels bullied, they’re likely to curl up and sulk. As cute as your dog might be when stealing your shoes or jumping up to take a snack from the table, remember to ignore their antics and reward them when they’re good.
Health and Care
Lhasa Apso: 12-15 years
Shih Tzu: 10-18 years
Things to look out for with both these breeds are eye issues (progressive retinal atrophy) and hip dysplasia.
The most serious health issue that a Lhasa Apso may have is hereditary kidney dysfunction. While other issues include dry eye, slipping stifles, and cherry eye.
Shih Tzus are known to have patellar luxation, cataracts, retinal detachment, corneal dryness, and eye inflammation.
Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus are infrequent shedders, however, their dander can cause allergies. Just something to keep in mind if you’ve been told that these treasured dogs are hypoallergenic. The long coats of these companion dogs require regular grooming, for health as well as style.
Bathe your Lhasa Apso at least every two weeks and brush once or more between baths. Keep your dog’s nails trimmed and ears cleaned weekly.
Your Shih Tzu will benefit from daily grooming, including brushing and gently washing the corners of their eyes with a damp cloth. Baths every three to four weeks will keep your Shih Tzu’s coat is good shape. Remember to keep up with regular nail trimming and ear cleaning. Brush this dog’s hair back into a topknot or keep it short to protect their eyes from irritation.
Whether you’re drawn to the Lhasa Apso or Shih Tzu, these ancient breeds both make perfect apartment pals or palace pets. Lhasa Apsos will act as protectors of the realm (i.e. your home) while Shih Tzus will treat you like royalty with constant love and affection.