I know my dog breeds fairly well. But I often get confused over the difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso. At a glance, the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso look like twins. But there are some subtle differences in both personality and looks.
After doing some research, I discovered that even kennel breed clubs used to have a difficult time determining the difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso. The breed club in England had the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso grouped as one-in-the-same breed. It wasn’t until after 1934 that they separated into two separate breeds. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has always kept them separate. They recognized the Lhasa Apso in 1935 but didn’t recognize the Shih Tzu until 1969. Another thing I discovered is that while the Shih Tzu is a dog breed by itself, it originated from a mix of the Lhasa Apso and Pekingese dog breeds.
Both the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso originated in the monasteries of Tibet. Both were kept as companions and both were referred to as ‘lion dogs’. The Lhasa Apso, however, was also kept as a guard dog and was referred to as the ‘bark lion sentinel dog”. In personality, the Lhasa Apso differs from the Shih Tzu in that he is bolder and a bit more standoffish with strangers. Shih Tzus tend to be a little more playful and affectionate.
According to the AKC standards, a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso can be a variety of any color. A Shih Tzu should stand between 8-11 inches tall while a Lhasa Apso should stand between 10-11 inches tall. And a Shih Tzu should weigh between 9-16 pounds while a Lhasa Apso should weigh between 13-15 pounds. Based on this info, a Shih Tzu can be smaller, but they can also be about the same size as a Lhasa Apso.
So if the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu can be any color and about the same size, then how can you tell the difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso by looking at them? One major difference is the coat type. The hair of a Shih Tzu is much softer than the hair of a Lhasa Apso. The hair of a Lhasa Apso tends to be harder and holds up better in cold weather. Another observable difference is the shape of their heads. The skull of a Shih Tzu is broad and domed. The Lhasa Apso has a flatter head, but it is still a bit rounded. And it is narrower than that of a Shih Tzu.
One good give-away regarding the difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso is the owners of a Shih Tzu tend to put the hair on their dog’s head up in a single pony-tail (see Shih Tzu figurine below). This is not as easy to do on a Lhasa Apso since their head is broader and their hair is rougher. If the owner didn’t put the hair in a pony-tail, however, ask them if you can pet the dog. While patting his head, feel his fur and the shape of his skull. See if you can correctly guess the difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso.