Smooth Lhasa Apsos Part 1
By Cassandra de la Rosa, Suntory Lhasa Apsos


The puppy in the box had a "different" look for weeks. The experienced breeder made mental note of it. Reality struck one morning, when the litter was almost eight weeks of age, as all five raised their heads in unison for their morning greeting. The puppy is a smooth! What some call "prapso" -- perhaps Apso.

The smooth Lhasa Apso -- referred to as "smooth-faced" in the breed's early years -- has a coat-growth pattern remarkably similar to the Tibetan Spaniel. The face is smooth, whiskers and beard are absent, nor is there a headfall. Ears, feet, legs and tail are feathered, as opposed to furnished, and the sides do not grow long. Smooths do not exhibit proper Lhasa Apso type, and as such, whether registered or not, should be neutered.

Since I first wrote about this subject a decade ago, based on my own experience with smooth puppies, the attitude among serious fanciers has progressed toward trying to understand the phenomenon through sharing of information. This is healthy for the breed, since information is a powerful tool for breeders. Moreover, nothing positive is to be gained by throwing stones at others from our glass houses or by eliminating valuable dogs from breeding programs because a smooth crops up in a litter.

To understand why we get smooths in litters representing decades of impeccable breeding, one needs to know a bit about the history of the breed in its native Tibet.

According to various historians, the Lhasa Apso has existed for 800 to 1200 years. This historical perspective is important when viewing the breed's relatively brief appearance in the western world -- no more than 100 years in the United Kingdom and South America and about 60 years in the United States.

The modified brachycephalic head typical of the Lhasa Apso is sound evidence that this is a breed created by man presumably to suit both a sense of human beauty and environmental survival. This is how many of our "pure" breeds have been developed. Humans have, in past centuries, cross-bred different breeds of dogs to change, improve, enhance or correct certain characteristics in their target breed.

A history of racing Greyhounds reveals that in the distant past, the Greyhound was cross-bred with the English bulldog to improve bone, and endurance. More recently, the American Kennel Club accepted for registration as Dalmatians, the fourth generation offspring of an English Setter-Dalmatian cross. The offspring of the original cross were bred back to purebred Dals for the succeeding generations to achieve registerable dogs. This was a highly-controlled and rigidly maintained project done by a research veterinarian to produce Dalmatians free of the uric acid problem then affecting all known members of the breed outside the project.

Regarding our own breed, we do not know exactly what took place during those centuries of creativity or carelessness in Tibet, nor can we completely control the ancient genetic heritage of the modern Lhasa Apso. To understand why smooths occur in the breed, I have linked widely-scattered observations made by early breed authorities. The information has been gleaned from a hoard of breed publications saved over the past quarter century. There is, no doubt, more information to be found, and additional sources would be appreciated.

The March 1973 issue of the Lhasa Bulletin, then published monthly by the American Lhasa Apso Club presented an article by Lenore Rosselot entitled "Dharmsala," describing her visit to the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama following the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet. Of the Lhasa Apso she writes:

“In Dharmsala, one probably sees more Lhasa Apsos than in any other Tibetan community. The people are proud when they own a purebred dog and they treasure the animal. The Lhasas are not bred for color...The people tend to favor smaller dogs, but here again there is no great effort to control breeding.”

The article included a photo of two Tibetan children and a correctly coated and brushed Lhasa Apso.

In May 1983, The Lhasa Apso Club of Northern California Bulletin published an article by Joan Beard entitled "Dallying with Dogs and Lamas." Mrs. Beard also traveled to Dharmsala and her trip included an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Passages from her interesting account state:

“(T)here are Apsos and what are known in the West as Tibetan Spaniels every colour, typical of the breeds as we know them, but only a few Apsos had been brushed...As soon as I arrived in Kathmandu, I was contacted by Mrs. Prabka Rana who is trying to get the Apsos and the Spaniels sorted out and registered with the Kennel Club...Ama Rana certainly knows her dogs and we spent an interesting time inspecting the various specimens to decide which were reasonably pure. She explained, as did most Tibetans, that they do not recognize the spaniel as a separate breed, and it is called a short-haired Lhasa Apso (emphasis added). They frequently mate the two together and all efforts to prevent this practice have failed...The answer is always the same, `it's our breed and we should know.”

Mrs. Beard tells of a Tibetan family of the upper classes who brought three Apsos and two Spaniels with them from Tibet. The dogs were deliberately bred Apso x Apso, Spaniel x Spaniel, and Apso x Spaniel, as well as allowed randomly to mate with one another, all considered by them to be perfectly acceptable and natural. She also recounts seeing a "perfectly normal" Apso litter of a correct Apso dam. The sire, in her opinion, "was at least in a small part" Spaniel.

The following appeared in Lhasa Tales in October 1973, in "Tibetan Meets Tibetan," by Fred, a Lhasa owned by the author. Fred relates meeting Namgyl Tersing, a Tibetan quite knowledgeable about dogs:

It turns out that Namgyl's family have had Apsos from as far back as he can remember. They got them from a monastery that only bred them true...He knew all about Prapsos. He said that the monks did not intentionally have accidents although many of the other people did.

This last account would seem to indicate that there was not total agreement among the Tibetans themselves as to whether the Apso and Spaniel were one breed or two. Responding to the question as to whether or not monastery-bred dogs were somehow more "pure," I believe the operative word in this passage is intentionally. The monks did not intentionally have accidents, and if a smooth occurred in a litter, "they gave both dog and bitch away." There is no mention of what was done with normal appearing offspring, either of these litters or of Apso x Spaniel matings.

From these accounts, it is not difficult to understand why smooth Lhasa Apsos, "Prapsos," manifest themselves in the best of late 20th century breeding programs. It's all part of our breed history.

A future column will discuss recognizing smooths at an early age, personality traits, and how their incidence appears to relate to certain colors and coat textures.

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