By Thelma E. Morgan


This is a very complicated subject and there can be no easy answer.

First let me try and give you a description of the Prapso, even this can only be basic, as there can occur variations within the smooth factor.

I would liken 'the smooth' to a variety of eastern spaniel. In other words the body coat lies smooth to the body with a smooth face with no beard. The front legs are smooth but with slight feathering from the elbow to the ankle. The feet are smooth, fine boned and hare footed in shape, with feathering between the toes. The tail is long boned and heavily feathered from root to tip. There is heavy feathering down the hind quarters to the hock, and again the feet are fine and narrow with feathering between the toes.

All I have seen have had a narrow skull, undershot mouth and a small eye. The length of feathering can vary but can be as long as four inches in the adult. They can come in any colour or combination but there is a variation in coat texture according to colour. For example, the fawns and golds have soft profuse furnishings, the black and whites quite harsh and less profuse, and may have more length of body coat that looks as though the coat has broken off from a certain length. The parti's may have a broken stubble, extremely harsh to the touch, but it will have a smooth patch below the eyes, and the ears will have very little feathering. Blue smokes will follow the cream and gold pattern. I haven't actually seen a gray and white particolour in a smooth, but I have seen a brindle and white, so I have NO proof that gray and whites are clear of the smooth factor, and certainly would expect a gray and white mated to a brindle or any other combination to be capable as any other of throwing the odd smooth.

Why smooth coats in a breed that is noted for its long heavy coat? There are several theories put forward and each has its supporters. Let us examine them in detail.

The easiest and the most likely one to do us discredit is that Lhasa Apsos are so cross-bred that they do not breed true. We have had many generations behind us of breeding to known stock and in all those years have not bred the smooth factor out. Twenty five years ago I worked out from those born that it was about six percent. What the percentage Is now in 1985 I would not know as it is far more difficult to check details than it was, but by the rumours one hears in spite of ignorant tittle tattle I would not expect it to have altered greatly. There is an unwritten law that breeds are in good heart if you keep genetical abnormalities down to around four percent. So six percent is not over high.

I believe that if the factor was due entirely to cross breeding then we would hove more than plenty of time to have bred it out, and be down to the very rare throw-back, probably one or two per thousand. For example, when the Sussex crossed with a Clumber there was a colour factor involved, yet they had regained colour by the fourth generation, and now only rarely have a faint lightening of a few hairs on the chest or toe in about four percent of puppies born. Equally the Shih Tzus when crossed with a Pekingese could have descendants winning their C.C.'s as soon as they came back on the Class 1 K.C. registration in the fourth generation. And remember, a Peke coot is entirely different to a Shih Tzu, yet the long staple was evident even in those early days. Probably something you didn't know is that Shih Tzu have equally always had the odd puppy that became a smooth, and that was BEFORE the Peke-cross. The Peke-cross masked the smooth factor and none were born in the years when this blood line was strong.

However smooths have recently reappeared. In countries where they have no Peke-cross smooths have always made the odd appearance, so perhaps you can begin to see that cross breeding is not the complete answer to why a coat abnormality occurs.

The theory that Apsos were crossed with Tibetan Spaniels may well be true in Tibet, but I do not think it helps us a great deal. True smooth to smooth will reproduce their like, whereas long to long coat will not always do so. Anyone who has bred Angora rabbits will tell you this. In strains that are well known for many generations, such as those bred in certain monasteries, about four percent of their stock is smooth, yet these are strains bred purely for their length and strength of staple. Equally in Chinchillas known for their short plush coats, the odd offspring will have a totally different coat, being long, thick and with heavy guard hairs.

A theory put forward by one university we consulted was that the breeding stock we had at that time might have a defective or weakened group of genescausing the differences of coat pattern. But we had insufficient numbers of the breed to make it worthwhile a subjective survey. They advised no breeding from animals visually showing smooth coats and test mating the rest of the litter mates as they felt that some would be carriers and, hopefully, one might be free. The early breeders were very supportive and happilly pooled their experiences and were more than willing to have their Prapsos studied. It was through this co-operation that we learned to recognise them as early as possible.

One test mating was done of smooth to smooth and the result was predictable, of an all smooth litter, and I personally did a mating of a smooth bitch to a heavy long coat and out of the three puppies one, a bitch, was smooth, one a half and halfer, being bristly short broken coat, slow to grow, and one extremely heavy long coat. The last two were dogs and all were given away without papers. The 'halfer' interested me; it was neither a smooth nor was it a long. In certain areas of around the neck and over the flanks the coat formed rosettes, rather like an Abyssinian Guinea Pig. At that time I lived in North Wales and I was breeding long haired (Peruvian) cavies, so we set up a cross breedins programme, cheaper than usins dogs and quicker to set results, and we found that exactly the same patterns could be observed as in the Lhasa Apsos.

Visual smooths reproduced their like whatever the breeding behind them, long to short coat a high proportion of like, with the odd smooth. But it was those with the broken coat which was harsh and had an uneven growth pattern that caused a complete breakdown. We got all three types of coats, even when we continued to increase the long factor in succeeding generations.

So here I must point out the dangers of using any Lhasa Apsos in a breeding programme that do not come up to required standard of a long profuse coat. Introduce anything whether it be smooth or broken and the genetical pattern can be altered. Remember it is not normal far the canine species to have an excessive long coat. Selection and environment has given certain very few breeds this type of coat and, genetically, a species is always trying to revert back to the norm. Selection is the best safeguard from this happening. By always breeding for long coat, we alter the genetical pattern, making the long coot the dominant and the smooth the recessive, but the recessive gene is still there, you cannot breed it out.

There is not a country where Lhasa Apsos are bred that has no evidence of the smooth factor, and some at these countries have had NO English blood. In the early days I made contact with the pioneering breeders in America and their experiences were the same as ours. They sent me some photographs. I must admit theirs were prettier than ours at that time. I also contacted French breeders with the same outcome, and I gather this is still so, as their ruling body was quite happy to register the smooth Lhasa on the Tibetan Spaniel in France, to be then renamed Tibetan Spaniels. Am i being naive when I say surely this could not be so?

One of the smoothest Apsos I ever saw came from Nepal and on questioning the owner I found that both parents had been known and were fully coated. I saw two in Scandinavia that had no English blood, being basically French/American. I read in an Indian book a very good description of our smooths, it was identical with our own, so I think we can accent the assumption that the smooth factor is part of the Lhasa Apso worldwide, and despite a real effort over the last fifty years it has not been bred out.

If all this scares you, and you start seeing smooths where there are none, I urge you to take heart, you may breed for many years with all the usual blood lines end never see one. All I am asking if you do happen to have one in a litter, just try a different line next time, do not hide it and refuse to believe that it has happened. Do not blame the dog, it could so easily be your bitch. More likely still a combination of the two. Look carefully at all the puppies and you will soon learn to distinguish smooth, broken and true long coat. At birth you cannot tell if a puppy will turn out to be a smooth, it will have the same amount of coat and basic structure. The group of genes for type donot become fully operational at birth, between three and four weeks of age the smooth will have a full set of teeth and will be much more active than the rest of the litter. It will start to grow a beard and its coat wilt have normal growth. However, around seven weeks the coat growth slows down and the puppy starts appearing fine boned, and foot bones elongate starting to look hare shaped, particularly on the hind feet. Unless you are actually looking for these tell-tale signs they can be overlooked. You may have the puppy booked, and you go in one morning, and as the baby heads rise up to greet you there is one head that looks startlingly different; the beard has disappeared and the nose looks pointed. Over succeeding weeks the coat will become smoother and the feathering starts to become evident. The broken coat is harder to detect as a baby and may have or not have any of the above symptoms. Yet it is vital you do recognize the differences, because later into adult life it will show them and is certainly a carrier. My way of detection is to feel the texture, harsh and not so dense is the best description I can give. I look for the tail if it is very long and looks smooth not wavy, then all those features together make me suspect a poor coater. In the basically English lines I look for a lift in the baby coat, probably slightly wavy and with long hair on the tummy. These will be the excessive or true long coats. However those with a high proportion of American breeding do not necessarily follow this pattern. As eight week old babies they can look almost smooth, not a hint of the huge coat they carry later, the density does not develop until about four months and can be as late as eight or nine. I would suggest any you feel uneasy about you keep them back until around four months when you can assess again for the smooth or broken factor. It is no good selling for a high price as a show puppy one who later proves not to have the correct long staple.

In the early days we to used to say that the wavy coat, rather bushy, had less chance of carrying the factor for smooth. Certainly in Shih Tzus when they had big bushy rather curly coat there was no evidence of smooth. But when lines came in that had a more elegant coat pattern, straight & long with a light loose undercoat, the smooths started to appear. The breed also had the broken coat syndrome. Those were quite easy to detect as they were most evident in the true miniature and therefore were not bred from anyway so did nothing to help perpetuate.

I think we can learn from other breeds such as the Powder Puff Chinese Crested/hairless. As you know in this breed, Powder Puffs regularly appear in hairless to hairless breeding. Powder Puffs are usually very long haired and as an adult do not look unlike an Apso. Mate two true Powder Puffs together and like begets like. Yet hairless to hairless does not, equally a Powder Puff to a hairless will produce both varieties, they equally have a harsh or broken coat in both the Powder Puffs and the hairless, in which case the hairless will not have the fine hair on the feet and tail tip and the crest tip will be poor. In the Powder Puff the face will be free of hair and mostly the ears erect. Powder Puffs have quick early dentition, the hairless the slowest and the less perfect. The types within the breed can never be separated because the hairless would for all time still produce Powder Puffs.

I came Into Lhasa Apsos to study the difference in long coats, I was preparing a thesis for my Master's Degree and most of the research I did was In the early 1950's. I have tried in this overlong article to simplify a difficult subject, my notes were naturally in the algebra of genetics which would be boring to most of you. I am indebted to those early breeders who lovingly sent me precious samples from various parts of their Apsos' coats for studying under the microscope. Alas they had to be discarded several years ago to make room for other projects and only the notes remain. I am not trying to stir muddy water or to belittle a breed that has shared my hearth for many a long year. I respect those that have gone before, both human and canine, and if any problems arise in the future I hope the new breeders will face them in the same courageous manner.

<< back to Prapsos