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Lhasa Apso vs. Shih Tzu: What’s the Difference?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu

The Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu both originate from Asia and in fact, share the same ancient bloodline. They are both ancient breeds that were employed in monasteries as loyal guard dogs and companion animals. They are both small breeds and are fairly similar in appearance, with long silky coats and endearing eyes.

With all these similarities, the two breeds are often confused for each other, but there are a few differences to be aware of. So what’s the difference between Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso dogs? In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at what exactly those differences are.

divider 10Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu: Visual Differences

Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu side by side

There is little to differentiate between these two dogs, and it’s no wonder that people confuse them! The Lhasa Apso is slightly larger than the Shih Tzu and has a longer and straighter coat. Their coat is typically black, gold, and white, while Shih Tzus can be found in a wide range of color combinations.

A Quick Overview

Lhasa Apso
  • Average height: 9-11 inches
  • Average weight: 12-15 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Exercise needs: 1-2+ hours/day
  • Grooming needs: High
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Trainability: Moderate
Shih Tzu
  • Average height: 9-10 inches
  • Average weight: 9-16 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10-16 years
  • Exercise needs: 1-2 hours/day
  • Grooming needs: High
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Dog friendly: Yes
  • Trainability: Excellent

Divider 8Lhasa Apso Overview

lhasa apso
Image Credit: kshitijprakash, Pixabay

This Lhasa Apso originated in Tibet and were highly revered watchdogs and companion animals in the mountaintop monasteries, and get their name from the holy Tibetan city of Lhasa. They were originally reserved for nobility and monks only, and it was impossible to buy one for a long time. They were considered sacred and good luck charms and were only permitted to leave the country when given as a gift by the Dalai Lama, and they were always given in pairs.

Eventually, the rest of the world got to know about these adorable dogs, and they were finally permitted to be sold and leave the country. Their popularity in the West has been steadily increasing ever since.


Lhasa Apsos are happy and playful animals that can also be mischievous at times, although in a good way! They are highly loyal animals and revered for this loyalty: They were bred as alert watchdogs and can be fiercely protective despite their small size. They are sturdy and rugged dogs that are accustomed to harsh and cold climates and consequently, don’t do well in hotter climates.

They are not overly energetic dogs and are happy to live indoors and are ideal for apartments and small homes without yards, provided that they get adequate exercise. These dogs are fiercely loyal and become highly attached to their owners, and they do not enjoy being left alone for extended periods. This loyalty can also lead them to become overprotective around other dogs, but with adequate socialization, they are generally great with other dogs and pets.

Training and Exercise

The Lhasa Apso is generally an easy dog to train but has a definite independent and stubborn streak that can be difficult to break through. The best way to overcome this is by keeping training sessions both short and fun and exercising your pooch beforehand.

These dogs are intelligent and have a long history of working closely with humans. Their loyal nature makes them eager to please their owner, and they usually pick up commands quickly. This makes reward-based methods the best techniques for training these pooches.

Early socialization is key to good training, as your dog will be less distracted by sounds and other dogs and animals. Consistency and beginning training at a young age are also vital; otherwise, your Lhasa Apso may quickly pick up bad habits that can be difficult to break. Lhasa Apsos are known for having a long puppyhood and being late to mature, so although they are fully grown at around a year old, they will still have a puppy-like character well into adulthood.

Image Credit: karygrabovski, Pixabay

Health and Care

Lhasa Apsos are a healthy breed in general and prone to few genetic issues, but they can suffer from certain issues common to small dog breeds. These include patellar luxation and progressive retinal atrophy, and they are known to have issues with cherry eye too.

These small dogs are easy to feed, and around 1 cup of good quality dry kibble per day split into two meals is ideal. They are highly food motivated, though, so you should be cautious about free-feeding them. Like any dog, be sure they have access to clean fresh water at all times.

Lhasa Apsos have beautiful, long, and straight coats that need daily brushing to keep them knot and matt free. They may require the occasional trimming too, and you should get them used to the idea of grooming from a young age in order to prevent issues in the future.


Lhasa Apsos are great family dogs, are easy for seniors to look after, and adjust well to apartment living, making them ideal companion animals. They can become overwhelmed by smaller children, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for nipping and explain to your children the correct way of interacting with these dogs. They have a small stubborn streak that can make training a challenge, but not so much that they need an experienced owner: These dogs are perfect for novices too.

Divider 4Shih Tzu Overview

Image Credit: sypacc, Pixabay

Developed in Tibet in as early as 8,000 B.C., this ancient breed is one of the oldest on the planet, with references to them in early Chinese artwork and writing. They are said to have been given to Chinese royalty by Tibetan monks as gifts and were highly prized companion animals and still are today. These pooches are perfect companion animals and were recognized by the American Kennel Club in the late 1960s.


Shih Tzus are loving, affectionate, and loyal dogs that love nothing more than being close to their owners. They were bred and developed for centuries for the express purpose of companionship, and they do it well! While they have plenty enough energy for a play session in the yard or a brisk walk around the neighborhood, don’t expect them to hunt or be a good guard dog.

They are the quintessential lapdog, and their long history of being close to humans makes them happiest when on their owner’s lap. They do not enjoy being alone and will suffer greatly from separation anxiety when left alone for long periods. If you are out at work frequently, this is probably not the ideal choice for you.

They are friendly and affectionate dogs that make instant friends with new faces, be it humans, dogs, or even cats! Indeed, your felines and other small pets are safe with the Shih Tzu, as they have a low prey drive and hunting instinct and will make friends with your cat before trying to chase it.

Training and Exercise

While Shih Tzus love to lounge on the lap of their owners above almost all else, they are not complete couch potatoes. These dogs love to play and will love their daily walk and training sessions. They are content with short walks and play sessions, though, and are a comparatively low-maintenance dog in terms of exercise. One point to keep in mind is that these dogs are fairly sensitive to heat, and you’ll need to take care in warmer climates.

Training a Shih Tzu is a breeze: Their eagerness to please, their intelligence, and their love of human interaction allow them to pick up basic commands in a flash. Be sure to avoid any harsh training methods or reprimands because Shih Tzus are rather sensitive pooches — reward-based methods are ideal. House training can sometimes be an issue with this breed, but by using positive reinforcement techniques and a bit of patience, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Although these dogs are easy-going and friendly dogs, early socialization and training are essential to make sure they don’t pick up any bad habits that can be difficult to reverse at a later stage.

shih tzu
Image Credit: sylviesi, Pixabay

Health and Care

Shih Tzus do not have any major genetic issues to be aware of, but they are known to suffer from minor issues including eye problems, allergies, and ear infections. They are also prone to a few issues that affect smaller breeds, including hip dysplasia and patellar luxation.

These dogs are highly adaptable to apartment living and content to live in small homes, as long as they get adequate exercise and are close to their owners. Their long coat needs daily brushing to avoid knotting and matting, and they’ll love the process! Small breeds are often prone to dental issues, so be sure to give their teeth regular brushing to avoid plaque and tartar build-up.

Around 1 cup of high-quality dog food per day split into two meals is ideal for a Shih Tzu, but they’ll love a supplementing of lean meats and organ meats occasionally too. Be sure not to free feed these dogs because they are prone to getting overweight, as they are not highly active.


Shih Tzus are good family pets, ideal companions for singles and seniors, and highly adaptable to apartment living. They need a great deal of attention, though, so they are not ideal for owners who are away frequently.

Divider 3What are the differences?

These two breeds are similar both in appearance and in character. They are both expert lapdogs and companion animals, are easy to look after and care for (other than their luxurious coats), and are highly adaptable to most living situations. Both are great for novice owners because they are easy to train too. If you are looking for a new companion lapdog, either breed is a great choice.

The main difference is the Shih Tzu’s need for affection and attention, and they do not enjoy being alone at home, even with other dogs, as they get closely attached to their owners. While Lhasa Apsos are not in favor of this either, they may be the better choice if you are away for extended periods. If this is not an issue and you have other small pets at home, Shih Tzus are a great choice due to their friendliness and low prey drive, as the Lhasa’s loyalty may cause issues around other pets.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: (L) Jagodka, Shutterstock | (R) Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

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