Difference between a Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso

By: | Updated: Apr-8, 2024
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Shih Tzus and Lhasa Apsos are two dog breeds that look similar with their coats of hair and relatively small size. To the untrained, it’s easy to confuse one for the other, and it’s this article’s objective to highlight the differences between these adorable dogs.

Summary Table

Shih Tzu Lhasa Apso
Bred as pets Bred as watchdogs
In dog shows, should always have its head hair tied up or put in a top knot Head hair should be parted in the middle and hangs to the both sides
Has an underbite None to very slight underbite


 Shih Tzu pup
A Shih Tzu pup. Note the underbite

A Shih Tzu is a toy dog breed known to have originated from Tibet, then developed in China, where it is also called the Chrysanthemum Dog or the Chinese Lion Dog. Usually standing no higher than 28 centimeters or 11 inches, a Shih Tzu typically weighs anywhere between 4.5 to 8.6 kilograms, or 10 to 19 pounds. A Shih Tzu has a short muzzle, bulging, dark eyes, and hair-covered drop ears. Its soft, silky and long double-coat is usually white in color with streaks of grey, but it may also come in any colors. One distinct feature of this breed is its underbite.

The Shih Tzu’s traditional long coat grows all the way down to the floor and requires regular grooming to avoid tangles. This makes this dog breed rather expensive to maintain. It is common practice to clip the coat short for convenience and practicality.

It’s normal for Shih Tzus to have varying temperaments, but they are well-known for being loyal, loving, alert and friendly pets. A Shih Tzu can be stubborn at times, so it’s usually a good idea to train the dog at an earlier age. Although a bit stubborn at times, the Shih Tzu is an active and extremely friendly dog. This friendly disposition allows the Shih Tzu to mix with other dogs, children and adults alike.

Lhasa Apso
A perfect specimen of the Lhasa Apso.

The Lhasa Apso was originally a watchdog both bred and trained as trusty sentinels in the Buddhist temples of Tibet. It has dark brown eyes and a black nose. The Lhasa Apso sports a heavy, straight, and dense coat of various colors such as black, red, white or gold and in varying shades. These dogs usually weigh from 12 to 14 pounds, or 5.4 to 6.4 kilograms. While some Lhasas have dark-tipped ears and beards, other Lhasas don’t. The dog’s tail should be carried well over its back. The Lhasa’s muzzle is set low on its face; its bite is leveled or sometimes a bit undershot. Its head is narrow and not domed.

The Lhasa Apso were bred and trained to serve as guard dogs in Tibetan Buddhist temples, and as such, the dogs are alert with a sharp sense of hearing. It is a happy and confident breed, but the Lhasa’s long history of being a sentinel has made it careful and watchful of strangers. It is also very smart, capable of strong judgement and restraint. If it sees its owner welcoming a stranger, it will also do the same.

Shih Tzu vs Lhasa Apso

So what’s the difference between a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso? As both dog breeds are known to have originated from Tibet, they share a few similarities, such as the long coat and the relatively small size. However, a Shih Tzu is a different dog breed with a slightly wavy coat compared to the Lhasa’s straight coat.

The Shih Tzu was raised as a pet, while the Lhasa was trained to be an effective guard dog.

A Shih Tzu’s head hair is often tied, sometimes into a knot; a Lhasa’s hair is parted right down the middle and left to fall at the side.

Shih Tzus were raised as pets, and are very affectionate towards other dogs and humans. Lhasas were reared as indoor watchdogs and are observant and wary of newcomers.

Other Differences Between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso

Another difference between these beautiful small dog breeds is the colors of their coats. A Shih Tzu’s coat can come in a variety of colors, including 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.

On the other hand, a Lhasa Apso’s coat may come in gold and white, black, black and tan, red, cream, and white.

As mentioned earlier, the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso also differ in their temperaments. Shih Tzus have been primarily raised as pets, which affects their temperament. These dogs are friendly, happy, affectionate with pet parents, trusting, and outgoing small dogs.

On the other hand, the Lhasa Apso is a very confident dog that can be assertive and happy; however, they are wary of strangers.

Why Are Shih Tzus Confused with Lhasa Apsos?

There’s a reason that so many people have trouble telling the difference between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso. It’s more than the fact that both dogs have come from Tibet! The truth is that the Shih Tzu was developed from the Lhasa Apso.

The Lhasa Apso is an ancient dog breed that originated in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The breed’s history can be traced back to 800 AD, which is about the same time that Buddhism was brought to this country. The dogs were originally raised to act as guard dogs for Dalai Lamas and monks in the Buddhist temples. The Lhasa Apso has excellent hearing, so these dogs can alert their pet parents to someone trying to break in.

The Shih Tzu was developed by Chinese emperors and royalty. Its history can be traced to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The dogs were thought to have been brought to China from Tibet in the 16th or 17th century. Shih Tzus were developed by breeding Pekingese dogs with Lhasa Apsos.


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