AKC Gazette
Lhasa Apso column
December 2023

What is an old-fashioned Lhasa Apso? And if there is, is a new-fangled one better or even different?

I pondered that question as I sat in a chair made by a skilled New England craftsman roughly 250 years ago. It’s called a Bow back Windsor armchair. It was designed and made with an eye toward its purpose and a creativity to please its maker in both function and form. Windsor armchairs have a design pattern, designating the elements required for its genre. Yet no two are identical, even when built as sets. Each has a unique character, whether it’s the grain of the wood, a subtle change in shape to match the owner’s body, or a bit of creativity in the hand-turned legs, making it distinct yet immediately recognizable. Today Windsors are considered old-fashioned and not in keeping with modern tastes. Current trends favor gray colors, straight, industrial lines and mass-produced uniformity. This raises the question: Has our breed changed to meet modern tastes?

The original breed standard described the ideal specimen, and though some may disagree, updates to the standard were intended as clarifications, not changes. Interpretations of the standard are more often the culprit for confusion than the standard itself. Opinion on old-fashioned seems to focus on, but is not limited to, three aspects: proportion, color and size. I would add coat texture.

Correct proportion was as highly debated 50 years ago as today. The standard description of longer from point of shoulder to buttocks than height at the withers leaves room for personal interpretation over what is correct, ideal or plain awful. Historically, there always has been a mix of dogs both higher and lower on leg. Years ago, lower stationed dogs tended to have longer bodies and heavier bone. Those with excessive back length sometimes suffered spinal problems and were not bred. There were dogs with longer legs and sufficient back length to be deemed correct, but also dogs who were short-coupled and lacked the flexibility to move smoothly. These latter were avoided as well. The question of ideal balance with a correct rectangular shape was then and remains one of personal preference while avoiding exaggeration and preserving free fluid motion.

Much is said about “small” being old-fashioned. The original AKC standard listed size as variable with approximate expectations being 10 – 11 inches at the withers. It is undisputed that there were specimens both less than ten and more than eleven inches at that time as there are now, though we currently see fewer smaller dogs or bitches. While one inch may not sound like much variance, the visual impact of a ringside comparison is dramatic, with a smaller, appropriately masculine dog tending to appear bitchy. Similarly, an 11-inch bitch may appear doggy against smaller bitches. The notion that a larger dog is necessary to have a better chance in group competition has merit, but only if the dog lacks the powerful presence and attitude that make it a true group competitor. The late James Roberts (Abbotsford) said that in over fifty years of breeding, size was the only trait he was unable to control.

Certain colors have dropped from favor. These would be mostly the dark sables and grizzles which are considered outdated, with tastes favoring the flashier creams, reds and golds. Black, once decidedly out of favor, has gained acceptance provided the coat texture is correctly hard and shiny. Parti-colors, once questionable, now find acceptance provided they are well-marked.
The hard, human-like coat texture taken for granted fifty years ago is far less common today. Lacking today’s sophisticated products and skill used to control softer coats, breeders usually selected away from this trait. Today’s coats are certainly better groomed and conditioned, but not necessarily true to the original.

Is there a distinction between old-fashioned and new-fangled, or have current tastes made it seem there is?

Cassandra de la Rosa, The American Lhasa Apso Club, Email: dlrcas@msn.com