This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks

In the serene and mystical land of Tibet, amidst the towering peaks and spiritual sanctuaries, an extraordinary connection has flourished between man and beast.

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso

The Lhasa Apso dog, a small yet captivating breed, holds a revered place in the hearts of Tibetan monks. This remarkable bond transcends mere companionship, delving into the very core of Tibetan culture, spirituality, and tradition.

A Pup of Profound Significance: Lhasa Apso’s Spiritual Role

Lhasa Apsos, often referred to as “Apso Seng Kyi” in Tibetan, which translates to “Barking Lion Sentinel Dog,” possess a distinct allure that goes beyond their striking appearance. With their flowing, floor-length coats and keen, watchful eyes, these dogs have graced the monastic compounds of Tibet for centuries. But what sets them apart from other breeds?

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso
Source: K9 Research Lab

Tibetan monks regard Lhasa Apsos as more than mere companions. They are seen as spiritual sentinels, protectors of both the physical and metaphysical realms. These dogs are believed to possess an innate ability to detect negative energies and unwanted spirits, acting as vigilant guardians of monasteries and their inhabitants. Their alert barks are believed to ward off malevolent forces, creating an atmosphere of serenity conducive to meditation and worship.

Cultural and Historical Roots: The Origins of the Bond

To understand the depth of this sacred connection, one must delve into the annals of Tibetan history. Lhasa Apsos trace their lineage back to ancient Tibet, where they were bred specifically for high-altitude living.

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso
Source: Victoriaces

The compact, muscular dog beneath the flowing coat has the structure required to conserve heat on subzero Himalayan nights and the stamina to negotiate rocky mountain passes. The broad muzzle and relatively large lungs allow Lhasas to breathe easily at high altitudes.

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The dense, weatherproof coat provides warmth on snowcapped mountaintops and acts as a sun shield in the blazing midday sun of the valleys. The feathered tail arching over the back is a parasol providing extra protection from the sun, and the lavish facial hair shields the eyes from dust and thistle. The feet are round and large, ensuring traction in snow and on treacherous, icy slopes.

The Lhasa Apso is proof that a mountain dog doesn’t have to be a big dog.

The breeders and caretakers of Lhasa Apsos were Tibetan monks, whose particular brand of Buddhism is sometimes called Lamaism and whose spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama.

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso
Source: FleetFire TimbersA native Tibetan Woman

The monks bred dogs for themselves as companions, watchdogs, and protectors, and also gave them as gifts to leaders of Tibetan society and foreign potentates. Since the founding of the Himalayan monasteries in the seventh century, the Tibetan dog breeds—the Lhaso Apso, Tibetan Mastiff, Tibetan Spaniel, and Tibetan Terrier chief among them—have held a special symbolic, and sometimes sacred, place in Lamaist myth.

In ancient folklore the protector of Tibet and the Lord Buddha is the Snow Lion, a mythical beast that dwells in the eastern Himalayas. The Snow Lion remains Tibet’s national symbol and is depicted on its flag. “If the snow-lion stays in the mountains it is a snow-lion,” goes an old Tibetan saying, “and if it comes down to the valleys it becomes a dog.” More particularly, it becomes a Lhasa Apso. (The Tibetan breed name is Apso Seng-kyi, which loosely translates as “bearded lion dog.”)

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A Gift of Good Fortune: Lhasa Apso’s Global Spread

The Lhasa Apso was one of the first breeds to be used as a companion dog. For many centuries he was kept by Tibetan monks in their isolated monasteries where they served as companions and watchdogs. The breed was credited with spiritual powers and considered to bring prosperity and fortune to the owner, hence it bore the name of Talisman Dog.

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso
Source: AKC – Suydam and Helen Cutting, with one of their Hamilton Farms Lhasas, attend a 1949 exhibition of Tibetan culture at the Newark Museum.

The Lhasa Apso remained largely unknown to the outside world until the early twentieth century when some Tibetan dogs were brought to the United Kingdom by military men returning from the Indian subcontinent.

These were of mixed types, similar either to what would become the Lhasa Apso or to what would become the Tibetan Terrier; they were collectively known as “Lhasa Terrier”. The original American pair of Lhasas was a gift from Thubten Gyatso, 13th Dalai Lama to C. Suydam Cutting, arriving in the United States in 1933.

Mr. Cutting had traveled to Tibet and met the Dalai Lama. At the time, there was only one Lhasa Apso registered in England. The American Kennel Club officially accepted the breed in 1935 in the Terrier Group, and in 1959 transferred the breed to the Non-Sporting Group. In the UK, they are placed in the Utility Group. The breed was definitively accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1960.

This Dog Breed Is Sacred To Tibetan Monks: Lhasa Apso

Today, the Lhasa Apso is a popular companion dog around the world, cherished for its loyal, lively, and lovable personality. The breed still retains its ancient heritage as a watchdog and a spiritual symbol, but also adapts well to modern lifestyles and environments. The Lhasa Apso is a testament to the enduring bond between humans and dogs, a bond that transcends time, space, and culture.

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