Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu – What are the Differences?

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These two breeds of dogs are so similar. It is difficult to tell the difference between a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso sometimes. In this post, I am going to explain to you what these differences are and how to spot them.

When these two dogs are together it will be easier to spot the difference. Not so easy though when they are not side-by-side. Are you asking the question is my dog a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso? I have seen many comments on animal blogs especially dog forums where people were asking how can they tell the difference

After researching the answers on the internet I have compiled all my findings here. These findings will help you to determine which is a Shih Tzu and which is a Lhasa Apso when you see them.

Both dogs have a very similar look about them, both more than probably originating from China. It is not sure exactly where their origins started in China, but it is believed they are from the Tibetan Plateau region, near the city of Lhasa. Some things are obvious, others not as easy to discern, so let’s start the comparison


The Shih Tzu is a smaller size of a dog than the Lhasa Apso. The perfect size for a male Shih Tzu is anything between 7.9 to 11 inches tall. A female Shih Tzu will be the same size as the male. The Lhasa Apso will be slightly taller, being between 10 to 11 inches tall at the shoulders. Unlike the female Shih Tzu the Lhasa Apso female is smaller than her male counterpart, she will be between 9 to 10 inches tall. Their sizes differ so little between them but as we can see the Lhasa Apso is just those few inches taller.

  • Male       7.9 to 11 inches  tall   Shih Tzu
  • Female  7.9 to 11 inches  tall   Shih Tzu
  • Male       10  to 11 inches  tall        Lhasa
  • Female   9 to 10  inches  tall        Lhasa


As their sizes are different so their weight will be different too. Keeping in the same order we will start with the Shih Tzu male. This little bundle will push the scales from 8.8 up to 16 lbs in weight. Whereas their female partners come in at a lightweight 8.8 to 15.7 lbs in weight.

Now we know that the size of the Lhasa Apso is a little bit bigger, then their weight will be heavier in accordance. When our male Lhasa Apso steps on the balance the needle is going to swing to anything between 14 to 18 lbs in weight, we can see that the male Lhasa Apsos can be as much as 2 lbs in weight heavier than a Shih Tzu. And our sweet little females where do they come into the figures? Well, what I have found is they are a little lighter weighing than the males, from 12 to 14 lbs, but still lighter than their female Shih Tzu counterparts. Well for the ladies 16 ounces less is a lot when you’re only 10 inches tall!!

  • Male        8.8 to 16.0 lbs in weight   Shih Tzu
  • Female   8.8 to 15.7 lbs in weight    Shih Tzu
  • Male        14 to 18     lbs in weight       Lhasa
  • Female    12 to 14     lbs in weight       Lhasa

Coat Colors

When I was younger I remember a story that was called Jacob and his amazing multi-colored coat. With the multiple varieties of coat colors that are possible for a Shih Tzu, we could call then Jacobs dog. Ranging from black, white, brown and gold. And then just as if they had fallen in a paint making factory there can be multiple different mixtures of colors including, red and white, grey and white, black and white, solid liver, solid black, white and liver, and the list goes on!

Imagine when a couple of Shih Tzus have offspring. The chances of knowing what the puppy’s final adult color will be almost impossible. Once they have their adult coat and their true colors have become final their hair can also either be straight or wavy hair to add extra trauma for you!!



Shih Tzu

If you think Shih Tzu has many colors to choose from the Lhasa Apso also has many color combinations. The American Kennel Club stipulates there are thirteen different colors for a Lhasa Apso, eight of these being the standard colours, with five alternative colors. And to add to these there are six marking choices. The rules by the American Kennel Club are very strict and only these colors and markings can be used when a Lhasa Apso is registered with them. You will only be allowed to register one color and one marking for your Lhasa Apso when you register with the American Kennel Club

I will go into more precise detail about these color combinations because this is a Lhasa Apso website after all.

Standard colors of the Lhasa Apso

Their colours include black, white, black and tan, grizzle, which means a color combination of black with other variations of colors. Various colors of brown, ranging from a light cream colour to a dark cream. There is also a color which is like a red setter. An example of a grizzle color can be a combination of red hair and black hair to get a red grizzle colour. On the other hand with a mixture of white and black hair, this would be called the black drizzle. Variations of brown hair defined as cream, red, gold red and golden are also possible.

Alternative colors of the Lhasa Apso

These alternative colours include charcoal, grey, silver, liver, and blue. These colours will appear to be softer and diluted in colour. There can also be variations of grizzle. I’ve never seen a blue dog, when we talk about the Lhasa Apso with blue hair it is more like a washed out black. Another variation is silver grizzle, this is a combination of black hairs or blue hairs with cream color hairs mixed. Lhasa Apsos that have these alternative colors are very beautiful, outstanding to look at and own.

The 6 markings accepted for a Lhasa Apso

Although alternating from one dog to another these markings add beauty to the appearance of the Lhasa Apso. One of these markings called brindle is a mix of light and dark groups of colors which gives a coat a kind of stripey look. Less pronounced than stripes on a tiger, they still look very nice. Colors that can be seen in Brindle include white and brown, silver and black, cream and blue. Sometimes there can be splashes of white or other additional colors in different amounts. On some Lhasa Apsos, their toes and chest can be white. There are Lhasa Apsos which are drizzled all over their body, their legs, and their stomach. Black to Sandy tipping on the end of their hair, which is a lighter color darkens at the ends creating a smaller grizzle result.

Now you have seen the many and varied color combinations and markers of a Lhasa Apso.  You will have one of the best-looking dogs available but remember Lhasa Apso puppies will change their hair color as they become adult. It would not be a good idea to register your Lhasa Apso too early. The best advice is to wait from six months to one year old to be sure they have their final colors.


Lasa Apso

Types of coats

Both the Shih-Tzu and the Lhasa Apso have beautiful long coats making it even more difficult to tell which is a Shih Tzu or Lhasa Apso. One thing that can help to spot the difference between the two is the Lhasa Apso has a distinct parting running down their backbone with hair falling equally on both sides.

These long coats demand regular grooming and a Lhasa Apso that is in show condition will have its coat flowing right down to the ground, hard work but so beautiful and graceful. Check this video here I made on grooming my Lhasa Apso ( not a show dog ) also the brushes and combs I use can be found here


Their Different Temperaments

Each dog has its own special temperament that is specific to its breed and for its purpose. Shih Tzu was bred to be companions for Chinese emperors. Therefore they will have a more agreeable character and temperament. They can be classed as a lap dog. They are outgoing, happy and affectionate little dogs whose only purpose in life seems to be to cling close their masters following them everywhere. A positive point about the Shih Tzu is they are very children friendly and are not aggressive towards strangers. Probably due to their past history being the lapdogs for Chinese Emperor’s. They still tend to conduct themselves in a very elegant manner. Just like the Lhasa Apso they do have a stubborn streak about them, even if they don’t listen to your commands they are cute and can be easily forgiven.

On the other hand, the Lhasa Apso has a totally different temperament to Shih Tzu. Firstly his name means the Barking Lion Dog. There is a funny story that says when a Lhasa Apso looks into a mirror he sees a Lion! and in this department, they excel. The Lhasa Apso was bred specifically to guard the interiors of Tibetan monasteries. They have a loud bark, barking at anything or anybody that approaches their territory or their master’s home. Lhasa Apso has a very independent character about them which can be difficult for an owner that is not in control of their pet.  Bred as a watchdog they have excellent hearing and senses that make them perfect watchdogs for an apartment or home.

Taking seriously their role as a watchdog they can sometimes bite and when they are around children will need to be watched continuously. I good idea when around young children would be using a muzzle like this one from Amazon. They can also be very jealous of a person or a toy and will protect it with all there little ferocious character.

The Lhasa Apso is a very intelligent dog and enjoys learning new commands and tricks, remember though they cannot be forced to do anything with their stubborn character. Training your Lhasa Apso could take longer than with other breeds of dogs.

Having such a strong temperament and their independent character they are certainly not sissy dogs and not pushovers, they can also be bossy, so the Lhasa Apso is the total opposite temperament of a Shih Tzu.

Which is Easier to Train

With its long history and heritage as a companion dog the Shih Tzu will be easier to train. As with all dog training always reward your dog with praise and a titbit.

Being bread as a guard dog the Lhasa Apso is going to be more challenging to train with its independent, stubborn character.

When the Lhasa Apso has had enough training he will decide he’s going to stop, this is his stubborn temperament showing. Lhasas like to please their owners and will quickly learn all the tricks you wish to teach them, of course in their time and if they want to learn!

Different health problems

The Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso are prone to hereditary health problems. Both have short muzzles, the Shih Tzu muzzle is much shorter and higher set, being around one inch long and set no lower than the bottom of their eyes. Which gives it problems breathing sometimes. The Shih Tzu is a breed that most American Airline companies do not allow to fly because they can develop a breathing problem called brachycephalic airway syndrome. Which can be fatal for the shih Tzu or any dog with a very short nose.

Lhasa Apso also suffers from the shorter nose but not as bad as the Shih Tzu. Classed by the American Kennel Club as a medium-length muzzle. Many of the health problems that the Lhasa Apso can encounter you can read here.

The difference in Skull Shape

Apart from the visual difference of the muzzle between the two breeds another visual aspect to help discern which is a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso is to take a look at the shape of their head. When you look at the Lhasa Apso their head is narrow and undomed, the Shih Tzu head is round, broad and domed. This is one of the easiest ways, including the muzzle, of distinguishing between a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso.


Long Muzzle of a Lhasa Apso
The short muzzle of a Shih-Tzu


The difference between a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso can be noticed by looking at their eyes. The eyes of the Shih Tzu are large and round whereas the eyes of a Lhasa Apso are less round, more almond-shaped.

The Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu can both suffer from eye problems. Let’s see what problems they can have with their eyes.

With those lovely big round eyes, almost human-like eyes, the Shih Tzu will break many a heart. Some of their eye problems can lead to blindness but this does not stop these little dogs from having a full life. Most of these eye health problems are not life-threatening and can be treated with medication.





          Shih Tzu round dommed head,          round eyes, short nose
Lhasa Apso smaller eyes longer muzzle, flatter head

Just as us humans can inherit health problems from our parents so can the Shih Tzu, even if the Shih Tzus parents are healthy and have never had eye problems a young pup can develop eye diseases later in life. Most of these eye diseases are caused by traumas or irritations that can be treated locally either by your vet or even yourself, there are a few rare cases where your Shih-Tzu may have to undergo surgical intervention. Because of those large big round eyes which are set in small shallow sockets all the dust and rubbish being blown around the city and your garden can enter easily into their eyes and create irritations.

Although the list is long I will mention here just a few of the eye problems Shih-Tzus and Lhasa Apso can encounter.

  • Exposure keratopathy syndrome
  • Cataracts
  • Entropion
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Excessive  tearing
  • Dry eye
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Cherry eye

Differences in Puppy Prices

Now that you are looking to buy a new puppy are there any differences in prices buying a Shih Tzu or Lhasa Apso? Going to your local breeders or buying privately might make a difference, I have done some research and these are the price estimations that I have found for folks living in America

If your budget dictates where you buy your Shih Tzu from then you can start by looking in your local pet store. Beware if you have heard bad stories about a particular pet store then obviously choose another one that has a good reputation, who treats their puppies well whilst they are awaiting their new owners. You should be able to purchase a young Shih-Tzu puppy for around $400 / $900 from a pet store. If your finances allow you can acquire your Shih Tzu from a reputable breeder, an idea of the purchasing price will be anywhere from $900 going up to $2,500.

The Lhasa Apso is in a different price range if you’re looking for a purebred with show dog qualities with all the pedigree certificates included of course. Before I divulge the price for a show quality dog, it is possible to obtain Lhasa Apso puppies without papers from pet stores for an average of $500. Now if you are thinking of purchasing a show quality dog with a full pedigree with all its certificates including reproduction rights then the starting price will be from $1,500 and can rise up to $5,100 and in some rare cases even more.

  • Shih Tzu Puppy Prices        Range from  400$ – 2.500$
  • Lhasa Apso puppy Prices      Range from  500$ – 5.100$ +

Differences in Annual Costs

Now that we have seen the prices between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso we must now look at the annual cost of each breed to see if there are any differences. As both dogs are approximately the same size the cost of food over the year will be the same. Clothing, leashes, and accessories for both dogs will also have very little difference over the year.

The only area where there might be a difference would be the veterinary costs if one of the breeds happened to have hereditary illnesses that needed treating.  Of course, if you have a Lhasa Apso that is a show quality dog then the grooming expenses would be far more expensive than for example a Shih Tzu that is only a house/companion dog. I think there would be very little annual cost differences between these two dogs of the same level of breeding.

Are there Differences in Exercise Needs

As both dogs are small they are not going to need hours at a time to exercise. Taking both of these dogs on short walks will be sufficient enough to keep them in good form if there is an area where you can let them off the lead/leash where they can chase around this will be very good for them.  I would say there is no difference in the exercise needs for these two little dogs.

Differences in Barking

Of course all dogs bark, it’s their way of communicating, just as we humans talk to communicate, dogs communicate by barking. Some much more than others depending on what they were bred for. Yes just like some humans do!  As we continue looking at the comparison between the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso we need to remember the reasons why these two little dogs were bred.

We have learned that the Shih Tzu was bred for Chinese emperors as a lap dog, to be close companions, for these dogs it wasn’t necessary to be always barking. They would be more than happy playing, having cuddles or sleeping next to there masters.

The Lhasa Apso, on the other hand, was bred to be a guard dog and to this effect, they have a loud yappy bark, and they use it a lot. They are independent and prefer to be on their own, but not too far away from their master always ready to warn of any strangers coming into the territory they protect.

One thing an owner of a Lhasa Apso must train their dog to do from an early age is to obey the command to stop barking when they are told to. This is an absolute necessity living in confined housing estates, so not to create problems with neighbours living in small housing blocks or houses in close proximity.

Compatibility with Other Dogs

Whenever out walking I would advise you to always have your pet dog on a leash. Maybe in your country, it is illegal not to walk your dog without a leash,  in some countries in Europe this law does not yet exist. Being on a lead or leash will help to keep your dog under control if it likes to run off a little too often after cats. You can also quickly pull your dog back out of harm’s way if a strange dog arrives that is not on a leash.

Shih Tzus are happy go lucky, wouldn’t hurt a fly type of dog, and they generally get along well with other dogs. Lhasa Apsos with their hereditary guard dog characters can become aggressive and try to attack strange dogs. My own Lhasa Apso Lucky is a very domineering fellow and will try and dominate any size of a dog. I have a friend who has a Cane Corso a very large dog and my little Lucky would try to dominate him all the time, thankfully my friend’s dog is very passive, if not Lucky would have been gone in the blinking of an eye and one bite!

Cane Corso

Which of These Dogs is Best for an Apartment


So which of these two dogs would be the best choice for someone living in an apartment?

Both the Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso will adapt easily to living in an apartment, both of these dogs enjoy human company. Being in close contact with adults and children will have no adverse effect on their characters. The Shih Tzu being the better choice if you have very small children. These two breeds are small as stated above and they do not need much exercise, so two laps around the block should keep them in shape and not Overweight.

Of the two dogs it is the Shih Tzu that does not bark very much and would be the better choice from these two breeds to have for an apartment. A Lhasa Apso would be perfect as your sentinel guard dog who would alert you if anybody approaches your apartment door.

Is There a Difference in Their Popularity

Both these dogs are wonderful companions giving 100-percent love and loyalty to their masters. So which of these two little bundles of fur is the most popular? According to the American Kennel Club, the Shih Tzu is in 20th place which is quite some feat considering there are 194 registered dog breeds in the United States of America. Well done Shih Tzu because you are more popular than the Lhasa Apso who is in the 71st position. That’s making the Shih Tzu more popular and better well-known than the Lhasa Apso. I personally don’t mind because that means I have a rare dog: -))

My Conclusion

The research I have carried out and posted for you here I hope will help you discern the difference between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso. I personally have learned from doing this research and will be able to discern the difference much more quickly and easily now.  Thank you for reading my post this far. You could also take a look at my Youtube channel. Where you can learn all about the Lhasa Apso.







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