Impossible Dreams

 

It has become apparent that we have a problem concerning the rib cage of the Lhasa Apso.

 

The standard did ask for a dog that was Ďwell ribbed upí, meaning that the ribcage should extend well back towards the pelvis region if the dog. This is necessary in order to accommodate the lungs which need to expand well in order to breathe properly in the oxygen depleted atmosphere of Tibet, the home country of our dogs.

However, it appears people, for whatever reason, have been breeding the Lhasa Apso in order to gain a short back. Our standard makes it very clear that the Lhasa Apso is NOT a short backed dog. No where does it ask for a short back. The word Ďcompactí that is employed in the standard is in reference to the fact that an Apso is a solid well muscled dog with good bone, packed into a small body. You get a lot of dog in small package. An Apso feels much heavier than one would expect for a dog itís size. Another word, though not used in the standard, that is often used to describe the Apso is Ďcobbyí. This word means the same as compact and comes from the horse world. A Welsh Cob is a compact horse-small but well packed with bone and muscle.

The standard does make it clear that a rectangular shaped dog is required when it states clearly that the Apso should be longer than tall. It would not then also say that it should be short backed by using the word compact in the way many have misinterpreted it to mean.

 

Now back to the ribcage-of course ribcages have become too short. They have no where to go. One cannot breed for a short back and also have an elongated rib cage. The ribs are attached to the 13 vertebrae that form the thoracic region of the spine. No breeding plan will alter the number of ribs or vertebrae. It is fixed.

Selection in breeding can alter the length of these vertebrae but not in isolation. Attached at the front of the section are the 7 neck vertebrae and attached at the rear are the 7 loin vertebrae. These sections are dependent upon each other. One cannot breed for longer neck vertebrae without also breeding for a longer thoracic region and loin region. The length of these vertebrae are proportional to each other. The shorter one section is, the shorter the next section will be.

 

For the rib cage to extend back enough to offer the dog the required protection, the angle of the ribs must be such that they reach back. A barrel ribbed dog, has a rib cage that does not angle backwards. A dog with Ďwell sprung ribsí also lacks backward reach of the ribs. So in order to have a ribcage such as is asked for, we need to have the room for it! A short backed dog does not have the room.

 

The 7 vertebrae that form the loin are the longest of the vertebrae that form the spine. They start where the rib cage finishes and ends where the pelvis starts. The Lhasa Apso requires a loin of sufficient length to give it the flexibility of itís spine that it requires for the terrain which is itís natural habitat. A short loin takes that flexibility away. Altering the length of these vertebrae alters the length of ALL vertebrae: i.e. loin, neck, and thoracic. One cannot alter one set without altering the other two sets.

 

The Lhasa Apso should not have a short loin.

 

The area between the last rib and thigh is called the flank. It is on the sides of the dog. This area, if the ribs are extending well back, will not be overly long but neither should it be too short or the dog will lose itís ability to move well.

 

The standard also asks for a well laid shoulder. Many have taken this to mean that the static shoulder should have an angle of 45 degrees. However, this restricts dogís movement! Rachel Page Elliot, in her z-ray cinema of dog movement, has shown that the angle of the shoulder blade becomes more horizontal as the dog reaches forward. The blade will move, on a normal moving dog, 15 degrees, so as the dog movesitís front leg forward, the angle of the shoulder blade will become about 30 degrees and when the leg moves backwards, that same angle will increase to 60 degrees. However, if the static angle of the shoulder blade was 60 degrees, the angle formed when moving forward would be 45 degrees and when moving the leg back underneath the dog, the shoulder blade would have an angle of 75 degrees. This allows the dog to make maximum use ofitís forward movement with the least effort. Again, because of the rarefied air and the terrain, the least effort the dog has to put into moving the better.

 

Another important characteristic of our breed is itís hard coat. The standard makes this point very clearly-an Apso coat should be hard. It needs to be because of itís original environment. A soft , voluminous coat is the complete opposite of what is required and is detrimental to the dog in itís native land and is not part of the correct type of a Lhasa Apso.

 

The head description is clear in our standard. It asks that the nose be about one third the total length of head-from tip of nose to occiput. It further asks that the nose be about 1.5 inches long, thus making the total head length about 4.5 inches. Now it says this of a ten inch dog. So a dog of 11 inches in height, in order to keep the correct head ratio, would need to have a head that is 10 per cent bigger, thus having a nose 10 per cent longer. Equally, a bitch of 9.5 inches in height, would need the head length reduced by 5 per cent. A shorter nose, that does not keep to this ratio of 1:2, is NOT wanted on a Lhasa Apso. It would have difficulty in breathing in itís native land.

 

If we fail to understand our standard, or worse, ignore it, we are going to lose this wonderful breed. It will become no more than a hairy small show dog. The signs are very apparent now that this happening. If your preference is for a short backed, short nosed, soft coated dog, it would seem you donít like the Lhasa Apso and would be happier choosing a breed of dog that matches your requirements rather than destroy an ancient and wonderful breed.

 

 

Colin Andersson

Tantra Lhasa Apso