Shih Tzu dog (left) vs Lhasa Apso dog (right)

Lhasa Apso vs Shih Tzu: what’s the difference between them?

We often get asked about the key differences between the Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu dog breeds. The two dog breeds are often easily confused because they look so similar in appearance.

One of our most asked questions is “is my dog a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso?”. It’s no surprise that people sometimes make mistakes when identifying between the two, however, there are some very obvious things to look out for.

We’ve decided to outline the different points here so you’ll be uncertain no longer!

What is the history of the Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu?

The Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso breed of dogs have an intriguing origin. We discussed this in detail in our curious origins of the Lhasa Apso blog post. In summary, they are believed to have originated in the monasteries of Tibet.

Both breeds were referred to as little lion dogs. It is not known whether the dogs descended from a single breed or not. Many of their similarities are historic in that the Shih Tzu is believed to be descended from the Lhasa Apso.

The Lhasa Apso was favoured within the Buddhist monasteries as a small sentinel dog which would warn about any approaching threat. This is where they get their reputation for being fierce little guard dogs.

They are bolder and more suspicious of strangers than Shih Tzus as a consequence. The Shih Tzu tended to be more playful and affectionate, which makes them more suitable as a companion dog.

What are the differences between the Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu?

It can be extremely difficult to identify accurately one breed from the other.  The technical aspect of the differences can be quite daunting. So we will continue without too many statistics and complicated methodology and concentrate on the things we all see when we compare one dog with the other.

Hair and coat

The most obvious similarity between the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu is their long coat of hair and all round fluffiness. Both breeds are therefore very demanding where grooming is concerned.

Despite this similarity, the coat is actually one of the ways you can tell the breeds apart. Lhasa Apsos are characterised by an obvious side parting of the coat with hair that is straight with black tips on muzzle and ears.

Their coat is heavy with their hair falling over their eyes. The Shih Tzu has a double coat, flowing tresses of long hair with a slight waviness to it.

Facial features

Lhasa Apso dogs have a narrower head and a longer nose with smaller eyes. Shih Tzu’s are characterised by their broader domed skull. Their eyes are larger, rounder and set wider apart.

Another key feature of difference is that Lhasa Apso dogs tend to be fuller in the face, with the muzzle and beard being the main area where this is noticeable.

Size and weight

One of the most noticeable differences is that the Lhasa Apso is bigger than the Shih Tzu. However Lhasa Apsos have a smaller skeletal structure making them look slimmer and more delicate.

The skull of a Lhasa is also more narrow and not domed but it has a longer snout and hairy ears.  Whilst smaller, the Shih Tzu has a strong and sturdy body with a domed skull and a round face.


The most surprising difference between the breeds is in relation to their temperament and personality. If you own one of these dogs you’ll probably be able to distinguish most easily by judging personality.

The Lhasa is a Tibetan watchdog who will always be suspicious of the unknown, whether it is a person or a situation. The breed is deeply devoted to its owners, and when confronted by a stranger the dog will bark loudly in warning and won’t be ignored.

They are happy and fiercely loyal dogs but they can show a slightly aggressive side when challenged. They’re also incredibly stubborn and will often reluctantly follow commands.

Meanwhile, the Shih Tzu is a friendly, playful and affectionate dog. They will readily accept strangers making them less likely to be an effective guard dog. It is a friendly trusting dog used to playing and having fun.

Know your dog

Next time a stranger insists that your Lhasa Apso is a Shih Tzu and vice versa, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to dispel their doubt.

If you’re buying a new puppy, make sure you see mum and pups together. Ask to see all relevant paperwork. All that’s left is to live a happy and fulfilling life with your new best friend.

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  • I have a Lhasa and a Shorkie (Shih and Yorkie mix) and when they are due to have a date at the groomers, they are often thought to be the same breed. Beyond their personality differences, the biggest standout for me is that Lhasa’s are bigger, but due to their smaller skeletal structure they appear slimmer. This is 100% true with my fur babies! More than one trip to the vet scale has had me dumbfounded because I thought for sure Cilly (Shorkie) weighed more than Cole (Lhasa) but every time Cilly weighs less, even if just a few pounds.

    • Hi Randa
      Thank you for writing to us with details of your lovely dogs Cilly the Shorkie and Cole the Lhasa. We love to hear readers comments on our published articles.
      Generally speaking, the Lhasa is marginally heavier than the Shih Tzu even though it has a more delicate frame. It is just that the Lhasa is a slightly bigger dog.
      Thanks again for your contribution

  • Thank you for this helpful article. We sometimes question our dog’s breed because so many websites use the same stock photos but label them not just Lhasa Apso or Shitz Zhu, but also Havanese. Teddy Bear, etc. We adopted her from a family who told us she’s a Lhasa, and our vet agreed. Her size (a consistent 16 pounds), eyes and face shape seem to confirm that. But she almost never barks except at a door bell or snow plow noise, she is incredibly friendly with strangers and children, her hair has a slight wave, and she has no center part. Whatever she is, she’s the best dog ever. :)

  • Yes, we have an older shih tzu, Bebe who will turn 14 in Dec., and Mui Mui, a Lhasa Apso who will turn 7 in August. Both are females, and both are like night and day. As stated in many articles, the differences between the two clearly distinguishes shih tzus’ and Lhasa apsos’ physical, temperament, personality, and breed specific characteristics. Truth be told: we were amazed that
    Mui Mui was advertised as a shih tzu when we bought her, but as she grew, we wondered if she
    were of another breed similar to BeBe. Alas, we are happy to have both as companions, and their
    respective nicknames are ‘Snow White princess’ (BeBe) and Ms Lovely (Mui Mui)!

  • I think my dog might be a cross of a Shih Tzu and a Lhasa Apso. His head is that of a Lhasa Apso and a fine single coat that parts over his head but his fur isn’t dead straight and has a slight wave. People think he is crossed with a bichon but that has been ruled out. Our vet did a full sinspection based on frame, coat etc and he said shih tzu but looking at the photo above, he face is more lhasa. Is it possible to have a Tzu with a more longer snout?

    • Hi there Nicola. Thanks for your reply. It’s always interesting to see when dogs show characteristics of two breeds. A longer snout is usually seen in Lhasa dogs. It’s certainly possible though, to have varying characteristics. I’d say your vet is probably best placed to determine the dog’s breed but it is very easy to get the exact classification wrong. Please feel free to email us at [email protected] and attach a photo.

  • I have Lhasas and while they are certainly sentinel dogs, they are also *quite friendly and eager to play with visitors to our home, even if they’ve never met them before. One person told me almost three years ago that they were thinking about getting a Lhasa but backtracked and said she didn’t want an unfriendly dog. Looking at my batch, I have absolutely NO idea where the ‘unfriendly’ tag comes in!

  • I have Shih tzu with papers stating he is all Shih tzu
    My Shi tzu weighs 18 pound with a sturdy build . From what I have read have read his personality appears to be more Lasa than Shih Tzu and people often think he is a Lada because of his size. My question is can a Shi Tzu inherit Lasa traits since the Shih Tzu breed originated from crossing breeding a Lasa Apso and a Pekeines?

  • I am now on my third generation of Lhasa Apso , not related, and we live together 24/7. My first lived to 19 and my last pair made 16 and 17 and these were litter sisters. My current pair, again litter sisters, are now 7 making 43 years in total. They are great companions loyal and tough. My Molly takes on any perceived threat to me and has never backed down however big or noisy the other breed.

  • We have a lovely 5 year old Shih Tzu called Reg. He has a fantastic temperament and is kind and
    loving. He welcomes strangers after he has checked them out and passed them as safe. He tells me its walk time by sitting in front of me and singing until I get up and say c’mon then walkies at which point he races to the door. He loves a cuddle and a play fight with his toys. He will lie on his back and stretch his legs -back and neck for 5 mins and then invite us to rub his belly and chest whilst moaning and grunting his approval. HE snores and makes noises when he dreams.He goes to bed about 10pm and that it till 8.30-9.00am.

    He’s a wonderful chap and we love him dearly. He is very clever and sometimes I think he thinks he is one step ahead of us !sometimes we know he is.

  • we have had our lhasa apso bitch from 9 weeks old and she is now 18 months old. she is called trixibelle or just trixi to her friends. she is very loyal and friendly,yet quite aloof with strangers when i take her for a walk and she tends to ignore other dogs and if they run up to her she just stands quite still and never growls or snaps but simply waits till they go on their merry way. also after about ten minutes of walking she stands on her back legs nuzzles my hand and takes me back to the car(which she loves riding in, i have never before owned a dog who is so well behaved in a car as trixi). she very rarely barks when away from the house but boy does she like the sound of her own voice when at home. we also have a male tuxedo cat called bing who is a year older than trixi and was with us before trixi was born. hilarious chases and the odd punch up between them but every morning they both rub and kiss each other and even share the odd snack together. im 64 and have congestive heart failure so am at home most of the time and my trixi is my constant daytime and evening best pal.i love her unconditionally.

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