Are Lhasa Apsos Smart Dogs? (2024)

A Lhasa Apso with a short haircut lying on the grass.

The Lhasa Apso is a beautiful and adorable dog traditionally associated with Tibetan monasteries.

These dogs are not known for being easy to train, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart. 

Are Lhasa Apsos smart dogs? Lhasa Apsos are generally considered to be very intelligent, although they may not choose to devote their intelligence to pleasing you. These are independent dogs that rely on their own smarts rather than their humans.

Although Lhasa Apsos are indeed intelligent, their past and way of doing things may cause their intelligence to be demonstrated differently than for other dogs.

Understanding this will help you be more patient and successful when it comes to training this beautiful little dog.

Why Lhasa Apsos Are Smart Dogs

The Lhasa Apso is not as trainable as some other breeds, which may lead some people to perceive them as less intelligent. However, trainability does not correlate with intelligence. 

Lhasa Apso needed to think independently and make their own decisions to excel as sentinels in Tibetan monasteries and palaces.

It wasn’t up to a human to tell them from where a threat may approach or how to position themselves to see or smell approaching danger.

It was up to the Lhasa Apso to make good decisions to help him perform well in his job. 

This independence persists in the breed today. The Lhasa Apsos that we have in America are descended from dogs given as gifts by the 14th Dalai Lama in the 1940s.

These dogs still retain most of their instincts. They have their own minds, and while they are very loyal and loving with their families, it is not their primary goal to serve people but to alert them.

How Lhasa Apsos Demonstrate Intelligence

Your Lhasa Apso may not follow you around offering adorable tricks that make it clear how smart he is, but if you observe his behavior, you will see very clear demonstrations of intelligence.

Entertaining Themselves

Lhasa Apsos tend to excel at entertaining themselves. They don’t need you or another dog to provide an outlet for their energy and intellect.

Lhasa Apsos love playing with toys by themselves, exploring environments, and generally keeping themselves happy when you are occupied.

Alert Dogs

Lhasa Apsos had the primary job of being alert dogs when they lived in monasteries and palaces, and they are still excellent alert dogs today.

You may find that your Lhasa Apso perches himself on a high place so that he can see everything that is going on out of a window or across your property. 

They’re often excellent at positioning themselves to take in smells on the wind. You’ll likely find that an intruder rarely gets past your Lhasa Apso.

Tricks and Obedience Training

Contrary to the popular notion that Lhasa Apsos are very difficult to train, they actually learn very quickly when properly motivated.

You will be amazed by how rapidly your dog masters tricks and obedience training when he wants to. Getting him to do it when you want him to is another question entirely.

How to Train Your Lhasa Apso

It is not at all impossible to train your Lhasa Apso. Your dog can learn to do all kinds of things very quickly with his sharp intelligence.

The key to training Lhasa Apsos is to motivate them properly. 

This is not a dog that will work just to please you or who will do something just because you want him to.

Lhasa Apsos can be incredibly stubborn, especially if you try to force them to do anything.

Motivating a Lhasa Apso

Every dog is motivated by different things, and no dog is motivated by only one thing.

The more motivators you can find, the more likely you’ll be to get your dog to behave when you want him to. Here are some motivations that can work well:


Like many dogs, Lhasa Apsos can be very food motivated. Be careful using too many food rewards, as Lhasa Apsos gain weight easily with even slight overfeeding.

Protein is much better than fat, since this breed needs lots of protein to support their heavy coat.


It is much easier to train your Lhasa Apso if you make the training into a game.

These are fun-loving dogs who enjoy challenging themselves with something new, so if you can make learning fun for them, you might find that they learn very easily.

New Experiences 

Lhasa Apsos tend to be very curious and love having new experiences, so the opportunity to do something new or go somewhere they haven’t been before can be a powerful motivator.

Be careful that you don’t frustrate your Lhasa Apso by holding back an experience as a training technique.

However, asking for behavior from your dog and rewarding with a new experience can be a good way to train and motivate.

Is It Difficult to Train a Lhasa Apso Not to Bark?

Historically Lhasa Apsos have been sentinal dogs, so it should come as no surprise that they tend to be very prone to barking.

They do not bark indiscriminately but are very likely to bark if they think that somebody is coming too close to your home. 

It can be very difficult to train your Lhasa Apso not to practice this instinct, as it was one of the essential functions of this dog for thousands of years.

You can, however, train your dog what kind of stimulus is deserving of alert and reduce the time that they spend alerting.

What Can a Lhasa Apso Do?

For a dog that needs to be properly motivated to perform, it is surprising how many things Lhasa Apsos are good at.

When properly motivated, it seems that there isn’t much this dog can’t do. Here are a few things that you may enjoy training your dog to do:


Lhasa Apso are agile, graceful little dogs who can do very well in agility.

Because they tend to be on the short side, they can be a great addition to a team in rally sports, lowering the jumps for the whole team in their weight class.

Scent Work 

These dogs don’t have the best sniffers in the dog kingdom, but they have the focus and the interests in new experiences to excel in scent work.


Retrieving may not come naturally to a Lhasa Apso, but once introduced to the sport, many adore it.

This can be a great way to exercise your dog and reward him at the same time.


Many people are surprised to learn that Lhasa Apsos can be herding dogs for small livestock like chickens or ducks.

In their native Tibet, keeping track of small livestock may sometimes have been one of their jobs. They have the balanced prey drive to be good herders.

Therapy Dogs 

Because Lhasa Apsos are often less than very friendly with new people in the home, many people incorrectly assume that they don’t do well with new people in new environments.

In fact, Lhasa Apsos often leave their reservations about new people at home. They can be excellent therapy dogs with their bold and outgoing nature.

Do Lhasa Apso Make Good Service Dogs?

Lhasa Apsos can be great therapy dogs because they tend to be outgoing and enjoy meeting new people outside of a home environment.

However, they generally don’t have the sort of constant dedication to their owner that is required of a service dog.

Lhasa Apsos want to obey on their own terms and only when properly motivated, which is not desirable in a service dog who needs to perform whenever necessary.

Related Questions:

Do Lhasa Apsos Like Other Animals?

Lhasa Apso have occasionally historically been used for herding, and they may show a herding instinct, especially around groups of smaller animals, like chickens or ducks.

These dogs are generally quite amicable and get along with other dogs and cats when appropriately socialized. 

They may show prey drive with very small animals like rabbits and rodents.

In general, this dog’s independent intelligence tends to make them well suited to figuring out how to get along well with other animals.

Are Lhasa Apso Difficult to Groom?

Lhasa Apsos have a very thick, lush coat that grows until it sweeps the floor. Maintaining such a coat can be challenging.

Most owners choose to cut their dogs’ coat in a short style that is easier to maintain. When kept short, the coat only requires brief brushing every couple of days to avoid mats. 

When kept long, extensive brushing will be required. If this process is not pleasant for your dog, you can expect your clever Lhasa Apso to find all kinds of ways to evade grooming.

It’s best to break grooming up into briefer segments and always provide plenty of positive reinforcement.