The following short piece was submitted and printed in the "Breedlines" section of the November, 2003 issue of Dogs in Canada.
The Lhasa Apso is regarded by many as difficult to train for obedience. Because I have lived with many Lhasas for over 20 years, and because I have trained a great many of these terrific little dogs, I must say that I haven’t found this to be the case. After working with many, achieving numerous class wins or placements, and scoring “High in Trial’s” on two of them, my experience suggests that these dogs are generally smart, trainable and quite capable of working with both style and precision.
The first dog I trained in 1982 was a Lhasa Apso named “Boots.” The classes I took him to were very traditional in their approach and training was based on praise and corrections. Boots was treated no differently than any of the other dogs and at the end of the course we went to our first trial where he took a second in class. Over the years since I have gone on to become an ‘all breed’ trainer while continuing to train our Lhasas. Even though some of my methods have changed somewhat over the years, I have always applied the same techniques to the Lhasas that I use with any other breed.
I have found Lhasas work best in the presence of strong and consistent leadership, expectations that are based on clear direction, and definite well-timed consequences. Regardless of the training techniques one uses, Lhasas need to know when they are right and when they are wrong. I use a balanced approach that includes both positive reinforcement and correction. Very early on the reinforcement will be small treats but this will quickly be replaced with praise and affection. The aversive element will mostly be in the form of collar and leash corrections.
The greatest obstacle to training Lhasas, in my opinion, is their size coupled with the romantic notions held by some of their owners. For such a small dog, they have very big hearts and they (unlike many of their owners) seem to have no trouble seeing past their own small size. See the Lhasa for who he really is, meet the real inhabitant of that furry little body, and he’ll happily work for you; fall into the trap of not looking past his cute exterior and he’ll simply work you.