The Kyi-Leo

You don’t see Kyi-Leos every day, that’s for sure, and you’ll likely to have to invest some time and effort if you want to welcome one into your family. This fairly uncommon crossbreed originated as the result of a union between two well-known and much-loved toy dogs: the Lhasa Apso and the Maltese. It’s an intriguing mix from both the visual and the temperament standpoints.

(Note: The Kyi-Leo is an established breed that’s distinct from the widely seen hybrids of Lhasa Apsos and Maltese known as Lhatese. A Kyi-Leo is the product of the mating of two Kyi-Leos, while a Lhatese may be bred from pure Lhasa Apsos and/or Maltese as well as Lhasa Apso/Maltese mixes or some combination thereof.)

Picture of a beautiful Kyi-Leo dog sitting on grass

The Kyi-Leo dog breed


The first Kyi-Leos were bred in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s following an accidental Lhasa Apso/Maltese mixing. A breeder named Harriet Linn particularly began proliferating and promoting the crossbreed in the 1960s, and early in the following decade its burgeoning popularity led to its official naming as the Kyi-Leo. “Kyi” comes from the Tibetan word for dog – a nod to the Lhasa Apso parentage – while “Leo” is Latin (in a nod to the Maltese side of things) for “lion”. You’ll sometimes here the Kyi-Leo called the Maltese Lion Dog, which echoes the Lhasa Apso’s regal alternate label as the Tibetan Lion Dog.

The Kyi-Leo is recognized by the American Rare Breed Association (in its Group Nine, which also includes the Lhasa Apso and the Maltese).

The Kyi-Leo is thus quite a recent dog breed, but its ancestral lineages are ancient: The Lhasa Apso and the Maltese are among the oldest known dog breeds, in fact. The “Tibetan Lion Dog” has long patrolled the Buddhist monasteries of Tibet, while the Maltese, which arose in the Mediterranean, is mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman texts.


The Kyi-Leo stands some 9 to 12 inches at the shoulder and weighs anywhere from eight to 14 pounds.

Its defining feature is its lush and silky coat, which most often comes in a bold black-and-white pattern (with some graying of the dark patches with age). Its long-haired tail curls up over the backside, and the head comes heavily furred and bearded with drop ears.

The Kyi-Leo is a bit longer than it is tall with slim and fairly delicate limbs, the hind legs a bit longer than the forelegs.

Personality and temperament

The Kyi-Leo temperamentally is a bit of a mix of Maltese and Lhasa Apso (unsurprisingly), with occasional flashes of the latter’s stubbornness and suspiciousness of strangers. Indeed, many Kyi-Leos are downright shy around those they don’t know or in unfamiliar environments. Like a Maltese, however, the Kyi-Leo tends to be playful and peppy with its family – an exuberance that can even border on the clownish. It’s not particularly known for separation anxiety, something that Maltese sometimes suffer from.

Kyi-Leos may be suitable housemates with children, but given their small size and fragile legs they’re vulnerable to injury from roughhousing or being dropped, so definitely use your discretion.

Like both of their parent breeds, Kyi-Leos are alert little critters that make good watchdogs, though otherwise they’re not particularly barky.

Shedding / grooming

The Kyi-Leo isn’t a major shedder, but requires brushing and combing several times a week to prevent matting in the coat as well as trimming potentially every month or so.

Health and lifespan

A Kyi-Leo will typically live between 13 and 15 years. They don’t suffer from significant health issues, although patellar luxation – the kneecap slippage often seen in small dogs – is something to screen for.

Exercise needs

This lapdog doesn’t have intense energy requirements. Give it daily walks and play sessions (which it’ll probably eagerly initiate indoors anyhow), and it should be content to otherwise kick back in leisure with you.

Training and intelligence

In general, Kyi-Leos will respond well to training and exhibit quick learning as long as you use positive reinforcement, keep exercises interesting, and maintain consistency. The Lhasa Apso stubborn streak may rear its head occasionally, especially if the Kyi-Leo is becoming bored with the training routine. Because of a tendency toward timidity, meanwhile, early socialization is very important with the “Maltese Lion Dog.”

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