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

Kyi-Leo dogs are considered to be low-shedding breeds due to their long, silky hair that tends to stay attached to the hair shaft, rather than falling out and spreading around the home. This makes them a popular choice for people with allergies or those who prefer minimal shedding.

Despite being low-shedding, Kyi-Leo dogs still require regular grooming to keep their coat healthy and free of tangles. It’s essential to brush their coat at least a few times a week to prevent matting and remove any loose hair. In addition, regular baths and trimming of the hair around their eyes, ears, and paws will help maintain a clean and healthy coat.

Keep in mind that individual dogs may have different shedding patterns based on factors such as genetics, health, and environment. Always consult with a veterinarian if you have concerns about your dog’s shedding or overall health.

Health and lifespan

The Kyi-Leo is a small dog breed, and like most small breeds, they generally have a longer lifespan compared to larger dogs. On average, a healthy Kyi-Leo can be expected to live between 12 to 15 years. However, individual lifespans can vary depending on factors such as genetics, overall health, diet, and the quality of care they receive.

To ensure a long and healthy life for your Kyi-Leo, it’s important to provide them with proper nutrition, regular exercise, and routine veterinary check-ups. Good dental care and grooming are also essential to maintain their overall health. Additionally, ensuring that your Kyi-Leo is up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite prevention measures will help protect them from common health issues.

Kyi-Leo dogs, like all breeds, can be prone to certain health issues. Although generally considered a healthy breed, it is essential to be aware of potential health concerns and to monitor your dog’s health closely. Some of the common health issues that can affect Kyi-Leos include:

  1. Patellar luxation: This is a common issue in small dog breeds, where the kneecap (patella) can slip out of its normal position. Mild cases may not require treatment, but severe cases can lead to discomfort, pain, and mobility issues, potentially necessitating surgery.
  2. Hip dysplasia: This is a genetic condition in which the hip joint does not develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain over time. Regular check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent or manage this condition.
  3. Eye problems: Kyi-Leos can be prone to various eye issues, such as cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and retinal dysplasia. Regular eye exams can help detect these conditions early on.
  4. Dental issues: Small breeds like the Kyi-Leo often have crowded teeth, making them more susceptible to dental problems, including periodontal disease and tooth decay. Regular dental cleanings and brushing can help maintain good oral health.
  5. Allergies: Some Kyi-Leos may suffer from allergies, which can manifest as skin irritations or digestive issues. Identifying and eliminating the cause of the allergy can help manage the symptoms.
  6. Ear infections: Due to their floppy ears, Kyi-Leos can be prone to ear infections. Regular ear cleaning and keeping the ears dry can help prevent infections.

Exercise needs

Kyi-Leo dogs are an energetic and playful breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Although their exercise needs are not as high as those of larger or more active breeds, they still require daily activity to stay healthy and happy.

A typical exercise routine for a Kyi-Leo may include:

  1. Daily walks: Kyi-Leos enjoy going for walks and should be taken on at least one 20-30 minute walk per day. This helps to keep them fit and satisfies their curiosity about the environment.
  2. Playtime: Kyi-Leos are playful dogs that love engaging in interactive games with their owners. Playing fetch, tug-of-war, or other similar games can be a fun way to bond with your dog while providing them with physical activity.
  3. Mental stimulation: In addition to physical exercise, Kyi-Leos benefit from mental stimulation. Providing them with puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, or teaching them new tricks can help keep their minds sharp and prevent boredom.
  4. Socialization: Kyi-Leos are social dogs that enjoy interacting with other dogs and people. Visiting dog parks or arranging playdates with other dogs can be a great way for your Kyi-Leo to expend energy and learn proper social skills.

It’s important to monitor your Kyi-Leo’s energy levels and adjust their exercise routine accordingly. Younger, more energetic dogs may require more activity, while older dogs or those with health issues may need a more moderate exercise regimen.

Training and intelligence

Kyi-Leo dogs are generally considered intelligent and quick learners, thanks to the combination of their parent breeds, the Lhasa Apso and the Maltese. Both parent breeds are known for their intelligence and responsiveness to training, which is inherited by the Kyi-Leo.

This breed’s intelligence makes them relatively easy to train, and they can quickly pick up on new commands and tricks. They also possess a good problem-solving ability, which means they can be adept at figuring things out and navigating their environment.

Kyi-Leos are also known for their social intelligence, which means they can be quite intuitive and sensitive to the emotions and needs of their owners. This makes them excellent companions and well-suited for therapy or emotional support roles.

However, it’s important to remember that intelligence can vary among individual dogs, and training methods, socialization, and consistency play a significant role in shaping a dog’s cognitive abilities. To help your Kyi-Leo reach their full intellectual potential, provide them with mental stimulation, positive reinforcement during training, and regular socialization with other dogs and people.

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