Tibetan Spaniel

Tibetan Spaniel dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Tibetan Spaniel originated in Asia and was bred to become a companion dog for Buddhist monks. Because he looked like a little lion, he was considered as a symbol for Buddha’s regality, strength, and power, and thus was presented as a gift to ambassadors from other Buddhist countries. He probably has the same ancestors as the Pekingese, Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Terrier, and the Pug. The breed is intelligent, affectionate, independent, occasionally stubborn, and he loves being around his family.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Companion Dogs
Height:Generally 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:Generally 9 to 15 pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

Tibetan Spaniels used to watch over monasteries and alert the monks if ever anyone approaches. They were also trained to spin prayer wheels, and at night, they would sleep with the monks and give them warmth. It was in the 1890s that the first of the breed arrived in the Western part of the world, and the person responsible for this was Mrs. McLaren Morris who brought one to England. In 1947, the breed grew in number, and by 1958, the Tibetan Spaniel Association was founded. In the United States, the first litter was born in 1965 from parents who were imported from Tibet by a Mr. Harrington.

They can be easily trained. However, because of their independent and stubborn nature, they might not always follow commands especially when they’re not in the mood to. Training them in as early as their puppyhood will provide the best results.

Their ideal weight is 9 to 15 pounds, while the ideal height is 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder. They have a double coat which can come in an assortment of colors.

These dogs enjoy being with people and are best kept in homes where there is always someone to be with them. They must not be left alone for a long period of time because they can chew off your things and bark continuously.

Main Highlights
  • The Tibetan Spaniel was bred to be a companion dog to Buddhist monks.
  • The breed is an intelligent one, although his independence can lead him to become stubborn occasionally.
  • They are better with children than other small breeds, but it is still important to handle them with care as they can be prone to injury.
  • Despite his independence, this dog still craves for his family’s attention.
  • Although affectionate with his family, he can be aloof with or wary of strangers.
  • They are low-shedders and would only need twice or thrice a week brushing to get rid of loose hair.
Breed History

The roots of the Tibetan Spaniel can be traced back in Asia, specifically in China and Tibet. It was in China and Tibet that small dogs with pushed-in noses and glorious coats have been seen centuries back.

It can be said that they were bred and used by monks before to watch over the monastery and alert them if anyone approaches. They were also trained to spin prayer wheels, and slept with the monks in the night to keep them warm.

They have rich fur around their neck, and this makes them look like miniature lions. Because of their lion-like appearance, they were regarded as symbols of Buddha since lions embody Buddha’s regality, strength, and power. This made the breed a popular one.

They were often given to dignitaries like ambassadors as presents. It was through this gesture that the breed was able to reach China, Japan, and other Buddhist countries, where they probably bred with other dogs their size. They also probably share ancestry with the Pekingese, Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Terrier, and the Pug. Those who were bred by the villagers came in different types and sizes. The smaller puppies, considered as the most precious, were given to monasteries as presents.

By the 1890s, Tibetan Spaniels were already being bred in the United Kingdom. The first of the breed who set foot in England was brought by Mrs. McLaren Morris. By the 1920s, more of the breed came to England, but were unfortunately almost wiped out entirely because of the World War II. In 1947, though, the breed grew in number again in England. It was in 1958 that the Tibetan Spaniel Association was established, and it was in 1960 when the breed was acknowledged by England’s Kennel Club.

The first litter in the United States was born in 1965 from parents imported from Tibet by a certain Mr. Harrington. However, it was because of Leo Kearns, a sexton in Connecticut, that the breed became popular. Kearns had a Tibetan Spaniel and his parishioners were quite fond of her. Kearns then imported a male, and the puppies of the two dogs found their way to other homes. Among those homes was Mrs. Jay Child’s. Mrs. Child made sure to establish the breed in the Unites States, and in 1971, the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America was founded, with her as president. In 1984, the breed had been recognized by the American Kennel Club.


On the average they stand at around 9 to10 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh around 9 to 15 pounds.

Personality and Character

The Tibetan Spaniel is a very intelligent breed and is very much interested in what’s going on in the outside world. He would probably stare out the windows and watch whatever passes by. And to do so, he’ll find a way to climb couches, tables, or any other surface which will allow his curiosity to be satisfied. Apart from this pastime, the Tibetan he also loves showing his affection for his family, and would usually jump into their laps and kiss their faces. He is also independent and agile, and thus can be compared to a cat.

The dog is a strong-minded problem solver who, with his independence, usually relies on his own skills to get what he wants. He is also lively and playful and loves receiving attention from his family. The breed has been developed to become a companion dog for monks. Because of this, he is good with empathy and is usually sensitive to the moods and feelings of his human. He also hates being alone for a long period of time. Being a social dog, he craves for attention and contact with his family. He can develop separation anxiety if locked out or left all by himself. If this happens, you can expect him to chew and mess up your things, as well as annoy other people with his constant barking.

This dog is not too excited when it comes to strangers. He doesn’t like being randomly picked up or swooped down on by people he’s not familiar with. This means that he can be a good watch dog. However, if your house is usually filled with new friends and people, it would be best to socialize your dog while he’s still a puppy for him to have a sociable and outgoing attitude. Socializing him doesn’t guarantee though that he’ll be all chummy and affectionate to strangers when he grows up. The breed is protective of his family, and would generally be aloof to strangers. If he is threatened or startled, he will usually respond with loud barking.

While it is true that this dog can be independent and stubborn, it is also important to know that he has sensitive feelings. This means that obedience training should be accompanied by food and praise, and should be done in a firm but loving manner. A great deal of patience is required from the owner because sometimes, because of his independence, he might go someplace else and try to discover more things instead of coming to his owner when being called.

Health and Potential Problems

The breed is a generally healthy one, but as with any other breed, the Tibetan Spaniel may experience health problems due to his genetics, environment, or other external factors. These are the conditions that you should watch out for if ever you would get one.

  • Patellar Luxation – This is a condition that usually affects small dogs. It happens when the patella which is made up of three parts – the thigh bone, knee cap, and tibia – is not aligned. The affected dog may experience a lameness in the leg, or an abnormality in his manner of walking. Patellar Luxation already exists upon the birth of the puppy, but the luxation only occurs much later. In some cases, the patellar luxation can lead to arthritis, a disease that affects the joints. There are four stages of patellar luxation. Later stages may need surgery to be treated.
  • Cherry eye – This condition is common among small dogs and is characterized by the prolapse of a gland in the eyelid. The prolapsed gland is generally not painful and does not harm the eye. It can have an unpleasant appearance though, and that is why most owners opt to have it treated. An ointment can be applied to make the gland return to its normal state, but if it doesn’t work, surgery is needed to treat it. The prolapsed gland is responsible for the large part of the production of tears. Removal of the gland may result to the eye being dry, which can damage vision. Fortunately, there is another surgical technique which involves tucking the gland in. It is the more recommended surgery.
  • Portosystemic shunt – This condition, more commonly known as “liver shunt,” is characterized by an abnormal vessel which carries blood around the liver instead of through it. It can be present at birth or developed because of a severe liver disease. The symptoms of this condition can be recognized in the dog’s young adulthood. However, in some cases, it is diagnosed much later. Early diagnosis usually happens when the puppy’s growth is stunted. Signs of the condition include difficulty to gain weight, seizures, vomiting, poor appetite, weakness, frequent drinking and urination, as well as difficulty in balancing. A dog diagnosed with this condition is usually supported with special diets and medication. Surgery is an option, but it requires a veterinarian with lots of experience.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy — In this condition, the eye’s retina deteriorates. This causes the affected dog to have limited vision in the night, and eventually during the day as well. In most cases, affected dogs will be able to adjust to their impaired vision.
Care Features

The Tibetan Spaniel loves being with his humans and is best kept inside a house instead of being locked out in the yard or locked in a kennel. The breed can be stubborn and is fiercely independent, so if you would let him run around in your yard, make sure first that your yard is fenced if you don’t want your dog to just run off and go on with his expeditions. When walking him, it is also a must to keep him on a leash because he has a tendency to not come to you (and instead wander off) when called.

Again, he can be hard-headed, and this means that he may not obey you sometimes. He is very trainable because he is smart and eager to please, but can be prone to ignoring what you say when he’s not in the mood to follow commands. Training must be done early and consistently for it to be successful. Also, you should be firm but loving as this breed has sensitive feelings.

The dog is protective and can be easily startled upon hearing or seeing something strange. He’ll also most probably bark when an unfamiliar face comes to the door. He may go on barking for as long as he’s uneasy, and this may require you to train him to stop barking once he has alerted you already.

The breed needs regular exercise and physical stimulation. He wouldn’t need a lot, though. Running and playing in the yard or daily walks will suffice.

It best to crate-train your dog in order to ensure that your things would not be turned into chew toys once you leave. However, he is prone to separation anxiety and cannot be left alone for a long period of time. He thrives in a home where there is always someone to keep him company.

Feeding Schedule

Recommended daily amount: 3/4 to 1 cup of a high-quality dog food daily, divided into two meals.

This breed can eat different meals including dry and raw ones. He is not a hyperactive dog, hence the amount of food must be monitored because overfeeding may lead to obesity.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Tibetan Spaniel has an outer and under coat. His fur is silky and long at specific parts like the ears, tails, and back of the legs. He has a mane around his neck which is commonly referred to as the “shawl.” The shawl is more prominent in males. The coat on the face and the leg fronts is smooth, and it lies flat.

The coat can come in a lot of different colors. In fact, any color or pattern (solid, shaded, or multi-colored) of the coat is acceptable. However, the most common colors are red, white, cream, black, and tan. Usually, the breed has white markings on his feet.

This dog does not shed that much, and brushing the coat twice or thrice a week will remove loose hair and will prevent tangling or matting. It is recommended to give him a bath at least once every six or eight weeks. His ears must also be checked every week to see if there are signs of infection, irritation, or accumulation of wax. Brushing the teeth to prevent the buildup of tartar and other gum diseases is also important. His toe nails must be clipped once a month, especially if he doesn’t wear them down with physical activities.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Tibetan Spaniel is active and playful and loves to be around children. He is protective of them and can be very affectionate too. He is better with children that other small breeds. Also, because of his alertness, he can keep a watchful eye on the children’s activities, and might even consider himself as a nanny. However, the breed is small and can be susceptible to injury if not handled properly. He would be best with children who are aged at least 6 years old and who know how to treat the dog with care.

As a general rule, children must be taught how to interact with dogs, especially on how to touch and approach them. Supervising interactions between children and dogs is highly advised.

When it comes to other pets such as dogs and cats, this breed is generally friendly and can get along with them quite well. Actually he might even prefer to have another dog as company.

The Tibetan Spaniel is an intelligent and affectionate dog. However, he also has an independent streak and can be occasionally stubborn. Early obedience training is recommended for best results. He is protective of his family and can be a good companion to the elderly as well as to children. He is a good problem-solver and will use his skills to get what he wants. But even though he is independent, he still craves for attention. He thrives best in a house where there is always someone to be with him. If you want a dog who is easy to live with, the Tibetan Spaniel is a good choice.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.