No, he’s not a tall Pekingese and no. he’s not a Lhasa Apso with a funny haircut! The Tibetan Spaniel is his own dog and one with a rich heritage.
Of course, the Tibbie, as his many fans refer to him, is related to the Pekingese, the Japanese Chin and probably the aforementioned Lhasa Apso. But the Tibetan Spaniel is a distinct and separate breed now, thanks to the hard work of dedicated breeders and champions of their unique characteristics.
Obviously, the Tibetan Spaniel hails from Tibet, where, along with the Pekingese, Buddhist monks carefully guarded the breeding and development of the dogs. Their job was to scramble up to the highest spot above the temples and homes and bark an alarm if anyone approached. With such rugged terrain and scarce resources, visitors were probably viewed with suspicion and a fast alarm allowed time to prepare…for whatever the visit brought!
The Tibetan Spaniel was bred to resemble a lion, with a full ruff around his neck and a tuft at the end of his tail, the Tibbie does bear a resemblance to a lion, well, maybe a stuffed toy of a lion, but the intention is there! In Buddhist culture the lion symbolized the Buddha’s triumph over violence, so dogs which resembled lions were especially desired.
Tibetan Spaniels were given to visitors from other lands and in exchange the Buddhist monks received small dogs from the dignitaries. This brought in new bloodlines and allowed the monks to breed for specific traits. Even though the people of the land had dogs from the monks, the smallest and most lion-like were always given back to the monks, while the larger dogs were kept to work the farms and hunt. I can see the Chow and the Chinese Shar-Pei having some DNA mixed in here.
Mrs. McLaren Morris brought the first Tibetan Spaniel to England in the last 1800s. While popular, they were never the rage like the Pekingese, see what royal buzz will do, thanks to Queen Victoria’s fascination with the Peke, that breed soared in popularity. Like so many dog breeds, its numbers fell dramatically during World War II. A handful of dedicated breeders imported fresh bloodlines and the breed was brought back to acceptable numbers after the war.
In 1965 the Tibetan Spaniel made its way to the United States and thanks to a handful of devoted breeders the Tibbie had a home in the USA. The first known litter in the United States was born in 1965 and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America was founded in 1971, with full AKC acceptance following in 1984.
Pictured above is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Episcopal Bishop Walter Decanter Dennis with two Tibetan Spaniels.