Tibetan Spaniels are one of the delightful breeds that are still somewhat undiscovered. Considered an unusual breed in the United States, they were ranked 121st out of 190 dog breeds with AKC for 2017.
For those who are ready to welcome a small, active, but not TOO active, short-ish to medium coated dog into their lives, the Tibetan Spaniel may be THE ONE.
The Tibetan Spaniel is an ancient breed with its roots in Tibet. As you can tell, they share common ancestors with the Pekingese, the Lhasa Apso and possibly the Japanese Chin.
Buddhist monks bred these little dogs to stand guard in the rocky areas above the temples and bark an alarm. Life in Tibet was, and is, hardscrabble due to the scarcity of natural resources, so being made aware of aggressive visitors was critical to their safety. The Tibetan Spaniel barked the alarm and the Tibetan Mastiff then brought the muscle.
Of course, the Tibbie was also a most excellent bed-warmer and cuddle buddy for the monks.
In Buddhist symbology the lion was the symbol of the Buddha’s triumph over violence, so animals which resembled lions were greatly prized. The Tibetan Spaniel was bred to have a full ruff, like a lion’s mane and a tuft on the tail.
It is said the Tibetan Spaniel was never to be sold, but shared only as a treasure gift. Thus, the Tibetan Spaniel was often gifted to visitors of importance from other countries, which led to their appearance in China and Japan. Of course, dogs from those lands were given to the monks in Tibet and the new infusion of bloodlines helped create a similarity among the Pekingese, Japanese Chin and Tibetan Spaniel breeds.
By the way, the Tibetan Spaniels are not spaniels at all. They were not bred as game dogs, but they did resemble the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and English Toy Spaniels. So when they were exported to the Western world, they were dubbed the Tibetan Spaniel.
In Tibet they were known as Jemtse Apso, which means Scissored Apso. They were also known as Palace Dogs, Nepalese Palace Dogs and Tibetaanse Spaniels. Apso is a Mongolian word which is thought to mean goat-like, which may have been a reference to these dogs unruly coats.
No matter what we call them, the Tibetan Spaniel is a true companion breed, ready to be by your side and sound an appropriate alert, if needed.
Pictured below is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Episcopal Bishop Walter Decanter Dennis with two Tibetan Spaniels.