Get to Know the Tibetan Spaniel: The Little Lion of Tibet
No, the Tibetan Spaniel is not a Pekingese. He's a relative, certainly, but he's also distinct breed, thank you. He's the Olympian version of the Pekingese, with longer legs, lighter build, less coat, longer muzzle and smaller head.
More interesting things about the Tibetan Spaniel
- As the name implies, the Tibetan Spaniel hails from the mountains of Tibet.
- This is one of the world's most ancient breeds. In a study of dog skeletons from ancient settlements, Professor Ludwig von Schulmuth determined that the Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog, a small scavenger, gave rise to the Small Soft-Coated Drop-Eared Hunting Dog which then gave rise to the Tibetan Spaniel, Pekingese, and Japanese Chin.
- These breeds are closely related, partly because they were shared back and forth between Tibet, China and Japan as gifts.
- The Tibetan Spaniel's resemblance to lions gave them great value to their Buddhist monks. They sat on the monastery's stone walls and acted as watchdogs, announcing visitors.
- Legend has it the dogs also turned the monks' prayer wheels, although this may be more fancy than fact.
- The Tibetan Spaniel is not a spaniel. At the time it came to Europe, fanciers tended to call any small longhaired companion or lap dog a spaniel.
- Although the breed was known in Britain by the 1890s, it had a slow start. The most prominent breeder had only one dog, Skyid, who survived WWII. Skyid can be found in most modern pedigrees. A concerted breeding effort in Britain only began in the 1940s.
- A taxidermied Tibetan Spaniel from around 1900 is on display in the Tring museum in England.
- The breed did not come to America until the 1960s.
- It became a regular AKC breed in 1984, joining the Non-Sporting group.
- The breed's nickname is "Tibbie."
- No Tibbie has yet won the Non-Sporting group at the Westminster dog show.
- The Tibbie is the 106th most popular AKC breed -- exactly what they were a decade ago!
- Little Kisses, a children's book written by written by Jolie Jones (Quincy Jones' daughter), is about a girl and her Tibetan Spaniel.
- When then-General Pervez Musharraf led a military coup to take over as president of Pakistan, he carried his two Tibetan Spaniels to his first press conference.
- Owners include President Musharraf of Pakistan, Wild Kingdom's Marlin Perkins, Laugh-In's Arte Johnson, and British Horrid Harry book series author Francesca Simon.
- It's often difficult to say for sure if some other celebrities own Tibbies, because poor-quality Pekingese can masquerade as Tibbies from a distance!
- The current Dali Lama is said to own Tibetan Spaniels, but this has not been confirmed.
Do you own a Tibetan Spaniel? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too!
Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.