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Get to Know the Tibetan Spaniel: The Little Lion of Tibet

This ancient breed -- like a souped-up Pekingese -- is one of the best-kept secrets of dogdom.

 |  Aug 25th 2014  |   3 Contributions


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.

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Tibetan Spaniels are often mistaken for Pekingese. Tibetan Spaniel reclining by Shutterstock

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.

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Tibetan Spaniels can be black and tan as well as brown. Tibetan Spaniel in the snow by Shutterstock

  • 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.

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Jolie Jones and her Tibetan Spaniel, Bejinhos (which means "little kisses"). Photo by Roe Anne White.

  • 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.

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Tibetan Spaniel with flowers by Shutterstock

  • 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.

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Tibetan Spaniel puppy running by Shutterstock

  • 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!

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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

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