What to Know About Tibetan Spaniels

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on June 13, 2022
8 min read

The Tibetan Spaniel — or Tibbie, as called affectionately — is a non-sporting dog breed from Tibet. Often described as a large dog in a small dog's body, they make great watchdogs as well as excellent bed dogs. These dogs can easily be trained to match their steps with their owner's. So, if you're looking for a pet that you can take for jogs and long walks, the Tibetan Spaniel may be an ideal choice for you.

Physical characteristics. Tibbies are well-balanced dogs with compact bodies. The size of Tibetan Spaniels is similar to that of the Shih Tzu and Maltese breeds. They are about 10 inches tall and weigh anywhere from 9 to 15 pounds. The lifespan of Tibetan Spaniels usually ranges from 12 to 15 years. 

The eyes and ears are these dogs' most defining features. Well-set in their domed head, their large, oval-shaped eyes are expressive and reflect intelligence. Many people find them cute and adorable, thanks to their short muzzle, noticeable chin, droopy ears, and fluffy tail that curls beautifully over their back. 

Dogs of this breed have two coats — a medium-length, silky outer coat with longer fur and a soft undercoat for warmth. Long fringes of hair cover their feet as well as their front and rear legs. But in females, known for having a shawl-like coat around their shoulders, the fringes on the legs are lesser. In comparison, males have a lusher coat and a distinct "lion's mane" covering their neck and shoulders. 

Temperament. The personality of Tibetan Spaniels is bright and social. They crave human companionship and don't like to be left alone, which is why you shouldn't leave them in a kennel. Though they are loving and devoted to their family and friends, they can be reserved around strangers. Known for their sensitive nature, these dogs are always eager to please. You'd be surprised at how well they can sense your mood and respond to your feelings. 

At times, the temperament of Tibetan Spaniels can seem stubborn and willful. But despite their independent streak, they can be trained fairly well. As the original watchdogs of Tibetan monasteries, they have a habit of staying alert. With these dogs as your pet, you can be assured that whenever there's any unusual arrival or event, they'll bark and warn you beforehand.

GroomingTibbies don't need much trimming, except for the hair at the bottom of their paws. Regular bathing and brushing can keep their coat clean and healthy. Besides the area behind their areas, the rest of their coat is not prone to matting. This is the area that you need to comb the most. To help during shedding, which can happen any time of the year, bathing and conditioning are enough. If you take your dog to a groomer, make sure they don't cut the hair between the legs or on the belly. 

When it comes to Tibetan Spaniels, it's best to train them to get used to regular nail trimming. Start trimming the nails while your dog is still a puppy and check if they need a trim at least once monthly. Other grooming habits that you need to follow include checking their ears for debris at least once a week, giving them a bath roughly every month, and brushing their teeth daily using a toothpaste made specifically for dogs.

ExerciseMake sure to give your pet at least one hour of exercise every day. This doesn't need to be vigorous and could rather include your daily dog walks or any physical activity during the day. For mental stimulation, let your dog play with puzzle toys. Since Tibetan Spaniels are agile and active, they also enjoy many dog sports, like rally, scent work, and obedience challenges.

Training. Tibbies are smart and have an independent mind. At times, you can find them being stubborn and following their own whims despite your orders. To prevent such bad habits from forming, start training them from a very young age. But remember that this breed can be sensitive to rough dog training methods. So, keep your training fun and enjoyable and use positive reinforcement techniques like praise and treats while instructing your pet. 

Tibetan Spaniels are also prone to separation anxiety. So, make sure there's somebody home most of the day to take care of them. If that's not possible, you might have to give them some extra training so that they feel comfortable when alone. You can talk to a professional dog trainer to help you with this.

Diet and nutrition. Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water. As for food, feed your dog high-quality, nutritionally balanced meals roughly twice per day. Try to find food that's made specifically for small breeds and is appropriate to your dog's age. Talk to your vet to figure out the ideal amount and the type of diet you should be feeding your dog. 

Also, remember that Tibetan Spaniels can become overweight. So, be mindful of the treats you use during training and any other extra food you give them during the day. Overfeeding them can lead to obesity

Medical care. Like other dog breeds, Tibbies can get viral and bacterial infections like rabies, distemper, and parvo. Then pests like ear mites, ticks, and fleas can infest their skin and ears, while worms like roundworms, heartworms, whipworms, and hookworms can get inside their bodies. Your vet can prevent most of these problems by vaccinating and regularly testing your dog.

Tibbies are usually a healthy and hardy breed. But like other small dogs, they can be prone to hereditary conditions. This makes it important for every breeder to screen their stock for medical issues before handing them to their new owners.  

These are some of the health problems of Tibetan Spaniels that you should check before bringing a puppy home.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). This genetic eye condition can damage the retina of your pet's eye and cause blindness. Currently, putting dogs through the annual Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) exam is the only way for breeders to know if the animals in their stock are affected.

Cherry eyeThis condition causes your dog’s third eyelid or nictitating membrane — the tissue hidden in the corner of the eye that produces tears — to swell up and appear as a red bump. In some cases, you can reduce the swelling by applying light pressure on the corner of your dog's eye when they close their eyes. In other instances, your veterinarian may suggest surgery. 

Patellar luxation. This is a congenital condition in which the kneecaps temporarily slip out of place. While it’s generally not a big cause for concern, in some cases, your pet may require surgery. Your veterinarian can test if your dog has this problem. 

Portosystemic shunt. Also known as liver shunt, this genetic condition impacts the way blood flows through and/or around your dog's liver. At present, "bile acid testing" is the only way breeders can find out the state of their dogs' liver health.

Hip dysplasiaThis condition can cause the ball and socket joint of your dog's hip to become deformed. Your veterinarian can diagnose it through an X-ray and may suggest surgery in extreme cases.  

Hernia. Tibetan Spaniels can have different kinds of hernia — bulging of an internal organ through an abnormal opening. The most common types are umbilical, inguinal, and scrotal hernia. Generally, a veterinarian can treat these conditions while spaying or neutering your pet. 

Weather-related problems. Hot weather can trigger overheating and respiratory problems in Tibbies. They also have a tendency to get allergies in the spring and summer. 

The Tibetan Spaniel is an undemanding breed that can adapt to any kind of home. Due to their watchdog origins, they like to sit on a high lookout point like a window sill to observe their territory. But they also make great bed dogs and would be happy to cuddle with you as you sleep. The only thing you need to have in your house is a secure fenced yard for them. Since they're a playful and energetic breed, they would love to run around in your yard.

When it comes to living with kids, you need to train both the dog and the children on how to interact with each other safely. It's common for small children to mistake small and cuddly dogs for toys, which can in turn cause the dogs to react violently. This is why Tibbies are better-suited for families with older children who can handle them responsibly. Since this breed is sensitive to harsh treatment, they might find the handling of young children a bit too rough. 

Even after training them, you should supervise the interaction between these dogs and young children and never leave them alone with one another. 

Tibbies can be wary of strangers due to their protective instinct. If not trained from puppyhood, this can trigger alert barking. To make them comfortable around people, let them have lots of positive interactions with strangers from a young age. 

Since they are a non- hypoallergenic breed, follow steps like talking with your doctor and keeping a regular pet grooming schedule to keep allergies at bay. 

Tibetan Spaniels are an ancient dog breed that's still considered sacred in some parts of the world. They first appeared in Eastern artwork that dates all the way back to 1100 B.C., which makes the breed over 3,000 years old. While some experts believe them to be the ancestors of the Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Japanese Chin, and Pug, it's still not clear how old these dogs are.

As their name suggests, this breed originated in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet. Buddhist monks and lamas bred these dogs and kept them in monasteries as watchdogs and companions. They were the perfect lookouts, thanks to their sharp hearing and eyesight. Sitting on the high monastery walls, the alert Tibetan Spaniels would bark a warning to their larger cousin — the Tibetan Mastiff — whenever they sensed a potential danger.

Tibbies held such a high value for the monks that they even called them "lion dogs" or "little lions." These are titles of great honor since Buddhists consider lions sacred. Legend has it that these dogs were never sold. Tibbies left the monasteries only as prized gifts to close friends and royalty. In Tibet, these dogs were called "Simkhyi" — meaning room dog, house dog, or bedroom dog.

The misnomer "spaniel," which became a part of their name later, was inspired by the French term "epagneul." During the Middle Ages, this word meant a comforter and a companion dog — things admired by the ladies of the Oriental and European courts. 

While Tibbies were brought to England in the late 1800s, they weren't bred much until after World War II. It was in 1966 that these dogs were first imported to the United States. 

Within the next few years, other major events took place, like the formation of the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America in 1971, with 14 charter members. Over a decade later, in 1984, the American Kennel Club accepted the Tibetan Spaniel as a breed, following which they became eligible to compete as a non-sporting dog breed. In 1987, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognized the breed and placed it in Group 9: Companion and Toy Dogs, Section 5: Tibetan breeds.