Tibetan Spaniel: Breed Profile, Characteristics, and Care Guide

| Updated: August 19, 2023
Tibetan Spaniel side profile laying on a bench

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a dog with monk-like qualities? Well, there might be one oozing focus and compassion: a Tibetan Spaniel; they just might not do a lot of praying. These adorable dogs have a long and sacred history in Tibet, where Buddhist monks kept them as companions and guardians. Tibetan Spaniels are small, silky, and spirited dogs that make great family pets and watchdogs. They are loyal, lively, and loving dogs that will charm you with their intelligence and personality. This article will tell you everything you need to know about the Tibetan Spaniel breed, including their history, traits, health problems, and care needs.

History of the Tibetan Spaniel

The Tibetan Spaniel has a long and rich history that can be traced back to more than 2000 years ago in Tibet. They were bred by Buddhist monks who valued them for their companionship and their ability to act as watchdogs. They were revered as “little lions” because of their resemblance to the lion statues that guard Buddhist temples. The monks also believed that the dogs could bring good luck and fortune to their owners. The dogs were often given as gifts to nobles and foreign dignitaries, especially in China and other Buddhist countries. Some historians believe that the Tibetan Spaniel was used to create other breeds, such as the Pekingese and the Japanese Chin.

The Tibetan Spaniel was first introduced to Europe in the late 19th century by British travelers who brought them back from their expeditions. However, the breed remained rare and obscure until the 1960s, when more dogs were imported from India and Nepal. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1984, and is currently ranked 121st in AKC breed popularity.

Tibetan Spaniel closeup face picture

Myths and Stories

Naturally, many myths and stories have developed about this breed due to the Tibetan Spaniels’ long and sacred history in Tibet and their relationship with the Buddhist monks and lamas. Here are some of them:

  • Legend has it that Tibetan Spaniels were trained to turn the prayer wheels in the monasteries. Although this legend is doubted, they did serve the monks as companions and bed warmers.
  • Tibetan Buddhists believe that any human, or even perhaps a Buddha, could be reincarnated as a dog, such as a Tibetan Spaniel. Tibetans believe that dogs have an important purpose in spirituality. Tibbies often help lamas with their spiritual practice, sitting next to them or on their laps while they are meditating.
  • Tibetan Spaniels were never sold, only gifted. They left the monasteries of Tibet only as treasured gifts to esteemed friends. Many were given to leaders in China and other Buddhist countries. Some historians believe that the Tibetan Spaniel was used to create other breeds, such as the Pekingese and the Japanese Chin.
  • Tibetan Spaniels had the important job of being lookouts for the monasteries. They would sit atop the monastery walls and bark whenever there was an approaching intruder or visitor. Tibbies in modern homes maintain this instinct, alerting their owners when someone or something approaches.

The Tibetan Spaniel had a critical role in Tibetan culture and spirituality; whether any or none of these are true, they are fascinating nonetheless.

Tibetan Spaniel Physical Appearance

The Tibetan Spaniel is a small but sturdy dog that has a distinctive appearance. The breed has a domed head that is small in comparison to its body and a short blunt muzzle with a slight underbite. The nose is black and the eyes are dark brown, oval, and wide-set. The ears are medium-sized, pendant, and well-feathered.

The Tibetan Spaniel has a silky double coat that lies flat and smooth on the face and leg fronts and is medium in length on the body. The coat has feathering on the ears, toes, and tail. The coat can come in any color or combination of colors but often has white markings on the feet and chest. The most common colors are gold, red, cream, black, black, tan, and sable.

The Tibetan Spaniel’s front legs are slightly bowed and the feet are “hare-like” with long nails. The hind legs are longer than the front legs and have well-developed thighs. The tail is plumed and curls over the back. One of the breed’s most distinctive features is a thick mane around the neck that gives them a “lion-like” appearance.

The Tibetan Spaniel stands about 10 inches at the shoulder and weighs between 9 and 15 pounds. They have a balanced and graceful gait that shows their agility and confidence.

Cream colored Tibetan Spaniel walking in thick snow

Tibetan Spaniel Personality Traits

The Tibetan Spaniel is a friendly and cheerful dog that makes a great companion for anyone who can appreciate their unique personality. They are loyal and loving dogs that bond strongly with their owners, but they also have a sense of independence and confidence that makes them stand out from other breeds. They are not lapdogs or clingy dogs, but they enjoy being close to their family members and participating in their activities. They are also alert and curious dogs that like to observe everything that goes on around them.

They have a natural instinct to guard their territory and warn their owners of any potential threat or visitor. They are not aggressive or noisy dogs but bark to alert or communicate with their owners. They are also playful and fun-loving dogs that enjoy games and toys, especially ones that challenge their intelligence or agility. They are good with children and other pets as long as they are raised with them or properly introduced to them. They may chase small animals or birds but can be trained to control this behavior. They are also adaptable and versatile dogs that can adjust to different environments and lifestyles as long as they get enough attention and exercise.

The Tibetan Spaniel is a charming and lively dog that has a lot of personality. They are smart and curious dogs that love to explore their surroundings and learn new things. They can be trained to do tricks and obey commands, but they also have a stubborn streak and a mind of their own. They will not respond well to harsh or repetitive methods of training but will respond better to positive reinforcement and praise. They also need early socialization to prevent them from becoming shy or aggressive toward unfamiliar people or animals.

The Tibetan Spaniel is an active and playful dog that needs regular exercise to keep them healthy and happy. They enjoy long walks, games of fetch, and agility courses. However, they are not high-energy dogs that need constant stimulation. They are also content to snuggle on the couch with their owners or watch the world go by from a high perch. They have a strong sense of loyalty and attachment to their family members and do not like being left alone for long periods. As adorable as a loyal pup can be, it can cause them to suffer from separation anxiety or develop destructive behaviors if they are bored or lonely.

Tibetan Spaniel in the woods on a bed of leaves

Tibetan Spaniel Health Problems

The Tibetan Spaniel is generally a healthy breed that can live up to 15 years or more. However, like all dogs, they are prone to some health problems that may affect their quality of life or require veterinary attention. Some of the common health issues that may affect the Tibetan Spaniel include:

  • Portosystemic shunt: This is a congenital condition where an abnormal blood vessel bypasses the liver, causing toxins to build up in the body. Symptoms include poor growth, vomiting, seizures, behavioral changes, and urinary problems. It can be diagnosed by blood tests and imaging techniques and treated by surgery or medication.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy: This degenerative eye disease causes gradual loss of vision due to the deterioration of the retina. Symptoms include night blindness, dilated pupils, cataracts, and eventual blindness. An eye exam and genetic testing can diagnose it, but there is no cure or treatment for it.
  • Cherry eye: This is a condition where the gland of the third eyelid prolapses or pops out of its normal position, causing irritation, inflammation, infection, or dry eye. Symptoms include redness, swelling, discharge, or rubbing of the eye. It can be treated by surgery or medication.
  • Patellar luxation: This is a condition where the kneecap slips out of its groove due to weak ligaments or malformed bones. Symptoms include limping, pain, stiffness, or difficulty walking or jumping. It can be diagnosed by physical examination and X-rays and treated by surgery or medication.

How to Care for a Tibetan Spaniel

Once you bring your Tibetan Spaniel home, you should provide them with proper care and training to ensure their health and happiness.


You should feed your Tibetan Spaniel high-quality dog food that meets their nutritional needs according to their age, size, activity level, and health condition. Avoid overfeeding them or giving them human food that may cause obesity or digestive problems. You should also provide them with fresh water at all times.


Regularly brush your Tibetan Spaniel’s coat to remove dead hair and prevent mats or tangles. You should also bathe them occasionally, trim their nails, clean their ears, and brush their teeth.


You should exercise your Tibetan Spaniel enough to keep them fit and happy. You should take them for long walks, play games with them, or enroll them in agility courses. You should also provide them with mental stimulation by giving them toys or puzzles that challenge their intelligence.


You should train your Tibetan Spaniel using positive reinforcement methods such as praise, treats, or toys. You should avoid harsh or repetitive methods that may cause them to lose interest or become fearful. You should teach them basic commands such as sit, stay, come, heel, and leave it. You should also socialize them from an early age by exposing them to different people, animals, places, and situations.


You should monitor your Tibetan Spaniel’s health and take them to the vet for regular check-ups and vaccinations. You should also watch out for any signs of illness or injury and seek veterinary attention if needed. You should also spay or neuter your dog to prevent unwanted pregnancies and health problems. You should also consult your vet about any genetic tests or screenings that may be recommended for your dog.

Where to Buy a Tibetan Spaniel

If you are interested in buying a Tibetan Spaniel puppy, you should be prepared to pay a high price for this rare and popular breed. The average price of a Tibetan Spaniel ranges from $1,600 to $4,500 or more, depending on the breeder and the lineage of the puppy. Some breeders may charge up to $8,000 for a prize pup.

To find a reputable breeder, ask for referrals from other Tibetan Spaniel owners, pet experts, or breed clubs. If possible, visit the breeder’s premises and meet the parents and littermates of your potential puppy. You should look for a healthy, active, friendly and well-socialized puppy. You should also ask the breeder about the puppy’s temperament, personality, and suitability for your family situation.

You can also search for Tibetan Spaniel rescue groups or shelters if you want to adopt a dog in need. You may have to pay a nominal fee of around $500 to help the shelter cover its expenses.

Side profile sitting on hind legs Tibetan Spaniel


The Tibetan Spaniel is a wonderful breed with much to offer anyone who can appreciate their history, personality, and appearance. They are loyal, lively, and loving dogs that make great family pets and companions. They are also intelligent, independent, and alert dogs that make excellent watchdogs and entertainers. They are adaptable and versatile dogs that can fit into different environments and lifestyles as long as they get enough attention and exercise. If you are looking for a small, silky, and spirited dog, you might want to consider the Tibetan Spaniel.

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