The Tibetan Spaniel

The attractive, amiable, and affectionate Tibetan Spaniel is one of several well-known and well-loved small dogs hailing from the highlands of Tibet.

Coming of age in Buddhist monasteries, the “Tibbie,” as it’s often called – which isn’t a true spaniel at all, mind you – loves nothing more than lounging and playing with its owners, and surveying all the goings-on of the household and the world outside the window from a chairback or tabletop perch.

Picture of a Tibetan Spaniel dog on a white background.

The Tibetan Spaniel


Images of Tibetan Spaniels appear on Tibetan art dating back centuries, even millennia. Wandering about in the monasteries, keeping lamas company and standing guard as more pintsized watchdogs alongside burly and (when duty demands) ferocious Tibetan Mastiffs, Tibbies were affectionately called “Little Lions” for their guardian services and maned look.

British missionaries traveling in Tibet in the late 1800s brought some Little Lions back with them, understandably smitten. The Second World War saw an ebb in the breeding of Tibetan Spaniels outside their homeland. In the 1960s, though, Tibbie puppies born to a pair owned by a New Haven, Connecticut sexton formed a foundation for the breed’s expansion in the U.S. In 1971, the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America was established; a dozen years later, the American Kennel Club formally recognized the Tibbie.


Standing about 10 inches at the withers and weighing between nine and 15 pounds, the Tibetan Spaniel looks roughly like a more “snouted” Pekingese. The blunt, solid muzzle; the pricked, feathered, and folded ears; the curled plume of the tail; the feathered feet and legs; and the thick mane, most pronounced in males, give the breed its distinctive, richly furred look.

That flat and silky coat comes in a double layer and a whole hodgepodge of different colors and patterns.

Shedding and grooming

Tibetan Spaniels are significant shedders, with peak shedding commonly occurring twice a year. During these sheds, you’ll want to increase your brushing regimen, which otherwise should be a couple of times a week; bathing is also useful during intense shedding. Trimming isn’t usually necessary except around the Tibbie’s paws. Keep the ears clean with regular checkups, and pay extra attention to the fur behind them, which – as the American Kennel Club notes – can be especially likely to mat up.

Personality and temperament

The Tibetan Spaniel is a loving, affectionate, and interactive dog that needs plenty of human contact. It’s as good a watchdog in a house or apartment as in those Buddhist monasteries back home, suspicious as it is of strangers and not afraid to bark at them. (That said, the Tibetan Spaniel isn’t as barky as some other small dogs.) In short, it’s a fine small breed for apartment or home dwellers who can give it the attention and time it requires.

Health and lifespan

Tibbies are quite healthy little guys, but there are a few hereditary and otherwise recurring medical issues to be aware of. They can suffer from certain eye issues, including progressive retinal atrophy, retinal dysplasia, and “cherry eye,” a malfunction of the dog’s nictating membrane (or third eyelid). The breed can also be prone to patellar luxation – the dislocated-kneecap disorder common among smaller dogs – and, more rarely, liver shunt (aka portosystemic shunt), which diverts blood flow from the liver.

The Tibetan Spaniel lifespan is 12 to 15 years, sometimes more.

Exercise needs

Tibetan Spaniels have only moderate exercise needs that are easily met with daily walks or runs and playtime bouts in a fenced yard or indoors. They will very happily kick back, couch-potato-style, with you, and often spend substantial time on the lazy lookout from the elevated perches they favor.

Training and intelligence

The braininess, enthusiasm, and eager-to-please attitude of the Tibetan Spaniel makes it quite easy to train, although the breed also has (like many a small breed) its independent streak: Keep training sessions varied and interesting so the Tibbie has fun doing them, otherwise it may become bored and wilful.

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