Tibetan Spaniel

Inside Tibet, these dogs were given the name of Jemtse Apso, translating literally as "scissored Apso". Some of them were called simply ‘Palace Dogs’. In Kathmandu they were known as Nepalese Palace Dogs. They have also been recorded as Tibetaanse Spaniels.


The name Tibetan Spaniel was given to them when the first examples arrived in the West in the late 19th century. To its friends today, it is known as the Tibbie. In its homeland, its primary role was as a companion dog, but it also acted as a watchdog. According to some authors, one of its special duties was to turn the large prayer-wheels in the monasteries and it has, in the past, been given the name of Tibetan Prayer Dog.

Looking at a modern example of this breed, with its blunt-muzzled face, silky mane, up-curled, richly plumed tail, small body and tiny feet, it is clear that it is not a spaniel of the hunting field. When it was first encountered in Tibet by European visitors, it reminded them of another kind of spaniel — the toy spaniel, or ‘spaniel gentle’, as it used to be called. This is confirmed by its first European nickname, which was ‘the King Charles of the East’.

It was quite distinct from that other small favourite of the Tibetan monks, the dog we now call the Lhasa Apso, which had a different origin. The need for these two small dogs in the great monasteries appears to be connected with their different duties. The Tibetan Spaniel had a special role as a ‘labour-saving device’, helping the monks to say their prayers without any physical effort on their part. A monastery tradition of these holy men was that, by spinning a wheel carrying a written prayer on a rolled-up scroll, the prayer was ‘said’ over and over again. Small, personal wheels were held in the hand and spun round with little trouble by the monks themselves, but the monasteries also had huge, circular ‘prayer-drums’ that had to be rotated, and it was to these that the little dogs were harnessed, to pull them round and round. Some have queried this story, but if the Tibetan Spaniel had a specialized duty of this kind it would explain why both this dog and the Lhasa Apso existed side by side in the monasteries.

The origin of the Tibetan Spaniel has been the subject of much debate. According to one view, it is an ancient Tibetan breed which, when it was sent to China as a royal gift, was developed into the Pekingese. If this seems unlikely, it is worth recalling that the early form of the Pekingese was far less ‘extreme’ than its present show-dog form. In fact, a glance at early photographs of Pekinese Spaniels (as they used to be called) reveals dogs that were remarkably similar in appearance to the Tibetan Spaniel.

A modified version of this view suggests that it was the early Ha-pa Dog (see separate entry) that gave rise to the Tibetan Spaniel, the Pug and the Pekingese, each of which gradually diverged from the other two, as time passed.

Another opinion sees the early form of the Pekingese, presented as a royal gift to the Tibetans by the Chinese rulers, as the ancestor of the Tibetan Spaniel. Still others believe that when the early Pekingese arrived in the Tibetan monasteries they were crossed with the Lhasa Apsos that were already there, to create the Spaniel. When such varied and contradictory ideas are put forward, there is only one safe conclusion: that they are all clever guesses and hard facts are missing.

Once European visitors arrived in Tibet in late Victorian times, more solid information was available. It was clear that the breed showed some variability. In size, it ranged from as little as 4 lb (2 kg) to 16 lb ( 7 kg). Some had longer muzzles, others had shorter muzzles. Significantly, the ones found near the Chinese border had the shortest muzzles of all.

The Tibetan Spaniel first arrived in England in the late 19th century, and Maud Earle painted a skilful portrait of three colour variants m 1898. Its numbers were never great, however, and during World War II the English examples died out altogether. More were imported from Asia after the war, starting in 1946, and in 1957 the Tibetan Spaniel Association was founded. In the late 1960s the breed reached the US, and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of was created in 1971. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1984.


In personality, this is an intelligent, alert, assertive, active, loyal, and self-confident dog.

It is a good companion, sensitive and responsive to its owner’s moods and feelings. It is an alert, happy little dog that enjoys life but has a mind of its own. The breed is fastidious in it habits and will spend many hours preening itself in an almost catlike fashion.


With a body length slightly exceeding its height, the Tibetan Spaniel has a relatively small head; a slightly domed skull; a medium-length muzzle; a slightly undershot mouth; and a high-set well-plumed tail. Its silky double coat is long on the ears.

Its height today is 10 inches (25 cm) and its weight is 8-16 lb (3.5-7 kg). It makes an ideal urban pet and it is perhaps surprising that it has not become more popular in recent years. In the West it seems to suffer from competition with the Pekingese.


Generally the Tibetan Spaniel is very healthy — advanced ages of fifteen to sixteen years are quite common. It does, however, have generalized progressive retinal atrophy — an affected case will progressively go blind — so all breeding stock should be regularly checked for this. There are testing schemes in the UK, US and many other countries.

Special Care and Training

Tibetan Spaniels have a double coat which requires grooming, especially when the undercoat is shed. The dogs usually accept this if done regularly from puppyhood. Puppies need early training to the lead and general household behavior. They learn quickly but do not always display instant obedience.

Puppies and Training

A litter numbers two to four puppies. As this breed can be stubborn, obedience training should be begun at an early age.

Gallery of Tibetan Spaniel