Tibetan Terrier – Dog Breed Guide (Personality, Health, Grooming etc.)

tibetan terrier

Tibetan terriers are an ancient breed of Tibetan dog native to South Asia. They are small to medium-sized dogs and are only called terriers because of their size. Intelligent and loyal, this breed is now internationally popular as a companion dog.

Tibetan terriers have been known for over 2000 years, and were bred by Tibetan monks or Lamas as good luck charms and companions. They were commonly found in monasteries and in small towns in the vicinity of these holy retreats. Consecutively, Tibetan terriers are also known as the holy dogs of Tibet.

Today’s Tibetan terriers are loved for their shaggy fluffy fur with its hypoallergenic tendencies, and their loyal, loving nature. Being moderately active dogs they are popular with all age groups and especially with senior dog owners.

Highlights about Tibetan Terriers     

  • Other dog breeds derived from Tibetan terriers include shih tzus, lhasa apsos, and Tibetan spaniels.
  • Tibetan terriers are an ancient breed who have been bred for over 2000 years in monasteries. 
  • Traditionally these dogs were never sold but sometimes gifted to people outside the monasteries as well.
  • They are well known and popular in Tibet as well as the surrounding region both with monks as well as with farmers for their watchdog capabilities.
  • In the late 1920s, an English doctor called Dr. A. R. H. Greig was gifted one of these dogs for her work in the women’s medical service of India. She received one puppy first for saving a nobleman’s wife and received another one from the Dalai Lama himself.
  • She fell in love with her dogs and is credited with breeding them outside Tibet and the monastery circle.
  • From there the breed popularised and spread quickly and was recognised by the British Kennel Club in 1937. The Indian Kennel Club changed their names from Tibetan dogs to Tibetan terriers.
  • They were imported in 1956 to the USA by the Murphys in Great Falls, Virginia. The American Kennel Club first recognised the Tibetan Terrier in 1973.
  • Today these dogs are well known and well-loved across the world, and crossbred with many other breeds.
  • Tibetan terriers are not true terriers and are only called so because of their size.
  • They grow to an average height of 14 to 17 inches or 36 to 43 cm.
  • Despite their large and fluffy appearance these dogs grow to an average weight of 18 to 30 pounds or 8 to 14 kg.
  • They are also known as Tsang Apso or Dokhi Apso.
  • They are medium sized dogs but very large hearted. They are brave and intelligent but also very mild tempered.
  • Tibetan dogs require a moderate amount of exercise. They are capable of much more with their agility and stamina stores and can be trained for a much more active lifestyle.
  • They are not true hypoallergenic dogs but rather are almost hypoallergenic when they are groomed regularly.
  • Their temperament makes them ideal for multiple lifestyles but they are especially popular with senior citizens who need a companion dog who can be trained easily.
  • They are affectionate and loving dogs and bond closely with their owners.

Tibetan Terrier Size

tibetan terrier sitting

Tibetan terriers are medium sized but often look larger because of the volume of their fluff. They are elegant looking well-proportioned dogs resembling a stuffed toy both in their appearance and behaviour.

Height: Tibetan terriers grow 2 an average height of 14 to 17 inches or 36 to 43 cm. Depending upon the pedigree a small amount of variation in size can be expected. However, dogs shorter than 14 inches at the Withers or taller than 17 inches are not shown ready – a variation and height beyond this range is considered a defect in breeding.

Weight: the average weight clocks in at 18 to 30 pounds or 8 to 14 kg. Tibetan terriers are prone to obesity if not exercised regularly. This in turn is associated with early onset health problems and a lower lifespan.

Conformation: Tibetan terriers have a very distinctive appearance. They are medium in size and almost square in proportion. They have a medium size head with a rather blunt snout which is rarely longer than the length of the skull. They have black noses, usually round or oval in shape.

Their teeth have a reverse scissor bite but a scissor or level bite is also found in the breed. The reverse scissor bite is more common with the lower teeth resting above the level of the upper teeth usually on the outside surface. Their jaws are not unusually strong – this is not a biting or fighting breed.

They have long and pendulous v-shaped ears that hang low on the sides of the head. They have large dark brown eyes that are widely set and the front of their heads. Their necks are usually short, and the shoulders are the same width as the hips.

Their chest typically has a bow that extends down to the level of their elbows. They have a sloping back with the hind legs being slightly longer than the front legs. They have broad paws and Dew Claws – they are sometimes removed in show dogs. They have large and flat padded round feet that are a natural modification for living in their home environment in Tibet, which enables them to run over and through heavy snow with feet like snowshoes.

Tibetan terriers have a very interesting coat structure. It consists of two coats, the inner coat being a thick wooly coat or undercoat with a long straight haired or wavy haired, thick and fluffy outer coat.

Tibetan Terrier Temperament and Personality

fluffy tibetan terrier

Tibetan terriers are extremely intelligent and friendly dogs but unfortunately this often means that certain adaptations have to be made to that training, because of their natural tendencies. These dogs have been known to unlock doors, take things out of refrigerators, learn how to switch household appliances on and off, and let themselves out of the house when no one is looking. So even if you train your dog you will have to keep an eye on him to figure out what he’s training himself for.

Another interesting fact to take into consideration is that Tibetan terriers mature slower than other dogs. This means that their puppyhood phase lasts well into the adulthood Phase for other dogs. Therefore, their training should also be extended for much longer than their puppy stage.

Relationship with Owners: Tibetan terriers are extremely affectionate and are the ideal companion dogs. They thrive in the presence and company of their owner and their family. Indeed, they are so social that they often suffer from being left alone and are very predisposed to developing separation anxiety and other behavioral problems, as a consequence of being left alone for large periods of time.

Although Tibetan terriers are very friendly and adaptable, this is not always the case from the beginning. Tibetan Terrier puppies are reserved in nature and need some time to adjust to the new owners and their new living situations. A newly adopted Tibetan Terrier puppy will require a lot of patience to approach in the initial period of integrating him into the family. These dogs build trust slowly and steadily over the initial few days. They are very sensitive and gradually build trust in their owners. But that trust is complete if hard earned because once they bond with their owners they bond forever.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that Tibetan terriers often suffer from small dog syndrome. These are dogs who are otherwise very compliant and trainable but will often try to assume the role of pack leader when their owner gives them too much leeway.

For example, Tibetan terriers make great watch dogs because they are alert to strangers in their home vicinity. But unfortunately, it also means that they have a tendency to bark and keep barking, unless they are trained to stop giving alarm after they have been acknowledged.

Therefore, it is essential that you give your dog a command to stop barking after you have acknowledged him sounding the siren, so to speak. Dogs who are allowed to bark continuously despite being told not to will fall into the habit of doing what they please. The same applies to retrieving and stop commands.

Relationship with other pets: if they happen to be socialized from an early age onwards, Tibetan terriers get along well with other dogs as well as non-canine animals in their vicinity. They lack the hunting instinct of true terriers and therefore can be left alone around small animals safely if they get along with them already.

But even with other dogs, Tibetan terriers often tussle for dominance. This is why it is essential that they be commanded directly with a firm hand.

Relationship with Children: whether or not Tibetan terriers can be entrusted with children is entirely a matter of how their training has been.

They are not dangerous to children but are likely to be disobedient if they do not recognise children as capable of leading them. If the children are old and capable enough to give a Tibetan terrier a clear and concise command, the dog will faithfully follow his little owners around. But if the child is too young to direct the dog, the dog will immediately resume the role of the Alpha and do whatever he wants. As a general rule of thumb, it’s not advisable to leave young children unattended around dogs. Older children and adolescents who can command the dog do well with them. Tibetan terriers are very affectionate and very obedient when they recognise their family and their owners in the role of the Alpha.

Tibetan Terrier Health

Because of their genetic diversity and their long-standing history spanning centuries, Tibetan terriers are not excessively prone to health problems. However unethical breeding and repeated inbreeding in order to create a pure pedigree line often predisposes them to particular health issues.

  • Progressive retinal atrophy and lens luxation are two commonly seen eye problems in Tibetan terriers. This can lead to premature blindness in severely affected dogs.
  • Progressive hip dysplasia is another condition often popped up in this breed. Although more a degenerative disorder found in large dog breeds progressive hip dysplasia can often be a severely limiting factor in Tibetan terriers, sometimes from early adulthood onwards.
  • Tibetan Terriers are also very sensitive to fleas.

Lifespan: the Tibetan Terrier lifespan falls between 12-15 years, if the dog is not suffering from any severe health conditions.

Tibetan Terrier Care

tibetan terrier standing

Having historically been raised in wide open spaces and on farms, Tibetan terriers have a rather large exercise requirement. These dogs require physical exercise as well as mental engagement. Tibetan Terriers need to be walked at least twice a day for 20 to 25 minutes each time. Tibetan Terrier puppies need more exercise because of their higher energy levels.

In addition to this they need to be played with, with interactive games and puzzles that keep them occupied and challenge their intelligence. Tibetan terriers are exceedingly intelligent dogs. If you’re not tiring your dog out every day, your dog will find something to do around the house to tire himself out. These dogs are notorious for channeling their pent-up excess energy and their trademark Tibetan Terrier intelligence into uniquely destructive behaviour. So, unless you want all your electronic devices to have chewed up cables, you should stock up on puzzles for your little mastermind dog.

But in addition to being smart these dogs are also very mischievous and cheeky, not to mention curious. This is why it is essential to walk these dogs on a leash. If you don’t, you may find that your dog runs off trail every 2 minutes and goads you into chasing after him. And rest assured he will definitely do this intentionally.

Their high intelligence also means that training Tibetan terriers should be done at a constant and stable pace with overwhelming positive reinforcement. Negative training should never be used with Tibetan terriers as these dogs will quickly recognise punishment and instead of avoiding it, will rebel against it and actively disobey, despite the negative consequences.

But training Tibetan terriers with positive reinforcement not only brings great results, but also is intensely rewarding, as the dogs are keen and quick to understand what you want from them. After that it’s only a matter of repetition and reinforcement.

Tibetan Terrier Grooming

Because of their thick and fluffy overcoat, Tibetan terriers have to be brushed everyday.

The hair on the overcoat can range from being long and straight and silky to wavy, but if they are not brushed everyday they will shed in massive amounts. Tibetan terriers who are brushed daily are practically hypoallergenic dogs.

Tibetan Terrier colours can range from grey to black to cream. Gold Tibetan terriers or harder to find and usually more expensive. Chocolate brown and liver red are colours that are sometimes seen as a result of cross breeding but not officially recognised colours for the breed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Tibetan terriers bark a lot?

If they haven’t been trained properly, tibetan terriers will bark a lot. They are great watchdogs and will bark to sound alarm for intruders, but should be trained to stop barking.

Can a Tibetan terrier be left alone?

Tibetan terriers can not be left alone, as they develop separation anxiety very quickly without their owners and their family.

Are Tibetan terriers aggressive?

No, tibetan terriers are not aggressive. In fact, they are very affectionate dogs.

Do Tibetan terriers shed hair?

Yes, tibetan terriers shed a lot if they are not brushed daily. Daily brushings minimize their shedding to almost nothing.

Are Tibetan terriers good pets?

Tibetan terriers make great pets for all kinds of owners, but do best with moderately active owners who can give them a lot of time and company.

Are Tibetan terriers lazy?

No. On the contrary, they are quite active dogs and require daily exercise, provided they are not living in excessively warm climates.

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