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Tibetan Terriers:  Tibetan but Not Terriers?

Tibetan terriers evolved from being a holy dog, a good luck charm, and a protector of monasteries to a lovable companion, good with families, children, singles, and couples. 

Based on recent DNA studies, the TT as they are often called is one of the ancient breeds domesticated from old Spitz like wolves of central Asia.

According to Jane Reif, author of “The Tibetan Terrier Book, the breed evolved from a wolf-like prototype dog with long legs.  These prototype dogs wandered the area west of the Gobi Desert and farther north to what we now know as Tibet.  But, much of the breed’s history has been passed into legend.

Standing on average of 14 to 16 inches at the shoulder and weighing 20-24 pounds, this breed although larger than most small dogs on this site still follows our guidelines for “small breed dog.” 

Perhaps the most dramatic characteristic of the breed is their long, thick, double coat that covers their face and eyes.  This trait no doubt passed down from ancient times when the breed lived in frigid, harsh mountainous terrain.  It has the texture of human hair and can be straight or wavy but not curly.

Their eyes may be hard to see with their hair falling over them, but they are dark and the TT sees just fine due to their long eyelashes that keep the hair out of their eyes. 

They are affectionate, smart, and adaptable to many types of families and make excellent watch dogs.  They are great with children who have been taught to respect them and are generally fine with other pets. 

They make great pets for apartment dwellers, homes in the country and everything in between.  Playful, and comical at times, these dogs bond very closely to their humans which sometimes makes them susceptible to separation anxiety.

They learn fast with positive training techniques, but they do have an independent spirit so consistency works best.  While some enjoy cuddling, they are not always your typical couch potato canine.

Quick Facts

Other Names Used:  TT, Tsang Apso, Dokhi Apso

Affiliation:  AKC & CKC:  Non-Sporting, KC:  Utility, UKC:  Companion


     Height:  14-16 inches at the shoulder

     Weight: 20-24 pounds

Coat Type:  Thick double coat with a soft undercoat.  Straight or Wavy that continues to grow but should be trimmed if needed so it does not fall to the ground.

Colors:  Wide range of colors including Black, Brindle, Gold, Sable, White, Brown, Red, Fawn, Gray, Silver and combinations of these colors. Dogs participating in Conformation events must have black noses.  Brown Tibetan Terriers will have a brown nose.

Country of Origin:  Tibet

Activity Level:  Moderate to High

Life Expectancy:  12 to 15 years on average

Good with Children:  Yes

Good with other pets:  Yes, but some can be jealous of other dogs living in the same household

History of Tibetan Terriers

Fawn and White Tibetan Terrier

Much of the breed’s history is shrouded in legend; it is generally accepted that they were raised and lived with lamas high in the Himalayan Mountains.  The monks called them The Holy Dogs of Tibet, and their role in the monasteries was that of a companion, watchdog, and sometimes herder. 

There is also evidence that Tibetan Terriers were used to retrieve items that had fallen down rocky slopes.  Their “snowshoe” feet gave them superb dexterity and sure-footedness, able to maneuver in the snow. 

They were considered good luck and given as gifts to visitors to bring them luck.  Selling these dogs might bring bad luck, so the practice was never done.

Due to their isolation, these dogs remained purebred for some 2000 years.  It is likely they were used in the formation of other breeds such as the Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Spaniel, Shih Tzu, and others.

In 1922, a British surgeon, Dr. Agness Greig performed an operation on a Tibetan woman and was given a puppy in appreciation. This gold and white girl eventually became part of the foundation stock for the breed that was formed in the west.

The doctor started a breeding program and then in 1927, presented three generations of the Tibetan Terriers at a dog show in Delhi. 

From there, the Kennel Club of India developed a breed standard and by 1930, the Kennel Club in England began to register dogs under the name of Tibetan Terrier.

The first Tibetan Terrier dogs were imported to the U.S. in 1956 and then a year later the Tibetan Terrier Club of American was formed.  The AKC recognized the breed in 1973 placing it in the Non-Sporting Group.  Today, they ranked 88th in popularity in 2013 according to the AKC.

Even though their name implies that they in the terrier group, they are not terriers at all.  The reason the terrier name stuck was that they resembled the same size as most terriers classified in England at the time.  The English name was maintained even when they were introduced into America. 

Personality of Tibetan Terriers

Black and White Tibetan Terrier

Playful, athletic, remarkably strong, and very agile, these dogs make excellent companions and great family dogs.

Each dog is unique, so making generalizations about any breed is difficult.  Their personality is a result of their genetic makeup and their environment from the day they are born and every day thereafter. 

Usually out-going, they can a little reserved at first around strangers, but this trait makes them excellent watch dogs. They bond closely with their owners, sometimes with only one member of the family. 

People who have lived with this breed maintain that the dog can even read their emotions.  (This might be true of all dogs).  

TT’s are excellent at adapting to the lifestyle of their humans and can be content to lead a sedentary lifestyle or pick up the pace if they live with active families.  They do have an independent streak, so don’t be surprised if your TT wants to nap close to your side one moment.  Deciding the next, it’s time to move onto more exciting activities whether or not they involve you.

They are intelligent but do best with consistent, positive training methods.  The down side of their high intelligence is that they learn very quickly how to get what they want from humans, in essence training their owners.

This stubbornness comes out during training, so patience is a must for owning or being owned by a Tibetan Terrier. They participate and do well in agility, obedience, rally, flyball, tracking, and even herding.  They also make excellent therapy dogs.

Grooming the Tibetan Terrier

This breed is not for anyone who hates to groom.  Their long double coats require much brushing to prevent mats from forming. While it has been said that many show dogs are overly groomed according to the breed standard, the soft wooly undercoat will mat easily without attention.

Tibetans have an unusual hair growth cycle.  They don’t shed, but loose hair similar to humans.  As a result, most pet owners trim or have their dog professionally groomed in a puppy cut.  The exception to this is a puppy. 

When the puppy becomes an adolescent, his hair will change to his adult coat.  During this time, mats regularly form as the full double coat of an adult grows.  Daily brushing may be necessary.  This is why it is important to train a puppy early for grooming, even though they may not need it as often as an adult would require. 

Using a spray conditioner prior to brushing is always advisable to prevent hair breakage and to help remove small mats.

Bathing should regularly be done with a good canine shampoo followed by a cream rinse or conditioner.  Tibetans prefer warm water, not too hot and not too cold.  Most owners blow their dog’s coat dry with a hair dryer. 

Toenails will need to be trimmed, teeth brushed, and anal glands checked periodically.  The hair between the foot pads grows continually as does the rest of the coat.  Trimming the hair is advisable because hair will mat in this area, causing pain to the dog.

Health Concerns of Tibetan Terriers

Tibetan Terrier Puppy Courtesy of Creative Commons

Tibetan Terriers are a strong and healthy breed of living 15 to 16 years.  There are, however, instances of diseases that pop up from time to time, many of them genetic in nature. 

Some of the more common problems of the breed include:

Other problems include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cataracts
  • Canine neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis.  This disease, also known as Batten Disease in humans causes night blindness, epilepsy, dementia and unexpected aggression.  Scientists have uncovered the gene responsible and now there is a DNA test that breeders can use.  

Some Tibetan Terriers have food allergies to dairy, wheat, and grains.   A grain free diet is often recommended.


  • Happy, playful breed
  • Bonds closely; makes a devoted pet
  • Suitable for children and families
  • Intelligent; relatively easy to train
  • Small enough to live comfortably in an apartment
  • Good Watch Dog


  • Maybe too active for some
  • Requires frequent grooming
  • Can suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time
  • Maybe jealous of other pets

Breed Club and Further Information

  Tibetan Terrier Club of America

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