Tibetan Terriers:  Tibetan but Not Terriers?

Tibetan Terriers  by Janice Jones  |Last Updated 11-30-2022

Looking for the quintessential shaggy dog?  You might find it in this breed.  Although the beautiful Tibetan Terrier shown below is anything but shaggy, most non-show dogs enjoy life to the fullest without worrying much about their hair-do.  After all, that's a human problem, now isn't it?

Another thing we should get clear from the onset is that these dogs are terriers in name only.  They are not true terriers, nor do they show any typical terrier traits. They are not hyper, have little prey drive and more easy-going than any representative of the terrier group.

A young Tibetan Terrier is curled up, resting on the ground.

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.” 

A group of adult Tibetan Terriers of different colors is sitting in front of a white background, looking at the camera.

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 About the Tibetan Terrier

Quick Facts

Other Names Used:  TT, Tsang Apso, Dokhi Apso

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

Coat Type:  Thick double coat with a soft, thick undercoat.  The outer coat is straight or wavy and fine textured but not silky.  The outer coat continues to grow but should be trimmed if needed so it does not fall to the ground. A real shaggy dog appearance

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. Some colors may change overtime.

Activity Level:  Moderate to High

Good with Children:  Yes

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

Average Puppy Cost:  $1000-1500

Litter Size: Average 6

Playfulness Paws Ratings
Affection Level Paws Ratings
Friendliness Towards Strangers Paws Ratings
Good with Children Paws Ratings
Good with Other Dogs Paws Ratings
Good for First Time Owners Paws Ratings
Exercise Needed Paws Ratings
Ease of Training Paws Ratings
Watch Dog Ability Paws Ratings
Grooming Requirements Paws Ratings
Shedding Paws Ratings
Cold Tolerant Paws Ratings
Heat Tolerant Paws Ratings

Explanations for At a Glance Ratings 

  • Playfulness:  Most=5   Less=1
  • Affection:  Most=5   Least=1
  • Friendliness Towards Strangers:  Most=5  Least=1
  • Good with Children:  Good=5   Not Good=1
  • Good with Other Dogs:   Good=5   Not Good=1
  • Good for First Time Owners:  Good=5  Not Good=1
  • Amount of Exercise Required:  Much=5  Minimal=1
  • Ease of Training:   Easy=5   Difficult=1
  • Watch Dog Ability:   Excellent=5   Poor=1
  • Grooming Needs:   Extensive=5  Minimal=1
  • Shedding:   Heavy Shedding=5   Minimal Shedding=1
  • Cold Tolerance:   Cold Well Tolerated=5    Poorly Tolerated=1
  • Heat Tolerance:   Heat Well Tolerated=5   Poorly Tolerated=1

History of Tibetan Terriers

A Young Tibetan Terrier is sitting in front of a white background and looking into the camera.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.  

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

A black and white adult Tibetan Terrier is standing in front of a white background.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 woolly undercoat will mat easily without attention.

Since these dogs continue to grow their hair out, they are more hypoallergenic than other breeds.

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

A Black and white Tibetan Terrier Puppy is sleepingTibetan 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.  

Feeding and Diet

Some Tibetan Terriers have food allergies to dairy, wheat, and grains.  A grain free diet is often recommended if it is determined that wheat causes problems.  Puppies should be fed three times a day until they are six months old and then twice a day throughout their life time.

A high quality dog food designed for small breed dogs is a good choice and it can be canned, kibble, raw or fresh.  Some people opt for a home-made diet, but if this is your choice, fist consult your vet.  It is difficult to get the nutritional needs just right when cooking for your dog.  Use tiny treats when training that are of high quality such as tiny bits of chicken or turkey.  Fruits and vegetables also make excellent treats for dogs and do not add too many calories.

Expect to feed about two cups per day of food divided by 2 meals.


Best Suited For...

This is an excellent dog for singles, couples and families with older children.  Smaller children will need to be taught how to properly and respectfully interact with a dog.

They do require daily exercise, so the ideal person will have enough time in their schedule for daily walks and playtime.  They also do not like being left alone for long periods of time. 

This means that people who work long hours may need to enlist the help of a friend or neighbor to visit at noon for a short playtime or walk.  Doggie Daycare is another option if no one is home all day long.

They normally do fine with other dogs and pets in the household, although some have been known to show some jealous streaks.

Activity Level and Exercise Needs

Tibetan Terriers have bursts of energy where they love to run or play, but in between, they are more likely to want to snuggle near their favorite human. 

They are not a breed with high endurance towards lengthy exercise routines and wouldn't make the best running mate for humans inspiring to win  a marathon.  

Two or three short 20 minute walks would be perfect for this breed, or substitute a strenuous play session for one of those walks.

 Training a Tibetan Terrier

This breed is intelligent and will respond to training easily especially basic commands, however, intelligent breeds have been known to outsmart their owners.  You will want to assure that you have the upper hand so your dog won't try to train you.

A positive approach to training is always far super to outdated negative training methods and not only work better but also help create a strong, lasting bond. Training treats work very well with this breed, but attention, praise, and lots of cuddles are also equally effective.

Consistency is the key, especially when it comes to house training.  Create a schedule and stick with it.

Pros and Cons of Living With this Breed


  • 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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Tibetan Terrier Pin for Future ReferenceTibetan Terrier Pin

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, beagles, English bulldogs, carin terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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