Tibetan Spaniel: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Tibetan Spaniel

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Tibetan Spaniels were used by Buddhist monks in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet as watchdogs, patrolling the tops of monastery walls and barking to alert to intruders. Their barks would draw the monks and the much larger Tibetan Mastiffs to investigate. The Tibetan Spaniel, or Tibbie as the breed is affectionately called, still loves to perch, often on the back of the sofa or even a windowsill, to survey the goings on of the household. Although Tibetan Spaniels don’t bark without reason, they will bark to alert you to suspicious sounds or people approaching the house. 

Although Tibetan Spaniels may be aloof with strangers, they absolutely worship members of their own family. Tibetan Spaniels are calm, dignified and naturally clean, leading some people to liken them to cats, especially due to their love of perching up high. Affectionate and cuddly, they live to be with their people, whether snuggled up on the couch or off on an adventure around town. They get along wonderfully with other pets and respectful children. However, because Tibbies are small and may be injured accidentally, they do best with children older than 6 years of age who can be careful around the dog. Their small size, laid-back personality and low exercise needs mean Tibetan Spaniels can thrive in any size home, including an apartment. 

Breed Overview

Group: Non-Sporting

Weight: 9 to 15 pounds

Height: 10 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Silky, moderately long double coat

Coat Color: Any color

Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Characteristics of the Tibetan Spaniel

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Low
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Tibetan Spaniel

The Tibetan Spaniel is an ancient breed that has existed in Tibet for more than 2,000 years. The Buddhist monks treasured the dogs, deeming them too precious to sell. Thus, Tibetan Spaniels could only be gifted. The first Tibetan Spaniels arrived in England in 1898, but they weren’t bred in that country until much later. Tibetan Spaniels came to the United States in the 1960s, and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America, which is the national club for the breed in the United States, formed in 1971. The breed received full recognition with the American Kennel Club in 1984 as part of the Non-Sporting Group. Although it has “spaniel” in its breed name, the breed name is actually a misnomer. The Tibetan Spaniel is not actually a spaniel (spaniels are hunting dogs, which the Tibbie is not).

Tibetan Spaniel Tibbie
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Tibetan Spaniel Puppy
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Tibetan Spaniel Agility
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Tibetan Spaniel Care

The Tibetan Spaniel has a lovely soft, silky coat that sheds surprisingly little and requires very little grooming. The coat needs no trimming, and just needs weekly brushing and occasional baths. Clean the ears weekly with a pet safe ear cleaner and keep the nails trimmed short.

Tibetan Spaniels are highly intelligent and can quickly and easily learn obedience skills and house rules. However, it’s important to use gentle training methods as the Tibetan Spaniel is sensitive and will shut down if you attempt to use harsh methods or a heavy hand. Provide plenty of socialization opportunities starting in early puppyhood, introducing your Tibetan Spaniel puppy to many different people, places, sounds, animals and objects. Tibetan Spaniel puppies are tiny, but fight the urge to carry your Tibbie pup around. Let the puppy walk and explore things with four paws on the ground to help him gain confidence. 

Exercising a Tibetan Spaniel is simple. Daily strolls around the neighborhood or a quick frolic in a safely enclosed yard are all the Tibetan Spaniel needs to thrive. More important than vigorous activity is lots of quality time with their human family. Tibetan Spaniels do not do well when left alone at home for many hours at a time.

Common Health Problems

As with most purebred dogs, certain genetic conditions are commonly seen in the Tibetan Spaniel, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), portosystemic shunts (liver shunts), various hernias (including umbilical, inguinal and scrotal), cherry eye, patellar luxation (slipping kneecaps) and hip dysplasia. Reputable breeders perform health testing on all adult dogs prior to including them in their breeding program so inherited diseases are not passed on to puppies. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America requires all member breeders to perform certain health tests on all dogs prior to breeding them, including an evaluation for patellar luxation and eye certification through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animal’s Companion Animal Eye Registry (CERF). Individual breeders might also choose to do additional health testing on their breeding dogs. 

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your Tibetan Spaniel a high-quality dog food. Some Tibetan Spaniel owners choose a small-breed or “small-bite” formulation, which offer smaller kibble size for a smaller mouth. If you need a food recommendation, ask your veterinarian or breeder for help. Feed measured meals at scheduled times using a measuring cup or scale to avoid overfeeding. Free feeding (leaving food out all the time) can lead to weight gain, which puts stress on the joints and can contribute to health issues. 

Pros
  • Exceptionally devoted

  • Clean and sheds very little

  • Doesn’t require a lot of exercise

Cons
  • Some alert barking

  • Doesn’t do well when left alone

  • May be timid if not well socialized

Where to Adopt or Buy

Because the Tibetan Spaniel is rare, it might be difficult to find one. Some adult Tibetan Spaniels might be available for adoption on occasion. More often though, if you want a Tibetan Spaniel, you will need to locate a reputable breeder. Most responsible breeders only breed a few litters per year, so be prepared to get on a waitlist for a puppy. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America offers many helpful resources on its website.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Tibetan Spaniel, you might also like these breeds:

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.