THE TIBETAN SPANIEL
Originating in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet, the Tibetan Spaniel has been known for over 2,000 years. Bred and owned by Buddhist monks and lamas, “Tibbies” were never sold. They left the monasteries of Tibet only as treasured gifts to esteemed friends. Legend has it that Tibetan Spaniels were trained to turn the prayer wheels in the monasteries. Though this legend is now doubted, they did serve the monks as companions and bed warmers. Their keen eyesight and hearing made them ideal lookouts, lying on the high monastery walls and barking a warning to the monks and the larger Tibetan Mastiffs whenever anything suspect approached. The misnomer, spaniel, came to be part of their name from the French word epagnuel which, in the Middle Ages, referred to a companion dog and comforter much loved by the ladies of the European and Oriental courts. The breed first came to England in 1898, but few were bred until after World War II. Importation to the United States began in 1966, and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America, Inc. was formed in 1971. The American Kennel Club recognized the Tibetan Spaniel in 1984, and they joined the Non-Sporting Group in competition.
Tibetan Spaniels are small, well-balanced dogs, with no exaggerated features. They have an alert, intelligent appearance. Measuring about ten inches at the shoulder, they weigh between nine and fifteen pounds. The head and face are distinctive. The muzzle is of medium length with a noticeable chin and an oval shaped eye, well set, and forward looking that gives a typically ape-like expression. The ears are pendant with varying length fringes. The body is slightly longer than high, and the richly plumed tail curls over the back. Tibetan Spaniels have two coats—a soft undercoat for warmth and a moderately long, silky outer coat which lies flat. Feathering or fringes of longer hair, on the front legs, feet, and rear legs create the appearance of pantaloons. Males tend to have a more luxuriant coat with a lion-type mane around the neck and shoulders. Females have a shawl around the shoulders and less feathering on the legs. All colors and color combinations are accepted.
Tibetan Spaniels are equally at home within the confines of an apartment or a stately home.
This is a very intelligent breed which thrives on human companionship, and for this reason, they do not make good kennel dogs. Though they can be aloof with strangers, they are affectionate and devoted to their family and friends. They love being with you, whether for long walks in the country, visits with friends, or restful evenings curled up by a fire.
Tibbies are very sensitive little dogs; they sense and respond to your moods and feelings. They adapt to almost any lifestyle and most Tibbies readily mix with other pets.
True to their ancient duties in the monasteries of Tibet, they will vigorously alert you to any unusual event or arrival, yet, they do not bark unnecessarily. Neither nervous nor hyper, a Tibbie is like a large dog in a small body. In one compact package, they are both excellent watch dogs and very good bed dogs. They enjoy any high lookout such as a windowsill from which to survey their territory and, at the same time, they will be only too happy to cuddle up and keep you warm, nestle on soft pillows or clean laundry.
RAISING A TIBETAN SPANIEL
Think of your puppy as an infant. These babies need a routine too — regular meal, bed, nap, play and “potty” times. Though, children are attracted to their small stature and sweet face, Tibbies need a home that is free from cruelties, even the unintentional ones, like teasing, hitting or rough handling.
They need a safe home free from hazards such as poison and exposed wires; and a one that can provide secure off lead confinement.
A Tibbie’s affection for its owner can be akin to worship. Though independent in spirit, Tibetan Spaniels are naturally clean and easily trained. If correctly and gently disciplined, they will readily obey a loved and trusted owner.
To maintain a natural appearance, only minimum grooming is needed. Brush them occasionally and comb the ear fringes once a week. Trimming of the coat, except for the hair on the bottom of the paws, is not permitted.
The breed is renowned for living to a healthy age — often fifteen years or more. Provisions should be made for the dog’s future if an older person is thinking about a Tibbie for a companion.
Owning a Tibetan Spaniel is not a matter to be treated lightly. If you treat them sensibly, love them, and give them the consideration that is due a dog of their ancient origin, you will have a companion that is everything you need. They are the perfect small dog — gay, active, not nervous, very companionable, a good watch dog, healthy, and extremely intelligent — what more could you ask?
Although rare, some of the anomalies that may be encountered in the breed are as follows:
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). This is a genetic eye disease that causes blindness. Although there are DNA tests available in some breeds of dogs Tibetan Spaniels are not yet included. Research is currently being conducted to find a genetic marker for this disease in Tibetan Spaniels. Breeding dogs should have annual CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) exams. These “exams” can only determine the health of the eyes at the time of the exam, not guarantee future health. However, currently, this is the best that breeders can do to ensure that affected dogs are not used in a breeding program. The results can be registered with CERF.
Portosystemic Shunts (PSS) or “liver shunts”. This is a genetic anomaly that affects the blood flow around and/or through the liver. Research is underway to find a genetic marker for this disease. At the present time the only option available to breeders is to use a “screening tool” referred to as “bile acid” testing. This test can only give an “overview” of current liver health, but is not a definitive test.
Tibetan Spaniels can have a variety of hernias. The most common being an Umbilical hernia. Typically these are not a cause for concern and can be easily repaired when the pet is spayed or neutered. Inguinal and Scrotal hernias can also occur. Although these may be a bit more of a concern they most probably should be surgically repaired and in many cases can be done when the pet is spayed or neutered.
Cherry Eye. This is an inflammation or swelling of the “third” eyelid, an appears as a red protusion in the corner of the dog’s eye. Sometimes, these can be “reduced” by closing the dogs eye and applying light but steady pressure to the corner of the eye. Sometimes surgery is indicated.
Patellar Luxation. In layman’s terms, loose knee. Obviously, nice tight knees are the preferred. But “couch potato” type pets can live long comfortable lives with other than perfect knees! A veterinarian can test for this anomaly. The results can be registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). ( http://www.offa.org/ )
Hip Dysplasia. This is a malformation of the ball and socket joint that makes up the hip. Diagnosis can be made by x-ray. The results can be registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).
The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America, Inc is affiliated with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). This is a database containing many breeds of dogs. The Parent club, in this case TSCA, determines which diseases they feel are typically the most common for that breed, and sets the parameters for health testing. At the present time the 2 tests that the TSCA requires are Patella Luxation and CERF eyes. Any Tibbie who has had these 2 exams done and has registered the results with OFA and CERF will receive a CHIC #. The CHIC number does not necessarily mean that the results are normal, only that the tests have been done and recorded.