The Tibetan Terrier, ‘Holy Dog of Tibet,’ is an ancient watchdog and companion long associated with Buddhist monasteries. A profusely coated, small-to-medium-sized dog with ‘snowshoe’ feet, the TT is affectionate, sensitive, and clever. Bearing a passing resemblance to their smaller cousin, the Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Terriers reside at the lower end of medium-sized breeds, standing about 15 inches at the shoulder and weighing between 20 and 24 pounds. A breed hallmark is the beautiful and profuse double coat’ wooly underneath, with a long, fine topcoat. TTs are unique among dogs for their large, flat ‘snowshoe’ feet, adapted over centuries to help them negotiate their homeland’s snowy, mountainous terrain.
HistoryThe breed name gets it only half right: Tibetan Terriers are Tibetan, but they’re not true terriers—not by blood, temperament, or job description. Westerners carelessly hung the name “terrier” on this typically Asian dog, and it stuck. An ancient breed developed in the splendid isolation of the Lost Valley, TTs are among several Tibetan dogs associated with Buddhist monasteries and the Dalai Lama. TTs are best known as companions and watchdogs, but during their long history they’ve worked as herders and flock guardians.
Temperament: loyal / affectionate / sensitive
Height: 14-17 inches
Weight: 18-30 pounds
Life expectancy: 15-16 years
TTs can be a hardy, healthy breed that ages gracefully. But just as second-generation immigrants to Western countries succumb to Western diseases, the same phenomenon might be linked to the shift in TT health issues due to environmental changes in diet and lifestyle from its country of origin. Early spay and neuters can predispose dogs to joint issues. Many breeders request that the dog reach maturity before altering. Geriatric heart murmurs and cataracts are not uncommon in aging TTs. Occasionally senior TTs are struck with vestibular disease, which is, fortunately, something from which they can recover. Cancer is an increasing concern in aging TTs. Responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as allergies, thyroid issues, bladder stones, periodontal disease, and hip and patella issues. Genetic tests (such as for NCL, LL, PRA, etc.) are a valuable tool used by breeders to eliminate the expression of those diseases in their puppies.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- NCL DNA Test
- PLL DNA Test
Prospective TT owners may mistakenly think this is not the dog for them based on the manicured, flowing coats seen on televised dog shows. But there’s an agile, versatile dog underneath with a multi-purpose coat suited for everyday life. TTs have a double coat, wool undercoat, resistance to moisture, and a natural insulator. Coat textures can vary from softer to more complex to more or less prone to matting. The natural coat of the breed can stand up to most anything nature can dish out. Keeping the dog in a puppy cut may be convenient if a full coat hinders desired outdoor adventures. That being said, the real benefit of grooming a TT is that it strengthens the bond in the relationship, is great training and is a way to monitor the dog’s health. It may come as a surprise how enjoyable grooming can be.
TTs love to take walks and be outdoors with their people. Individuals within the breed may have more or less drive for exercise. A good breeder can place and match each prospective owner with a compatible dog. If you want to hike up a mountain, there’s a TT. If you’re more of a homebody and simply walk around the block or take the stairs a couple times a day, there’s a TT for that. Many TTs enjoy a post in the house where they can look out a window or door and perform sentry duty for their household. If this spot is an overlook like a stair landing or balcony, all the better.
This is an independent-minded breed that is quick to learn and will wither under obsessive repetition or harsh methods. Training practices that allow the dog to choose the right behavior are recommended. Clicker-training instruction is widely available, and both human and dog will enjoy the developing partnership from training together. TTs are enthusiastic students who love working closely with their owners (in things such as agility, rally, and nose work) and performing jobs that contribute to the household. They seek companionship based on cooperation, trust, and respect. They have a great capacity for love and devotion to their people.
Tibetan Terriers evolved in a challenging land that experienced both feast and fast as a way of life. A traditional Tibetan diet would include staples such as easily digestible gruel (cooked barley flour), and meat broth. TTs often received the leftover gruel as food. Naturally lean animals that savor their food (they chew it!), it is not unusual for TTs to leave some in their bowls. Historically, the diet of peasants promoted longevity, while the rich foods of kings created disease. With this in mind, it is best to feed an honest food with real ingredients and trust a TT to eat what he needs rather than rely on the instructions on a feed bag. A lean dog is more energetic, healthier, and full of a happy life force!