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Tibetan Spaniel Temperament: Little lions from Tibet

Tibetan Spaniels are a charming and loyal breed known for their gentle nature and affectionate temperament. They are beloved for their intelligence, playful spirits, and even-tempered demeanour, making them the ideal companion dogs for young and old alike. But the Tibbie also has a watchful and alert side, never missing the trick.

Before bringing a four-legged companion home, gathering as much information as possible about the dog breed is crucial.

In this blog post, we'll explore the Tibetan Spaniel's temperament in detail, its impressive history as the monk's best friend and potential health issues in the breed.

Are you ready for all that comes with owning a Tibetan Spaniel? Let's find out.

Tibetan Spaniel History

As the name suggests, the history of the assertive and small-sized Tibetan Spaniel starts in Tibet. They had the important job of watching over temples and monasteries and keeping monks and lamas company.

The Tibetan Spaniel has technically not much to do with the gun dog spaniels that we know today, and they don't share a common ancestry.

In Tibet, they're called "Simkhyi", which means housedog, bedroom dog or room dog. The name refers to their crucial activity as companion dogs in an often lonely profession. Lovingly called "little lion" by their keepers, these happy and lively dogs were the perfect companions with their family-orientated temperament. Hence, the reference to "little lion" is highly esteemed.

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament
Tibetan Spaniels are priceless, hence they were only gifted to esteemed friends.

No one knows for sure when these little dogs emerged, but it is believed the breed is around 2,500 to 3,000 years old.

Tibetan Spaniels were never sold in Tibet but rather gifted to worthy friends. In the tradition, the little dog is priceless, hence can only be gifted. Traditionally, dogs were given as gifts often in that region, leading to ancestral ties between oriental dog breeds.

Professor Ludvic von Schulmuth has provided a genealogical tree of Tibetan breeds by studying skeletal remains dating back to the Paleolithic era (10,000 years ago).

The ancestor of oriental breeds was the "Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog", which split into individual branches later. One of the lines is divided into smooth-coated little dogs like Pekingese, Japanese Chin and Tibetan Spaniel. The Papillon and long-haired Chihuahua developed on a parallel branch, and another was the basis for the Pug and the Shih Tzu.

Larger dogs like the Tibetan Mastiff, Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier split up earlier.

In the Tibetan tradition, Tibetan Spaniels are considered sacred dogs by lamas and monks. All creatures should be treated with respect, as any human or Buddha can be reincarnated as a dog.

Tibetan Spaniels accompanied monks and lamas everywhere and sat on their laps during meditation sessions. In addition, they often lay on the high monastery walls, looking out and barking at everything they perceived as suspicious activity outside. This even allowed the larger Tibetan Mastiff to become more watchful as they tend to be tied closer to the ground. It also explains the affinity of Tibetan Spaniels to be close to vantage points to have a better overview of the terrain.

The first Tibetan Spaniels came to England around 1895. It is unknown if a Tibetan Spaniel called "Yezo" or "Ching" first laid paws on the England shores. Regardless, it wasn't until after WWII that the breeding in the UK started.

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament
The Tibetan Spaniel was firmly established as a breed around 1950-1960 by Lady Wakefield.

The breed started firmly established in the 1950s when Lady and Lord Wakefield imported a Tibetan Spaniel bitch from western Tibet.

They lived in India for a long time but decided to return to England.

The female Tibbie, Mughiwuli, formed the foundation stock of the breed in the UK, and most UK Tibbies can be traced back to her. Mughiwuli mated with Tashi and produced two little pups called "Potala" and "Garpon".

The Tibetan Spaniel Association was formed in 1957 to oversee the breed's interest.

The UK Kennel Club first recognised the breed in 1960.

The high-altitude mountains in Tibet are cold. To protect themselves from freezing weather, the Tibetan Mastiff has a double coat which consists of a soft undercoat for warmth and a silky, longer outer coat. That makes them perfectly adapted for temperatures up to minus 20 degrees.

The Tibbie can come in a range of colours. 35 are recognised as breed standard colours in the UK, like black, fawn, white, gold and red.

The below numbers of new registrations show how rare this breed is in the UK. If you're interested in the breed and spot a Tibetan Spaniel, we recommend speaking with the owner and learning more about them.

Q1 2021

Q2 2021

Q3 2021

Q4 2021

Yearly 2021

Q1 2022

Q2 2022

Q3 2022

Q4 2022

2022 Total











Source: UK Kennel Club updated March 2023

Now that we have a rough idea about their breeding history let's dive into how your life with a Tibetan Spaniel might look.

What is the Temperament of the Tibetan Spaniel?

Tibetan Spaniels are very outgoing and engaging, making them excellent companions. They quickly bond with their family and people they have built a level of trust. These lively little dogs are often happiest when spending quality time with their human companions, enjoying activities like cuddling, walking, or playing fetch.

Due to their predominantly low energy levels, they're excellent for retired and older adults. But also, a Tibetan Spaniel needs to let its hair down sometimes and enjoy "zoomies" in the garden. Mostly, they will love your company and happily curl up next to you on the couch. However, they have a playful side that needs to be catered for accordingly.

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament
Tibetan Spaniels are happy and have unconditional love to give.

Being bred as a companion dog, the Tibetan Spaniel has an impressive depth of empathy towards their owner. They will feel when something is off; it can make them upset.

Their sensitivity makes them less suitable for busy homes with a lot of fighting and crying, as it will affect their happiness. On the other hand, if you're upset, your Tibetan Spaniel will respond kindly.

All in all, the Tibetan Spaniel requires more emotional support rather than physical exercise.

They will be happy with two short walks per day of around 20 minutes. Being sensitive means that the Tibbie doesn't like being left alone and can suffer from separation anxiety. A sad dog makes for a mischievous dog.

Opening shelves, shredding toilet paper or opening drawers to find treats: All not unheard actions of a Tibetan Spaniel suffering from separation anxiety or boredom. Being mostly at home or having a dog walker come in are important ways to alleviate the risk of naughty behaviour.

Socialising a dog early is imperative, but this mainly applies to watchdogs. They're naturally inclined to be more aloof and distrust strangers at first. In the case of the Tibetan Spaniel, it can lead to small dog syndrome with aggressive tendencies.

Therefore, it is crucial to calculate in time for puppy classes, walks in crowded areas, and visiting food markets and active regions so your Tibetan Spaniel can learn to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

A Tibetan Spaniel hasn't got an aggressive bone in them. So giving your dog the proper framework to distinguish between a business-as-usual situation and something more out of the ordinary is vital.

Getting on well with other dogs is fine for Tibetan Spaniels. They're used to working in tandem with Tibetan Mastiffs and other monastery dogs, so they're not usually unsocial with other dogs. Instead, they will be calm and collected.

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament
A Tibbie can display selective hearing, if they decide they have something better to do.

Training a Tibetan Spaniel might be a bit of a challenge. They can display independent streaks and are often referred to as "stubborn"; however, it's more the case of their own agenda they'd like to follow.

Tibetan Spaniels can display a surprising capacity for independent actions. Although some have been known to show a satisfying display in agility-or obedience competitions, the average Tibbie will most likely not shine their brightest.

For that reason, many Tibbie owners don't trust their dogs off-lead as they want to avoid running after their small dog in public. However, the Tibetan Spaniel will return to you when they feel ready for it. You can improve your dog's obedience with calm and consistent positive reinforcement and understanding what makes them tick. However, don't be too upset when they display selective hearing.

The small Tibbie is also not a jogging partner for long, fast-paced runs. You should look for higher-energy breeds, like a Dobermann or Beagle, if you're looking for an athletic and high-stamina breed. Tibbies could tag along for a soft-paced jog.

Tibetan Spaniels are good with well-behaved children. However, a child should always be taught how to approach dogs respectfully. The Tibbie is a relatively gentle and patient dog but doesn't like being swooped up. As always, interactions between a dog and a child should happen supervised.

Because of their origin as watchdogs, Tibetan Spaniels can bark a bit more than the average dog. You can reduce barking by teaching your dog the "quiet" command. Tibetan Spaniels have also been described as cat-like. They prefer higher vantage points, like window sills, and have a peculiar affinity for climbing. Anything unusual will be reported to you.

Despite their tendency for independent actions, the Tibetan Spaniel is the right dog breed for many people, even novice dog owners. They're easy-going, loyal and have a lot of love to give. But, of course, you need consistent training, time and socialisation, and your pup will pay you back with worshipping affection.

Let's now look at some common Tibetan Spaniel questions.

When do Tibetan Spaniels stop growing?

Tibetan Spaniels will usually stop growing between 10 and 12 months. This is normal for toy-sized and small breeds.

Can Tibetan Spaniels swim?

Tibetan Spaniels can swim if introduced gently to the water. Their coat is not considered water repellent but can make them buoyant. However, remember not to let your Tibbie swim in harsh conditions with currents, as they can be swept away quickly due to their small size.

Are Tibetan Spaniels hypoallergenic?

No, Tibetan Spaniels are not considered hypoallergenic. Due to having a double coat, they're seasonal shedders and can lose a lot of hair. In shedding season, the coat should be brushed daily to remove dead hair and prevent matting.

A low or no-shedding dog like the Dandie Dinmont Terrier is a better choice if you have mild allergies.

That said, no dog is completely hypoallergenic as they will permanently shed dander or saliva to some extent from their skin.

A dog might not be a good choice for people suffering from severe allergies. To minimise allergic reactions, hoover regularly, clean the dog bed at least once a week, create doggy-free zones in the home, and reduce soft furnishings like carpets that can trap dead skin cells. Also, don't let the dog sleep in your bed, which may be difficult with the Tibetan Spaniel being a "bedroom" dog.

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament in a nutshell

Tibetan Spaniel Temperament
Tibetan Spaniels are great for younger and older adults.

  • Extremely loyal and loving temperament towards their family with a unique bond

  • Assertive, with a sense of importance

  • A relatively low-energy dog that is excellent for older adults and calm households

  • Accept that you sometimes won't be able to make your Tibetan Spaniel perform as you want them to

  • Aloof with strangers with an instinct to protect and deter danger which requires training and socialisation

Potential health issues in the Tibetan Spaniel breed

The Tibetan Spaniel has a long life span ranging from 12 to 15 years. It's not unusual to hear about Tibbies that lived even longer than that. They're generally a healthy breed.

However, budgeting for potential vet bills and the time required to care for your Tibetan Spaniel is a good idea. Suppose they develop a particular condition. As a new owner, you should be equipped to pay medical expenses associated with the breed. Thus, always opt for comprehensive insurance. Thankfully the tiny size of the Tibetan Spaniel will make medications usually cheaper as doses are based on body weight.

As with any breed, a dog can have inherited conditions or conditions due to environmental factors.

Not all Tibetan Spaniels will experience the below non-hereditary diseases. However, it's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment.

The below list does not replace a vet visit. Always look for a vet if your dog displays any symptoms; internet research never replaces a vet visit.

The below health conditions are more likely linked to the Tibetan Spaniel breed.

PRA (Progressive Retinal atrophy): An inherited disease that can cause blindness. There is currently no cure, but dogs can adapt quite well to it. There is a DNA test to test if your dog is a carrier.

Portosystemic shunt (liver shunt): A shunt is defined as allowing a flow of materials between two structures that are not usually connected. This causes the digestive tract to bypass the liver. It can be present at birth or developed later in life.

Hip Dysplasia: A reputable breeder can lower the risk of hip dysplasia and should provide certificates to prove the hip and elbow scores. Hip dysplasia develops in the hip joint and can lead to stiffness and arthritis. Therefore, the KC makes this test mandatory for registered litters.

Patellar Luxation: Orthopaedic issue than can become apparent in smaller dog breeds. It's a condition when the kneecap moves out of its normal position. If your little Tibbie starts limping or holding their leg up while walking, get it checked out by a vet.

Cherry eye: A prolapsed third eyelid making it visible.

Always go to an experienced and specialised breeder for Tibetan Spaniels. Most hereditary diseases are inherited in a recessive manner. It means the puppy must inherit both parents' genes to become affected. The puppy becomes a carrier if only one parent has the mutation. Hence, choosing a reputable breeder who has done genetic testing on their litter is vital.

Owners' voices about their Tibetan Spaniel

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Conclusion: Is the Tibetan Spaniel a wonderful dog to own?

The predominately happy and assertive temperament of the Tibetan Spaniel makes them great pets for younger and older adults alike. Even novice dog lovers can own this breed with the proper research, patience, and dedication.

Despite their selective hearing practices, the Tibbie is a docile and well-mannered dog at home that wants nothing more than to keep you safe. You will need to tolerate the occasional barking, but the noise is all worth it. When outside, you have to acknowledge that a Tibetan Spaniel wasn't made to be obedient if they don't see a good reason.

You won't be disappointed if you have your heart set on them. These little fluffs expect companionship as a right but will tenfold return the favour. So accept that they were not made to be biddable, and you will have a beautiful life with your Tibetan Spaniel.

Tibetan Mastiff Summary Breed Info box



Dog Size

26cm - 29cm

Dog Weight


Bitch Size

25cm - 28cm

Bitch Weight




Feeding Need


Tendency to drool


Energy level


Tendency to bark


Tendency to dig


Attention need


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