Like people, Tibetans come in a variety of personalities. Although often aloof with people he does not know, TT’s normally have a great zest for life and like to participate fully in family activities. In general, they are intensely family oriented and often will form an extremely close bond with one special person in the family. Most are intensely curious and many will easily jump more than twice their height or climb, using their paws like hands, to investigate something they find interesting.
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The Tibetan Terrier is a rare, mid-sized (20-25 lbs.) shaggy dog which comes in a wide variety of colors including black, white, silver, cream, golden and sable in solid, parti-color, and tri-color combinations. He is small enough to live comfortably in an apartment and share your bed or chair, yet large enough to enjoy a long hike or romp with kids. Owners often describe them as a large dog in a small dog’s body.
In their native Tibet, where they have always lived close to people, they are called Little People. Their English-speaking friends usually call them Tibetans or TT’s.
The Tibetan’s most obvious feature is the long, slightly wavy coat which covers him from his nose to the tip of the tail he carries up over his back and even between the pads of his large, flat snowshoe-like feet. The heavy coat protected him from the harsh winters of his homeland where temperatures remain far below zero for weeks on end; long heavy eyelashes hold the hair out of his eyes yet lets it protect them from the snow-blindness in the winter and blowing sand in the summer.
The coat has no odor and shedding is minimal. Under all that hair, his body is quite solid and should look square.
According to legend, the Tibetan Terrier originated in the Lost Valley of Tibet over 2000 years ago. They were raised in the monasteries and were never sold but might be given to someone who had done the lamas a favor or to a visiting dignitary; this association with the monasteries gave them the name Holy Dog of Tibet. They also became known as the Good Luck Dog or Luck Bringer as they were also given to those about to embark on dangerous journeys or caravans; the traveler’s safety was ensured as no one would harm anyone fortunate enough to have been given a Tibetan Terrier. The present Dalai Lama took his Tibetan Terrier, “Senge,” with him when he was forced to leave Tibet.
There is also evidence that TT’s were used to herd as well as to retrieve articles that tumbled down the steep rocky mountains into crevices. The breed is very sure-footed and they are powerful jumpers; they would be well suited for such tasks.
In the Western World
Dr. Agnes R. H. Greig, an English Doctor, is the person who established the breed in both India and England. While in India, she was given a Tibetan Terrier puppy by a nobleman on whose wife the doctor had performed surgery. Dr. Greig was charmed by “Bunty” and fortunately was able to procure a mate for her; she subsequently persuaded the Indian Kennel Club to recognize the breed in the 1920’s.
In the 1930’s Dr. Greig began her Lamleh Kennels, establishing the breed in England where it was accepted by the Kennel Club of England in 1937. Dr. Greig continued her tireless efforts breeding and promoting Tibetan Terriers until her death in 1972. She kept a tight rein on her breeding stock and it was not until the mid-1950’s that a few other breeders began to emerge using Dr. Greig’s stock and a few other imports certified by the English Kennel Club. Among the first were John and Connie Downey’s Luneville Kennels and Emmie Manual’s Skellfield Kennels.
In 1956 Dr. Henry and Mrs. Alice Murphy of Great Falls Virginia imported Gremlin Cortina (“Girlie“) from Dr. Greig. They imported a mate for her in 1957 and established their Kalai Kennels. Alice Murphy had been involved with purebred dogs since childhood and devoted the last 20 years of her life to the establishment of her beloved breed in the US. and Canada.
The Murphys set up the Tibetan Terrier Club of America in 1957 to act as the official registry for the breed as well as to encourage ownership, promote careful breeding and to protect the interests of the breed in the US and Canada.
In 1963 the American Kennel Club admitted the breed to the Miscellaneous Class permitting owners to exhibit their dogs. After ten more years of hard work promoting the breed by the Murphys and a growing core group of fanciers, the breed was admitted to registration by the American Kennel Club effective May, 1973 and to regular (championship) show classification in the Non-Sporting group effective Oct. 3, 1973.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are they called terriers?
When the English first started to classify dogs all small dogs were called terriers. Now the Terrier (from terre meaning ground) Group is composed only of dogs bred to hunt vermin from the ground. The TT never rooted game (though some show very creative gardening instincts as they satisfy their curiosity!) nor does it have the peppery disposition associated with the true terrier.
Are they easy to train?
Tibetans are very quick learners and can learn to avoid doing things just as quickly as they learn how to do them – causing some owners to think their dog is slow. When training TT’s one must remember they are very self-reliant and can have a very independent turn of mind. However, they are extremely eager to please; the key to successful training is earning both their love and their respect for you as leader.
Are they healthy?
The Tibetan is a very hardy breed and is considered long-lived with most living well beyond 12 years and many to 15 or 16 years. There are some defects found in the general dog population found in the Tibetan Terrier. Conscientious breeders screen their stock and can explain these problems and their incidence: hip dysplasia, patella luxation, hernias, progressive retinal atrophy, lens luxation and cataracts.
As with all dogs, Tibetans should have regular check-ups and yearly boosters for rabies, distemper, parvo and other contagious diseases.
Are they easy to take care of?
The TT is not a particularly high energy dog; he normally adapts to the lifestyle and pace of his owners, particularly upon maturity.
The TT must be groomed on a regular basis and, to keep in good shape, this means a good weekly brushing. Combed, their coat protects them just as our clothes protect us; uncombed the coat becomes an unremovable wool jacket. Puppies shed their soft “puppy coat” while growing their adult double coat. During this “blow,” which may last for several days or several weeks, they need more frequent grooming and may appear to mat up overnight. A skilled groomer can comb out the undercoat or trim a TT in a variety of cute styles but he will look very different.
Are they good with children? Strangers?
Most Tibetans are more playful and outgoing with their families than with strangers. However, a puppy’s personality depends partly on how it is raised – one who has met many people and faced lots of new situations in his first few months of life will be more outgoing than one who did not. A TT who does not wish to socialize will normally turn his back and go off by himself.
How do I get one?
Try, if you can, to visit a breeder so you can meet at least one of the parents, litter mates and possibly other TT’s. If you cannot visit, then get to know the breeder as well as you can by phone and mail. Most breeders want to know the people who buy their pups and are glad to talk about their puppies and older dogs. Remember, however, they may be busy people with things to do; try to keep conversations to the point and keep any appointments you make to visit.
How do I find a breeder?
Most breeders find homes by word of mouth. Many have waiting lists and do not need to advertise.
Breeders lists are maintained by several local Tibetan Terrier Clubs, by the Tibetan Terrier Club of America and many all-breed clubs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) will furnish names and addresses of breeders. Dog show catalogs list the names and addresses of all the exhibitors, some of whom may have or know of available pups or adults. In some areas of the country TT’s are occasionally advertised in the newspaper. Several national dog magazines carry ads for all breeds.
What do I want? Show? Pet? Male? Female?
If you hope to show or breed, you want a dog of excellent quality. Study the most recent (1987) STANDARD, a description of the ideal Tibetan approved by both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Tibetan Terrier Club of America. Try to see several Tibetans and compare them to the Standard and to each other before you purchase one. Do be fair to the breed and the breeder and tell him what you expect of your dog. It is in the best interest of the Tibetan Terrier – and costs no more in time or money – to breed only the top quality. Some breeders insist their best pups should be shown; others are willing to place them in pet homes. A pet quality TT (one who deviates from the Standard) can be just as good a companion as a show dog.
There is no reason to prefer males or females. TT boys are unusually loving and many even enjoy watching and caring for puppies. Neutering either gender results in better health in the long term and eliminates medical and behavioral problems associated with the reproductive cycle.
What should I expect from the breeder?
You should receive an up-to-date veterinarian’s health certificate and medical record listing all inoculations, worming and other treatment the dog has received. You should receive clear, written instructions on feeding and care.
You should receive AKC registration papers which may be the “blue form” initially issued for each puppy in a litter or an “individual white form” with the dog’s registered name. Pets are often soled with a “limited registration” – a special form for dogs who are not to be bred or shown in competition. You should insist on a bill of sale listing the breed, breeder, sex, color, birth date and registered names and numbers of the parents, particularly if AKC papers are not available for any reason.
Conscientious breeders can show you proof that both parents have had their hips X-rayed upon maturity and their eyes have been cleared by a canine ophthalmologist within the past year.
Most breeders give you a pedigree or “family tree”. A contract which guarantees your new friend’s basic health for an extended period of time indicates the breeder’s willingness to help you, if necessary, down the road. Many breeders also give you some of the food the pup has been eating and a leash and/or collar.
Is there a rescue organization for Tibetan Terriers?
The Tibetan Terrier Club of America tries to find good homes for Tibetan Terriers whose owners can no longer care for them.