The Luck Bringers of Tibet: Is the Tibetan Terrier right for you?

Last Updated on April 27, 2023

Often called the “Holy Dogs of Tibet,” the noble Tibetan Terrier is also referred to as the Dhokhi Apso, the Tsang Apso, or TTs. They share a size resemblance, but despite the name, they are not actually terriers.

The Tibetan Terrier has a storied and fantastic history that only adds to the fascination surrounding these purebred pups.

Happy Tibetan Terrier posing outdoor

Holy Origins: The Tibetan Terrier

It may not come as a surprise that the Tibetan Terrier’s origins begin in Tibet.

The Buddhist monks of this Himalayan region bred them as watchdogs and companions almost 2000 years ago. Nomadic tribes also used this ancient breed in herding their flocks.

TTs were good luck charms, which reinforced their title of holy dogs, they were given as gifts to award the receiver with good luck.

The people of Tibet also wouldn’t sell or mistreat these dogs in any way because they believed it would bring bad luck.

Tibetan Terriers also hold the distinction of being used in the development of numerous breeds. Breeds such as the Shih Tzu, the Tibetan Spaniel, and the Lhasa Apso all owe a debt to the Tibetan Terrier.

It was European travelers that first called these luck bringers Terriers because they thought it shared a resemblance.

Dr. Agnes Greig introduced the breed to Europe in 1922. Gifted two Tibetan Terriers for her work with the Women’s Medical Service of India, she brought them home to England.

In 1924, those dogs, Bunti and Rajah, had their first litter, registered as Lhasa Terriers.

The Lhasa Terrier designation stuck until 1930 when the Kennel Club of India changed it to Tibetan Terrier when they wrote the breed standard.

Dr. Greig continued to work with the breed back in England, where she opened the Lamleh Kennel. In 1937, she got the breed recognized by the English Kennel Club.

The first Tibetan Terriers found their way to the United States in 1956, serendipitously coming from Dr. Greig’s Kennel.

The Tibetan Terrier Club of America (TTCA) was founded the next year. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in the “non-sporting group” in 1973.

The AKC now also recognizes the TTCA as the Parent Club of the Tibetan Terrier.

Nowadays, Tibetan Terriers are winning hearts just as easily as they win dog shows. In 2016, the non-sporting breed winner of the National Dog Show was a Tibetan Terrier.

The Look of the Tibetan Terrier

Cheerful Tibetan Terrier dog walking with its owner in a park

Tibetan Terriers are medium-sized dogs with a distinct coat. They have medium-sized heads with a slight slope toward the ears. Their ears appear V-shaped and hang off the side of the head.

They feature wide-set eyes that will be a shade of brown, and those eyes will be slightly obscured by hair dangling from the forehead.

This dog breeds short muzzle has a small amount of beard on the underside and a cute black nose at its tip. They also have a unique bite that can be level, scissors, or reverse scissors.

TTs have large, rounded, flat feet with thick pads that create a snowshoe effect.

Their unique feet and long, sturdy legs allow for spectacular traction and agility, which came in handy in Tibet’s rough terrain. They also feature hind legs that are longer than their front legs.

They have squared bodies with a level topline back to their medium length tails. Their tails tend to curve over the back, and they can even curl to a particular side.

How does the Tibetan Terrier measure up?

This medium-sized breed can thrive in an apartment or home as long as they receive proper exercise. Before you bring a Tibetan Terrier home, though, you may be curious as to just how big they can get.

Tibetan Terrier: Male Female
Height: 14-17 inches
Weight: 18-30 pounds Slightly Smaller

Tibetan Terriers mature slower than some breeds. It can take between 10-14 months before they reach maturity.

Luscious Locks: The TTs Coat

The Tibetan Terrier has a unique double coat. The undercoat is dense, woolly, and soft. Their outer coat has distinct long hair that can be straight or wavy, and it parts down the middle of their back.

Cheerful Tibetan Terrier with its luscious coat

Their long coat is often their most recognizable feature as they have profuse hair covering their entire body.

A Cornucopia of Colors

When it comes to the color of the coat, Tibetan Terriers have no allegiance. They can be any color or any combination of those colors.

Prominent Colors & Combinations
Black Brindle Golden Brindle Silver
Black & White Brindle & White Gray Silver & Black
Black, White & Gold Brown Gray & White Silver & White
Black & Brindle Brown & White Red White
Black & Brown Fawn Red & White White & Black
Black & Gold Fawn & White Red Brindle White & Gold
Black & White Brindle Gold Sable  
Black, Brown & White Gold & White Sable & White  

Magnificent Markings

Beyond the brindle and sable patterns already mentioned, these dogs can sport various other distinctive coat markings.

A ticked pattern, black points, black mask, and black or white markings can all present themselves in the breed.

The Timid Tibetan Terrier

Smiling Tibetan Terrier hugged by its owner

These affectionate, cuddly pups make great companions and therapy dogs. You’ll want to ensure they are socialized young with both people and other animals.

Without these interactions early in life, Tibetan Terriers can suffer from extreme shyness. They are also fantastic family dogs who do well with young children, even if they are shy around them at first.

Are TTs aggressive?

Tibetan Terriers are not an inherently aggressive breed, and they do well with other people and pets, even if they can be standoffish.

They also aren’t excessive barkers, but they can let out a deep bark to keep you alert. They can also experience separation anxiety, which may exacerbate the barking if left alone for long periods.

Training a TT can take patience because these intelligent dogs can have a stubborn streak.

They can thrive with positive reinforcement, but training could take longer because they mature slower than other breeds.

The ease of their trainability is dependant on various factors, such as your methods and their age. 

Your Companion’s Care

Tibetan Terriers can be a high-maintenance breed, but that is mainly due to their grooming needs.

Goofy Tibetan Terrier dog in front of fan

As their origins suggest, they can thrive in cold weather, but they can also do fine in warm weather. Be sure to avoid extreme heat or cold and shade and shelter your pup as needed.

Exercising Your Tibetan Terrier

Your TT will have a medium to a high energy level that requires daily exercise. They will love to accompany you on long walks, a jog, or to the dog park, and they won’t be opposed to a nice backyard to run around.

Because your Tibetan Terrier is an intelligent dog, their exercise needs also include mental stimulation.

A rewarding training regimen that allows them to feel helpful will do wonders for their activity level both mentally and physically.

An Intense Grooming Regimen

Tibetan Terrier dog getting groomed

Grooming your Tibetan Terrier will be time-consuming. They will need brushed 2-3 times a week, but I recommend daily brushing.

You’ll want to mist their coat with water before brushing, and you can also add conditioner to the mist to help maintain their coat.

If you don’t mist their coat before brushing, hair can break and tear, which can be uncomfortable for your pup.

Your dog will have hair between their toes and under their ears. You need to keep those areas groomed and clean.

Checking their ears should be a priority for you as you don’t want a build-up of harmful contaminants.

You’ll also need to brush around their joints to keep the hair in those areas from becoming matted or tangled.

Tibetan Terriers are hypoallergenic. They are low shedders that produce minimal pet dander, which is what affects most allergy sufferers.

For you to keep your companion’s coat pristine, I recommend a weekly bath.

You can push the timeframe to about every ten days, but it helps in brushing and cleanliness to do it more frequently.

I recommend you clip their nails every two weeks with high-quality clippers. Don’t ignore their teeth either. You’ll want to brush their teeth regularly to keep those chompers healthy.

If you’re curious as to just how involved grooming one of these dogs can be, check out this grooming video.

A TTs Diet Needs

Feeding your TT can be an easy task. They can require up to 2 cups of food a day, depending on their size and age.

Make sure to give them high-quality dog food with real ingredients to help promote their activity levels.

One great attribute of the Tibetan Terrier is that they generally don’t overeat. The breed is known to leave food in their bowl after eating what they need.

With any breed, there are foods you should never feed them. The WebMD Pet Health Center offers excellent information on toxic foods.

I always advise researching the food if you are unsure whether to let your little buddy have some.

A Tibetan Terriers Health Needs

Tibetan Terrier dog relaxing on the grass

Tibetan Terriers have unique health needs. Usually, spaying or neutering can be beneficial at a young age, but this breed can suffer a predisposition for joint issues if this were to occur.

It’s recommended that spaying or neutering take place once your dog has reached maturity.

Because of their lush coats, TTs have a sensitivity to fleas. You’ll want to make sure to keep up with their grooming and flea medication.

As your dog ages, you’ll want to monitor for health problems such as cancer, cataracts, and heart murmurs. Your dog can potentially be affected by other health concerns throughout its life span.

Possible Health Conditions:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Congenital Deafness
  • Geriatric Heart Murmurs
  • Cancer
  • Vestibular Disease
  • Ceroid Lipofuscinosis/Canine Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Allergies
  • Bladder Stones
  • Periodontal Disease
  • Eye/Eyelash Problems
    • Cataracts
    • Progressive Retinal Atrophy Type 3 (PRA-Typ3)
    • Primary Lens Luxation/Lens Luxation
    • Distichiasis

That may seem like a lot of health conditions, but none of those are guaranteed.

You’ll want to adhere to regular visits with a veterinarian, and there are tests your vet can run to screen for these problems.

Tests/Screenings Your Vet Can Perform:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • PLL DNA Test
  • NCL DNA Test
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Thyroid Test
  • DNA for Lipofuscinosis
  • Hearing Tests

Some organizations can help with these tests as well as provide further information.

The University of Pennsylvania offers PennHIP. Their AIS PennHIP test is a highly effective screening.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) offers several services. The OFA has the Companion Animal Eye Registry (CAER), and you can get ophthalmologist exams through their service.

They also provide hip evaluations and hearing evaluations using the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test.

All these tests and screenings can seem overwhelming, but they are ideal for your pup. Plus, catching some of the more severe conditions early will benefit your dog in receiving care.

Your Tibetan Terrier has a life expectancy of 15-16 years. With proper care, your companion will be by your side for a long time.

The Price of Luck

The price of a Tibetan Terrier puppy can vary greatly. Prices range from $500 to $2500.

The cost can also be an indication of the dog’s genetic origins. Quality breeders will always charge more than pet stores and puppy farms.

Cute little Tibetan Terrier dog puppies wearing necklaces

While a pet store or puppy farm will be cheaper, they should not be your first choice. Puppy farms focus on profit rather than the well-being of the pet.

The animals tend to have inadequate housing, and they are more likely to develop health problems. Puppy farms will not test for genetic conditions.

You want a reputable breeder when getting a Tibetan Terrier. They test their dogs for genetic health conditions, and they will provide excellent living conditions for their animals.

These breeders are affiliated with organizations that protect the animals while upholding the breed standard.

A trustworthy breeder will also be upfront and honest about the dog’s genetic and medical history.

They will have higher prices, but for that price, you are ensuring you get the best and healthiest pup you can.

On average, the Tibetan Terrier has six puppies in their litter, so depending on the breeder, there may not be many to go around.

Breeding Holy Dogs

If you’re on the hunt for a TT breeder, some places can aid in your search.

The Tibetan Terrier Club of America has a code of ethics for breeders to follow. The TTCA also has a list of breeder referrals that all adhere to their code of ethics.

Given that there are almost twenty breeders on their list, there is no better place to start your search.

The American Kennel Club also has resources to help you find puppies for sale.

The AKC takes what they do very seriously, and all the dogs listed on their site are from quality breeders, with most coming from champion bloodlines.

A Lucky Rescue

I always advocate for adoption because there are so many dogs in need of a loving home.

The good news for anyone on the lookout to adopt a Tibetan Terrier is that they are a beloved breed. Numerous organizations are helping to rescue and find homes for these pups.

One of your best resources in this endeavor will be The Tibetan Terrier Rescue.

They list dogs available right on their homepage, but they also have a directory of rescues from all across the United States and internationally.

The TTCA can also assist you in rescuing a pup in need. They offer resources to aid in your search on their rescue page, but you will need to submit a questionnaire beforehand.

The Lhasa Apso vs. The Tibetan Terrier

The Lhasa Apso and the Tibetan Terrier do share some similarities. They are both Tibetan dogs with similar temperaments. Most notably, they can be excellent companions that have a shy streak.

Adorable Lhasa Apso dog
Lhasa Apso dog

The Lhasa Apso also has a similar double coat, which can make them near doppelgangers of Tibetan Terriers.

The first difference you may notice is that the Lhasa Apso is a small breed compared to the medium size Tibetan Terrier.

The Lhasa Apsos features are smaller with obviously shorter legs and a shorter muzzle.

The Tibetan Terrier’s feet are also more prominent with their distinct “snowshoe” paws, which is a quality the Lhasa Apso does not share.

While both breeds make shy but affectionate companions, they will differ on individual needs such as diet and exercise simply because of size.

Either way, you’ll find a dog that makes a delightful pet.

Curious about Tibetan Terrier mixes?

Several exciting crossbreeds utilize the Tibetan Terrier, such as the Kobetan and the Ttoodle. Let’s explore these mixes to see what makes them unique.

Kobetan – Cocker Spaniel and Tibetan Terrier mix

The Kobetan is a high-energy cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Tibetan Terrier. They’ll require a fair amount of exercise, but they do have an excellent family-oriented temperament.

Tibetan Terrir and Cocker Spaniel mix

They do great with young kids and other pets, but early socialization works best.

The Kobetan is a small to medium-sized dog with an average height between 14-16 inches and can weigh between 22-27 pounds. Their thick, wavy coat will require similar upkeep to a Tibetan Terrier.

The Kobetan has the potential to shed more, so it’s not hypoallergenic, but it can still be a decent pet for some allergy sufferers.

Ttoodle – Standard Poodle and Tibetan Terrier mix

The Ttoodle is an affectionate cross between a Tibetan Terrier and, most commonly, a Standard Poodle. They are high maintenance when it comes to grooming, but they are hypoallergenic.

Tibetan Terrier and Poodle mix
Source: / IG

They are intelligent family dogs that can be shy around strangers. Early socialization will help with strangers and possible dominance issues with other animals.

The Ttoodle is a medium-sized mix that stands between 14-19 inches and weighs between 32-45 pounds.

They can be moderately easy to train, but they are prone to separation anxiety if left alone for long periods.

Is a Tibetan Terrier the dog for you?

Two adorable Tibetan Terrier dogs

Well, if you are looking for a hypoallergenic dog with a decent energy level, they have you covered.

They are excellent companions and family dogs that will get along with other pets while acting as an excellent watchdog.

If you can’t dedicate the time needed to their grooming and exercise, this might not be the pup for you.

Their stubborn and often shy temperament may not work for some people, so make sure your life meshes with their needs.

Further Reading: Similar breeds

The Tibetan Terrier may not be the right breed for you, but if you’re still interested in similar dogs, we’ve got you covered. Feel free to check out these other breeds to see if they’re right for you.


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