The Tibetan Spaniel is a breed of assertive, small, intelligent dogs originating in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet. They share ancestry with the Pekingese, Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, and Pug. This breed is not a true Spaniel; its breeding and role differs quite a bit (Spaniels are gun dogs.) The name Spaniel may have been given due to its resemblance to the bred-down lapdog versions of the hunting Spaniels, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
The Tibetan Spaniel standard allows all colors, but with brown eyes and a black nose. Their temperament should be confident, active, and alert. The outline should give a well balanced appearance, slightly longer in body than the height at withers. The breed's height should be about 10 inches. The head should be slightly domed with a medium length, strong muzzle. The ideal weight is 9-15 pounds. The breed has a medium length double coat with flarings and a high set plumed tail, carried over their back.
Tibetan spaniels are happy and assertive, highly intelligent dogs. "Tibbies", as they are often called, make excellent housepets for many people, including families with small children. Tibetan Spaniels enjoy attention and involvement with their owners, but have an independent nature and can be willful. They will bark to warn of strangers and strange occurrences, but are generally quiet.
The progressive retinal atrophy is a problem with this breed. The disease is an inherited form of blindness in dogs that occurs in two forms: generalized PRA and central PRA. Generalized PRA is primarily a photoreceptor disease and is the form found in Tibetan Spaniels. The clinical signs have been observed between 1½ and 4 years, but as late at seven years. The disease is painless and affected dogs become completely blind. Currently there is no treatment, but affected dogs generally adapt well to their progressive blindness.
The earliest clinical sign of progressive retinal atrophy is "night blindness." The dog cannot see well in a dimly lit room or at dusk. The dog will show a reluctance to move from a lighted area into darker surroundings. The night blindness develops progressively into complete blindness. The British institution Animal Health Trust (AHT) is at present intensively researching PRA in Tibetans Spaniels, aiming to isolate the responsible gene.
Liver Shunt - Portosystemic Shunt
A portosystemic shunt is an abnormal vessel that allows blood to bypass the liver, one of the body's filters, so that it is not cleansed. This condition is often referred to as a "liver shunt".
Most shunts cause recognizable symptoms by the time a dog is a young adult but are occasionally diagnosed only later in life. Since the severity of the condition can vary widely depending on how much blood flow is diverted past the liver it is possible for a lot of variation in clinical signs and time of onset. Often, this condition is recognized after a puppy fails to grow, allowing early diagnosis. Signs of portosystemic shunts include poor weight gain, sensitivity to sedatives (especially diazepam), depression, pushing the head against a solid object, seizures, weakness, salivation, vomiting, poor appetite, increased drinking and urinating, balance problems and frequent urinary tract disease or early onset of bladder stones. A dramatic increase of these signs after eating is a strong supportive sign of a portosystemic shunt.
Like many breeds of dog, Tibetan Spaniels are susceptible to allergies. They also tend to experience "cherry eye", a prolapsed third eyelid. The shape of a Tibetan Spaniel's face makes them prone to "weeping eye".
Small monastery dogs, thought to be early representatives of the Tibetan Spaniel, loyally trailed behind their Lama masters and came to be regarded as "little Lions" owing to their resemblance to the Chinese guardian lions that gave them great value and prestige. The practice of sending the dogs as gifts to the palaces of China and other Buddhist countries grew significantly, and more "lion dogs" were presented back to Tibet, continuing until as late as 1908. As a result of exchanges of Tibetan Spaniels between palaces and monasteries, the breed is likely to have common ancestors with Oriental breeds such as the Japanese Chin and the Pekingese.
Professor Ludvic von Schulmuth studied the origins of skeletal remains of dogs in human settlements as old as ten thousand years. The Professor created a genealogical tree of Tibetan dogs. It shows that the "Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog", a small scavenger, evolved into the "Small Soft-Coated Drop-Eared Hunting Dog" which then evolved into the Tibetan Spaniel, Pekingese, and Japanese Chin. Intermixing of the Tibetan Spaniel with the Tibetan breeds Lhasa Apso and Shih Tzu resulted in both the latter breeds birthing the occasional "Prapso" - a pup with a shedding coat closely resembling the Tibetan Spaniel.
Legend has it that Tibbies were trained to turn the monks' prayer wheels, but it is more likely that their keen sight made them excellent monastery watchdogs, barking to warn of intruders and alert the monks.
Village-bred Tibetan Spaniels varied greatly in size and type, and the smaller puppies were usually given as gifts to the monasteries. In turn, these smaller dogs used in the monastery breeding programs were probably combined with the more elegant Tibetan Spaniel-type dogs brought from China. Those bred closer to the Chinese borders were characterized by shorter muzzles.
Not only was the Tibetan Spaniel prized as a pet and companion, it was considered a useful animal by all classes of Tibetans. During the day, the dogs would sit on the monastery walls keeping watch over the countryside below. Their keen eye, ability to see great distances, and alarm barking, made them good watchdogs. Modern-day Tibbies retain their ancestors' love of heights.
Tibetan Spaniels were being bred in the United Kingdom by the 1890s. The first authenticated reference we find to Tibetan Spaniels in the United States is a litter born out of two imported dogs from a Tibetan monastery in 1965. In January 1971, the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America was formed with 14 charter members. After a period in the Miscellaneous classes, the Tibetan Spaniel was accepted for AKC registration and became eligible to compete as a Non-Sporting breed effective January 1, 1984. The breed was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 1987, and placed in Group 9 Companion and Toy Dogs, Section 5 : Tibetan breeds.