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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography
Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Known as the Tibbie to his friends, the Tibetan Spaniel has been described as part terrier, part monkey, and part cat. He isn’t really a spaniel, but he is from Tibet, where he was an alarm dog at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. The Tibbie retains his watchdog tendencies to this day.
The Tibbie is not a true Spaniel. He was referred to as an “epagneul,” a French word used in the Middle Ages to refer to small comforter dogs.
True to his heritage, the Tibbie has a bold, independent spirit. He enjoys life, especially when he has a family who loves him. His family is first in his heart, he gets along well with other dogs and cats in the home, but he is reserved with strangers. Because of his small size, he is best suited to a home with older children who will know to handle him with care.
The Tibbie is incredibly smart and headstrong. He is determined to have his own way, so never assume that he will always obey your commands. He cannot be walked off leash because there’s no guarantee that he will come when called and an 100 percent guarantee that he will take off and do something you don’t want him to do, like pick a fight with a bigger dog or eat poop on the ground.
The Tibetan Spaniel can be active, within reason. With his short legs and flat face, he’s not exactly a jogging companion, but he’s sturdy, won’t object to a walk in the park, and will be equally satisfied with indoor play, such as chasing a toy. However, if he enjoys sports, don’t hesitate (overall health permitting) to involve him in activities like agility, rally, and obedience. The Tibbie likes to show off, and these activities are good opportunities for him to have an appreciative audience. He can also be a great therapy dog. Train him with patience and consistency, using positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards.
It goes without saying that the people-loving Tibbie needs to live in the house and never outdoors. Accept that he’ll be sharing your furniture. He is in charge, after all.
Tibetan Spaniels were bred by Buddhist monks to resemble little lions, which are symbolic of Buddha. Like their cousins the Lhasa Apsos, they served as alarm dogs in Tibetan monasteries. Tibetan Spaniels were highly valued and often presented as gifts to great nobles or rulers. The many exchanges of dogs between Tibet and China mean that the Tibetan Spaniel likely shares a common ancestry with breeds such as the Pekingese, the Japanese Chin, and the Shih Tzu.
British travelers and missionaries brought some of the dogs to the West in the late 19th century and early 20th century. They include Mrs. McLaren Morris, who brought the first Tibetan Spaniel to England; Sir Edward and Lady Wakefield, who bred several litters; and Colonel and Mrs. Hawkins, who brought a pair of the Wakefields’ dogs to England in 1941. Agnes R. H. Greig, who is also associated with the Tibetan Terrier, sent several to her mother in Britain, but only one from the breeding program survived World War II.
The dogs didn’t get much attention in the United States until the 1960s when a litter was bred from a pair imported from Tibet. Trinity Lutheran Church sexton Leo Kearns is credited with popularizing the dogs after his litter was snatched up by his parishioners in New Haven, Conn. He imported more Tibetan Spaniels from Britain, and others became interested in the dogs. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America was formed in 1971, and the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1984. Tibbies rank 104th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
Sweet but assertive, affectionate with his family but aloof toward strangers, the Tibetan Spaniel is a study in contrasts. He’s an alert watchdog (a skill honed from centuries of practice) but is trusting of other dogs and people.
The Tibetan Spaniel is often described as feline in his habits. It’s not unusual to find him perched on top of a sofa, chair, or other high place, surveying his domain or meticulously grooming himself like a cat.
The Tibbie has a moderate activity level. He’ll be happy to go on long walks with you, but he’s equally satisfied to snuggle with you in bed or on the sofa and can play with toys or race around the house when the weather is bad or your schedule doesn’t allow for a walk.
Intelligent but independent minded, the Tibbie is nonetheless easily trained with positive reinforcements such as praise, play, and treats when he does something you like and gentle correction when his behavior is not its best.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 10 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a headstrong adult dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Tibetan Spaniel, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Avoid any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Tibetan Spaniels are fairly healthy but are prone to some genetic problems including patellar luxation, congenital deafness, epilepsy, and certain eye diseases like progressive retinal atrophy, entropion, and retinal dysplasia.
Many toy breeds and small dogs, the Tibbie included, can develop a condition known as patellar luxation, in which one or both knee caps are unstable and occasionally slip out of place. Depending on the level of severity (one being mild, four being severe), luxating patellas can be a minor issue that causes the dog little problem (except eventual arthritis) or pain or serious enough to require surgical correction.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Tibbie to achieve CHIC certification, he must have a patella (knee) evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that his eyes are healthy.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
If the breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on genetic testing, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and causes of death.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Tibetan Spaniel at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Tibetan Spaniel’s medium-length double coat should have a natural appearance. No trimming is needed to make this dog look good.
Brush the Tibbie’s coat a couple times a week to remove dead hair and comb the feathering on the ears, feet, thighs, and tail, and the feathering between the toes to prevent or remove mats or tangles. He sheds twice a year, and during that time, you’ll need to brush him more often to keep the hair under control.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every week or two, and brush his teeth regularly with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Check his ears weekly and clean them if needed.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the best dog for you and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She should be more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and will come back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. And remember that breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Tibetan Spaniel and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the TSCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for breeders to take back or help rehome any dog of their breeding if the owner can’t keep him.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or an expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Tibetan Spaniel puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment and come from parents with health clearances, as well as conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Tibetan Spaniel might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Tibetan Spaniel may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Tibetan Spaniel in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (house-training status, for example) or very general (all the Tibbies available on Petfinder across the country). Animal Shelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Some local newspapers also have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Tibetan Spaniel. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Tibetan Spaniels love all Tibetan Spaniels. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America can help you find a dog that could be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Tibetan Spaniel rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be up front about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so that with training, you could bring a Tibetan Spaniel home to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he house-trained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Tibetan Spaniel, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Whether he's a puppy or adult, breeder purchase or rescue, take your Tibetan Spaniel to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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