10 Things You Didn’t Know about the Tibetan Spaniel

The Tibetan Spaniel is not a true spaniel. Instead, it is one of a number of small but nonetheless smart and confident breeds from Tibet and the rest of East Asia. On the whole, Tibetan Spaniels are excellent canine companions, which has contributed much to their popularity throughout much of the world. Here are 10 things that you may or may not have known about the Tibetan Spaniel:

1. Not a True Spaniel

Spaniels are a collection of gun dog breeds, with some specializing on land while others specialize in water. Considering that the Tibetan Spaniel came into existence in Tibet rather than in Europe, it should come as no surprise to learn that it can’t be considered a true spaniel. Instead, some sources claim that Tibetan Spaniels picked up the name because of their resemblance to lapdog versions of spaniels.

2. Sometimes Compared to “Little Lions”

Tibetan Spaniels are sometimes compared to “little lions” in a reference to Chinese guardian lions. Some people in the west might be more familiar with these statues under the name “Foo Dogs,” but this is rather misleading because the statues are meant to represent lions rather than dogs. Still, the confusion is understandable because the ancient Chinese had little first-hand knowledge of lions but were instead introduced to them through Central Asian cultures, thus resulting in a rather stylized appearance that was formalized over the course of centuries.

3. Performed Practical Functions in Tibetan Monasteries

The Tibetan Spaniel is believed to have performed a practical function in Tibetan monasteries. For instance, they served as watchdogs on the walls, warning both their human masters and their Tibetan Mastiff counterparts whenever they spotted something problematic. Furthermore, Tibetan Spaniels were canine companions, meaning that they helped to keep their human masters warm by sleeping with them at night.

4. Related to Chinese Breeds

There was a fair amount of gift-giving between Tibetan monasteries and Chinese palaces as well as their counterparts in other countries. Due to this, the Tibetan Spaniel is believed to be related to a number of Chinese breeds such as the Pug and the Pekingese. In fact, it is interesting to note that Tibetan Spaniels situated closer to the Chinese border had shorter snouts because of this.

5. Believed to Be Descended from a Gobi Desert Dog

It is interesting to note that one study of the Tibetan Spaniel’s genetics concluded that it is descended from a small scavenger dog that lived in the Gobi Desert. Eventually, the small scavenger dog turned into a hunting dog, which in turn, became ancestor to the Tibetan Spaniel as well as a number of related breeds.

6. Sometimes Described As Being Cat-Like

There are some people who have described the Tibetan Spaniel as being cat-like in nature. One excellent example is how Tibetan Spaniels will climb onto furniture to provide themselves with a better view of what is happening, which might be influenced by their one-time use as watchdogs.

7. Need Companionship

Generally speaking, Tibetan Spaniels are very affectionate creatures when it comes to their human family members. However, there is a potential problem in that they have a strong need for companionship, meaning that they can wind up suffering if they don’t get enough.

8. Independent-Minded

With that said, while the Tibetan Spaniel is fond of its human family members, it tends to be rather independent-minded. In fact, this is a trait that has been encouraged by some breeders, who view it as one of the breed’s most distinctive characteristics.

9. Reserved with Strangers

The Tibetan Spaniel is not fond of strangers. This can be reduced to some extent with proper socialization from a young age, but even then, the Tibetan Spaniel will be reserved when meeting them. Having said this, while the Tibetan Spaniel won’t exhibit a great deal of aggression, it will start giving off loud alarm barks if it is either startled or made to feel uneasy by a stranger.

10. Can Have Various Health Problems

Like most breeds, the Tibetan Spaniel is more likely to suffer from certain health issues than others. One example is what is called a portosystemic shunt, which is when an abnormal blood vessel means that some of the dog’s blood can avoid passing through the liver for filtration. Often-times, the condition is recognized when a puppy fails to show signs of growth, though that is but one of a number of potential symptoms such as seizures, weakness, and balance problems.


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