Tibetan Terrier

Breed At A Glance


Sweet, lively and mild

Life Expectancy
13-15 years

Average Height
14-17 inches

Average Weight
18-30 lbs

Coat Color
Varies widely

Coat Length/Texture
Long, fine outer coat, with abundant wooly undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Little or not at all if properly groomed

Also known as Tsang Apso

General Temperament

The Tibetan Terrier is a deeply loyal and devoted breed. They form deep bonds with their owners and thrive on human interaction, even reflecting their owner’s emotions and moods. Despite it’s name, it is not a true “Terrier” in it’s form or function; Tibetan Terriers were bred to be companions and watch dogs and still retain those instincts. They do not bark unnecessarily, but will certainly announce the arrival of strangers or perceived danger.

Tibetan Terriers are good companions for well-behaved children. Due to their protective natures, they are often aloof or reserved with strangers, but should never be aggressive or exceedingly shy. They will usually get along with other dogs, although many Tibetan Terriers will try to dominate. This breed can learn to get along with cats and other household pets.

Intelligent and eager to learn, the Tibetan Terrier is easy to train. They are self-reliant and independent. Provided that they are given sufficient exercise, including a long daily walk, they are well-suited for apartment living. The Tibetan Terrier possesses immense strength and endurance and makes an excellent hiking companion. With proper training, they can also excel in agility competitions.

Breed History

The Tibetan Terrier evolved through a uniquely isolated existence in the “Lost Valley” of Tibet. In the 14th century, the road leading into the valley was destroyed by an earthquake, virtually cutting off the area from the outside world. Here, the Tibetan Terrier was considered a symbol of luck and revered as holy. The breed was mostly kept in monasteries as a companion and watchdog, although there has been some evidence that they may also have been used for herding and retrieving. On occasion, specimens were given to visitors who make the difficult journey into the Lost Valley, and one of these visitors brought the breed to England and started the first known kennel for the breed outside of Tibet.

Despite it’s name, the Tibetan Terrier is not a member of the “Terrier” class; it was accepted into the non-sporting group of the American Kennel Club in 1973.

Body Structure and Composition

The Tibetan Terrier is a squarely-built, medium-sized dog with a long profuse coat that covers the entire body, including the face. It’s muzzle is approximately equal in length to it’s skull. The pendulous ears are well-feathered and seem to almost disappear into the rest of the coat. The eyes are dark-rimmed. The body of this breed is built for speed and endurance in the mountainous and snow terrain of Tibet, complete with very unique large, round padded feet that act as snow shoes. The feathered tail is carried curled up over the back, often with a kink at the tip.

Tibetan Terriers have a very distinctive bark that is often likened to a rising siren.

Medical Information

The Tibetan Terrier is generally a long-lived breed, with some individuals living into their late teens. There are, however, a few hereditary diseases that affect this breed in limited proportions.

Various eye problems can be experienced by the Tibetan Terrier, including cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and Lens Luxation. PRA causes a degeneration of the retina, resulting in eventual blindness. Lens Luxation describes a dislocation of the crystalline lens, which can sometimes be corrected with surgery. The Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) provides certification on dogs that are examined annually by a veterinary opthamologist and diagnosed free of PRA and Lens Luxation. Any dog that has tested positive for (or shown signs of) PRA or Lens Luxation should not be bred.

Patellar Luxation, also known as “slipped stifle” or “trick knee,” sometimes occurs in Tibetan Terrier lines. This condition occurs when the knee-like joint above the hock slips out of place, often requiring surgery to correct. Additionally, some lines may also suffer from Hip Dysplasia, which causes the fit between the bone and cup provided by the socket to degrade, causing lameness and arthritis-like symptoms. Hypothyroidism, which causes underactivity of the thyroid gland, is occasionally seen in Tibetan Terriers. Symptoms of this disease include lethargy, weight gain, skin infection and hair loss, cold intolerance, chronic ear infections or severe behavioral changes. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) provides certification of breeding stock to help prevent the spread of these diseases, among others.

The coat of the Tibetan Terrier requires extensive grooming. Several times per week, the fur must be misted with a spray bottle filled with water or conditioner, and then brushed to remove tangles and burrs. (Brushing a wet or damp coat helps to prevent breaking individual hairs.) Trimming the coat regularly may help reduce the need for such detailed grooming. Any hair that builds up between the toes should be trimmed.

Anecdotal Information

Recent DNA testing has shown that this breed is one of the fourteen “ancient” dog breeds.

The term “terrier” was applied to this dog simply due to it’s size, and does not reflect it’s function.

The Tibetan Terrier is still a relatively rare breed in the United States, barely breaking the top 100 registered dogs breeds over the last 10 years according to statistics provided by the American Kennel Club.

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