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Tibetan Spaniel

Nicole Cosgrove

Tibetan Spaniel
Image credit: Jne Valokuvaus, Shutterstock

The Tibetan Spaniel is a small purebred from China and is also called a Simkhyi or nicknamed the Tibbie. Valued by Tibetan Buddhist monks as companions and watch dogs they were once also called little lions and have been around for over two and a half thousand years in the Himalayan mountains. It is not really a spaniel in technical terms as spaniels are actually gun dogs. It is presumed it was given that name because of its resemblance to lap dog type spaniels like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It is known for perching in high up places where it can keep watch over its family.

The Tibetan Spaniel at A Glance
Name Tibetan Spaniel
Other names Simkhyi
Nicknames Tibbie, Little Lion
Origin China
Average size Small
Average weight 9 to 15 pounds
Average height 9 to 10 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Silky, medium
Hypoallergenic No
Color Blue, silver, black, brown, grey, white, red
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 118th by the AKC
Intelligence Average – understands new commands with 25 to 40 repetitions
Tolerance to heat Moderate – not good in anything too warm or hot
Tolerance to cold Low – not good with cold or even just cool climates
Shedding Low – not a lot of hair left around the home
Drooling Low – not a breed prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Average – can gain weight if over fed and not exercised regularly
Grooming/brushing Moderate – brush regularly
Barking Frequent – will need training to control
Exercise needs Somewhat active – daily short walks and play time should be enough
Trainability Moderately easy – tends to listen fairly well
Friendliness Very good – quite social
Good first dog Very good – new owners can own them
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Very good with socialization
Good with strangers Good with socialization
Good apartment dog Very good due to size but barking may be an issue
Handles alone time well Low – not good at being left alone for long periods
Health issues Quite healthy – a few issues include eye problems and patellar luxation
Medical expenses $435 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $75 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $460 a year for miscellaneous items, toys, grooming, license and basic training
Average annual expenses $970 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations Several including the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America
Biting Statistics None reported

The Tibetan Spaniel’s Beginnings

The Tibetan Spaniel is an ancient breed and is believed to have ancestors in common with other breeds like the Tibetan Terrier, Japanese Chine, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Pug and Pekingese. Tibetan monasteries kept the dog as watch and guard dogs where they would sit on high walls and bark if something or someone did not belong, they had great eyesight. They were also great companions and would often follow the lamas around and sleep with them at night for warmth. It is possible it is over a thousand years old. They were often exchanged between the wealthy, the royalty and the monks as gifts.

There nickname came from the ruff of fur around their necks that gave them a mane effect and made them look like small lions, and their plumed tail. Dogs that looked like lions were popular for a long time as in Buddhist symbolism the lion stands for Buddha’s victory over aggression and violence. The Tibetan Spaniel was bred by lamas (monks) and by common village people and early version would have had a range of sizes it came in. The smallest and best looking were given to the monks and were bred with other dogs gifted to the lamaseries from China.

In the late 1800s the first Tibetan Spaniels came to England brought there by Mrs McLaren Morris and by the 1890s they were being bred there too. More came over from Tibet in the 1920s and it started to become a popular breed. However by World War II its advance in English society was completely halted and the numbers there were almost completely depleted as dog breeding became less important and dogs became harder to feed with the rationing.

New Lease on Life

After the war ended by about 1947 there had been more importations to England and a few breedings and the breed started back on the road to recovery there. In 1958 the Tibetan Spaniel Association was begun and then it received recognition from the Kennel Club of England in 1960. The first US litter born is believed to have happened in 1965 and thanks largely to the efforts of a Leo Kearns from Connecticut the Tibetan Spaniel started to draw attention. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of American was started in 1971 and it was recognized by the AKC in 1984. Today it ranks 118th in popularity by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

The Tibetan Spaniel is a small dog weighing just 9 to 15 pounds and standing 9 to 10 inches tall. It is possible to get Tibbies that are larger when not being bred for the show ring. It is often mistaken for the Pekingese as they are similar in looks but the Tibbie has a coat that is less profuse than the Pekingese, a longer face and around the eyes there is no loose skin. It has a tail set high that is plumed and it carries it curled over its back. Its body is a bit longer than it is tall with front legs that are a little bowed and feet like a hare’s. It has a double coat and a mane at its neck called a shawl. Its coat is silky, long at certain places like the rear, back of its front legs, ears and tail then smooth and short on the front of its legs and on its face. The coat lies flat and is medium length elsewhere. It can come in any pattern or colors, common ones are fawn, red, cream, tan, black, gold and white. It has a head that is domed a little and has a medium length muzzle that is blunt. Its head looks a little small compared to the rest of it. It has a black nose and medium eyes that are oval, dark brown and set fairly wide apart. Its ears hang down to its cheeks and are silky and feathered in a v shape.

The Inner Tibetan Spaniel


The Tibetan Spaniel is an alert dog, bred to be a watch dog and very good at it too. It will bark to let you know of any intruder and anyone approaching in fact. It still also has that habit of perching high up to keep a watch over its family. It has quite a regal air to it, and acts like it expects to be spoiled and adored, which often it is! Take care not to over spoil it though, it easily develops small dog syndrome in those cases where it believes it is in charge and can become high strung, yappy, snappy and difficult to live with. Do not carry it everywhere, let it walk, make it follow rules.

It is a good breed for new owners who do not have a lot of experience with dogs. It is a very sensitive dog though so is best in homes without a lot of tension or raised voices, and it will not respond well to being scolded or physical punishments. The Tibbie will bark occasionally to frequently so should be trained to stop on command. It needs lots of attention and does not like being left alone for long periods and can suffer from separation anxiety. It is best in a home where someone is there more often than not, such as a retired owner, stay at home parent, or someone who works from home for example. While it is very affectionate and loyal to its family it is wary around strangers and needs socialization.

This is a cheerful dog, it is small but intelligent and quite charming, can be surprisingly assertive and can have an independent side to it. It makes a great companion and is often compared to a cat, it has moments of playfulness and then moments of calmness and it is agile and quick and likes to climb the furniture. It is good at problem solving and uses that and its climbing skills to get to food you think is put away! While it is devoted to its owners if something catches its attention it will go off to explore it no matter how much you call it back.

Living with a Tibetan Spaniel

What will training look like?

Training the Tibetan Spaniel should be moderately easy if you have experience as it is smart and enjoys spending time with you. However if you are not experienced with training dogs it may prove to a little harder than that as it is independent and can be stubborn. Expect results to be a gradual process and establish straight away that you are the boss not it. When you set rules make sure you and it stick to them and never bend them. Treats are a good way to motivate it, offer it praise and encouragement too but still be firm and consistent. Make sure the training sessions are short and keep them interesting so it does not get distracted or bored.

As well as making sure it gets at least basic obedience training you need to start socialization as early as possible. Expose it to different people, places, sounds, animals and situations so it learns appropriate responses to them and becomes more confident and happy as an adult. Due to its wariness around strangers that socialization is a good way to ensure its caution does not turn into suspicion or timidity.

How active is the Tibetan Spaniel?

While it is playful and lively its indoor play time can go towards its activity needs and it is really only slightly active. Being small too those needs are easy to meet even for owners who are not active themselves. Along with playtime you should take for a short walk or two a day. With that it does not need a yard though if living in an apartment be ware of that barking. Leaving it on its own in the yard is not the same as seeing it gets enough exercise, it needs interaction with you too. If there is a yard make sure it is well fenced in being small means it can get through small gaps.

Caring for the Tibetan Spaniel

Grooming needs

Grooming and maintaining the Tibetan Spaniel should require a moderate amount of effort, it does not need trimming or stripping but it does shed averagely all year and then more heavy once a year. There will be some hair around the home and brushing to or three times a week will help with that and keeping the coat clean and looking good. It will also stop mats from forming which can happen in the longer sections especially. Bathe just when needed to avoid damaging its natural oils.

Other grooming needs include checking and cleaning its ears weekly. Signs of ear infection include irritation, redness, sensitivity and wax build up. When cleaning ears never insert anything like a cotton bud into its ears. Wipe clean the areas you can reach using a damp cloth and cotton balls with a dog ear cleanser. Inserting something could cause a great deal of pain and cause permanent damage. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week to keep its gums and teeth healthy and its breath good. Use a proper dog toothbrush and toothpaste. Its nails should be clipped when they get too long, if it scratches you when you have it on you, or it clicks as it walks that means its time for a trim. Take care not to cut too low as there are blood vessels and nerves there. If you cut them it will cause a lot of pain again and bleeding. Use proper dog nail clippers and if you are unsure a vet can show you how, or you can have the vet or professional groomer do it for you.

Feeding Time

It will likely eat around ½ to 1 cup of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into two meals. It should also have access to water all day, and it should be changed regularly. How much exactly a dog eats can vary depending on its size, metabolism, health, age and level of activity.

How is the Tibetan Spaniel with children and other animals?

When around children with socialization and when raised with them it is playful and lively and affectionate towards them. It is even protective and will watch over them and is better than most toy or small dogs. However because of its size it gets injured very easily if not handled carefully and for that reason it is best with children older than at least six. Teach children how to approach and stroke dogs and how to be especially careful when it is a small dog like the Tibbie. In general it gets alone very well with other animals and other dogs too. It likes to have another dog as a friend in the home and can even live with cats.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

With a life span of 12 to 15 years the Tibetan Spaniel is a fairly healthy dog but can have issues that include eye problems, liver problems, allergies, patellar luxation and can also have issues when it is too hot like heatstroke and breathing problems.

Biting Statistics

When looking at records of dogs attacking people and casing bodily harm over the last 25 years in Canada and the US there is no mention of the Tibetan Spaniel. It is not a breed likely to be aggressive towards people and being small it does do less damage however no dog is 100% safe. All dogs can have triggers and no matter how friendly one might seem, all dogs can have an off day. Socialization and training are important to help lessen those risks, taking proper care of your dog, giving it the attention it needs and the stimulation and exercise it needs are also important.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Tibetan Spaniel puppy will cost about $1000 from a decent breeder and more, at least double that, from a top show dog breeder. Whether you are looking for a companion or a show dog make sure you do your research before you buy from a breeder. Find one that is experienced, has a good reputation, takes good care of their animals, can off er health clearances for the parents of the puppy and is happy for you to visit. Avoid puppy mills, ignorant or so called backyard breeders and some pet stores. If a show dog is not your goal and there is not any need for it to be a purebred consider checking out your local rescues and shelters. There could be a great dog that is right for you and your home there, desperate for someone to love and a new forever home. Rescues cost around $50 to $400 to adopt and they often come with medical needs taken care of.

When you have found the dog you want you will need to get some things for it. Initial items like a crate and carrier, leash, or harness, bowls and bedding for example. These will cost about $120. Then you need to take it to a vet for tests and a check up as soon as you can. Deworming, micro chipping, blood tests, shots, spaying or neutering and a physical examination will cost you about $260.

Ongoing costs are another factor in whether you are able to become a pet owner. For the Tibbie a good quality dry dog food and dog treats is going to cost about $75 a year. Miscellaneous items, toys, basic training, grooming and license is going to be another yearly cost of $460 or so. Then basic health care like shots, check ups, flea and tick prevention and pet insurance will cost about $435 a year. This gives an estimated starting figure annual cost for this breed of $970.


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The Tibetan Spaniel is a small but sturdy dog that is easy to live with, sensible with playful and lively moments, sensitive and affectionate. It needs to be with people who are mostly home or take it with them when they go out, and it needs socialization to make sure it does not become suspicious or timid. Owners need to remember it is a dog and should be treated as such to avoid having a stubborn and high strung dog who wants its own way all the time. Finding a Tibbie in North America is not easy, less than 50 are registered each year, compared to over 60,000 Golden Retriever puppies!

Featured Image credit: Jne Valokuvaus, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.