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Tibetan Terrier Breed Information: Personality Traits, Temperament & More

MJ Shaffer

Last Updated: November 2, 2023 | 9 min read | 1 Comment

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Buddhist Monks may not be the first thought you have if someone mentions guard dogs, but the Tibetan Terrier is an ancient watchdog and companion associated with Buddhist monasteries. When the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was forced to flee Tibet, he took his Tibetan Terrier, “Senge,” with him. This affectionate and devoted breed has a rich history in the part of the world that’s home to Mt. Everest.

Historically used in their native Tibet as caravan dogs and guardians of livestock and monasteries, Tibetan Terriers make excellent house dogs for the modern family. Called “little people” in Tibet, their seemingly contradictory personality traits reflect the challenging landscape and climate of the country that produced them. They are well suited to family life with older children and are adaptable and active companions.

Tibetan Terriers love to exercise and can hike tirelessly across terrain many dogs their size wouldn’t handle. They are also content to relax on the couch with their people or play quietly on their own with a favorite toy. TTs are versatile and flexible and will adjust to fit the energy and routine of most households with a bit of patience.

Tibetan Terrier
    • weight iconWeight18-30 pounds for males, females slightly smaller
    • height iconHeight14-17 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan15-16 years
    • color iconColorsAny color or combination of colors including white
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Tibetan Terrier Dog Standing on Top of Snow hill, Cloud Background
Enthusiasts brought the first Tibetan terrier to the United States in 1956, and the AKC accepted the breed for registry in 1973.

Tibetan Terriers originated in Tibet, a territory north of India that shares Mt. Everest with Nepal. Tibet has an average elevation of roughly 14,370 feet (4,380 meters) above sea level. Originally from the region lost to the modern world when an earthquake in the 14th century destroyed the access road, the breed was raised and bred by Buddhist monks for over 2,000 years.

Known as Holy Dog of Tibet, they are highly valued as companions to the monks and families who owned them, the dogs became like family members. They guarded the monastery’s or family’s property, flocks, and herds. The monks never sold the dogs, but occasionally, they would present one as a special gift. Buddhist monks developed the surefooted and reliable breed in an area known as “the roof of the world,” home to the highest mountains and peaks in the world. The dogs were sometimes given to esteemed travelers to guide them as they made their arduous journey home.

The breed got its modern name from one of these gifts of gratitude. In 1922, Dr. Agnes R.H. Greig, an English surgeon practicing medicine in northern India, was given a female Tibetan Terrier puppy for saving a Tibetan woman’s life. She was able to acquire a male and, in 1924, produced a litter of pups. When she showed the breed to the India Kennel Club, they decided to call it the Tibetan Terrier. Although the dog was not a terrier by genetic association, it was the size of typical English terrier breeds.

Temperament

Beautiful Tibetan terrier Dog Resting On Wooden Bench In Nature
The Tibetan was bred to be a monastery watchdog. Thus, they are considered the “Holy Dog of Tibet.”

The Tibetan Terrier has a laid-back temperament, unlike most actual terrier breeds. Although they are only medium-sized dogs, Tibetan terriers are versatile enough to compete in obedience, herding, and agility competitions. TTs were bred as working dogs who still acted as family companions.

Tibetan Terriers give the appearance of cute and cuddly lapdogs, but they are quite intelligent. In their native Tibet, they function as both family companions and watchdogs. They bond very deeply with their family and specifically with their person. Their watchdog nature makes them cautious of strangers.

Size & Appearance

Cute Tibetan terrier dog or Tsang Apso sitting on a rock and looking at camera with pine trees in the background
Their average weight is 20 to 24 pounds.

Often confused for the Lhasa Apso, the Tibetan Terrier is a medium-sized, squarely built dog that is more substantial than his size would suggest. The proper ratio of weight to height is more important than his specific weight and should reflect a well-balanced, solidly-built dog. The average size for male Tibetan Terriers is fifteen to sixteen inches, and females are slightly smaller.

Tibetan Terriers have fluffy, double coats. Their unique feet reflect their origin in the rugged terrain of Tibet. Their paws are large, flat, and round. They have heavy fur between their toes and pads, making their feet like snowshoes with excellent traction. Their tails curl up and fall forward over their backs. The Tibetan Terrier’s movement is solid and efficient.

Coat & Colors

Tibetan Terrier Pictured Against Grey Background
His outer coat is fine and can be either wavy or straight.

The Tibetan Terrier evolved in an extreme environment. He has a double coat with a wooly, insulating undercoat. The TT wears his coat long, but visible light should show under the dog when he’s standing on a hard surface. A natural part may be present over his neck and back. The breed’s coat should not typically be clipped once the dog reaches adulthood. Per the AKC breed standard, any color or combination of colors, including white, is acceptable. There are no preferred colors or combinations of colors.

Exercise Requirements

Young Tibetan terrier puppy standing in a meadow
Tibetan Terriers are athletic and outgoing.

Tibetan Terriers’ insulating coat helps them enjoy the outside year-round so that the weather won’t slow the two of you down. At least 60 minutes of exercise should keep your Tibetan Terrier healthy and happy, preferably in two sessions each day. They generally love to hike, and their heavily furred feet protect their pads regardless of the weather.

Tibetan Terriers are adaptable to different situations, and individuals vary within the breed. A reputable breeder can help pair you with a pup that matches your lifestyle. Whether you want to hike up a mountain or go for gentle neighborhood walks, you can find a match within the Tibetan Terrier breed.

Living Conditions

Walking with a dog in a coniferous forest. Side view of man and beautiful Tibetan terrier dog in forest looking into each other eyes
Tibetan Terriers are rugged country dogs by nature.

While they thrive in the outdoors, they could happily live in a city area or small apartment as long as you meet their exercise needs. Provide access to a private yard to play and patrol to give him some outdoor time and nurture his guarding instincts. Although he loves to be with his family, his adaptable nature allows him to keep himself entertained.

Training

Woman during the walk through the forest with her Tibetan terrier dog
Tibetan Terriers are very trainable and eager to please but can be stubborn.

They are naturally intelligent dogs who pick up new commands quickly, but they require gentle training. They are sensitive to harsh corrections and need a quiet and fair handler. Like most dogs bred to work alongside humans, the TT wants to be with his family. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help ensure that your companion grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered family member.

Health

The Tibetan Terrier Club of America, Inc. recommends that parents of all litters have hip certifications through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (“OFA”) or PennHip. Parents should also have passed an OFA eye or CERF exam within the 12 months before breeding. To avoid producing puppies that might be affected with Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (“NCL”), or Primary Lens Luxation (“PLL,”), parents of litters should also be DNA tested for NCL and PLL (or “clear by parentage” as per OFA).

Tibetan Terriers are a hardy and healthy breed that ages gracefully. Responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as allergies, thyroid issues, bladder stones, periodontal disease, and hip and patella issues. Genetic tests (such as for NCL, LL, PRA, etc.) are a valuable tool used by breeders to eliminate the expression of those diseases in their puppies.

Hip Dysplasia

Tibetan Terriers can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia. Choosing either an adult or pup from parents tested by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA-tested) helps mitigate the risk. Still, dysplasia also occurs from rapid growth as a puppy. Joint dysplasia in the hips and elbows typically presents as lethargy, general stiffness, and signs of pain. Feeding a puppy formula that does not encourage rapid growth is advisable to help avoid this condition.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar Luxation is usually a genetic condition. It typically affects small breeds. If you notice your dog holding a leg up for a few steps as he runs but then uses it normally again, make plans to take your dog to the vet to check it out. This condition can lead to stiffness and arthritis later in life. Treatment varies with the severity of the disease. Mild cases of patellar Luxation may be treated with NSAIDs to alleviate discomfort. In severe cases, however, surgery will be the recommendation.

Primary Lens Luxation

Primary Lens Luxation is a heritable disease in many breeds, including the Tibetan Terrier. The lens may partially dislocate (subluxation) or fully dislocate (luxation) from its normal position. Spontaneous luxation of the lens most commonly occurs when dogs are between three and six years of age. PLL often affects both eyes. Primary Lens Luxation is caused by an inherent weakness in the zonular ligaments which suspends the lens and should be screened in breeding animals.

Hypothyroidism

When the dog does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone for the body to function normally, we say he is hypothyroid (hypo means under, so this literally means thyroid under normal levels). Symptoms include lack of energy, hair loss, changes in behavior, and obesity. Because obesity is not uncommon in Tibetan Terriers, see your veterinarian if your overweight dog presents any of these other symptoms. They may prescribe a hormone supplement to balance the deficiency.

Cancer

Because Tibetan Terriers are a long-lived breed, incidences of cancer increase with age. You may notice different symptoms depending on the type of cancer your dog has. Skin tumors are the most commonly diagnosed. Your dog may experience weight loss, limping, lethargy, or even sudden collapse with other cancers.

Cataracts

Tibetan Terriers may also have issues with cataracts. Cataracts tend to appear with age. While surgery is an option for this disease with its recognizable cloudy appearance, many elderly dogs adjust to blindness as long as their owner makes accommodations.

Canine Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis

Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis is a disease of the central nervous system, and typically, affected animals will show signs of loss of coordination, seizures, anxiety, and blindness before they are two years old. For a Tibetan Terrier to inherit this, both of his parents have to have it, which is why it is crucial to work with a reputable breeder who screens their dogs. 

Nutrition

Tibetan Terrier at dog store
When he is a puppy, feed him per the weight chart on the bag of your preferred puppy food.

Proper nutrition for your Tibetan Terrier means choosing the right type of food with the right content at each stage of his life.  As he grows, graduate him to an adult dog food balanced for medium-sized breeds. Your adult TT needs between one and one and a half cups of high-quality kibble divided into two meals per day.

Choose a high-quality formula that matches your pup’s age to keep this breed healthy and reduce the health risks associated with dysplasia. A high-quality kibble including meat protein, fiber, healthy carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals will meet your TT’s nutritional needs. You’ll be less likely to have to add costly supplements.

Although TTs are naturally active dogs, individuals may be prone to obesity. Give treats in moderation. Never feed a dog cooked bones or fatty table scraps. If your best friend starts putting extra pounds on his frame, add fifteen minutes of exercise and double-check the portion recommendations on your chosen food brand.

Grooming

Portrait of beautiful Tibetan terrier dog with long groomed hair, lying on the grooming table
When he sheds, the hair often falls back into his coat.

Although his long haircoat might intimidate prospective owners, his coat had to be able to stand up to the harshest Himalayan environment. When grooming a Tibetan Terrier, you’ll have to pay special attention to his insulating undercoat. Brushing it removes his coat, making it less likely to end up on you or your furniture. Regular brushing stimulates blood circulation and distributes oils throughout his hair so that even his rough coat glows with health.

When he sheds his undercoat, he may benefit from professional grooming. At home, grooming his weather-resistant coat requires a good medium pin brush. A soft slicker brush is another handy brush for the feet and legs, but NOT for his outer coat. Go through his coat with a Greyhound comb to remove any loose hair and find missed tangles. You can also use it to comb the hair on his face.

The natural coat of the breed is weather-resistant. Keeping the dog in a puppy cut may be convenient if a full coat hinders desired outdoor adventures. Tibetans benefit from a bath about once a month with a dog-safe shampoo. If your pup’s skin is sensitive, choose a shampoo specifically formulated for sensitive skin. It’s easiest to groom your Tibetan Terrier’s coat while he’s still damp. Between baths, using a grooming spritz will help remove loose hair, help with tangles, and keep his coat clean longer. To keep him clean, you may wish to trim the hair between the toes and pads.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

family tibetan terrier in front of white background
Your search for a Tibetan Terrier breeder might be time-consuming.

Plus, you might have to travel further afield to meet them. However, it’s essential to work with a reputable and responsible breeder to ensure the health and wellbeing of your new puppy. Tibetan Terrier puppies typically cost between $1,500 and $2,500.

Rescues And Shelters

Welcoming a puppy into your home is not the right option for everyone. Adopting an older dog in need is better for some families. You may be able to adopt a Tibetan Terrier for as little as $300. The Tibetan Terrier Association of America established its own program in 2012 to rescue Tibetan Terriers at risk in shelters, with other rescue organizations, or from private owners no longer able to keep their dogs.

As Family Pets

In general, Tibetan Terriers are:

  • Medium-sized dogs with abundant energy.
  • Devoted to family.
  • Suitable for families with older children.
  • Athletic and surefooted.
  • Intelligent and thoughtful.
  • Natural guard dogs.
  • Friendly and get along well with older, gentle children and other dogs when well socialized.
  • Trainable, but with opinions.
  • Reserved with strangers.

Final Thoughts

If ever a dog was the product of his environment, it is the Tibetan Terrier. Consider the breed’s long history as working guardians and family companions as you get to know your versatile Tibetan Terrier. Even his feet show the unique environment that created this devoted and adaptable breed. His resilient nature and surefooted athleticism directly reflect the wild and rugged terrain he had to cover. The two of you can look forward to years of outdoor adventures together.

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