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Tibetan Terrier - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Tibetan Terrier


This small terrier has been bred and raised in Tibetan villages and monasteries for hundreds of years. It originated in the Lost Valley of Tibet, whose access road was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century. The Tibetan Terrier was treasured by the monks in this remote and largely inaccessible area as a companion and “bringer” of good luck. He was also used in the villages to herd flocks of sheep; his coat was shorn in summer along with the sheep’s wool and was woven with yak hair to create cloth for the garments of the villagers. A particular trait of this breed was its ability to run upon and over the backs of sheep when passing through narrow ravines. The rare visitor to the Lost Valley was often gifted a Tibetan Terrier to watch over him on the treacherous return journey to the outside world. Early in its history, the Tibetan Terrier never was sold, as its owners believed that would bring bad luck and tempt fate.

The history of the Tibetan Terrier and the Lhasa Apso share much in common, and there is some confusion and much debate over the precise development of each breed. Many authorities believe that the Tibetan Terrier is the progenitor of most other Tibetan breeds, including the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu. They include the ancient North KunLun Mountain Dog and the Inner Mongolian Dog among the Tibetan Terrier’s ancestors. The first reported written mention of the Tibetan Terrier as a distinct breed appeared in 1895, with the author remarking that it could be taken to be “neither more nor less than a rough terrier.” This gave rise to the unfortunate designation of “terrier.” Over time, the indigenous Tibetan dogs developed into two distinct lines: the Tibetan Mastiff as a guard dog, and the Tibetan Terrier for herding and companionship.

In the 1920s, a medical missionary working on the border of Tibet and India was given a female Tibetan Terrier named Beauty by a grateful man whose ailing wife she had saved. Dr. Grieg received additional Tibetan Terriers from the Dalai Lama in appreciation of her service and interest in the breed, and she bred and raised a number of these terriers during her stay in India. She was especially fond of the Tibetan Terrier’s courage and endearing temperament. Allegedly she was almost bitted by a rabid dog, but was saved by one of her Tibetan Terriers who defended her, was himself mauled and later died. When Dr. Grieg returned to England in the 1930s, she established the now-famous Lamleh Kennel and continued to promote the Tibetan Terrier under that kennel prefix. She successfully convinced The Kennel Club (England) to recognize the breed in 1937. She also contributed to development of the Tibetan Spaniel, a separate breed with separate ancestry.

The first reported Tibetan Terrier came to America in 1956 from the Lamleh Kennel, imported by Alice Murphy of Great Falls, Virginia. Mrs. Murphy subsequently acquired 10 more Tibetan Terries from Dr. Grieg and helped establish the breed in the United States. She was instrumental in founding the Tibetan Terrier Club of America in 1957. The breed has slowly but steadily grown in popularity in North America since that time, both as a show dog and as a delightful companion. The Tibetan Terrier was accepted into the Non-Sporting Group of the American Kennel Club in 1973.

Today’s Tibetan Terrier, like the Tibetan Spaniel, has not achieved wide popularity in this country. However, those who do fancy the breed are taken by its gentleness and bouncy disposition. It is still used to control movement of sheep flocks in its native Tibet. In America, it is an able participant in outdoor activities and performance competitions, including obedience and agility, as well as in the conformation ring. Above all, the Tibetan Spaniel makes an endearing, affectionate companion.


The average life span of the Tibetan Terrier is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include canine neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), cataracts, diabetes mellitus, glaucoma, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, patellar luxation, primary lens luxation, retinal dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy.

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