6 Popular Dog Breeds from Tibet

Tibet is home to two of the most lovable, popular dog breeds. Yet, it also claims some of the world’s rarest pups!

Feb 5, 2024By Jessica Montes
popular dog breeds from tibet

You’ve probably heard of Shih Tzus and Lhasa Apsos, but did you know there are four other breeds native to Tibet? Learn what these ancient breeds have in common and how their bodies have adapted to high-elevation and colder climates.

Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff
Photo by: Knuut Nissinen

The bear-like, muscular, and vigilant Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient dog breed with a self-willed personality. Their origin wasn’t documented clearly, but it’s believed they served as guard dogs in the Himalayas. With such a long history, they may even be the common ancestor for all other Mastiff breeds.

These large dogs stand 24 to 26 inches tall, weigh between 70 to 150 pounds, and are covered in a thick, double coat. Even with such a dominant nature, Tibetan Mastiffs are super affectionate with their loved ones and get along with children and other pups. Because they don’t have much endurance and prefer having a “job” (like patrolling), these dogs are great for people with moderately active lifestyles. Bonus points if they live in colder climates so the pup doesn’t overheat.

Additionally, Tibetan Mastiffs have unusual eating habits. Unlike other breeds, these dogs only eat when their tummies rumble and sometimes skip meals! They eat less food than you would expect for a large dog.

Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu
Photo by: Canino21

One of Tibet’s most recognizable and lovable breeds is the Shih Tzu. Their name means “little lion” in Mandarin, and it’s not surprising based on a Shih Tzu’s silky lion mane. These well-groomed toy dogs make excellent pets because of their friendly, cuddly, and adaptable personality. Measuring only nine to 10 inches tall and weighing nine to16 pounds, Shih Tzus make the perfect lap dog to snuggle up with. That’s not a coincidence! They were bred to live in palaces and sit with their royal owners without much fidgeting.

Don’t worry if your home isn’t a mansion. Shih Tzus require minimal exercise and are happy in apartments or smaller living spaces. Short walks around the block and playing with toys keep them content. They are physically low maintenance, but their fur needs special care: brush their bodies and readjust the high ponytail every day to prevent matting. Daily grooming helps them look (and feel) their best!

Tibetan Terriers

Tibetan Terrier
Photo by: Heisstudying

Tibetan Terriers are a bit of a misnomer. They are not terrier breeds and weren’t specifically used to hunt or chase prey. When these pups gained popularity in the West, breeders incorrectly referred to them as terriers because of their body structure, and they’ve kept the name ever since.

Back in Tibet, Tibetan Terriers were used as companion watchdogs and were found in Buddhist monasteries. These not-terriers were bred thousands of years ago by lamas (Tibetan spiritual leaders) and are nicknamed “the holy dog of Tibet.” Tibetan Terriers adapted to the colder climate with their wooly undercoat that adds insulation and wide, snowshoe-like paws meant for walking on snowy mountains.

These dogs are lovey-dovey with sensitive hearts. They don’t do well with harsh criticism and feed off of their owner’s emotions. Tibetan Terriers are always on guard dog duty and likely need to warm up to new people in the household or visitors. As a mountain canine, they love exploring the outdoors and colder temps!

Lhasa Apso

Lhasa Apso
Photo by: Alexas Fotos

If you were to shrink the Tibetan Terrier and change its appearance a bit, you’d get the Lhasa Apso. This breed also has its origin in religious settings with Buddhist monks, thanks to folklore that says Tibet’s protector, the snow lion, transforms into a dog (Lhasa Apso) when it appears on Earth. They are named after the sacred city, Lhasa, which is the area’s capital and biggest town.

Because they only weigh 12 to 18 pounds, it’s hard to imagine that these tiny canines were bred as watchdogs. However, Lhasa Apsos supervise areas and will alert their home and owners when a stranger approaches. Who said there was a size requirement for guard dog duty?

Even without trying, Lhasa Apsos’ funny habits will make you laugh and appreciate their companionship. They are incredibly bright canines and will please a motivated, kind owner with successful training sessions. With the right attitude, Lhasa Apsos can learn scent work or how to herd, compete in breed-specific sporting events, and become certified service dogs.

Tibetan Spaniels

Tibetan Spaniel
Photo by: Draedra

Another petite powerhouse has made the list! Tibetan Spaniels are teeny dogs with a long history of supervising monasteries alongside Lhasa Apsos and Tibetan Mastiffs. They are featured in Tibetan artwork from 1100 BC and were gifted to Chinese palaces and Buddhist countries, increasing their popularity and population size.

Their energetic and playful nature makes them excellent pets for children who want to run around and get the zoomies. Tibetan Spaniels are also independent but can respond well to training and are highly adaptable to changes in their routines. Even as a watchdog, they are fairly open to meeting new people and can become friends with other dogs.

A Tibetan Spaniel has signature physical traits as well. They have a thick double coat to keep them warm, fluffy ears, and a dense coat around the neck and upper torso. If they couldn’t get more adorable, try not to smile at their bouncy, plumed tail that curls onto their backs.

Tibetan Kyi-Apso

Tibetan Kyi Apso
Photo by: National Purebred Dog Day

Say hello to the Tibetan Mastiff’s smaller, scruffier cousin with a beard! The rare Tibetan Kyi Apso has one of the most unknown stories in the canine world. Like most pups from the region, they were used for guarding and occasionally herding sheep. Westerners first discovered them in the 1930s, and one of the earliest accounts of bringing them to the U.S. is from the 70s. Due to their rarity, there aren’t many breed-specific clubs, and they haven’t been recognized by major kennels.

Tibetan Kyi Apsos are known for their plush, shaggy coats and facial hair. These dogs stand 27 to 28 inches tall and weigh between 75 and 90 pounds, making them smaller and lighter than Mastiffs. Most have black coats with tan, brown, or red patches on the face and legs. Because they originated only from the Mount Kailash area in Tibet, there’s less variation in their appearance compared to the other five breeds.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.