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The Tibetan Terrier frequently is said to resemble a sheep dog, though coat colors can have great variation. Unlike sheep dogs, they are considerably smaller, weighing only about 20 pounds (9.07 kg), and are approximately 18-inches (45.72 cm) tall from front foot to shoulder. The name Tibetan Terrier does not accurately describe the breed, since they bear very little relationship to terriers of any type.
The breed is thought to have been cultivated about 2000 years ago, by Buddhist monks. The Tibetan Terrier is thought to be the progenitor of several other popular dogs, among them, the Shih Tzu, the Lhasa Apso, and the Tibetan Spaniel. The breed was considered to be good luck, and it was particularly lucky to give a Tibetan Terrier as a gift. One could give but never sell the dog, as this could mean bad luck for the previous owner.
The feet of the Tibetan Terrier make it easy to see why it adapted to the snowy conditions of Tibet. Its large splayed feet are perfect for navigating deep snow. They are an excellent breed choice for people in cold climates, as they are equally well adapted to the cold by their long coats.
The Tibetan Terrier actually has two coats, a thicker undercoat and a fine topcoat. Colors are varied and often mixed; white and black is particularly popular. Some coats are brindle, with varied colors of white, cream, gray and brown. The only feature not considered acceptable is a light brown nose and brown eyes. This color variation usually means the dog is prone to autoimmune diseases and may have a shorter lifespan.
Because the coat is so long, it needs fairly constant care. The Tibetan Terrier requires a bath every couple of weeks, and daily grooming of the coat. Many enjoy the personalities of the breed but hate the coat, and prefer to have the dog trimmed closely to avoid the grooming responsibilities. Even with a short cut, the dog is quite charming, and it may be more comfortable to bear a shorter coat in warmer weather.
One advantage to the Tibetan Terrier is that it does not tend to shed, as do many other dogs. It also has less of a doggy smell, even after a few weeks without a bath. This may make the Tibetan Terrier more appealing to those who enjoy dogs, but not the messes or smells they make.
The Tibetan Terrier ranges in behavior. They can be playful, but tend to be a little skittish around younger or less considerate children. The dogs can also be extremely mellow, but really put their energy into playtime. The Tibetan Terrier tends to be slightly willful, and will occasionally ignore commands by simply turning its back. When the dog behaves so, it usually means playtime is over.
A Tibetan Terrier can do well in a smaller home, provided it has adequate exercise time daily. They can be fiercely protective of all living in the home, and may seem a little disconcerted if they are left alone, or if several family members are missing. Despite protective instincts, they can be trained not to bark frequently, but they will act as an alarm if strangers approach the house.
The average lifespan of the Tibetan Terrier is about 12 years. Some inbreeding practices on the West Coast of the US have created dogs with more health problems and shorter lifespans. The dogs also need to have careful ear care, since hair growing in the ears can make them susceptible to ear infections.
The dogs are popular on both coasts of the US, but tend to be harder to find in the middle states. The Tibetan Terrier is a recognized and accepted breed, yet few have earned top awards at national and international dog shows. Some dogs have done well in agility trials, although most people who own Tibetan Terriers appreciate them simply as pets.