Pet of the Week: The Tibetan terrier

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The Independent Online

Who could this possibly be? The Tibetan terrier, a wise and friendly companion dog. For centuries he has been bred in the Himalayas as a general all-round utility hound for herdsmen and monks alike. Don't be fooled by the name – he is not a terrier at all. Rather, think of him as more of an Old English Sheepdog in stature.

It's a long way from Tibet... Indeed. According to the Tibetan Terrier Association, the precise origins of the hound in this country can be traced back to just one bitch. In the 1920s, an intrepid British female doctor saved a Tibetan's life. So prized is the creature in its native Tibet – and so grateful were the locals for her act of Hippocratic kindness – that a special gift of a dog was made to her, which she brought back to these shores. So pure is the breed that many pedigree animals can be traced back to that original dog, whose name was Bunti.

What about that coat? Aha. Well you might ask. It's the coat that attracts many to the breed – and what makes the Tibetan such a winner as a show dog. But although the coat doesn't shed hairs, it does need clipping and benefits from regular grooming to avoid matting. Handily, however, the hair grows at about the same speed as human hair, so he'll be ready for a short back and sides when you are.

He reminds me of someone... David Bellamy, perhaps? Being a smart dog with a playful temperament, a sense of humour (according to the owners) and gifted with intelligence, I am sure that both Mr Bellamy and the Tibetan would be flattered by the comparison.

Who would own a Tibetan? They are fabulous family pets – attentive, easy to train and placid – who require a moderate amount of exercise, but they really do thrive in company. It's not in their nature to be solitary, so they shouldn't be left alone for too long. Bred to accompany shepherds in the mountains, they know all about being faithful and loyal. Shouting or heavy-handed treatment will get you nowhere.

Anything else I should know? Everyone I spoke to who has owned a Tibetan terrier sings their praises. The breed has a rarity value that will have inquisitive strangers approaching you but, best of all, he is the kind of dog that just begs to be stroked.

If you like the Tibetan, you'll love... A Llasa Apso, a Maltese or even the Catalan sheepdog known as the Gos D'Atura, a wonderful, compact mini-bear of a dog.

Where can I get hold of one?The Tibetan Terrier Association is a well-run, well-respected organisation that can put you in touch with breeders, and it also has contacts with rehousing agencies for abandoned or bereaved animals. Contact the TTA via their website,, and you will get a sense of quite how much these dogs are loved by their owners.