Description & History

The Tibetan Spaniel was bred in Tibet and China. The origin of these dogs is not clear, although there is little doubt that they are closely related to other lion dogs - the Pekingese, the Lhasa Apso and the Shih Tzu.

In the thirteenth century Marco Polo on his travels through China recorded "the presence of golden-coated nimble dogs which were commonly bred by the people themselves in their homes."

These small dogs were also bred by the monks who gave them as gifts to other monasteries and to visiting Chinese noblemen and highly respected officials.

The tasks of the spaniels that lived in the monasteries were threefold: to act as watchdogs, to turn the prayer wheels and to provide warmth for their owners.

Like today's dogs, they were alert watchdogs and would sit high upon the monastery walls or another suitable place to give advance warning of approaching strangers.

Another duty was to turn the prayer wheel in the monasteries and homes of the villagers. Prayers written on parchment were put into a wheel - a hollow metal cylinder, often embossed, mounted on a rod handle. Each turn of the wheel by the spaniels, helped the prayers on their way to heaven. This is why they are sometimes given the alternative name of Prayer Dogs.

As a source of warmth they were invaluable. They were used by the monks to keep warm during the long hours of mediation. The spaniels would nestle in their sleeves and sit on their laps providing much of the warmth that their masters required.

Records show that the first Tibetan Spaniel arrived in Great Britain in 1895. It was not until 1947 that the foundation stock were brought to Great Britain from India by Sir Edward and Lady Wakefield.

Since then they have become increasingly popular in the show ring and as much loved pets.

Rosamund Walters.

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