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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Five Things You May Not Know about the Enchanting Tibetan Spaniel

by Susan Waller Miccio

We privileged few who live with Tibetan Spaniels become utterly captivated by them. For a writer, passion equates to books. “Tibbies” are featured in all four of mine—from The Tibetan Spaniel – A Gift from the Roof of the World to Dog Dreamzzz, the second Abby Swann Mystery. Here are five facts about the enchanting Tibetan Spaniel. 

The Tibbie is called the Prayer Dog.

Early twentieth-century articles about the Tibetan Spaniel published in England reported that the rare breed spun prayer wheels in the monasteries of its Buddhist homeland. When the mounted cylinders, filled with mantras written on a scroll, are rotated clockwise, Tibetan faithful believe that blessings and well-being are spread to all beings. Thus was born the “Legend of the Prayer Dog.” Dawa (“Moon” in Tibetan), one of two Tibbies featured in the Abby Swann Mysteries, evokes the legend when she sits on her haunches, places her forepaws together pad to pad, and circles them. Called “prayer paws,” some believe this is how Tibbies spun the wheels. Is the legend true? Or, was it a way to promote the breed by exploiting its exotic origin? We may never know, but a charming tradition keeps the legend alive. If a Tibbie person offers to have Tibbies “spin the wheels” for you, he or she isn’t proposing to burn rubber on your tires but expressing compassion in a time of trouble.

Tibbies love to climb.

When her friends are shocked by the leap that her Tibbie Senge (“Lion” in Tibetan) takes off a cliff in Dog Dreamzzz, Abby explains, “Yes, they’re climbersIt’s a breed trait. Tibbies always seek the highest point, and they have absolutely no fear of heights.” Known as the “roof of the world,” Tibet sits on the world’s highest plateau surrounded by the world’s highest mountains. Even the “lowlands” average 15,000 feet, and hundreds of Himalayan peaks on Tibet’s southern border top 23,000 feet. True to his high-altitude origin, the Tibbie, with long-toed paws designed for sure-footedness, is hard-wired to climb. Just as his ancestors watched from the high walls and rooftops of monasteries in ancient Tibet, today’s Tibbie climbs to survey his territory and alert us to trespassers. Tibbie people are never shocked to find their Tibbies atop the furniture. 

A group of Tibbies is an “attitude.”

In Dog Star, the debut Abby Swann Mystery, Abby observes, “Lions live in a pride, whales in a pod, geese in a gaggle, and Tibbies in an attitude.” This new definition of “attitude” appears in my writing because it’s a perfect fit for this breed. Their aloofness to strangers, independence, intelligence, talkativeness and sensitivity blend to form the enigmatic personality—called tibbitude—that is, at once, endearing and exasperating. Not everyone is cut out to live with tibbitude but, if you are, you cannot have only one Tibbie—you must have an attitude.

Tibbies are a very popular breed in some countries.

Although the AKC recognized the Tibetan Spaniel in 1983, registrations in 2013 ranked the breed at 106 out of 180 recognized breeds, a statistic that has changed little over the decades. On seeing a Tibbie, most Americans assume it is a Pekingese, a misconception dramatized in both Abby Swann Mysteries. By contrast, Tibbies are well-known and popular in Scandinavia. In Finland, for example, Tibbies are a common sight, and the breed ranks 13, with over 700 puppies registered in 2013. Of course, the Tibbie’s double coat and “snowshoes” are well-suited to cold winters in northern countries.

The Tibetan Spaniel is the ancestral breed of small Asian breeds.

“Far below, the file of yaks, their backs piled high with bundles, materialized from the shadow of high walls. They plodded along a path worn smooth by centuries of hooves, a path that traveled east to the land of the Han…. A small black head poked from between two white packs atop a yak. She barked…” The custom of sending gifts of Tibbies to China, as depicted in Dog Dreamzzz, is not disputed. However, Asian breed fanciers have long debated whether the Pekingese or the Tibetan Spaniel is older. Although it’s easy to differentiate a modern Peke side by side with a Tibbie, historic Pekes strongly resembled Tibbies. Even today, Pekes can throw Tibbie traits in their offspring. Whether you believe the Peke came from Tibet or the Tibbie from China may depend on which breed you favor. I love both, but my money is on the Tibbie.

Susan Waller Miccio is the internationally recognized author of nonfiction books about Tibetan Spaniels plus the two Abby Swann Mysteries. Her classic, The Tibetan Spaniel—A Gift from the Roof of the World, is still the go-to book for Tibbie owners worldwide. Susan and her “attitude” of Tibbies—Coco, Twyla and Suzy Q—live in rural Delaware where she is plotting her next mystery. Visit Susan on www.susanwallermiccio.com and Facebook.


  1. Such adorable dogs! I confess I knew nothing about Tibetan spaniels, but, oh, they're so cute. Thanks for this!

  2. I grew up with big dogs and had no interest in small ones. Then I met a tibbie....

  3. What a wonderful blog Susan. We felt the same way as Anonymous did about small dogs but then our first Tibbie entered our lives back in 1997. Now our Attitude contains 6 with the 7th arriving from Japan next week! There is never a dull moment in our household!

  4. When I first suggested to my husband that we get a dog, I distinctly remember his saying, "Please, no small dogs." Eleven years and two Tibs later, we can't imagine a life without Tibbies.

  5. What a word "attitude"describes each and every one of them, everything they do is done with "attitude" and they are all happy doing it together. Great reading and wonderful information being handed down for future Tibetan spaniel enthusiasts to learn and gain much knowledge from. Thank you for all you do for our special little breed. A small dog with a big big heart.

  6. We were professional show dog handlers and had the opportunity to show a Tibby and discovered how seemingly sensitive he was to our thinking by hiding out of sight when either my husband or I thot it time to go to his crate. He would also come and lay down in front of me when I was thinking it was time for grooming him.
    It was amazing.