These old articles make for a very interesting read. It show how times, technology and yes, even our Tibetan Spaniels have changed over the last century.
Reprinted from: THE AMERICAN KENNEL GAZETTE
By The Hon. Mrs. Eric Bailey, Edited by Louis de Casanova, Vol. 54, No. 3; March 1, 1937
Many Unusual Breeds
Due to the airship and the radio, the world is growing smaller and smaller, and there is practically no country that is now a complete mystery to civilized man. Probably Tibet still remains the most mysterious, although the veil that hides this astonishingly interesting country is rapidly being torn aside, and we are learning more and more about these ancient people who live beyond the Himalayan mountains.
I have no intention of going into any great description of Tibet. I am as assuming that you know it is a strange land of quaint, little people, cheerful and kindly, yet hot tempered when roused. But I do want to talk about their dogs, which are commencing to be of interest to fanciers of both Great Britain and the United States.
Dogs of Tibet
It quite often happens that names mean very little when they are transplanted in another country. As an example take the name Tibet, or, as it is sometimes written, “Thibet,” is not generally used by Tibetans. They call their country Bod, and they call them selves Bod-pa, or “people of Bod.”
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the word “Tibet” came to be used by Europeans because the great plateau with its uplands bordering the frontiers of China, Mongolia, and Kashmir, through which the traveler communicated with Bod, is called by the natives Tu-bhot, or “High Bod” or “Tibet,” which designation, in the loose orthography of travelers, assumed a variety of forms. Therefore it is not at all surprising to find that the word “Apso” is the Tibetan name for any long-haired dog. It is a corruption of “Rapso” which means “goat-like.”
These dogs are, in general appearance not unlike the small, long haired goats of the country.
The Tibetans have very little imagination in naming their dogs, and most dogs of the Apso breed, being the lion-dogs of Tibet, are called either Seng-tru or simply Apso.
When we started our kennel we tried to keep to the idea of the young of carnivorous animals. Thus we got Tak-tru, the “young tiger”; Sik-tru, the “young leopard”; Sa-tru, The “young snow-leopard”; I-tru, the “young Lynx”; Chang-tru, the “young wolf,” and so on.
Later, we had to forsake the carnivorae for Tsi-tru, the “young mouse,” and so forth. Owing to this difficulty of finding sufficient names from the young of animals we finally used the names of Tibetan girls and goddesses for the bitches among our Apso dogs.
This has always been considered an absurd exaggeration on his part, but as the donkeys in Tibet are abnormally small this is not such an inaccuracy as one might think.
Besides guarding tents they are very often also used to guard houses.
To make them fierce, the people keep these mastiffs tied up all their lives from the moment they are bout a month or two old.
One result is that the mastiffs in villages are sometimes rickety with twisted, deformed limbs, while the hind-legs especially may be poorly developed.
The nomad’s or shepherd’s dog has occasionally to move camp with his master and avoids this trouble) in an exaggerated form, but in Tibet they are not active dogs except when actually carrying out the military precept that attack is often the best form of defense. They are, of course, quite unsuited to hunting game in any form.
As you approach a Tibetan encampment, the first sign of life is usually the barking of dogs. On this, the owners come out of their black yak hair tents and inspect the cause of the alarm.
They, or more usually their children, then see that all dog fastenings are secure, and often hold the dog down while it strains to reach the stranger.
Although fierce, as the result of being tied up from puppy hood, these mastiffs are very affectionate and good tempered with the people they know, and one often sees the smallest children handling and calling them off from their attempts to attack the intruder with perfect ease and safety.
These mastiffs, and sometimes the hunt hunting dogs also, wear a large fluffy collar of wool dyed bright red. This red collar can usually be seen in pictures of scenery by Tibetan artists. Tibetan mastiffs are usually black in color with tan points. One of the high officials of His Holiness the Tashi Lama once had some entirely black ones, of which he was very proud, but tan mark markings are more usual. Not infrequently red dogs are found in a litter.
The dog is very heavily built with a thick coat. The head is particularly heavy and the flews so pendant that the red of the eye is conspicuous. This, in a country like Tibet, subject to dust, wind and glare, often leads to diseased eyes owing to dirt and lack of care and cleanliness.
The whole head is large and heavy, but the heads of females are notably smaller and lighter than those of males. The Tibetans especially admire a deep-voiced bark.
In 1928 we imported five of these mastiffs. The best one was undoubtedly Tomtru (meaning “young bear”), a village dog.
Then there was Rakpa, whom we bought from a caravan of mules traveling in Tibet. He was a fine red dog which was given first prize for Foreign Dogs at the Kensington Show some years ago, and was also a winner at Cruft’s and the Kennel Club shows. An imported bitch was the black and tan Gyan-dru.
These mastiffs seem quite impervious to cold. On a winter’s day with a high wind and the temperature well below freezing, they will elect to lie out on a patch of snow if they can find one.
Tibetan mastiffs were shown at the Alexandra Palace in 1875. More than a quarter of a century elapsed before the breed again appeared, when one was brought to England from Lhasa after the Younghusband Mission in 1904. This dog can now be seen in a glass case at the Natural History Museum in London. The dog known in England and the United States as the Tibetan Spaniel has, as far as I know, no special name in Tibet. There seem to be more of them in the Chumbi Valley than in other parts of Tibet. Claude White, who was the first political officer in Sikkim, had a fine kennel of these dogs many years ago.
My husband got a very nice dog of this breed when in Lhasa with Sir Francis Younghusband’s Expedition in 1904. This dog accompanied him on a journey of more than 1,000 miles through Tibet to Simla and the photograph on page 7 [at left] was taken on that expedition while crossing a high, snowy pass.
This dog was called “Lhasa,” and was given to Mrs. Frank Wormald, who brought him to England in 1905. He was shown, and won prizes, and died at the age of 18.
I was given six of these dogs, some cream, black and red, but I parted with them and confined my attention to Apsos.
This dog is about the size of an Airedale. In color it is a creamy gray with a thick coat. The tail may be carried curled over the back, but also some times down. The head is long and is a smoky black shading into the creamy gray of the body. The ears hang forward.
The dog is used for killing game. He is taken on a leash to within sight of the game-Bharal (wild sheep) musk deer, serow, etc.-and slipped.
When the quarry is pursued, it adopts its natural defense against a wolf by getting into a cliff, where it turns to bay and attempts to butt the dog over the precipice.
This is where the quarry is wrong, for the dog does not go in and attempt to kill as a wolf would presumably do, but keeps barking in complete safety and distracts the attention of the quarry while the hunter comes up and shoots the animal at close quarters with his primitive matchlock.
These dogs are very keen sighted. I once saw a pair which spotted a herd of Ovis Ammon at a very great distance, but the owner would not slip them as he explained that there was no suitable place to which the wild sheep could be turned to bay!
I have attempted to keep these dogs. Those obtained when adult were tiresome in attacking strangers. A hunter once told me that they trained these dogs by tying the pup to the mother and letting her go after game when she forgot everything but her hunting. The puppy was dragged and bumped along after her. This made them fierce and keen!
Attempts to keep young ones were difficult as I found them delicate. There is no doubt, however, that this distinctive dog would be most attractive and if bred from imported parents would, like the mastiff, be a quiet house dog. There is no trace of wolf in them as the droop ears testify.
When in Tibet, I kept Finnish spitz, and Tibetans, on seeing these, would always point with surprise and say: “Kongkyi” (i.e. Kongbo dog). The Kongkyis I have seen are much heavier in build than the Finnish spitz, with coarse hair like a schnauzer and the ears are shorter.
This dog is, I think the same as, or akin to the Chinese ha-pa dog which was shown in England a few year ago. His Holiness the late Dalai Lama once gave me one of these dogs, which I kept for some time. It was a very nice, affectionate pet. This dog usually has a collar of colored cloth (often red) on which bells are sewn.
I have said that “Apso” in Tibetan means “any long-haired dog.” Do-Kyi means a “tied dog” or mastiff. The late Dalai Lama, himself, kept many dogs, among them one described as “Do-Kyi-Apso,” which may have been a cross between a tibetan mastiff and the dog known in Tibet as the large Apso, which are called Tibetan Terriers in England. My husband took a photograph of this dog. It was the only one that he ever saw of this breed. Tibetans have, of course, not standardized types. This results in no very specialized, or, as one might perhaps say, unnatural dogs, being bred there.
If you wish a dog for a pet in the house it should be small, lively and faithful; for hunting, fast and courageous; for a guard, large, strong and fierce on occasion.
However, breeding is not entirely haphazard as can be seen from the dogs which come from Tibet. After all, the points of breed were only standardized in England about a hundred years ago, when dog shows were first held.
As in other eastern countries, every Tibetan village contains stray dogs, which make a night’s rest almost impossible). Some of these are quite fine dogs as indeed they must be to stand the rigorous winter climate.
On the Ling-Kor, or sacred road on which pilgrims circumambulate Lhasa, are numbers of dogs of all descriptions which are fed by the pilgrims as an act of piety.
This has nothing to do with the dogs being sacred. All talk of sacred dogs bred only in monasteries is nonsense. But the Buddhist theory of reincarnation encourages kindness to animals, especially in a sacred place like Lhasa.
It must not be imagined that native dogs are the only ones seen in Tibet. Occasionally, one finds pure-breds from England or the Continent in the homes of Tibetans. I know that a former Dalai Lama kept English greyhounds, and his favorite dog, which was always with him in the house, was a dachshund.
This goes to prove that we all like things that are not native to our own soil. That is why you might be interested in owning one of the dogs that are indigenous to Tibet, that strangely interesting country which lies up in the clouds.