Susan Miccio, author of The Tibetan Spaniel, A Gift from the Roof of the World, writes: “Starting way back with Mrs. McLaren Morrison at the turn of the century and continuing to the present day with Mrs. Wynyard, many Tibbie-oriented writers have claimed that the Tibbie is the forerunner of the Pekingese and, through the Pekingese, the Japanese Chin because the Tibetans and Chinese traded dogs and the because dogs in Chinese paintings before the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) resemble Tibetan Spaniels more than modern-day, flat-muzzled Pekingese. Chinese-oriented writers tend to look at things the other way around (i.e., Chinese dogs gave rise to Tibetan breeds).”
Other writers claim that the Tibetan Spaniel is also the antecedent of the Lhasa Apso and perhaps of all the small, short-muzzled oriental companion breeds. This seems to be borne out because because pure-bred Lhasa Apsos sometimes have a Tibbie-like puppy, nicknamed a prapso, virtually indistinguishable from a Tibetan Spaniel, whereas the Tibetan Spaniel never has a Lhasa-like puppy. You see, ever since the Tibetan and Chinese dogs arrived in the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their fans have debated this issue of which came first. In many peoples’ eyes, being “first” or “purer” or whatever you want to call it accords the breed higher status, in the same way that describing them with promotional words such as “Prayer Dog” or “sacred” makes them seem more special and desirable.
Professor Ludvic von Schulmuth studied canine origins by studying the skeletal remains of dogs found in human settlements as old as the Paleolithic (about 10,000 years ago). Much as physical anthropologists have traced the evolution of man through such studies, the Professor created a genealogical tree of Tibetan dogs. It shows that the “Gobi Desert Kitchen Midden Dog” (i.e., scavenger) evolved into the “Small Soft-Coated Drop-Eared Hunting Dog” which then evolved into the Tibetan Spaniel followed by the Pekingese and Japanese Chin. Another branch coming down from the “Kitchen Midden Dog” (but not the same branch as the Tibbie) gave rise to the Papillon and Long-haired Chihuahua and yet another “Kitchen Midden Dog” branch to the Pug and Shih Tzu. The Professor places the Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Terrier and Tibetan Mastiff elsewhere, coming not from the “Kitchen Midden Dog” but from the “Large Spitz-Type Dog” which evolved into the “Heavy-Headed Dog that Moved North.” One branch from the “Heavy-Headed Dog” leads to the “Owcharke” (which still exists in the form of the Ovcharka breeds of Russia and central Asia) and then divides into the “Inner Mongolian” and “Mongolian” branches. These branches lead to the “North Funlun Mountain Dog” and “South Funlun Mountain Dog,” respectively, and from there to the Tibetan Terrier and Lhasa Apso, also respectively.
Tibbie lovers may be interested to know that the Professor dated the skeleton of dog that was short-muzzled (only slightly pointed), lightly-boned, and 18-20 inches; tall, with a broad, short skull, fairly long back and comparatively short legs. Sound familiar? The dog lived about 150 – 950 B.C.
The truth is that no one knows nor is it likely that we will ever know for sure when and how the Tibetan breeds evolved. Even if we accept that Professor von Schulmuth’s genealogy is correct, I believe strongly that the Tibetan dogs intermixed, even as they do in Tibet today and certainly must have throughout history!! This may explain why, for example, a Lhasa Apso sometimes has a prapso puppy or why other genetic similarities (e.g., inherited diseases) indicate that the Tibetan Spaniel is even more closely related to the Lhasa Apso and, to a lesser degree, the Tibetan Terrier than the Professor’s genealogy would suggest.
More information about the history of the Tibetan breeds, including a graphic of Professor Schulmuth’s genealogy, may be seen in Ann Wynyard’s Dogs of Tibet and the History of the Tibetan Spaniel.