Tibetan Terrier Adaptationsby Lisa Miller
Small, friendly Tibetan terriers were originally bred to be all-purpose companion and working dogs in the high, harsh environment of the Tibetan Himalayas. This frigid alpine climate and rugged terrain created a breed that was uniquely suited to its often extreme environment. Even though modern Tibetan terriers can be found across the globe, these specialized adaptations still exist, lending the dogs their distinctive look and temperament.
High Altitude History
Tibetan terriers were originally bred by Tibetan Lamaist monks nearly 2,000 years ago to serve as companion animals and occasional multipurpose herding or working dogs. There are many myths and speculations about the role of Tibetan terriers in their early development, but generally these dogs were considered holy and bringers of luck to those who owned them. Though the breed’s name suggests otherwise, Tibetan terriers are not actually part of the terrier group and were only named so due to their terrier size.
Tibetan terriers have a dense, double coat that provides them with insulation from cold temperatures and protection from rugged landscapes. This specialized coat is composed of two layers--the fine outer coat is long and profuse, and the undercoat is woolly and dense. Tibetan terriers’ coats cover their entire bodies—including the tops of their heads, falling over their eyes--providing all-over insulation and water-resistance. This coat allows Tibetan terriers to thrive in an often unforgiving harsh climate.
Along with their long, warm coats, Tibetan terriers have specially adapted feet for traversing snow covered mountains. These feet are large, circular and flat, spreading out as they walk and acting like snowshoes. This adaptation allows for traction in difficult terrain and gives Tibetan terriers their easy, effortless stride and agility even on ground that is uneven or snow-covered.
The build of Tibetan terriers is compact and muscular, which suits their origins as dogs that can perform multiple tasks in a number of environmental situations. Tibetan terriers are squarely-built and well-balanced, with a height that does not tend to exceed 16 inches and weight of between 20 and 24 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club breed standard.
Tibetan terriers were well-adapted to their environment through temperament as well as physical characteristics. Because they were bred to be both all-purpose utility dogs as well as revered companions, Tibetan terriers developed flexible, dependable and steadfast personalities. According to the American Kennel Club breed standard for Tibetan terriers, the breed should be sensitive to the moods of its handler, loyal, highly intelligent and affectionate. This breed also demonstrates bravery and can be easy to train.
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