Tibetan Terriers At Home

Just as wind and water can sculpt a distinct topography, I believe topography can also shape a particular psyche. Geography is entwined with its regional artists, musi­cians and writers. GeorgiaO’Keefe’s paintings of the southwest, Aar­on Copland’s evocative music of the vast American landscape, and Wallace Sregner’s novels steeped with the mind and place of 20th century America are examples of how place can shape an individual psyche and express itself.If one seeks to understand the rugged, versatile, charismatic Tibetan Terrier, it is helpful to know more about where they evolved. The country of Tibet is embodied and expressed in the personality, demeanor and physique of the TT. Having lived for thousands of years in geography full of extremes is no incidental matter when forensically considering how this unique landscape impacted the psyche of the TT. Might an environment that had wide altitude variations, harsh temperatures and precipitation extremes have favored a dog with an adaptable, highly nuanced personality?Historically used as caravan dogs, guards for livestock and monasteries and traveling companions, TTs are well suited for the multi-tasking demands of contemporary life. Called “little people” in Tibet, they are very discerning, clever dogs, deeply bonded to their families and often possessing an array of contradictory behaviors.Are they very active? Well yes and no.Do they like people? Again, yes and no. Are they easy to train? Most definitely yes, but not in any way you would imagine. Are they highly sensitive? Well yes, bur they also are very tenacious. Are they hardy? Yes! They are an extremely robust breed, but a pine needle caught between the back legs on a walk can be a “man down” event. They are drama prone, but also stoic. They absolutely love snow, but abhor rain. They will push the boundaries with their ornery, mischievous antics, but sincerely want to do the right thing.

Are you getting the feel of life with a TT yet? Let’s flush out a few of my comments for additional insight.

Are they very active?

Indeed, they enjoy vigorous walks or jogs, can hike tirelessly in challenging terrain and engage in acrobatic, Cirque de Soleil style chase games with fellow housemates. But they are also content to lounge around the house or office with their people, entertain themselves quietly with a toy, or happily fill any available space on a chair or sofa beside their person. They generally adapt to the energy level of their household, satisfied to do whatever it is their humans are doing.

Do they like people?

Most definitely! They may be one of the most people-oriented dog breeds, bonding very deeply to their family and specifically to their person. Conversely, they are generally not a breed with an agenda to meet and make as many friends as possible. In this regard, they are classic introverts, preferring a meaningful conversation with one person at a gathering rather than small talk with dozens of persons. They are often sparing and cautious of strangers, and many are not even mildly tempted to take food from an unknown person.

Are they easy to train?

If you have proven yourself worthy of their trust and established a relationship of cooperation, you will find few breeds as quick-witted as the TT. But, in the final analysis, and executed with classical TT humor, you will at some point realize that it was they that have been training you all along. And what an education you will have obtained!

Tibetan terriers (that are not terriers by definition) are sensitive, intuitive beings. They learn quickly and find repetition to be soul crushing. If you have aspirations of training a performance TT, it will be beneficial to develop a taste for the unexpected, a healthy dose of humility, and a refined sense of humor. The best training surrenders any aspect of imposing your will  and requires an attitude free of narrowly defined outcomes.

Come show day (conformation, rally, obedience, agility) rest assured that your TT knows what it knows and what is expected. Any doubt on your part, conveyed by excessive drills and nervous blather, is likely to backfire. They will always be there to remind you (and wonder why they have to repeat it!) that trust is essential, few things are to be taken so seriously and the best memories created are those that make you laugh.

Are they highly sensitive?

The soft side of the TT is counterbalanced by a curious mix  of tenacity, mischievousness, and an independent mind capable of creative- if not amusing-, problem solving. I know a TT that ascends the long hardwood staircase leading up to the bedrooms backwards – rear legs first!

The owners, absent when the behavior developed, suspect it is a response to the slippery surface of the newly refinished stairs. I co-own another TT that while her owner was away, took a treasured wedding bracelet outside and buried it in the snow. Fortunately when spring thaw came, it was rediscovered out in the yard, along with a few other pieces of jewelry, in the safest place (from a TT perspective).

As I write this sitting outside, I have just observed a young TT male go push open a heavy, unlatched door with his nose, to let another TT out who had been whining politely for me to do just that for him. As much as I’d like to think it was an altruistic gesture, I’m fairly certain that the youngster was looking for back­ up security patrol, as a herd of deer were approaching the property. They both just ran off charging the yard perimeter with deterrent barks.

In describing life with TTs, a metaphor  might  be  useful.  Consider classic themes in books or movies where the authority figures (often parents) are uncomprehending of their unorthodox, freethinking counterparts (their offspring). A TT could be easily cast as the actor (we’ll assume this is an animated movie) that plays the aspiring musician son of a banker father who wants him to go to law school. The inevitable drama plays out, and if it is a happy ending, the TT/son becomes a successful rock star, reconciled with the now proud father who finds a new place managing his son’s vast monetary assets, or some such twist.

This is my way of explaining that the TT is not the breed for everyone. They really lack a typical modern canine personality in many ways, have many primal canine behaviors intact, possess more than a few feline characteristics and even have a number of primate behaviors.

This may be why many creative people make an excellent match for a TT companion, as they inherently sympathize with and out-of-the-box soul. But just like the banker father in the above scenario….many others will have their staid world cracked open should they make the choice to live with a TT. In my opinion, anything that expands our world and perceptions is a truly priceless gift. So more conventional, linear people also make fine companions for a TT, and if you’ve read this far you now can consider yourself forewarned.

Cheers and peace to all fellow and aspiring TT owners, (cue sound of Tibetan meditation singing bowl tapped one time with firmness).

Article by Andrea Reiman