The Breed that is Part Dog, Part Cat and Part Monkey

In her book about Tibetan Spaniels, Juliet Cunliffe described the Tibetan Spaniel as “part dog, part cat, and part monkey,” but without reading the book, we wondered why.

Incredible smarts and a headstrong streak is suggestive of many temperaments, while a knack for picking up objects with their front paws, plus a propensity to climb in order to be off the ground is monkey-like. Then again, that is what the breed was supposed to do in its native land: Climb monastery walls and roofs to keep watch for intruders (if one was spotted, an alert was barked to the Tibetan Mastiffs below who would “deal” with it). Feline qualities can be spotted in the Tibbie’s notorious independence. One Tibbie owner told us that the breed can have “selective hearing,” and won’t always oblige with what they’ve been told to do. Add to this fastidiousness and a proud (if not arrogant) bearing, and the trifecta of terrier/monkey/cat-like features is complete. What say you, Tibbie owners?

Tibetan Spaniels by Susan Harper

31 thoughts on “The Breed that is Part Dog, Part Cat and Part Monkey”

    • Thanks, Sally – and we wonder if you recognized your own comment in this synopsis?

      • Really? Was it the “selective hearing” or the climbing on monastery walls and roofs? I talk about both of those quite a bit, lol. Thanks NPDD.

  1. Delightful thumbnail sketch of our beloved dogs. They are sometimes difficult to describe to one who hasn’t owned a Tibbie.

  2. Thank you to my mom Jay Child, Joan Child, Leo Kearns and Mallory Cosby Driskill and the other founding members no longer with us for bringing this breed to the U.S. all those years ago. It was a long and difficult road getting them where they are now and back then we couldn’t even give them away!! They were and still are a truly special breed.

  3. Such an adorable breed. Only have ours a few months but she was definitely part of the family from day one.

  4. I love my Tibbie. Just wished I had them 30 years earlier. They also have some Clown in them. They climb, entertain, and do there in things. Hope I am never without one.

      • So many comments to this post have created a profile of an utterly charming dog, Betty. Great. We used to want only 20 different breeds. Now it’s 21.

  5. When my Tibby babies leave my house to go to their new homes, I give their new family a folder , with all things they need to know for life. I have a little saying that I put on some of the pages. ” Just remember that you don’t own the tibby, within a week at your house , the Tibby puppy will own you.” Lots of my families have rang me within a week , and said how true this saying is.

  6. sorry i dont agree with the part terrier…….its part cat, part dog and part monkey…..going by Ann Wynyards book. nothing ever in her books has referred to this very artistocratic breed as terrier. Ifyou put “terrier” character into our breed you are changing all they stand for….terriers were born and bred to takes lives i belive….i dont think a tibbie is like that at all. I have not read this yet in Juliettes book but assertive and aloof does not mean terrier…this description is wrong . i dont live with terriers…i live with special little cat like. monkey like dogs…..

    • As we mentioned, Margaret, we’ve never read the book, either, and went by a synopsis we saw. We always defer to the breed experts – you who live with the breed, and trust your opinion on this.

  7. I have just checked Juliettes book also and she says. part dog, part cat and part monkey……I also have sent her a message asking her to explain the Terrier bit…but now you have explained i will write back to her……so in future can Dog , Monkey and Cat be referred to when talking about their character please,,,then were are all in an agreement to the descriptive wording of our artistocratic little breed…..sorry to have reacted to this but there is such a large difference from what our tibetan spaniel stands for and a breed that is bred to go to ground and hunt and kill rodents etc….thank you for updating your titles. I dont wish the world at large to start referring to our lovely treasured breed as a terrier type dog…..thanks.

  8. I too was puzzled by the allusion to a terrier and could not find that in Juliette’s book. The saying that a Tibbie is “dog-cat-monkey” goes way back. It’s one of the first things I was told about Tibbies back in the 80s. I thought it might have originated with Ann Wynyard, a great British breeder. However, she wrote in 1986, “An International Judge on the Continent remarked to me after her initiation into this breed… that they were ‘part cat, part dog and part monkey’! It is a very apt description of both their character and their looks.” Later, in my book, “The Tibetan Spaniel – A Gift from the Roof of the World” (1994), I took up the theme and wrote, “There is a wonderful saying that a Tibetan Spaniel is dog, cat, and monkey all rolled into one. It is a good way to describe the breed’s enigmatic personality. He possesses the faithfulness and watchfulness of the dog, the independence and curiosity of the cat, and the cleverness and mischievousness of the monkey.”

    • It’s why we changed the title of the post, Susan, from “terrier-cat-monkey” to “dog-cat-monkey.” We freely admitted to never having read the book, and have always felt that the real experts on a breed are the heritage breeders who create the next generation, and the people who live with them. When several folks wrote to say, “Oh, no no no,” we changed the title. Your comment, however, not only confirms this, but offers some good information (book titles) that people interested in the breed can pursue, so thank you!

  9. Spot on. Perfect description of every tibboe who has owned me!! They are also great talkers and the most sensitive breed I’ve ever known. My Tibbies have mourned with me at the deaths of family members — they sit next to me or cuddle with me and uncharacteristically quiet as I’ve cried and when I’ve had to release one of the fur kids to the Bridge, they will take turns sitting in the crate or just stare at it until it’s time to be filled by another.

    • We love hearing comments like this, Gary, it’s indicative that a wonderful fit exists between family and their dog’s breed. Send a picture, if you get a chance?

    • Indeed we do, Billie. We’ve taken to adding the hashtag, #SaveOurBreeds to our posts on Social media

  10. So true both my tibbies can go up a tree to 6 ft one can jump over a 5 ft fence from standstill. They live to be high like a cat keeping watch. Very active and I would really agree part cat part dog part monkey. I’ve had this breed over thirty years and they still amaze me what they can do

  11. My Sophie came to me in late August 2019 as a rescue. She was up for adoption as a pekingese, but I knew she wasn’t. What I knew was that when I saw her beautiful face, I loved her. She has been such a joy to me. She’s loving, loyal, loving and very independent. She’s also playful, smart and defiant. She helped my heart heal after the loss of my beloved corgi, Vinny.

    • Sophie is a very lucky little lady, Debra, for her to have found you when you found her. Much joy to you both!

  12. One of our Tibbies recently passed away – his name was Woji- the loss of our beautiful Woj hit our family so very hard- he was all of the things you all describe your Tibbies to be. He was a very proud dog, also very wise and had a heart of gold, the loss of him even brought both our adult sons to tears -they are 30 & 32 yrs old. We are very lucky to still have his lovely brother Oli and Toshi a lovely pup who is 10 months old. They are such amazing dogs with such a wonderful history. I have always described our Tibbies as old souls

    • We’re sorry for your loss, Karen, it’s so hard to lose them. “Old soul” is a wonderfully apt description of this breed.

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