Many Unusual Breeds Found in Tibet, the ‘Strange Land’ That Lies in the Clouds
By The Hon. Mrs. Eric Bailey
The American Kennel Gazette
Edited by Louis de Casanova
Vol. 54 n° 3 March 1, 1937
Due to airship and the radio, the world is growing smaller and smaller, and there is practically no country that is now acomplete 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 assuming that you know it is astrange 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.
Broadly speaking, Tibet has several distinct types of dogs. These have all been seen in either England or the United States. In addition to these major types, there a number of other breeds – many hardly known outside of Tibet – that I will mention a little later in my story. 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 themselves Bod-pa, or “people of Bod”.
According to the Encyclopaedia 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 natives Tu-bhot, or “High Bod” or “Tibet”; which designation, in the loose orthography of travelers, assumed a variety of forms. Thereforeit is not at all surprising to find that the word “Apso” is theTibetan 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, though, of course, the dogs are smaller.
Apso dogs of many kinds are found in Tibet, but after considerable experience with the nobles of Tibet, I was able to find out the kind generally preferred. This, as it is purely a pet for the house, is a small dog. Then it must, as the name implies, have long hair, the longer the better within reason. Then, as regards colour, the commonest is black or iron grey, but the Tibetans prefer a golden or honey-colored dog. The long-legged dogs shown in Western countries would not be admired in Tibet.
As far as I know, the name “Apso” first appeared in English inconnection with these dogs in the Daily Mail (London) of August 19, 1929. The difficulty that a European encounters intrying to get any of these Apso dogs is well illustrated by my own case. In 1920-21, Colonel R.S. Kennedy was in Lhasa for abouta year as Medical Officer with Sir Charles Bell, who at that time, was Political Officer for Tibet. In gratitude for his treatment of his wife , the Commander in Chief (Tsarong Shape) wished to give Colonel Kennedy some valuable present. This Colonel Kennedy refused, but eventually accepted a pair of dogs. The male was named Sengtru and the female Apso. These dogs he took to India, but in 1922 he retired from Government service, and presented the two dogs to me. My husband was then Political Officer for Tibet having succeeded Sir Charles Bell in 1921, and we lived in Sikkim, on the Tibetan frontier, for seven years.
We visited Tibet each year, taking these two dogs with us.We tried very hard to get more dogs of the same kind. Similar dogs are easy to find but we were particular to get only the same type in all particulars, including especially color. This we found impossible. In 1924, my husband spent a month in Lhasa, seeing the late Dalai Lama frequently, and through His Holiness and other high officers, he tried to get more dogs of the correct type. There are, of course no shows in Tibet, and consequently breedingis not as carefully done as with us, and he found it very difficult to get dogs which comprised all the points Tibetan like: size, shape, length and texture of coat, color, and so forth.
However, he found one bitch, the property of a young Tibetan officer named Demon. The owner would not part with her, but allowed my husband to take her away to breed from. This was essential as, up to that time, we had only bred from the original pair, and there was danger to the strain from in-breeding. This bitch we named Demon, as the owner called her Apso, the same name as one we had. A litter was born from her, sired by our Singtru, and in due course the bitch was sent back to Tibet. She was, however lost on the road and never seen again.
My husband gave up his appointment in 1928 by which time we had still failed to get any more of the dogs which fulfilled all our requirements. As we did not expect to return to Tibet, it was essential to get another dog to bring in fresh blood, and so we obtained a male dog, Lhasa, which was what we were looking for in all respects except color. Lhasa is a white and grey dog and not a uniform color. We took him, as he was the nearest we could find. I am glad to say that his progeny have, so far, been of excellent color. Lhasa was the property of the late Mr. Martin, of British Trade Agency, at Gyantse, in Tibet, who had had him for eight years before he presented him to me. Then he became the property of Mr. Dudley of the Kennels Brambledown, Sheerness. In 1928 we brought to England this dog Lhasa, and also five of the descendants of Sergtru, Apso and Demon. These were Taktru, Droma, Tsitru, Pema and Litsi.
Speaking of the naming of these dogs, you may be interested to know that the Tibetan word “Tru-gu ” means “the young” of anything. In combination with another word this is abbreviated to Tru,e.g. Seng-e is the Tibetan for lion. Seng-tru (an abbreviationfor Seng-e Tru – gu), means “young lion” 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 youngtiger”; Sik-tru , the “young leopard”; Sa-tru , the “young snowleopard”; I-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.
Speaking of names, mastiffs in Tibetan are called Do-Kyi,which means ” a dog you can tie up “. Do-Kyi are kept by every nomad and sheek or yak herd to guard the tents. Marco Polo, in the account of his journey into Tibet in the fourteenth century, mentions these dogs and remarks that they are as large as donkeys. This has always been considered as 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 about 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 carriyng 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 to approach a Tibetan encampment, the first sign of life is usually the barking of dogs. On this, the owners come out their black yak-hair tents and inspect the cause of the alarm. They, or more usually their children, then see that all dogs fastenings are secure, and often hold the dogs down while it strains to reach the stranger. Although fierce, as the result of being tied up from puppyhood, 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. The mastiffs, and sometimes the hunting dogs also, wear a large fluffy collar of wood 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 markings are more usual. Not frequently 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 Gyandru. These mastiffs seem quite impervious to cold. On a winter’s day with a high wind and the temperature well below fvreezing, 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 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. Besides the known breeds I have mentioned, there are two other very distinct breeds of Tibetan dogs. The first is the hunting dog, known in Tibet as Sha-Ky i- Kyi being the Tibetan for dog. This dog is about the size of an Airdale. In color it is creamy gray with thick coat. The tail may be carried curled over the back but also sometimes 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), must 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 where 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 doubts, however, that this distinctive dog would be most attractive and if breed from imported parents would, like the mastiff, be a quiet house dog. There is no trace of wolf in them as the drooping ears testify.
Another very distinctive breed in Tibet is the Kongbo dog, and has never been exported from Tibet, as far as I know. Kongbo is a province in South-eastern Tibet. This dog is on the lines of a schnauzer, with small, prick ears. I have only seen two of these dogs, and both were reddish in color I was once given one by a Tibetan friend. I did not keep him as he was very old and in bad health.
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 Finnish spitz, with coarse hair like a schnauzer and the ears are shorter.
Another very popular dog in Tibet is called Gya-Kyi, which means simply “Chinese dog”. This is more like a smooth-haired Pekinges than anything else. I believe this dog to be the Chinese pug. This dog is, I think, the same as, or akin to the Chinese ha-pa dog, which was shown in England a few years 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 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.
Tibetan have, of course, not standardized types. This results is 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 breeds were only standardized in England about a hundred years ago, when dogs 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-breed 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 owing one of the dogs that are indigenous to Tibet, that strangely interesting country which lies up in the clouds.