FOUR BREEDS OF DOGS ARE IN FAR-OFF TIBET
By Margaret Hayes
From the American Kennel Gazette
Away beyond the Himalaya Mountains lie the high plateaux of Tibet, the most inaccessible country in the world. Tibet, like her neighbor, Nepal, has an innate distrust of strangers, and yet a human kindliness towards the wanderer. A land of contrasts. Full of strange noises and strange silences, dirt and squalor and Nature in its best and cleanest grandeur. To many who read about her, land of dreams, yet a place wherein dwells stark reality to those who have traveled there.
Primitive throughout the ages, Nature's stern law of the survival of the fittest remains for man and beast. The ancient religion of the people is a mixture of pagan superstition and a fine ethical code. The rugged mountains are an environment in which the metaphysical flourishes.
Strange land of quaint little people, cheerful and kindly, yet hot tempered when roused. Here, in the heart of this windswept, barren land we find man's friend, the dog. Big dogs and little dogs. Domestic dogs. Dogs for guards. And wild dogs.
Tibet has what no other Asiatic country can claim: four distinct breeds, all kept fairly closely to type. So much so, that the various scraps of information that can be collected from the Tibetans themselves, and others who have been to the county, agree on all the major points, and foreign breeders can have a good idea of the standards of the various breeds. Naturally all the dogs are not perfect in type, though undoubtedly capable of improvement by scientific breeding. The blood is pure, but the Tibetan's idea of breeding does not go beyond like-to-like, and the greater the outcross the better.
During the time I was on the borders of Tibet, I made many inquiries about these breeds, and was greatly helped by meeting several Englishmen who had been to the interior of Tibet, some upper-class Tibetans who kept dogs themselves, and chief of all, Mr. Laden La.
M r. Laden La is a Sikkimese with many Tibetan relation, and was for a long time employed on British Government Service in Tibet. He is also an Honorary General in the Tibetan army and the head of the Buddhists in India. He knows Tibet, its people and their dogs, from the borders of China to India. First of all, for ancient lineage, comes the Tibetan spaniel. This charming little toy is greatly prized, and is only owned by the wealthy. It is kept by the present Dalai Lama, among others. It should be very small, of a light fawny color preferably, with a fluffy, silky coat. Their little faces should be rather "puggy," with small, drop ears, and an alert amusing expression. They should never resemble the papillon as some people seem to think.
They are very active, but not used to walking exercise, as they practically never leave the house in which they were born, unless carried. Owing to the constant society of human beings, these little dogs develop extraordinary intelligence, and learn all kinds of little tricks. They hold the position of court jester in a country of few amusements, and not even cats!
It was quaint to see the utter bewilderment with which a little spaniel of mine met her first cat. It was just after she had been imported into India, and the large black Persian struck her as a fearsome and curious object. She, being two sizes smaller than the cat, the interest was mutual.
Next in size, comes the Lhasa terrier. This little dog has been badly misnamed. First of all, it was called a terrier, then registered as a toy by the Indian Kennel Club, and the Lhasa is neither of these. Although their characters are distinctly terrier-like and fiery, all Lhasa have slightly undershot mouths and a bark like a Pekingese. Certainly not the terrier yap. And as the standard of the breed, drawn up in 1901, gives the height at shoulder as 11 inches, and the weight as 20 pounds, it is obviously not a toy either. But the Lhasa takes its place very adequately and charmingly under non-sporting. They vary considerably in size.
The first aim of the proposed Tibetan Breeds Club will be to get the Lhasa correctly registered.
They are hardy little dogs, with a shaggy four-inch coat, a plumed tail, and a bright alert expression. It is said that they are so affectionate that they will not thrive unless petted and taken a great deal of notice of. My two Lhasas shadow me religiously, and they certainly thrive. All the same, they will more than hold their own in a fight, and they never forget an enemy.
They are all colors, black, grizzle, smoke or sandy, but the most frequently seen is an admixture of these colors with white.
The Apso is scarcer than the Lhasa. It is really the same breed, but owing to the scarceness of these beautiful honey-coloreds, they have been given a label to themselves in the past. Sometimes slightly larger than the Lhasa, they are about the size of a Scottie, and like the spaniel, are only bred by the wealthy families. It is doubtful if they are obtainable anywhere except in Lhasa itself. Long, honey-colored coats, with a dark muzzle and dark ear tips, dark eyes showing through a fringe, they are extremely attractive. The long coat looks more wirey than it feels, and underneath is a thick lining of pure wool, which keeps the dog warm and dry in all weathers. After coming in out of the rain, an Apso shakes himself, and is dry in a few minutes.
These dogs have a distinct mane of long hair around the neck, which gives them a lion-like appearance. The Tibetans call them the "golden lion dogs," and it is significant that their pet names in their Tibetan homes are often "singhi" (lion) or "singtuk" (lion cub).
Besides being pets, they are also valued as luck bringers. It is considered very lucky to have an Apso in the house.
Years ago Apsos were sent every year as presents to the Emperor of China by the Dalai Lama, which proves that they have long been an ancient and valued breed. There is even a theory that they were the original ancestors of the Pekingese, which would date them back to about 500 A.D.
They are very faithful little dogs, intensely attached to their owners, and extremely intelligent. They make excellent guards, having amazingly keen hearing, and wonderful nerves.
Next in size are the dogs called Tibetan terriers by the Kennel Club of India. A standard of points was drawn up in India, in 1931, separating them from the Lhasa with whom they had previously been classified. I understand that the standard is to be changed again, as the weight and height mentioned are not in proportion. Also the dogs have undershot mouths like the Lhasas, and should not be called terriers. Slightly higher on the leg than the lhasa, they are taking little dogs, and the ones imported into England seem to breed true to type. They come from Baltistan and Western Tibet chiefly. As far as I could ascertain they are not bred in the capital itself.
The Tibetan mastiff probably is the fiercest dog in the world, not excepting the Canadian husky. Tibetans prize strength and ferocity as being a mastiff's greatest virtues, and smile at the idea of allowing one in the house or taming it.
These dogs are put on a chain as puppies, and are never taken off. They are fastened up to the entrance to the house, leaving only one possible way in, so it is impossible for a stranger to get past the dog, as a not obvious detour has to be made. Should a stranger go too near, his throat would be torn out in a single spring.
They have small red eyes, and a suspicious, surly disposition. This is possibly due to their life on a chain. A puppy, in other ownership, might prove tractable. But they have been specially bred for ferocity for generations. Four dogs were brought back by the Hon. Mrs. Baily, and last summer were exhibited at Whipsnade Zoo. They are very handsome dogs, being very large and dignified, and suggesting greater strength than any other large breed.
Then there are the Corpse dogs, which are the degenerate descendants of the mastiff. These dogs roam wild, driven by Nature and hard circumstances to pack existence, devouring what they can find, like jackals.
They haunt the villages, waiting for garbage to be thrown out, and for the occasional corpse. The dead are laid out on little mounds outside the village, for the dogs to devour. If the dogs eat the body quickly, it is considered a sign of the soul's swift flight to heaven.
These packs have cleared the country of small game, and will even attack "sambur," the Indian elk. I was told the following story by a man who was exploring the passes on the border. Once he was walking up a narrow gully near his camp, when he heard extraordinary sounds, and found a sambur at bay in the rocky bed of the river, with a pack of ten or eleven of the wild dogs worrying him. These dogs are only the size of Irish terriers, and couldn't attempt to pull down the sambur, but they succeeded in getting in odd bites, and gradually the sambur was worn down by loss of blood and weakness. Even if some of the dogs are killed the others are undeterred. It is slow but sure death for any animal to meet the wild dogs. They find a lot of meat on the passes down to India. Every year hundreds of sheep are driven down in caravans, and of these nearly half die of rhododendron poisoning.
All the Tibetan dogs have certain characteristics in common. Very thick coats, great hardiness, and really remarkable intelligence. For instance, a dog bought by a European and used only to the Tibetan language will, in only a week, understand what is wanted of him. A Lhasa bitch of mine understood the ceremony of tea in the garden by the third day after her arrival, and barked and tugged at my skirt to pull me out of the house when she saw the tea tray being carried across the grass. The same little bitch barked for hours the first night she arrived. We thought it was because she was strange, but next morning found that bullocks had broken into the garden and eaten every flower. She did not bark again for two weeks, and when she did, we rushed out in time to drive off the second invasion.
The chief points that the Tibetans prize in their dogs are coat and color. They prefer all self-colors to the partis, and will not look at a dog with a thin or scanty coat. All the smaller dogs are undershot. Some breeders in India and England have tried to breed them with level mouths, but it has so far resulted in longer muzzles, which is far from an improvement, as the Tibetans like all their dogs to be rather "puggy" faced. They consider this an essential beauty.
Every dog of every breed should have his tail curled over his back and particularly thick hair between the toes. The need for this is obvious when one considers the appalling journeys these dogs have to face.
The journey down to India from Lhasa involves enormous hardships, the cold is intense and any dog, except the minute spaniel, has to tramp and climb, for day after day, in blizzards and driving snow storms, up colossal passes--16,000 feet--and over knife-edged rocks for two whole months before he gets down to Sikkim and its steaming hothouse valleys.