UNDERSTANDING THE TIBETAN TERRIER TEMPERAMENT
What Is Under All That Hair?
The size is perfect. Not too big but not small either. Certainly the cutest thing you've ever seen. It looks like a stuffed animal. And even with all that hair they don't shed!All true and these are wonderful qualities but before you decide unequivocally that the Tibetan Terrier is the breed for you the most important aspect needs yet to be considered: What is the personality and temperament of the TT? What is actually under all that beautiful, non-shedding hair? Are these qualities compatible with your personality and your lifestyle?
The Tibetan Terrier with its keen mind and clever, mischievous, precocious personality plus a very strong "What's in it for me?" attitude is not for everyone. A dog that prefers to direct rather than be directed takes much time, energy and devotion to careful management and positive, motivational training. This is not a dog that should be left to raise itself. They do not "grow out of" unwanted behaviors. They need clear, consistent, calm direction and training. A strong desire to be a very involved dog guardian is a must.
Keen mind and clever, mischievous, precocious personality - all appealing sounding qualities until you find, having left your puppy unattended, that a section of your kitchen wall paper has been peeled off in a complete strip, your kitchen cabinets have been opened by amazingly dexterous feet and the contents (including olive oil) are covering all surfaces and dog.
Or were you a step ahead of the dog when you left your pup safely contained in a crate? But did you purchase the right crate you wonder when you find your little "stuffed animal" sleeping soundly on the kitchen floor upon your return?
" How did he get out", you ponder, "the crate was closed?" Aahh, you had a sliding bar closure rather than spring lock closure - dexterous feet and clever mind that watches and learns how easy it is to lift and slide a little piece of metal!! Or what about the 18 screws the manufacturer placed inside the crate bottom to hold it together that the salesman said would hold the likes of a Great Dane? A TT can easily unscrew the lid of a soda bottle with its mouth in a matter of seconds so what are a few screws?
ALL TRUE STORIES. Clever and mischievous can be great fun but you can see the need for being 10 steps ahead of your young one. Though their learning skills develop early, Tibetan Terriers mature more slowly than many breeds both physically and emotionally, evidenced in rate of tooth loss (at about 5 months), bone growth and sexual maturity (average for most breeds is at 6-12 months, but in the TT is at 10-14 months). So young is a long time.
As you can see a Tibetan Terrier requires a patient owner interested in spending time training and building a solid relationship with their dog. They require intense management that will set them up for success. They are highly intelligent with strong problem solving skills. They love a puzzle. They are independent and curious and love to learn. TTs learn quickly which makes focused training a pleasure but can cause havoc for an owner who doesn't manage or direct well. Whatever they learn - appropriate or inappropriate - is learned very quickly and is hard to retrain. The margin for error is small. They are independent and can be strong-minded. They do not naturally look to people for direction, this needs to be taught. Therefore, building a relationship of fair, trustworthy leadership and the use of force-free training is essential. TTs do not take well to traditional force methods of training and will shut down or retaliate on those who use them. Positive motivation that allows the dog and owner to use their minds in training is embraced by the TT.
When teaching your Tibetan Terrier or any dog, unroll your newspaper and use it for housetraining, choke collars make unique plant hangers and prong/pinch collars are excellent for bundling unwieldy recycling but are not appropriate for training your TT. Nor are aversives such as spray bottles, lemon juice or shake cans filled with pennies. Save your hands for petting, feeding and playing with your dog. Otherwise use them to scratch your head while you contemplate where you failed in your training and management putting your dog in the position of causing you to consider physical punishment in the first place. Hands that grab, shake, hit or force the dog into physical submission are hands your dog will learn to avoid or nip/bite when you want to pet, cuddle or play or need to save your dog from a dangerous situation. Your TT will not respond well to such forceful methods of training.
Use of rewards (treats, toys, play and praise) is the way to teach your dog appropriate behavior. If something goes awry show your dog that the behavior was unacceptable by removing the opportunity for interaction, reward and repetition of that behavior. Neutral time-outs work beautifully for dogs and give you an opportunity to regroup to determine how to teach your dog what you WANT rather than using valuable time and energy focusing on what is WRONG. A good and trusting relationship with a TT or any dog is not built out of fear, pain or physical supplication. Rather be clear with your dog in your expectations and establish boundaries. TTs are very smart. If you are clear, consistent and patient they will learn.
Though Tibetan Terriers bond closely to their people and want to know where they are at all times, they can be touch sensitive and not exceptionally physically affectionate. This is something they learn to like by slowly and patiently being accustomed to physical handling by their people. They are doers, especially in their first 2-3 years. They prefer activities to cuddling. They love toys and like to play both with people and independently. After age 2-3, if guided well by their people in their youth, they settle down and require less activity, though they remain youthful lifetime.
Due to their slow maturation, careful use of crating, confined mischief-free play areas and careful management are necessary through the first year to ensure a house trained, house safe and well mannered dog. Left to their own devices they will create their own rules. TTs do not take readily to change, including changing of rules, so you must start immediately to instill the mannered behavior you will want from your adult dog.
It should also be noted that they are very mouthy pups (play, interact and try to direct you with their mouths/teeth) and will remain mouthy into adulthood unless they are taught not to do so in a positive, non-forceful way. They do not "outgrow" this behavior on their own.
They were herding dogs and alarm guarders as well as companions and the breed has changed very little over the years and remains very close to its feral roots. This makes them very unreliable off leash except in a secure fenced yard (physical fence, not invisible/electronic). If their instinct kicks in they will take off and not look back or hear a word you are screaming.
Though they can be good with children if socialized from puppy hood to kids they are not appropriate for families with children under seven. They view kids as they would another dog and can be hard on young children. They will direct them with their mouths, which can be frightening to kids causing frantic movement and high pitched vocalizing, which will escalate the TT's behavior even more. More mature, calm children capable of giving the dog direction and handling the dog gently do best. As they can also be wary with strangers, early and continued socialization to all types of people and situations is essential for a secure, friendly dog.
If you would enjoy a fun-loving, humorous, mischievous canine companion who will challenge your intellect, your ingenuity and interest in understanding your dog as an individual then the TT is for you. Patience and a sense of humor are musts for the people of a Tibetan Terrier.
A dog is for life and Tibetan Terriers can live up to 17 years. The Tibetan Terrier is known as the "good luck" dog and it is only fair that the people who choose them should return the good fortune. Please make your decision to include one in your family a careful and thoughtful one.
Copyright   Virginia Hoffmann, CPDT, 2002
Virginia Hoffmann is a certified pet dog trainer and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She does private in-home behavior and training consultations in New York City and the Tri-state area for all breeds of dogs. She has worked with over 100 Tibetan Terriers and their families.
If you live in the New York metropolitan area Virginia can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those outside of the metropolitan area looking for a trainer near you, you can view a list of member trainers on the  Association of Pet Dog Trainers' Website   or  Marge Morgan's list of clicker instructors
When selecting a trainer or training class for your Tibetan Terrier be sure that they do not use forceful methods and understand and employ positive methods of dog training.