The age of the Tibetan Spaniel is unknown, but the breed is believed to be several thousand years old. A study by a professor, Ludwig von Schulmuth, claims that these dogs ultimately came from the Gobi Desert Kitchen Middle Dog which was alive 10,000 years ago. That small dog was said to have evolved into the Small Soft-Coated Drop-Eared Hunting Dog. That dog was apparently responsible for later spawning a number of Far Eastern breeds, among them the dogs that became named the Tibetan Spaniel.
Like all ancient dogs from the region, Tibetan Spaniel history is mysterious despite the specific role the dog had as small yet fearsome-looking alarm dogs for Buddhist monasteries. These "little lions" were revered for their looks. In turn, they became entitled by their position that was literally atop the walls where they could see far and wide. They were also used as prayer dogs and allegedly had the less visible but apparently no less important task of rotating prayer wheels for the lamas.
Because of the dog's prized position, they were also given as gifts to visiting dignitaries. To the Buddhist monks, the lion symbolized Buddha's vanquishment of violence; it was a significant action when one of the dogs was presented to a person. These dogs eventually traveled throughout Japan and China, and with them, they carried the representation of Buddha.
It was not until the late 19th century that the breed became known to the Western world. It was recorded that McLaren Morris exported a Tibetan Spaniel to England at that time. More were sent in the 1920s by a Dr. Agnes R.H. Greig. During World War II, many of these Spaniels in England died. Shortly after the war, in 1947, breeding and more imports helped to rebuild the breed's population. By 1958, the Tibetan Spaniel Association had been founded, and The Kennel Club formally recognized the breed in the 1960s. During that decade, the dog became known in the United States. The Tibetan Spaniel Club of America formed in 1971, and by 1983, the AKC had formally recognized the dog. By 1987, the FCI had recognized the breed too.