This question is not put entirely correctly. In the large university monasteries such as Sera, Drepung or Ganden, the house rules forbid and continue to forbid the keeping of animals. Even the high order Lamas are not allowed to have dogs. Often large packs of half wild dogs live around the monastaries. These are often mixes of various dog breeds. As the monks, like all Tibetans, like dogs, they look after them. They feed them and observe them, and the young monks play with the puppies. People say that these dogs live so close to the monasteries because they sinned as monks and by carmic consequence they are now re-born as dogs. Because of their past, they stay close to the monasteries.
In remote smaller monasteries, dogs play an important role. I have my own monastery, the Gonsar monastery, which is located far away in the mountains of Lhasa. The Do Khyis are kept there for protection from thieves and other attacks. They are attached on both sides of the entrance. It is very impressive to pass near these big animals barking with their thunderous voices, jumping up and down, and being held back only by the chains.
Unlike the Do Khyis, small dogs are allowed to move around freely and follow their masters everywhere. This way they can take part in the rituals, prayers and mantras of their masters and absorb their effect.
Often Tibetan Spaniels accompany their master to the Koras. These are clockwise walks around sacred monuments which the Buddhists complete, praying and sometimes prostrating. It is amazing how healthy old people who regularly do their Koras are. The dogs always take part in these rituals. Sometimes, in earlier times, people also took “saved” sheep and goats with them to the Koras. These animals were decorated with special jewellery on the ears – red wool and small bells. Often during the rituals, tormas (small figurines made out of roasted barley flour known as tsampa) and butter are offered. After the rituals, the tormas are given to the big ravens on the roofs and to the dogs in front of the monastery.
Tibetan dogs mainly eat tsampa and leftovers. The small dogs are particularly keen on “pag” fed from the hand. Pag is tsampa mixed with butter. Every Tibetan eats pag at least once a day. The Do Khyis are fed on tsampa in large bowls. From time to time, tsampa is cooked in broth from bones and a bone is added.
Snow leopards are a big threat to the small dogs: The snow leopards jump on the roofs of houses during the night and grab small dogs. (Tibetan houses have flat roofs which are used as terraces.) The snow leopard smells the small dogs and, when the leopard approaches the house, the dogs go on the roofs to peek and bark. That is when the leopard attacks and grabs the dog easily. That is why sometimes we also call snow leopards dog leopards. I have lost a Shar Khyi that way. The Do Khys only sometimes win a fight against a snow leopard. If that happens, the snow leopard will never return to that place.
The nunneries very much rely on the protection of Do Khyis. Without their Do Khyis, the nuns would be vulnerable to danger.
Large properties are also often guarded by groups of Do Khyis, with one group on each side of the house.
I was born into a Tibetan aristocratic family. Most of these families keep Tibetan Spaniels. Pekingese dogs are also popular with aristocrats. The dogs are treated as members of the family and often sleep in the bed of their owner; my dogs sleep in my bed with me.