The History of Monks Who Raise Dogs

When we think of monks, the images that spring to mind usually involve temples, monasteries, and somber, bearded or head-shaven men dressed in flowing robes. Dogs, on the other hand, are conspicuously absent from these images.

While it might sound strange, there’s actually a long history of monks breeding dogs for many reasons. Even in modern days, there are monastic orders that have been breeding and raising dogs.

In this article, we dive deep into different monastic orders that raise dogs. We also take a look at the kinds of dogs they raise, why they choose certain breeds, and what these dogs do.

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New Skete Monks

The monks of New Skete are part of an Orthodox Christian monastic community in Cambridge, New York. 

Since the 1960s, they’ve been raising and breeding dogs. They’ve also been publishing books since 1978 on how to improve the relationship between people and their dogs.

The New Skete monks started out with a full-scale farm that had goats, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and pheasants. They also had a German Shepherd called “Kyr.”

A short while after they were founded, these monks moved to a new location that was unsuitable for farming. As a result, they had to give up all their animals except for one, “Kyr.”

The New Skete monks valued the bond they had with their animals. This fueled their desire to understand the science behind training and breeding dogs.

Initially, the monks simply wanted to train the dogs to live in the monastery quietly and orderly. When word got out that the New Skete monks train dogs, dog owners began approaching them for training techniques and breeding programs.

New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, New York (from Wikimedia Commons)

People were drawn to the monks’ training methods because they emphasized the importance of the owner-dog relationship as well as empathy. These methods differed from the traditional harsh punishment-based training.

New Skete German Shepherds

For about three decades, the New Skete monks have bred and trained German Shepherds almost exclusively. Each monk gets a dog companion who serves as a roommate, playmate, and dinner-mate.

They saw the dogs as a source of humility; the monks were required to walk, feed, and take the dogs out. These responsibilities helped to balance their lives.

There’s an abundance of German Shepherds at the New Skete monasteries. Still, other canines are welcome. What’s more, the monasteries offer dog training for all breeds.

New Skete Monks with German Shepherds (from newskete.org)

Tibetan Buddhist Monks

High up in the Roof of the World, Tibetan Buddhists didn’t just provide shelter for dogs in the monasteries. These karma-conscious monks raised, fed, and bred these dogs for years.

Dogs were more than just companions to Tibetan Buddhists. These monks believed that humans could be reincarnated as dogs in order to fulfill their karmic destiny.

That said, the Tibetan monks trained a considerable number of dog breeds to fulfill certain duties.

Tibetan Spaniels

Tibetan Buddhist monks are well-known for raising and breeding Tibetan Spaniels.

For centuries, Buddhist monks bred the Tibetan Spaniel to resemble a small lion, as lions are a sacred Buddhist symbol. This explains why this certain breed had the most intimate access to the monasteries.

Tibetan Spaniels were so highly prized that legend has it that they were used to turn prayer wheels. In reality, the duties of a Tibetan Spaniel included being beautiful to look at, pleasant to stroke, and calm to sit on the monks’ lap during meditation.

Photo of Tibetan Spaniels from 1899 (from Wikimedia Commons)

Still, these dogs didn’t sit around all day. Because they’re incredibly alert and intelligent, Tibetan Spaniels served as very capable watchdogs.

Tibetan Terriers, Tibetan Mastiffs, and Lhasa Apsos

Tibetan Buddhists raised and bred other breeds, including the Tibetan Terrier, the Tibetan Mastiff, and the Lhasa Apsos.

These dog breeds were trained to be companions for the monks. They were also used as guard dogs, guarding the monastery entrances and ferociously repelling intruders.

Monks in China and Mongolia

During the 15th century, a reformed lamaistic Tibetan Buddhism branch founded monasteries across Manchuria and Mongolia. The monks at the monasteries raised and bred Blue Chow Chows.

To this day, Blue Chow Chows are carefully and consistently bred with families in China. There have been no attempts to cross-breed them.

Blue Chow Chows

The monks in China and Mongolia have kept Chow Chows pure in their ancestral homeland for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 

While the monasteries exchange Chow Chows on occasion, they have not cross-bred them with other breeds.

Blue Chow Chows guard and protect the monasteries and their inhabitants. They’re also used to herd cattle.

Buddhist monasteries in Manchuria and Mongolia are strictly forbidden to foreigners nowadays, meaning that regular folks aren’t able to see the legendary pure Blue Chow Chows.

Chow Chow from 1915 (from Wikimedia Commons)

Buddhist Monks Along the Silk Roads

It’s believed that Buddhist monks were the first to breed Japanese Chins. They gave them to Silk Road traders, who then brought them back to the Imperial Palaces.

Japanese Chins are most likely native to China. However, they got their name because they were most cherished in Japan.

In fact, the Japanese kept this particular dog breed a well-guarded secret up until the mid-19th century.

Japanese Chins were treated as valuable treasures—only royalty can own them. Their main purpose was to serve as companions.

In Conclusion

The relationship between humans and dogs can be traced back at least 15,000 years. Throughout history, humans have relied on their canine friends for companionship and loyalty.

The majority of monastic orders that have taken an interest in dog raising began by taking in and feeding the dogs that hung around the monasteries. They saw dogs as highly evolved, kindred spirits. They appreciated the dogs’ intuitive nature.

“A dog is better than I am, for he has love and does not judge.”

Christian monk St. Xanthias

Beyond spirituality, monks who raise dogs have benefited from the dogs’ devotion, watchfulness, and intelligence. Many modern monasteries encourage a positive relationship with dogs that’s based on integrity and mutual respect.

This relationship between monks and dogs may teach us how to improve and strengthen our relationships with our dogs.

PuppyLists is written by J., who has owned, trained, volunteered with, and loved dogs for nearly three decades. When she isn't writing or researching, she's out adventuring with her 14 year old Lab mix.