- The Tibetan Mastiff has a long double coat that comes in black, chocolate brown, or slate gray, with or without tan markings, or in various shades of red or gold.
- The Tibetan Mastiff is a primitive breed. Unlike more domesticated dogs, he goes through a heavy shed only once a year.
UKC group: Guardian Dog Group
Average lifespan: 13 – 15 years
Average size: 140 – 220 pounds
Coat appearance: Very thick and heavy double coat
Coloration: Black, brown, blue-gray, gold and sable. May have cream, white or red markings.
Other identifiers: Large-sized dog with large bone structure; heavy, over-sized head that may present some wrinkling; strong muzzle; brown, deep-set eyes; pendant, V-shaped ears; cat-like feet; and feathered tail
Originating in Tibet , the Tibetan Mastiff came into being thousands of years ago. This breed was used to protect Tibetan monasteries, and guard villages and livestock from wolves, leopards and other predators. They lived comfortably in the Himalayan Mountains, thanks to their thick, heavy coat.
This breed was kept hidden from most of the world, as Westerners weren’t allowed to visit Tibet. The first English recording of the breed is from 1828, when King George IV gifted a “Thibet Mastiff or Watch Dog” to the London Zoo. The breed’s appearance in North America was thanks to the Dalai Lama, who gave a pair to President Eisenhower in the late 1950s.
Sadly, the Tibetan Mastiff almost became extinct when communist Chinese claimed control of Tibet. During this time, it was ordered that dogs be beaten to death by their owners, or else their owners would be beaten to death for disobeying. As a result, almost all native Tibetan breeds were lost. Fortunately, a few survived and were bred in secret. And now, across the world, fanciers of this noble breed are working to strengthen their numbers.
The Tibetan Mastiff is one of the oldest breeds, considered to be the progenitor of the other mastiff breeds in the world. He is a guardian breed from Tibet who either traveled with nomadic herdsmen, watching over their flocks, or served as the protector of villages and monasteries. Travelers often wrote of the dogs’ ferocity, which was encouraged by the inhabitants. Chinese documents dating to 1121 BCE make note of Tibetan guard dogs that may well have been the progenitors of today’s TM. The dogs were called Do-khyi, meaning “tied dog,” because they were restrained during the day but allowed to roam at night.
Tibetan Mastiffs were first brought to the United States in the 1970s. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2006. He ranks 124th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
The word “challenging” is frequently applied to this independent, stubborn breed. He’s intelligent and has a strong sense of self, expecting to be treated as an equal, not as a pet.
He wants to please his people, but he also has his own agenda and must often be reminded of what he’s been asked to do. The Tibetan Mastiff is a loyal family guardian who takes his job seriously and is aloof or reserved toward strangers.
Early socialization that continues throughout his life will help prevent him from becoming territorially aggressive. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start.
Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
Many breeders claim a life expectancy of 10–14 years but these claims are unsubstantiated. Some lines do produce long-lived dogs. Other, more closely inbred lines, produce short-lived, unhealthy dogs. The breed has fewer genetic health problems than many breeds, but cases can be found of hypothyroidism, entropion, ectropion, distichiasis, skin problems including allergies, autoimmune problems including demodex, Addison’s Disease, Cushing’s Disease, missing teeth, malocclusion, cardiac problems, seizures, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, cataract, and small ear canals with a tendency for infection. As with most large breeds, some will suffer with elbow or hip dysplasia.
Canine inherited demyelinative neuropathy, an inherited condition, appeared in one of the prominent lines of Tibetan Mastiffs in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, known carriers were bred extensively and are behind many lines still being actively bred. Because the mode of inheritance appears to be as a simple recessive, continued inbreeding can still produce affected puppies.
Hypothyroidism is fairly common in Tibetan Mastiffs, as it is in many large “northern” breeds. They should be tested periodically throughout their lives using a complete thyroid “panel”.However, because the standard thyroid levels were established using domestic dog breeds, test results must be considered in the context of what is “normal” for the breed, not what is normal across all breeds. Many dogs of this breed will have “low” thyroid values but no clinical symptoms. Vets and owners differ on the relative merits of medicating dogs which test “low“, but are completely asymptomatic. Some researchers think that asymptomatic hypothyroidism may have been adaptive in the regions of origin for many breeds, since less nutrition is required for the dog to stay in good condition. Therefore, attempts to eliminate “low thyroid” dogs from the Tibetan Mastiff gene pool may have unintended consequences for the breed.
The Tibetan Mastiff is a companion dog who should live indoors, with access to a large, securely fenced yard where he can exercise. A small yard or dog run isn’t sufficient for his needs.
His heavy coat makes him unsuited to life in a hot, humid climate, although he can tolerate dry heat. During hot weather, he should always have access to shade and fresh water whenever he’s outdoors.
The Tibetan Mastiff’s exercise requirements can be satisfied with 20 to 30 minutes of play in the yard or a half-hour walk. He’ll enjoy having another dog to play with, preferably one who comes close to his size.
Be patient, firm, and consistent to develop the strongest bond with your Tibetan Mastiff. Always look for behaviors you can reward instead of punishing him for infractions.
Housetraining comes easily to the Tibetan Mastiff. Crate training assists in this process and prevents your puppy from chewing on things he shouldn’t or otherwise getting into trouble when you aren’t around to supervise. A crate also gives him a safe haven where he can retreat when he’s feeling overwhelmed or tired. A crate should never be used as a punishment.
Socialization is a must for this breed. Not only can Tibetan Mastiffs be overly dominant toward other dogs, they tend to become overly protective of their home and family. Puppy socialization classes are a great start, but socialization shouldn’t end there.
With the proper training, consistency, and socialization, your Tibetan Mastiff can be a wonderful family member who guards, protects, and loves you unconditionally.
The Tibetan Mastiff can live in an apartment life if it is very well exercised. These dogs are not very active indoors.
Tibetan Mastiffs are a challenge to train and novice dog owners should consult with a professional dog trainer who understands how to handle large, dominant breeds. These dogs naturally assume they are the heads of the household and establishing leadership over them requires a lot of time, energy and patience. Training should begin very early and should be conducted with firmness, but never harshness. Tibetan Mastiffs will not respect a leader who resorts to physical correction. 100% consistency is also needed when training this breed, as on bend of the rules will be seen in his eyes as an invitation to take over.
Tibetan Mastiffs are full of energy when they are young, but as they get older they mellow out considerably. Despite the fact that your dog may want to lay outside under a shade tree all afternoon, he needs to be walked several times a day. As puppies, you can run them and teach them to play catch, but don’t expect an adult Tibetan Mastiff to be motivated to run around the yard.
This breed is far too large to live in apartments, and they prefer to be outside during the day, where they can patrol the yard and do their duty as guardians. They get depressed and destructive when indoors all day.
As puppies, the Tibetan Mastiff doesn’t slow down – but not to worry, they will mellow with age. He needs a few walks a day, but don’t expect him to run around in the yard on his own. You’d much rather lounge in a favorite shady spot.
This breed needs more room than an apartment or condo can offer – he needs a yard so he can spend most his time outdoors. Not only does this give them space to move about, but it also allows them to show off their skills as watch and guard dogs. Leaving them inside could lead to destructive behavior.
The Tibetan Mastiff has a long, thick double coat, with males having a more lavish covering than females. The heavy undercoat is soft and woolly; the topcoat is straight with a hard texture. The amount of fur on the neck and shoulders give the TM the appearance of having a mane. His tail and “britches” are also heavily coated. There’s no need to trim any part of the coat unless you want to give the feet a neater appearance. With regular brushing, he shouldn’t need frequent baths.
Brush the Tibetan Mastiff several times a week to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy. During shedding season, you’ll want to brush him daily to keep the loose hair under control.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Children And Other Pets
The Tibetan Mastiff is suitable for families with older children, but he can be too large to safely spend much time around toddlers. He would never mean to hurt them, but he could easily knock them over or step on them.
Make it a rule that children are never to run and scream in a Tibetan Mastiff’s presence. The noise and activity can excite him, and he’s simply too big to be allowed to chase children or play roughly with them.
He may also feel the need to protect “his” children from other kids
, especially if they’re wrestling or otherwise appear to be fighting. Always supervise play so that he knows you’re in charge.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party.
Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Tibetan Mastiffs get along well with other dogs and cats when they’re raised with them. As adults, they may require more of an adjustment period before they welcome the advent of another dog.
Is this breed right for you?
An extremely loyal breed, the Tibetan Mastiff will require good training techniques to understand who is the leader of the pack. If not provided with a strong and confident leader, the dog may growl and even bite if it does not understand its role or the rules of the household. Good with children, it makes for an extremely good guard dog that will stop at nothing to protect its family and home. With this in mind, it will need to be socialized with others to avoid problems when having visitors. Docile indoors, the Tibetan Mastiff is a very loud barker when left outside. Doing well in an apartment, it will still need to be walked daily with an experienced and strong owner to avoid any behavioral problems.
Did You Know?
Tibetan Mastiffs and Lhasa Apsos
worked as a team, with the little Lhasa
sounding the alarm and the Mastiff going off to investigate and, if necessary, dispatch any intruders.
- A Tibetan Mastiff named Max is the central character in the 1993 horror film, Man’s Best Friend. At least five different dogs were used in filming.
- A Tibetan Mastiff is the subject of the 2011 animated film The Tibetan Dog.
A dream day in the life of an Tibetan Mastiff
The Tibetan Mastiff is very relaxed when indoors with its family. Devoted, it is likely to spend the brunt of its time wherever its owner is in the home. Going in and out to keep guard on the house, you won’t hear much from this big dog unless there is some type of disturbance. Satisfied with an evening walk, it’ll enjoy a day filled with commandments and order.