Characteristics of the Tibetan Mastiff: A Guard Dog With Fluff

Published February 1, 2022
excellent Tibetan mastiff of red color

This fluffy teddy bear of a dog will capture you with their large, endearing appearance. Keep in mind though, this breed will get large and their overall temperament is not recommended for just any owner.

Origin and History

Mastiff-type canines are said to have originated in Tibet around 5,000 years ago, and the Tibetan Mastiff is undoubtedly a descendent of those dogs. The Do-Khyi, who resided in villages or traveled with nomadic shepherds and served as flock guardians, and the larger Tsang-Khyi, who typically worked as guardians for the Tibetan Buddhist monks, or lamas, who lived there, are likely ancestors of the Tibetan Mastiff.

When a man named Lord Hardinge, the viceroy of India, brought a Tibetan Mastiff named Siring to England in 1847 as a present for Queen Victoria, the breed's history was forever changed. Siring was enrolled into The Kennel Club's first studbook and became the first of the breed to be introduced to the Western world.

The American Tibetan Mastiff Association and the Tibetan Mastiff Club of America were both created in 1974. Tibetan Mastiffs made their debut at the first National Specialty Match in October 1979, and the two clubs eventually merged in 1983.

In January 2008 the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed as a member of the Working Group. Today, finding a purebred Tibetan Mastiff in Tibet is difficult, but they are occasionally seen traveling with caravans and traders, and guarding livestock and homes.

Breed Characteristics

Tibet Mastiff posing against a beautiful winter landscape

Tibetan Mastiffs have a lion-like look and are fiercely protective of their families and home.

Appearance

The Tibetan Mastiff has a thick coat and mane with coarse guard hair, as well as a wooly, dense undercoat. Their coat is not water-resistant, and once wet, it can take a long time to dry entirely.

A male Tibetan Mastiff typically reaches at least 26 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs 100 to 160 pounds or more; female Tibetan Mastiffs stand at least 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 75 to 125 pounds or more.

The breed's thick double coat comes in a variety of colors, including black, brown, blue-gray, red, and gold. They sometimes have silver to mahogany markings around their eyes, nose, neck, legs, and tail. The coat's outside texture is thick and harsh, but the interior is soft and wool-like.

Temperament

Tibetan Mastiffs are tolerant to youngsters in their own families under certain circumstances, especially if they have been raised with them. However, they aren't recommended for families with young children. Tibetan Mastiffs can misinterpret kids; rambunctious play, and they may not appreciate young friends coming to visit either.

This territorial instinct can have an impact on both your children's and your own social lives. This breed is probably not for you if you are a social person who has a lot of people coming and going, as the Tibetan Mastiff may try to limit the number of people permitted into the house.

Introduce your Tibetan Mastiff puppy to as many people, places, animals, and things as possible, while keeping encounters friendly and moving at the pace of the dog. Even after extensive socialization, some Tibetan Mastiffs have difficulty accepting strangers or strange animals, particularly those who enter their territory.

Training

Although Tibetan Mastiffs are highly intelligent and more than capable of learning basic obedience quickly, they can also be stubborn and may not always obey what you ask. Begin training your dog at a young age, and consistently enforce rules throughout the dog's life.

Exercise Requirements

Close-Up Of Dog On Field Against Sky

Handle exercise for puppies and young adults of all large breeds -- including the Tibetan Mastiff -- with caution. Because of the this breed's huge body and heavy weight, as well as their proclivity for inherited joint disorders like hip dysplasia, minimize or avoid repetitive movement such as jogging or jumping until the dog is at least 2 years old and fully developed.

Although most Tibetan Mastiffs enjoy daily, leisurely walks, they will never be your jogging companion or be able to compete in agility contests.

Health

Tibetan Mastiffs are generally healthy. However, like all breeds, they are susceptible to certain health issues:

  • Canine hip dysplasia: This is a painful joint and skeletal disorder that tends to affect larger dogs such as the Tibetan Mastiff
  • Gastric torsion: Also known as bloat, this disease that affects deep-chested dogs and can be fatal if not treated right away
  • Hypothyroidism: A disease of the endocrine system involving an underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism can lead to weight loss, lethargy, a dull coat, and skin conditions
  • Panosteitis: Best defined as "growing pains" in dogs, this condition results from surface inflammation of the dog's long bones in their legs.

Lifespan

Tibetan Mastiffs have an average life expectancy of 10 to 14 years, making them among the longer-lived large breeds.

Grooming

Grooming Tibetan Mastiffs is surprisingly simple. Outside of one seasonal shed (usually in the spring or summer) when they "blow coat," losing almost all of their undercoat in only a few weeks, the thick coat sheds relatively little.

Brushing frequently and giving them a bath or two can help during this high-shed period, but anticipate hair showing up everywhere. The coat sheds relatively little the rest of the year, requiring only weekly brushing and bathing when the dog gets dirty.

Fun Facts About the Breed

All breeds have their own special set of facts, but some of these may shock you.

  • One Tibetan Mastiff in China was purchased for $1.9 million in 2004, making the Tibetan Mastiff the most expensive breed in the world.
  • According to legend, Marco Polo once met a Tibetan Mastiff, who he described as "tall as a donkey with a voice like a lion."
  • Tibetan Mastiffs are one of the largest breeds on the planet.
  • The name "Tibetan Mastiff" is a misnomer, as the breed is not a true mastiff.
  • Several countries, including Australia, the Bermuda Islands, France, Malaysia, the Maldives, and a few areas in the United States (specifically, the town of Wapato, Washington, and the city of Abbotsford, Wisconsin), have banned or limited Tibetan Mastiffs.

Purchasing or Adopting a Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan mastiff puppy running

If you're looking for a Tibetan Mastiff puppy, a good place to start is with the American Tibetan Mastiff Association. The club has a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC PuppyFinder also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $1,500 to $5,000, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $6,000.

Rescue Organizations

If you would prefer a rescued dog, the breeder list on the ATMA website lists breeders who are involved in rescuing the breed. You can also contact the following breed-specific Tibetan Mastiff rescues:

Is this the Breed for You?

The Tibetan Mastiff is not recommended for new dog owners or those unfamiliar with guardian breeds. If you do have experience with guardian breeds and are looking for a large, protective dog, you may not need to search further. Do your research and don't forget to take a look at a prospective dog's bloodline, and ask the breeder about the parents' health and temperament. Meet the mother and father of the breed if possible, and choose the individual dog that is best for you.

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Characteristics of the Tibetan Mastiff: A Guard Dog With Fluff