Origins of the Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetans largest dog breed comes from the Himalayan region and used to be tasked with the protection of homesteads, families as well as livestock. During the day, the Mastiffs were tethered at the entrance of their owner’s property – which no doubt will have deterred any potential intruders. But at night, they were let lose to patrol their territory, and to fend of predators, especially the Snow Leopard and the Tibetan Wolf. Because the breed was developed in Tibet, untainted from outside influence for thousands of years, it remained relatively unchanged. And even today, there are two distinct types of Tibetan Mastiff: One more docile and more Mastiff-looking kind that is large and heavier – and a smaller, lighter and more agile working type. These smaller Mastiffs are more aggressive in their guarding behaviour. Responsible breeders today make an effort to continue crossing these two lines – in order to keep the heavier type imbued with a healthy level of aggression, and to keep the smaller type from losing the physical prowess needed to fend off predators.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the sheer physical presence of a fully mature Tibetan Mastiff: With their dense protective coats, these bear-like dogs strongly resemble modern long-haired Livestock Guardian breeds like the Great Pyrenees, the Caucasian Shepherd or the Saint Bernard. In fact, this resemblance is so striking that one would suspect these breeds to be genetically connected – with the long-maned Tibetan Mastiff the founding father of them. This legendary breed is “regarded by some as one of the world's most ancient breeds, and as the ancestor of all the mastiff breeds.” And in fact, some scientists strongly suspect that the Tibetan was the ancestor for many of today’s Mastiff- and Livestock Guardian breeds.
Fully mature Tibetan Mastiff males can reach heights of up to 76 cm, which equals 30 inches. They can easily weigh as much as 73 kilos, that is 161 pounds. These are large, sturdy dogs, well-proportioned and athletic. Along with the lose skin around their necks, their long, dense, lion-like manes protect the dogs in battle. Their glorious, dense coat can come in various colours. Whilst the original predominant colour is said to be black, breed standards also allow red, brown, red gold, grey, black-and tan as well as chocolate and-tan.
What is their temperament like?
These powerful, imposing dogs come with an immensely confident nature, and a deep, booming bark that they are not shy to voice, especially during the night. Having served in various guardian roles for millennia, Tibetan Mastiffs can and will guard their family, their property and any farm animals there might be on the property. Perimeter guardians by nature, they will patrol the borders of their owner’s farm, ranch or estate: Contrary to breeds like the Great Pyrenees or the Kuvasz, they are not designed to live with the flock and bond closely with them: Instead, they are more oriented towards their owners and want to “touch base” with them on a regular basis. Being perimeter guardians (as opposed to close-quarter guardians like other Mastiff breeds), they should not be left alone in the house. Simply because their instinct will tell them to get outside by any means possible, should they detect a potential threat. And you do not want a 70 kilo Mastiff smashing through your French Doors in a frenzy! These dogs take their guarding duty extremely seriously.
At the same time, they are quite intelligent and know when they are on duty and when not. Therefore, if socialised from an early age, Tibetans can be calm and composed companion dogs on walks and other outings: As long as people and other dogs stay away from their property, Tibetan Mastiffs can get along with them quite nicely. Stable and even-tempered, they make reliable family dogs. And contrary to other large livestock guardian breeds, they bond with the entire family, rather than with just one single person in the household.
How intelligent and trainable are Tibetan Mastiffs?
Albeit highly intelligent, these dogs are not easy to train, and neither are they keen to please their owners: Even though Tibetan Mastiffs are used to serve humans in various guarding roles, they do so on their own, making their own decisions about when to rest, when to bark and when to attack any intruder. In other words, they are flawless sentinels who work FOR their owners, but not WITH them. All the more because – like many Livestock Guardian breeds - Tibetan Mastiffs are night-active. Which makes sense, given that many predators will attack livestock during the night. In the day, they often rest, but will quickly jump into action, should the need arise.
But there is a bright side to that equation: Tibetan Mastiffs have always worked in small packs of their own kind – at the very least, in teams of two. And as every pack has a leader whom the other members of the team or group will follow, even this hard-headed breed CAN be motivated to follow the guidance of a calm, consistent canine leader. However, such a leader absolutely needs to be experienced with handling large, powerful and independent breeds.
Are Tibetan Mastiffs healthy dogs?
Tibetan Mastiffs have lived and worked for centuries – if not millennia – in incredibly harsh environments: The frosty, unforgiving climate of the Tibetan Himalayas has carved out a breed that is as healthy and robust as any dog breed possibly can be. Simply because weaker individuals did not survive long enough to procreate. With that said, of course, they still can be affected by dysplasia and older dogs may develop cancer or die of heart failure. But ultimately, this archaic breed is one of the healthiest among all the Mastiff- and large Livestock Guardian breeds. Tibetan Mastiffs easily can live up to 15 years.
Exercise and Grooming Requirements of the Tibetan Mastiff
The Tibetan Mastiff's exercise requirements are not very high: Two to three 30 minutes walks per day, combined with play sessions in the (securely fenced-in) garden or yard are sufficient to keep this furry giant happy. However, as Tibetan Mastiffs are very social dogs who are used to living and working with others of their kind, they should not be the only dog in the household. And neither should their canine companion be much smaller than them: These dogs love to rough-house and can get quite physical in their play. To make sure both dogs get along, it is best to add a companion from the opposite sex.
When it comes to grooming, however, this breed needs quite a bit of care, dedication – and good tools. Outside of shedding season, brushing them once or twice a week is enough. Recommended tools to use are a stainless steel comb with teeth that are set wide apart, as well as a pin brush and an undercoat rake. For shedding season, I highly recommend a Furminator designed for long-coated dogs. But when it comes to bathing, the Tibetan’s abundant double coat needs far more care than that of the average long-haired breed: These Mastiffs should be bathed every two to six weeks to keep their skin and coat healthy. Because dirt in the coat can lead to damage, as the hair shaft breaks down. Also, lack of proper maintenance can cause mats and tangles. For drying this immensely rich coat, a hairdryer for dogs is quite necessary, especially if you live in a colder climate.
Tibetan Mastiff are truly incredible dogs – extremely dependable guardians, they will protect whatever (or whomever) their owner entrusts to them. As these massive dogs are immensely independent, they absolutely need an experienced leader. But paired up with an owner who is up for the task of raising and handling them, these bear-like giants make outstanding guardians and loyal companions.