The Tibetan Mastiff, also known as the Tibetan Dog, the Thibet Dog, the Thibet Mastiff and the Tibetaanse Mastiff, is an ancient, heavily coated breed with a history shrouded in legend and lore. It was developed in the remote valleys and plateaus of the Himalayan Mountains, primarily to serve as a watch and guard dog protecting people and property from wild predators and wandering thieves. It is known for its impressive size, controlled strength and tremendous independence. The Tibetan Mastiff can appear aloof and is naturally wary of strangers. Its protective instincts are unparalleled. The Dalai Lama reportedly kept eight of these dogs to guard the gates to his summer residence. Females of this breed often only have one heat cycle annually much like wolves, rather than two as is normal with other domestic canine breeds. The Tibetan Mastiff was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 2006, as a member of the Working Group.
The mature male Tibetan Mastiff stands a minimum of 26 inches at the withers; bitches must be a minimum of 24 inches in height. Adults typically weigh between 140 and 180 pounds, although the breed used to be bigger than it is today, with records of weights over 220 pounds. Its double coat is unusually thick, straight and hard, forming a mane about the neck particularly in males. The Tibetan Mastiff's tail and legs are heavily feathered. It sheds its coat once a year and requires regular brushing. The preferred coat color is black-and-tan, although other colors ranging from black to golden also appear in the breed.
The Tibetan Mastiff is considered by many experts to be the ancestral foundation from which most, if not all, large working breeds descend – including all mastiffs and all mountain dogs. There are no accurate records of the exact heritage of the Tibetan Mastiff. Predecessors of the modern mastiff are thought to have traveled with the armies of many ancient civilizations throughout the centuries. Historians believe that the Tibetan Mastiff developed from dogs that remained isolated in the Himalayan Mountains and surrounding valley regions thousands of years ago. The altitude and climate of the Himalayan area was well-suited to development of this giant, heavily coated breed. Moreover, its Tibetan owners needed the protection that this breed provided.
Today, Tibetan Mastiffs are rare in their homeland. Some are still bred by nomadic people of the Chang Tang plateau, living at an average altitude of 16,000 feet; others might be seen at the open market surrounding the Jokhang Temple, which is the holiest place for Tibetan Buddhists. In all these places, Tibetan Mastiffs typically were tethered to the home or monastery by day and let loose at night, to protect women, children and flocks of livestock from wolves, leopards and other predators, including unscrupulous people. These tethered dogs were referred to as Do-Khyi, which means "gate dog" or "tied dog."
Few Westerners were permitted to visit Tibet until the 1800s, and thus very little was known about the dogs of that region. Some early accounts mention huge, formidable dogs "as big as donkeys"; others described the native Tibetan dogs as being fierce, strong and noisy... "and, whether savage by nature, or soured by confinement, they were so impetuously furious, that it was unsafe, unless the keepers were near, even to approach their dens." One of the earliest references to the Tibetan Mastiff is contained in English records from 1828, when King George IV presented a "Thibet Mastiff or Watch Dog" as a gift to the London Zoo.
In 1847, Lord Hardinge, viceroy of India, sent a large Tibetan dog to Queen Victoria as a gift. England's first dog show was held in 1859. The Kennel Club (England) was founded in 1873. Its original studbook contained over 4,000 dogs, including a Tibetan Mastiff – the first known reference to the breed by its modern name. Several more Tibetan Mastiffs were imported to England in the 1870s, primarily by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. These were exhibited at the Alexandra Palace Dog Show in 1875 and sparked a small amount of interest in the breed. In 1928, Colonel and Mrs. Bailey brought four Tibetan Mastiffs with them when they returned to England from being stationed in Sikkim Nepal and Tibet. Mrs. Bailey founded the Tibetan Breeds Association of England in 1931, and the first official breed standard was adopted by The Kennel Club (England) that same year.
The Dalai Lama gave a pair of Tibetan Mastiffs to President Eisenhower in the late 1950s, after the conclusion of World War II. Several more were imported from India and Nepal in the 1960s and 1970s. Also in the 1970s, Nepalese drug smugglers reportedly shipped their illegal loot into the United States in false bottoms of dog crates containing Tibetan Mastiffs, presumably feeling smugly confident that no customs official would be brave enough – or foolish enough – to search the kennel.
When the communist Chinese annexed Tibet, the Chinese military ordered that all dogs be beaten to death by their owners, or the owners would be beaten to death as punishment for disobedience. This "canine holocaust" nearly decimated the Tibetan Mastiff and other Tibetan breeds in their homeland. Fortunately, a small number survived in remote rural regions. This, together with those previously exported to Europe, Great Britain and the United States, ensured the survival of this proud breed.
The American Tibetan Mastiff Association was founded in 1974. Tibetan Mastiffs were shown in connection with the California Rare Breeds Dog Association in 1979, and the breed held its first national specialty in 1983. The Tibetan Mastiff was admitted into the American Kennel Club's Working Group in 2006. Today's representatives of this breed retain their strong protective instincts and massive size, and therefore they must be well-socialized and well-trained to be good members of the canine community. The breed is being seen more frequently in the conformation ring and can make an excellent guardian and companion.
The average life span of the Tibetan Mastiff is 12 to 15 years – quite long for such a large breed. Health concerns may include hip dysplasia, skin problems, hypertrophic neuropathy and thyroid disease.
Tibetan Mastiffs are some of the most reliable guard dogs around. In Tibet, they would be tied to a pole at two months of age to enhance their aggressive tendencies and taught to guard a home. As the breed developed and became larger and more reliable, one dog would often act as a guard over an entire village. Modern Tibetan Mastiffs that are bred in the West are still very alert, protective watchdogs but they are no longer aggressive. When a stranger approaches a Tibetan Mastiff's home, he will be sized up, and a decision will be made as to whether or not the stranger is to be trusted. Even if the stranger means no harm, the Mastiff will not take his eyes off the visitor until he leaves the property. Tibetan Mastiffs attach themselves deeply to the people they love, and take their job as guardian and protector very seriously. They are rowdy when young, but mellow out into very serious adult dogs who are too busy patrolling the house to be bothered with playing fetch. They are affectionate and loving, but also very independent dogs with minds of their own. For experienced dog owners who like large, imposing dogs who aren't emotionally needy, the Tibetan Mastiff is an excellent choice.
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.
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 not recommended for families with small children. This breed exhibits dominance over anything smaller than he is, and won't hesitate to boss children around. Toddlers who want to poke, prod or tug a Tibetan Mastiff are in danger of being bitten.
Tibetan Mastiffs need to be socialized around other dogs as early as possible. While they will be accepting to dogs who are raised alongside them, new dogs are another issue all together. Male dogs will be aggressive toward other male dogs, especially if unneutered. You must teach your dog proper canine manners to avoid potentially sticky situations later on. Your Tibetan Mastiff must also be socialized around people from a young age. Mastiffs will make their own decisions as to whether or not they like a person, and it is very important to teach them what a welcome guest looks like, sounds like, and how they behave so that he knows the difference between an invited friend and an uninvited intruder.
Noble and impressive: a large, but not a giant breed. An athletic and substantial dog, of solemn but kindly appearance. The Tibetan Mastiff stands well up on the pasterns, with strong, tight, cat feet, giving an alert appearance. The body is slightly longer than tall. The hallmarks of the breed are the head and the tail. The head is broad and impressive, with substantial back skull, the eyes deep-set and almond shaped, slightly slanted, the muzzle broad and well-padded, giving a square appearance. The typical expression of the breed is one of watchfulness. The tail and britches are well feathered and the tail is carried over the back in a single curl falling over the loin, balancing the head. The coat and heavy mane is thick, with coarse guard hair and a wooly undercoat.
The Tibetan Mastiff has been used primarily as a family and property guardian for many millennia. The Tibetan Mastiff is aloof and watchful of strangers, and highly protective of its people and property.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Size: Dogs - preferred range of 26 inches - 29 inches at the withers. Bitches - preferred range of 24 inches - 27 inches at the withers. Dogs and bitches that are 18 months or older and that are less than 25 inches at the withers in the case of dogs or 23 inches at the withers in the case of bitches to be disqualified. All dogs and bitches within the preferred range for height are to be judged equally, with no preference to be given to the taller dog. Proportion: Slightly longer than tall (10-9), (i.e., the length to height, measured from sternum to ischium should be slightly greater than the distance from withers to ground). Substance: The Tibetan Mastiff should have impressive substance for its size, both in bone, body and muscle.
Broad, strong with heavy brow ridges. Heavy wrinkling to be severely faulted; however a single fold extending from above the eyes down to the corner of the mouth acceptable at maturity. A correct head and expression is essential to the breed. Expression: Noble, intelligent, watchful and aloof. Eyes: Very expressive, medium size, any shade of brown. Rims to be black except in blue/grey and blue/grey and tan dogs, the darkest possible shade of grey. Eyes deep-set, well apart, almond-shaped, and slightly slanting, with tightly fitting eye rims at maturity. Any other color or shape to be severely faulted since it detracts from the typical expression. Ears: Medium size, V-shaped, pendant, set-on high, dropping forward and hanging close to head. Raised when alert, level with the top of the skull. The ear leather is thick, covered with soft short hair, and when measured, should reach the inner corner of the eye. Low-set and/or hound-like ears to be severely faulted. Skull: Broad and large, with strongly defined occiput. Broad, flat back skull. Prominent, bony brow ridges. Stop: Moderately defined, made to appear well defined by presence of prominent brow ridges. Muzzle: Broad, well filled and square when viewed from all sides. Proportions: Measurement from stop to end of nose to be between one-half to one-third the length of the measurement from the occiput to stop. Longer muzzle is a severe fault. Width of skull measured from ear set to opposite ear set, to be slightly greater than length of skull measured from occiput to stop (i.e., just off square). Nose: Broad, well pigmented, with open nostrils. Black, except with blue/grey or blue/grey and tan dogs, the darkest shade of grey and brown dogs, the darkest shade of brown. Any other color to be severely faulted. Lips: Well developed, thick, with moderate flews and slightly pendulous lower lips. Bite: Scissor bite, complete dentition, level bite acceptable. Teeth: Canine teeth large, strong, broken teeth not to be faulted. Disqualifications: Undershot or overshot bite.
Neck, Topline, Body
Neck: The neck is well muscled, moderately arched, sufficient in length to be in balance with the body, and may have moderate dewlap around the throat. The neck, especially in mature dogs, is shrouded by a thick upstanding mane. Topline: Topline level and firm between withers and croup. Body: The chest is well developed, with reasonable spring of rib. Brisket reaching to just below elbows. Underline with pronounced (but not exaggerated) tuck-up. The back is muscular with firmly muscled loin. There is no slope or angle to the croup. Tail: Well feathered, medium to long, not reaching below the hock, set high on line with the back. When alert or in motion, the tail is always carried curled over the back, may be carried down when dog is relaxed. Faults: Double curl, incomplete curl, uncurled or straight tail. Severe faults: Tail not carried in the proper position as set forth above.
Shoulders: Well laid back, muscular, strongly boned, with moderate angulation to match the rear angulation. Legs: Straight, with substantial bone and muscle, well covered with short, coarse hair, feathering on the back, and with strong pasterns that have a slight slope. Feet: Cat feet. Fairly large, strong, compact, may have feathering between toes. Nails may be either black and/or white, regardless of coat color. A single dewclaw may be present on the front feet.
Hindquarters: Powerful, muscular, with all parts being moderately angulated. Seen from behind, the hind legs and stifle are parallel. The hocks are strong, approximately one-third the overall length of the leg, and perpendicular. Feet: A single or double dewclaw may be present on the rear feet. Removal of rear dewclaws, if present, optional.
In general, dogs carry noticeably more coat than bitches. The quality of the coat is of greater importance than length. Double-coated, with fairly long, thick coarse guard hair, with heavy soft undercoat in cold weather which becomes rather sparse in warmer months. Hair is fine but hard, straight and stand-off; never silky, curly or wavy. Heavy undercoat, when present, rather woolly. Neck and shoulders heavily coated, especially in dogs, giving mane-like appearance. Tail and britches densely coated and heavily feathered. The Tibetan Mastiff is shown naturally. Trimming is not acceptable except to provide a clean cut appearance of feet and hocks. Dogs are not to be penalized if shown with a summer coat.
Black, brown, and blue/grey, all with or without tan markings ranging from a light silver to a rich mahogany; also gold, with shades ranging from a pure golden to a rich red gold. White markings on chest and feet acceptable. Tan markings may appear at any or all of the following areas: above eyes as spots, around eyes (including spectacle markings), on each side of the muzzle, on throat, on lower part of front forelegs and extending up the inside of the forelegs, on inside of rear legs showing down the front of the stifle and broadening out to the front of the rear legs from hock to toes, on breeches, and underside of tail. Undercoat, as well as furnishings on breeches and underside of tail, may be lighter shades of the dominant color. The undercoat on black and tan dogs also may be grey or tan. Sabling, other than wolf sable and sabling in a saddle marked color pattern, is acceptable on gold dogs. Large white markings, to be faulted. Disqualification: All other coat colors (e.g., white, cream, wolf sable, brindle and particolors) and markings other than those specifically described.
The gait of a Tibetan Mastiff is athletic, powerful, steady and balanced, yet at the same time, light-footed and agile. When viewed from the side, reach and drive should indicate maximum use of the dog's moderate angulation. At increased speed, the dog will tend to single-track. Back remains level and firm. Sound and powerful movement more important than speed.
The foregoing description is that of the ideal Tibetan Mastiff. Any deviation from the above described dog must be penalized to the extent of the deviation.
Dogs under 25 inches (and 18 months or older). Bitches under 23 inches (and 18 months or older).
Undershot or overshot bite.
All other coat colors (e.g., white, cream, wolf sable, brindle and particolors) and markings other than those specifically described.
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Sources: American Kennel Club