Tibetan Mastiff Temperament: Fearless protection and a sense of duty
An ancient dog breed with an imposing stature and an even more imposing presence. It's safe to say that the Tibetan Mastiff is unique. Aloof in nature and a working dog through and through, the Tibetan Mastiff requires an equally special handler to keep their character in check. The century-long isolated breeding practices resulted in a specialised dog, not for the faint-hearted dog lover.
This blog post will look at the multi-faceted history, distinctive Temperaments and health issues you may encounter with this remarkable dog.
Are you ready for all that comes with owning a Tibetan Mastiff? Let's find out.
Tibetan Mastiff History
The Tibetan Mastiff is a large-sized dog breed originating from the high mountain range of the Himalayas. This dog breed was necessary for countries with larger and more dangerous predators. The Tibetan Mastiff was especially popular in Nepal, India, Tibet and China and is thought to be at least 4000 years old.
Tibetan Mastiffs are loyal and ancient guardians of houses, temples and livestock from the most powerful animals, like tigers, bears, wolves and leopards. Although their origin is hazy from such an isolated part of the world, some researchers consider them an ancient dog breed, like the Shar Pei or Basenjis.
They have a massive stature, and their body is slightly longer than tall. However, the standout feature is the enormous head, squared muzzle, lion-like mane, and coat. It's a double-coated fur with a heavy and woolly undercoat, and a coarse top coat keeps the Tibetan Mastiff warm in arctic temperatures.
Initially, they're a flock-guarding breed being independent thinkers and decision-makers.
Because of the isolation of many of these communities, the Tibetan Mastiff wasn't influenced by other European breeds and remained unchanged for 100s of years.
This is one of the strongest arguments of researchers who see them as the basis of today's European Mastiff breeds. The Tibetan Mastiff was gifted to European explorers and travellers who brought these dogs into Europe.
The first western written encounter with a Tibetan Mastiff was by Marco Polo in the 13th century when he described "dogs as large as donkeys, with a voice as powerful as a lion" in his travels on the Silk Road.
The first documented Tibetan Mastiff to be imported into the UK was "Siring", a present to Queen Victoria from the Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, in 1847.
In 1873 the Kennel Club was formed, and Siring entered as a Tibetan Mastiff in the studbook. However, it took over 100 years to recognise the Tibetan Mastiff as an official dog breed by the Kennel Club. 1998 the breed was finally categorised as a working dog.
Due to geographical isolations in the Himalayan highlands, certain Tibetan Mastiffs might have different strengths in their Temperament. For example, some might be more territorial than others, and others might be more aloof in their approach to humans.
Nevertheless, nomadic tribes and farmers bred the Mastiffs for the purpose needed creating a working dog with a great sense of purpose no matter the guarding job. Hence, this dog is considered by nomads to be priceless.
In nomadic communities, the Tibetan Mastiff was tied up during the day near the entrance and then let loose at night to guard the house or temple. There are two types of Tibetan Mastiffs, the Drog-Khyi and the Tsang-Khyi. Drog-Khyi refers to the nomadic version meaning as much as "nomad dog" or "Tied up dog". Tsang-Khyi refers to the monastery-type dog who lived a stationary life.
In Tibetan culture, it is believed that they have the souls of monks and nuns who weren't good enough to go to the heavenly realm (called Shambhala) or be reincarnated as humans. So they go to a stage of a Tibetan Mastiff, protecting its people instead.
The relationship between Tibetan people and their Tibetan Mastiff is powerful and traditional.
Often the Mastiffs can be seen wearing red collars, also called Kekhor or ske'kor. It's a traditional collar made from Yak hair and dyed red. It makes the Mastiff stand out as a purebred dog and provides extra neck protection.
Tibetan Mastiff registration in the UK 2023
The below numbers of new registrations show how rare this breed is in the UK. Not many brave souls feel ready to own this very powerful dog.
The UK Kennel Club recognises six breed standard colours.
Black and Black & Tan
Grey & Gold and Grey & Tan
Source: UK Kennel Club https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/2408/quarterly-breed-stats-working.pdf updated March 2023
Now that we have a rough idea about their breeding history let's dive into how your life with a Tibetan Mastiff might look.
What is the Temperament of the Tibetan Mastiff?
They have the Temperament of a temple guardian with all that comes with it. Tibetan Mastiffs are not guarding dogs per se like a Dobermann, more guardians who scare away perceived threats with their imposing figure and a bark that sounds more like a foghorn.
Making the threat go away is their preferred method of choice. An attack will only happen if you have harboured an aggressive and suspicious dog.
Their Temperament is unique and different, and the bond between the Tibetan Mastiff and their owner is special. On the one hand, you have a dog who has controlled strength and fearlessness; on the other hand, they're gentle and loyal. To have a perfectly balanced Tibetan Mastiff is hard work, however.
The Tibetan Mastiff has a tremendous capacity for independent actions. They're not biddable.
Working centuries alongside humans, they feel what you're about to do and are incredibly perceptive. And sometimes your choices will not agree with their instinct of keeping you safe and protecting you.
What we humans would call "stubborn" in today's terms is instead a streak of an own agenda that the Tibetan Mastiff has. In their mind, they have many more important things to do than follow your instructions to perform tricks.
So if you're looking for a dog to perform obedience and agility competitions, there are better breeds than the Tibetan Mastiff.
A Tibetan Mastiff will never display the friendliness of your neighbour's Labrador Retriever. They're not biddable dogs and somewhat aloof with strangers. On the contrary, they take their job very seriously and will put it before the forging of friendships.
Socialisation is crucial with this breed. If you have a sizeable social cycle and a lot of guests frequenting your home, you either have to socialise your Tibetan Mastiff or choose a different breed. Socialisation has to start as early as possible.
As outlined above, the Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient breed with a deeply ingrained protective instinct that won't turn off. So the only thing that can be done is to make your Tibetan Mastiff encounter many different situations and people of all ages from the puppy stage.
It is crucial to understand this. You won't be able to take the instinct out of your Tibetan Mastiff; instead, provide them with the knowledge and confidence to make the right decisions. A well-trained and socialised dog will make decisions based on knowledge and experience, and as a new owner, you'd need to provide that framework. If you're unwilling to dedicate the time, the Tibetan Mastiff is not for you.
Establish rules early and follow through with them with no fail. Large dogs can become unmanageable due to strength if you don't establish leadership quickly. In addition, they will decide for themselves if you don't provide the necessary direction.
Although a Tibetan Mastiff can live in an apartment, we wouldn't recommend it. Tibetan Mastiffs bark frequently, and any noise and movement may set them off. We don't recommend this breed if you have many neighbours around you.
Tibetan Mastiffs are surprisingly cuddly individuals. As previously outlined, the bond between a human and the Tibetan Mastiff is robust and unique and goes beyond understanding. They love a belly rub and cuddles with their favourite human. They thrive when they have a job, and protecting you is their favourite part. A Tibetan Mastiff will love you unconditionally, and they have a gentle disposition to their people.
Provide them with plenty of mental and physical stimulation, and they will be thriving dogs. An owner should provide up to one hour of exercise per day. At home, they are happy and usually lazy around.
Tibetan Mastiffs are good family dogs, getting on well with children.
However, teaching your children to approach dogs with the required respect is necessary. Tibetan Mastiffs are enormous and unaware of their size and can knock a smaller child over, so try to train them to avoid being over-excited.
At the same time, teach your child not to excite your dog too much. Most accidents happen because children are not taught how to treat a dog.
If you're looking for a jogging partner, you should look for other breeds. Although quite athletic and have the stamina for long walks, there are no runners over long periods. A Gordon Setter or a Cocker Spaniel would be better suited!
One of the most substantial considerations when choosing this breed are costs. A Tibetan Mastiff can be easy with you for up to 14 years, so your considerations should be long-term. Make sure you can handle the financial burden.
The Tibetan Mastiff is only partially a good fit for first-time dog owners. It's essential to look into the basic training of primitive breeds and be willing to spend a lot of time with your Tibetan Mastiff as a puppy. An unsocialised dog will cause trouble.
In their past nomadic life, the dog needed to be aloof and suspicious. Their natural instinct needs to be muted and controlled in today's society. Tibetan Mastiffs require an understanding owner with time to dedicate to them and see their world through their eyes.
Let's now look at some common Tibetan Mastiff questions.
What are Chinese Tibetan Mastiffs?
The Chinese High Society has long been fascinated with the Tibetan Mastiff due to their size and elusive past. So Chinese breeders have bred the already large Tibetan Mastiff to an even larger version.
The Chinese Tibetan Mastiff has a longer mane-like coat, bigger paws and heavier, larger build. Their face is more wrinkly, and they can come in different colours.
In March 2014, a Chinese Tibetan Mastiff sold for nearly $2 million at a luxury pet fair in China. The One-year-old pup weighed almost 200 pounds. The average Tibetan Mastiff should weigh around 90 to 150 pounds.
Before that, "Big Splash" sold at a similar event for $1.5 million. This made the Chinese Tibetan Mastiff the most expensive dog in the world.
These designer dogs would not be viable as guarding dogs to protect a nomadic home. They need to be lighter and more agile. The joints and tendons are also subject to health issues due to the weight of this "new" Tibetan Mastiff.
As it is with designer breeds, they can lose their appeal like fashion items. The sad truth is that the recent couple of years haven't been kind to these dogs. Demand dropped, and breeders closed and let the once-priced breeds roam free in the Chinese rural provinces. They tend to live in packs and attack wildlife and even humans. Thankfully, specific Tibetan Mastiff rescue centres are starting to care for abandoned dogs.
A dog is for life, and everybody has to research before committing to any breed.
Can a Tibetan Mastiff kill a wolf?
That is highly unlikely but possible under certain circumstances. It depends on the situation and the status of the wolf and the dog. A city-living Tibetan couldn't withstand a wolf. A Tibetan bred outside living the Tibetan lifestyle would stand a better chance.
Wolves are adapted to living in the wild, scavenging and taking down prey. A domesticated dog grows up under different conditions. Both animals would always try and avoid a fight if possible. The Tibetan Mastiff uses his deep bark and impressive size to deter the enemy. The wolf would only attack if the dog is in the way and the wolf is starving.
The Tibetan Mastiff would probably only win a fight if the wolf is relatively young and inexperienced. Experienced wolves are agile, can outmanoeuvre easily due to experience and have dangerous fangs. In addition, they're much sharper than a dog's teeth and built to shred the meat apart.
Can Tibetan Mastiffs live in hot weather?
The Tibetan Mastiff has a double coat and can walk outdoors comfortably at -20C. However, they don't do well in hot climates, and it's not suitable for them. They get easily overheated, resulting in low energy and excessive panting. However, you can do a few things to alleviate the problem and help your dog in hot weather conditions.
1. Cut their coat short and brush it to keep it free of knots
2. Always have the water bowl full
3. Have aircon and tiles
4. Don't over-exercise and walk either early morning or after sundown
5. Give them snacks out of the fridge, like cucumbers or watermelons with high water content
6. Put damp towels on them or the floor
Tibetan Mastiff Temperament in a nutshell
Extremely loyal and loving temperament towards their family with a unique bond
A dog breed that will require patience, understanding and training
Advanced knowledge of training primitive dog breeds will be an advantage
Accept that you sometimes won't be able to make your Tibetan Mastiff perform as you want them to
Aloof with strangers with an advanced instinct to guard and protect, which requires socialisation from an early age
Tibetan Mastiff fun facts
The Tibetan Mastiffs have adapted to harsh conditions like no other dog breed. The changes are evident in their impressive double coat and very subtly in their DNA. In high-altitude countries like Tibet, the lower air pressure slows oxygen from entering the bloodstream. If this occurs and the body hasn't adapted, altitude sickness or Hypoxia can be the consequence. Our usual European breeds wouldn't be able to handle altitude sickness, unlike the Tibetan Mastiff.
Researchers have found genes in the Tibetan Mastiff that help them avoid the damaging effects of Hypoxia. Two genes, EPAS1 and HBB, were inherited by Tibetan Wolves centuries ago. As a result, Tibetan Mastiffs have increased haemoglobin in their blood, allowing them to adapt better to low-oxygen environments.
Another fun fact is that Tibetan Mastiff puppies are usually born in December and January. This is because the female only has one oestrus per year, usually in the fall. But, again, this applies to the Mastiffs bred in Tibet. Other smaller dog breeds typically have three heat cycles per year.
This way, puppies can grow up during the spring and summer to grow strong for the following winter. They can have litters of 6 to 12 puppies.
Potential health issues in the Tibetan Mastiff breed
The Tibetan Mastiff has a long life span for such a big dog, ranging from 10 to 14 years. They're generally a healthy breed.
However, budgeting for potential vet bills and the time required to care for your Tibetan Mastiff is a good idea. Suppose they develop a particular condition. As a new owner, you should be equipped to pay medical expenses associated with the breed. The size of this dog will make medical treatment pricey. Thus, always opt for comprehensive insurance. Medicines doses are based on body weight, so a Tibetan Mastiff will set you back financially.
As with any breed, a dog can have inherited conditions or conditions due to environmental factors.
Not all Tibetan Mastiffs will experience the below non-hereditary diseases. However, it's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment.
The below list does not replace a vet visit. Always look for a vet if your dog displays any symptoms; internet research never replaces a vet visit.
The below health conditions are more likely linked to the Tibetan Mastiff breed.
GDV- Bloat: Needs to be treated immediately as it can be deadly to your Tibetan Mastiff. When it comes to Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus Syndrome or simply bloat, many deep-chested breeds are susceptible to it. It is recommended not to exercise Tibetan Mastiffs 1 hour before they eat and at least 1 hour afterwards. Please consult your vet for more details and tips.
Hip-and-Elbow Dysplasia: A reputable breeder can lower the risk of hip dysplasia and should provide certificates to prove the hip and elbow scores. Hip dysplasia develops in the hip joint and can lead to stiffness and arthritis. Therefore, the KC makes this test mandatory for registered litters.
Hypertrophic Neuropathy: This can occur when Tibetan Mastiffs are inbred. Always check the inbreeding coefficient with your breeder.
Cataracts: can cause blindness in older dogs
PRA (Progressive Retinal atrophy): An inherited disease than can cause blindness.
Hyperthyroidism: When the body doesn't make enough thyroid hormones which can cause skin issues, hair loss and weight gain. We recommend a yearly thyroid panel test.
Always go to an experienced and specialised breeder for a Tibetan Mastiff. Most hereditary diseases are inherited in a recessive manner. It means the puppy must inherit both parents' genes to become affected. The puppy becomes a carrier if only one parent has the mutation. Hence, choosing a reputable breeder who has done genetic testing on their litter is vital.
Owners' voices about their Tibetan Mastiff
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Conclusion: Is the Tibetan Mastiff a wonderful dog to own?
If you still have your heart set on this particular dog breed, you will be in for the adventure of a lifetime and a unique and authentic bond with your dog.
Understanding the time involved in taking care of and training the Tibetan Mastiff to be a well-balanced and outgoing dog is essential. These dogs have so much love and hugs to give, but it's crucial to understand the instinct that drives them. The Tibetan Mastiff will always be first aloof with strangers, no matter how much you socialise with them. They can certainly grow accustomed to frequent visitors but will always keep their guard up.
You will need to take some time out of your day to continue training consistently and repeatably. The Tibetan Mastiff and their ability to overwrite your orders quickly need constant leadership reminders, and they also need to learn to trust your leadership skills. Otherwise, they will take the decisions for you.
If you're a first-time owner of large and primitive breeds, we recommend a lot of pre-work before bringing your puppy home. These dogs are not recommended for first-time dog owners, and you may want to get a professional dog trainer specialising in these breeds for the first few months. Make sure all these costs are calculated when considering the Tibetan Mastiff as your dog of choice.
If you give them a job and purpose and dedicate the time, the Tibetan Mastiff will thrive in your care. Be prepared for an empathetic dog who wants to keep you safe and knows your actions before you do. They will be incredibly loyal to you, cuddles included.
Tibetan Mastiff Summary Breed Info box
Tendency to drool
Low to Medium
Tendency to bark
Tendency to dig