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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.

Tibetan Mastiff Temperament
Tibetan Mastiffs are almost considered holy in Tibet.

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.

Tibetan Mastiff Temperament
Many Tibetan Mastiff wear Kekor around their necks in nomadic cultures.

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

  • Gold

  • Grey

  • Grey & Gold and Grey & Tan

Q1 2021

Q2 2021

Q3 2021

Q4 2021

Yearly 2021

Q1 2022

Q2 2022

Q3 2022

Q4 2022

2022 Total











Source: UK Kennel Club 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.

Tibetan Mastiff Temperament
Independent and aloof, the Tibetan Mastiff is not a biddable dog breed

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.

Tibetan Mastiff Temperament
A bored Tibetan Mastiff is not a good dog to be left alone.

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.