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Tibetan Mastiff Dog Breed Information

General Information:

Height:  24-29 inches
Weight:  140-180 pounds
Life Span: 12-15 years
Coloring:  Black, Brown, Chocolate, Golden, and White as per the AKC standards.
Area of Origin: China
Similar Breeds: Caucasian Shepherd, Chow Chow, Great Pyrenees

History and Origin:

The Tibetan Mastiff is a very large, very powerful dog who demands respect from everyone it meets and everywhere it goes. The earliest records of this breed come from around 1100 BC in China. Since it lived in such a remote location, the breeds characteristics have not been altered or changed very much over the years.

Originally bred to protect families, villages and livestock from any potential threats, the Tibetan Mastiff has garnered a reputation as a fiercely loyal and protective breed. Often they were left out at night to do their job without instruction and returned home during the day where they were contained. This led to them being called “Dok-Khyi” which translates to “Dog which may be tied.”

This breed is thought to be one of the founding fathers to all Molosser breeds such as the Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Neapolitan Mastiff, and Rottweiler.

Unfortunately, the breed started to disappear in the 19th century.  Yet, thanks to breeders who brought them to England in the mid-1800s this breed was preserved and refined. The Tibetan Mastiff still has not fully recovered in Asia and the dogs remaining there are not typically pet quality, having been noted to be excessively aggressive, unpredictable and unable to bond with their owners.  This is opposed to the English stock of Tibetan Mastiffs, which are trainable and are loyal to their families.

The first Tibetan Mastiffs to made their way to the United States in the late 1950s yet until the American Tibetan Mastiff Association was formed in 1974, they were not a well-known breed.

The breed itself was first recorded by name in England in 1931 and officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1996.

Personality and Temperament:

As was mentioned before, the dogs that came from the British stock are much different from their current Asian counterparts. The dogs that are the descendants of the British dogs are very loyal, protective and incredibly intelligent. They are very independent and do not require constant attention, yet will enjoy time with their family whenever possible.

These dogs are very patient and gentle with their children, yet due to their protective nature, should be either closely watched when children have guests over or moved to a different room as a game of wrestling does not look like a game to a Tibetan Mastiff and their instinct will take over and defend their child with their life.

As this is a guardian breed, this dog should be watched closely with new animals as they are capable of causing serious harm. This breed is also very aloof and distrustful with strangers and should not be expected to greet everyone with a smile and wagging tail as with this breed, it will not happen.

These dogs are very strong-willed and powerful and as such demand the respect of their owners. These dogs require a partnership between man and dog as opposed to a master and his pet. To refer to these dogs as a pet is insulting to both their independent nature as well as their intelligence.

A Tibetan Mastiff from Asian stock is still very much a working dog and is designed to defend its flock and be locked away when not working. They are not bred to be pets in any form of the word and are expected to survive on their own as well as defend their property, livestock or family. As such, aggression is encouraged, although occasionally this can be directed towards the owner if the proper respect is not shown. Due to this, they are not recommended as pets, and should remain with those who breed them.

Exercise & Training:

The Tibetan mastiff is a mixed energy type breed; they are very quiet indoors and will happily lie on their blanket for hours on end without moving. Despite this, they require a moderate amount of exercise for their size, a 30-60 minute walk a day is sufficient. These dogs are not suitable for apartments and even city life in a house may be too cramped for them as they are very large and enjoy barking on a regular basis about any noise or passerby.

The breed is also very serious and are not the type to play with children or anyone else. They are a true working dog and rarely leave that mindset, even when relaxing. They do, however, enjoy digging, climbing and hikes through the woods.

Training this breed is a very lengthy subject and should not be attempted by a novice. These are incredibly intelligent dogs and will not tolerate yelling or abuse of any sort. These dogs were designed to be able to be self-sufficient and therefore they do not require an owner’s approval or affection like most dogs. This makes training different from most dogs who crave such things.

These dogs also need to have a very firm set of rules to follow and to know that they do not change.

This breed would be very difficult for most households and careful consideration should be taken when looking into getting one as a pet. When properly trained and socialized, these dogs are incredibly stable and loyal, however, if they are not properly trained they are an incredibly powerful 140+ pounds of muscle who is not afraid of anything or anyone.


Grooming your Tibetan Mastiff is fairly easy in that they do not require special trimming.  Yet they do require frequent brushing to ensure a tidy coat. They also do not shed throughout the seasons, but you will need to blow out their coat once a year.  This can create quite a mess usually leads them not to be suitable for most allergy sufferers.

In warmer weather many owners are tempted to shave their Tibetan Mastiff down to a short cut.  However, as their coat is not excessively long this is probably an activity which will leave everyone involved frustrated and can also cause permanent damage to the outer coat of the dog which will mean their coat will never look as full or luxurious as it did prior to being cut.

Health and Wellness:

The Tibetan Mastiff is a surprisingly long-lived large dog with few health issues. The few issues it does commonly have are common in most, if not all large breed dogs. Careful testing prior to breeding can eliminate most of these issues. The issues most commonly seen in this breed are:

  • Canine-inherited Demyelinative Neuropathy
    • Generally detected within the first 6 weeks, this disease is untreatable and animals affected should be put down to prevent a long, debilitating illness which causes total paralysis in the hind end.
  • Cardiomyopathy
    • A disease where the heart is unable to beat regularly and as it must work harder, it begins to grow out of proportion. These dogs will show signs of heart failure and will be put on medication, change of diet and rest although there is no cure and the dog will eventually succumb to their fate, usually years before their time.
  • Elbow Dysplasia
    • Essentially the same as hip dysplasia except it occurs in the elbow of the dog. It is incredibly painful for the dog and often will require surgery to correct as other methods of treatment will usually end up with the issue recurring.
  • Hip Dysplasia
    • A genetic condition where the dog’s hip joint is shaped incorrectly causing painful rubbing and tearing of the surrounding tissue. This is usually treated by medication, physiotherapy, massage therapy and diet for mild cases. Severe cases may require surgery to either fix or replace the affected joint. This can be tested for by the parents.
  • Persistent Pupillary Membranes
    • When the layers that cover and protect the eye of the unborn puppy remain after they are born, you end up with strands of tissue which can cause cataracts among other ocular issues. If this does not resolve on its own by 8 weeks medication is usually prescribed.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
    • A genetic condition which causes the dog to slowly lose their vision until they eventually go blind. There is no treatment; however, there is a simple DNA test which can be taken by the parents prior to breeding to prevent the likelihood of this being passed on to any offspring.

As with any dog, careful selection of a puppy is needed, perhaps more so in this breed as you want to ensure that there is no excessive aggression or instability in any previous generations.

Care is also required as they are a very slow maturing breed meaning that normal growth charts do not work for these dogs. While estimations for most dogs can be charted accurately, these do not work on the Tibetan Mastiff as instead of growing to maturity within the first 2 years, they can take over 4 years, occasionally up to 6, to fully mature. Due to this, there are a few things which most breeds are fine with at a certain age.

There is some controversy regarding spaying or neutering your Tibetan Mastiff “on schedule.” With most breeds, it is recommended to spay or neuter your dog by the time they are 6 months old. Recently, however, studies have shown that having your dog spayed or neutered before puberty can prevent the hormones from passing on the signal that the growth plates should stop growing. This can lead to taller dogs which can increase problems such as joint issues and proportions and often lead to a leaner frame that cannot properly support the weight of the dog. These hormones also control bone density and as the bone continues to grow in length, it often lacks in the density department which causes further issues.

The other reason some breeders have a no-spay/neuter contract prior to a certain age is that when the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation did a study on dogs who were spayed at or before 6 months, there was a higher incidence of fearful behavior in females and aggression in males which, in a breed as powerful and strong-willed as a Tibetan Mastiff can lead to big problems.

The other thing that some breeders have noticed is that the coats on dogs neutered early are not the same quality as litter mates who have had neutering delayed. Again, as these are a slow-growing breed most breeders will recommend spaying and neutering between 18 and 24 months.

Interesting Facts about the Tibetan Mastiff:

  1. The Tibetan Mastiff is one of the oldest-known dogs in the world
  2. The first Tibetan Mastiff in England was named Siring and was sent by Lord Hardinge to Queen Victoria in 1847.
  3. The first Tibetan Mastiffs in America were sent from Tibet to President Eisenhower as a gift.
  4. Not all Tibetan Mastiffs are created equal; the Tibetan Mastiff that has remained untouched for centuries is known as a dog who does not need people and is handled with care as an equal as they are known for their uncontrolled aggression and the Tibetan Mastiff which has been recently accustomed to human interaction which is a noble, emotionally stable dog who while demanding respect will also show incredible patience and loyalty to their family.
  5. Tibetan Mastiffs can be incredibly expensive; recently a pair of Tibetan Mastiffs sold for approximately $3 million dollars in China.

Organizations dedicated to the Tibetan Mastiff:

Breeds Similar to Tibetan Mastiff Dogs:

Breed Information Tibetan Mastiff

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