The famous line, “dog is man’s best friend,” by King Frederick of Prussia is in no way just a cliché’. Now, our history with dogs goes 33,000 years back when both of us worked together to hunt. This relationship worked for generations that some regions began to breed them. And in Tibet, the fascinating journey of Tibetan Mastiff breeding was born.
Tibet is home to some of the best-loved dogs. It’s home to the Lhasa Apso, Tibetan Kyi Apso, Tibetan Mastiff, Tibetan Spaniel, Tibetan Terrier, and the Shih Tzu.
Most of these Tibet breeds share a distinctive beard. These Tibetan dogs are usually quite small. They measure up anywhere between 10 to 16 inches. But not the Tibetan Mastiff – you’ll find them growing anywhere up to 33 inches. They’re the largest Tibetan dog breed by a long-shot.
These dogs are largely bred as sentinel dogs or livestock guardian dogs. They are bred to guard sheep against predators—wolves, leopards, bears, and tigers. Why? Because of their size, that explains it all! Nowadays, these dogs are also show-dogs and companion dogs.
Background of Tibetan Mastiff Breeding
Tibetan Mastiffs, also called Do-khyi or Zàng áo, are famous for their capability to adapt to higher altitudes.
They can survive in cold, high mountains— up to 4,000 meters above sea level, or 3 miles of elevation. Their capacity for high-altitudes comes from their genes. Genes which seem to have come from wolves.
Zhen Wang and Yixue Li conducted research into the origins of Tibetan Mastiffs. They found that mastiffs interbred with Tibet gray wolves resulted in Tibetan Wolfhounds.
Now, their study revealed that when humans first lived in the region of Tibet, they interbred the mastiff with the Tibet gray wolf.
Therefore, The swapping of DNA between two species explains why the Tibetan Mastiff fares so well at high altitudes.
According to the American Kennel Club, the official standard appearance of the Tibetan Mastiff should conform to these characteristics:
1. Size – Dogs range from 26 to 29 inches at the withers while the preferred range of a bitch is from 24 to 27 inches at the withers. Any dogs or bitches ranging from a size lesser than this and that are 18 months or older, are to be disqualified.
2. Proportion – The length to the height of both male and female mastiffs (which is measured from the sternum to ischium) should be slightly greater than the distance from the withers to the ground. They should be slightly longer than tall.
3. Substance – Their size in bones, body, and muscle should have impressive substance.
4. Head – Their head is broad, strong, and with known heavy brow ridges. Heavy wrinkling is a fault. However, there are cases where a single fold extends from above the eyes down to the corner of their mouth. In this case, it is considered to be acceptable, especially when it appears in old age.
5. Expression – Tibetan Mastiffs are noble and intelligent. They are watchful and aloof especially to strangers.
6. Eyes – Their eyes are deep-set, almond-shaped, well-spaced, and slightly slanted. Their eye rims are tight, especially when they are older. The rims of their eyes are black. However, this doesn’t apply to all of the breed—especially with the blue/grey and tan dogs. Their eyes can be any shade of brown. Tibetan Mastiffs have expressive, medium-sized eyes. Any Mastiffs bred with the color or shape of its eyes not mentioned previously are considered to be severely faulted.
7. Ears – Their ears are medium-sized, pendant, and V-shaped. Their ears are set high and drop forward. They hang close to the head. When the dog is alert, their ears raise up and will be in-line with the top of the skull. When measured, the ear leather should reach the inner corner of the eye. It should be thick and covered with soft, short hair. Any Tibetan Mastiffs that have low-set, hound-like ears are severely faulted.
8. Skull – Their skull is broad and large with a strongly defined back of the head. They have a flat back skull. Additionally, Tibetan Mastiffs should have prominent, bony brow ridges.
9. Muzzle – Their muzzle is broad and square. The measurement from stop to end of its nose is to be between one-half to one-third of the length of the measurement from the occiput to stop. Tibetan Mastiff breeds with longer muzzles are faulted.
10. Nose – The nose of Tibetan mastiff stud or Tibetan mastiff dam should be broad, well pigmented, and with open nostrils. The standard nose color is black. But in blue/grey and tan dogs, it should be the darkest shade of brown. Tibetan Mastiffs which have any other color of nose are considered to be severely faulted.
11. Lips –Tibetan Mastiffs should have standard well-developed thick lips. Their lips should have moderate flews and the lower lips should be hanging down loosely.
12. Bite – They should have a scissor bite and have all their teeth. Level bites are acceptable, but undershot or overshot bites will be disqualified.
13. Teeth – The Tibetan Mastiff’s teeth are large and strong. Broken teeth are still considered and not taken as faulted.
14. Neck – The neck is muscley and moderately arched. The length should be balanced with their body. A moderate dewlap around their throat is permitted. In mature dogs, their neck can be shrouded with a thick upstanding mane.
15. Topline – The topline level should be firm between withers and croup.
16. Body – They should have a well-developed chest with the just the right spring of rib. Their brisket should reach just below their elbows. It should be underlined with a pronounced tuck-up. They should have a muscular back with a strong loin. There should be no slope or angle to the croup.
17. Tail – The Tibetan Mastiff should have a medium-to-long tail. It shouldn’t go below the hock and must be well-feathered. It should be set in line with the back. When in alerted, their tail is always carried curled over their back. When relaxed, their tail can be carried down. Tibetan Mastiffs are considered at fault if they have a double or an incomplete curl, if they are uncurled, or if their tail is straight.
A. Shoulders – They should have well laid back, muscular shoulders with moderate angulation that matches the rear angulation.
B. Legs – The Mastiff should have straight legs with enough bone and muscle. Their legs should be covered with short, coarse hair that feathers on its back. Also, they should have strong patterns that have a slight slope.
C. Feet – They should have cat feet. These are considered as large, strong, and compact with feathering between the toes.
D. Nails – Their nails may be black or white—no matter what its coat color is. On their front paw, a single dewclaw may be present.
19. Hindquarters –
A. Legs – Their legs and stifle are parallel. Its hocks are strong and they should be around one-third of the overall length of the leg.
B. Feet – Like with the forequarters, a single dewclaw may be present, or a double dewclaw.
20. Coat – A Tibetan Mastiff stud may have more coat than the Tibetan mastiff dam. The length of its coat is more important than the quality of its coat. During the cold seasons, Tibetan Mastiffs are double coated. Now in the warmer seasons, the coat is sparse. Their hair is fine but hard, it should be straight and stand-off. The Tibetan Mastiff’s neck and shoulders are heavily coated. Their tale and britches are heavily coated, as they are and thickly feathered.
21. Color – Standard Tibetan Mastiffs can be black, brown or blue/grey. They can have tan markings with colors ranging from light silver to rich mahogany. They can be gold too, even red gold. If there are white markings on their feet and chest, it is considered acceptable. Tan markings can be anywhere in Tibetan Mastiff’s body. The undercoat can be lighter shades of its dominant color. Now, on golden dogs, sabling is acceptable however, large white marking are considered faults. Other coat colors not mentioned in this Tibetan Mastiff guide are disqualified.
22. Gait – Mastiffs are known to have athletic and powerful gait. They are steady and well-balanced. However, they are light-footed and agile too. They tend to singletrack when at an increased speed. But no matter their disposition, their back should stay level and firm.
Tibetan mastiff puppies or adults are independent and intelligent. They are also strong-willed and known to be aloof to strangers. Also, these dogs are highly protective of their possessions and home. This dog is the best guard dog for anything—even people!
Now, these dogs aren’t the best in the ring. They often show a lack of enthusiasm. Bear in mind that Mastiffs who show signs of shyness may be considered faulted. With a guardian breed such as the Tibetan Mastiff, shyness is seen as unseemly.
According to experts, two fully grown Tibetan Mastiffs can take down a lion. Yet, despite their strength, they are calm, cool, and patient.
The American Kennel Club (AKC), ranked Tibetan Mastiffs as the 153rd on most popular dog breed in 2017 (out of 193 breeds). In 2013, it ranked 132nd.
There’s no denying that in AKC rankings, the popularity of Tibetan Mastiffs is going down. Despite the downward spiral of the Mastiffs, their cost is still considerably high.
Not a true Mastiff
The Tibetan Mastiff isn’t really a true mastiff. It’s actually a misnomer.
Years ago, Europeans used to call all large dogs from the West “mastiffs”. When they visited Tibet, they misnamed the Tibetan dog as mastiff too hence, the name remains until today.
Now, there are other breeds in Tibet that are misnamed too. These wrongly named breeds include the Tibetan Terrier and the Tibetan Spaniel. Based on the role and size of Tibetan Mastiffs, a more fitting name would be Himalayan Mountain Dog.
As a guard dog
Tibetan Mastiffs are sentinel dogs or guard dogs. They were bred to protect livestock, such as sheep, from wolves, bears, and other predators.
Aside from guarding herds and flocks, they protect property too. They are known to guard tents, villages, monasteries, and even palaces!
Health Concerns When Breeding Tibetan Mastiffs
Tibetan Mastiffs have a life expectancy ranging from 10 to 16 years. However, experts say that these claims need to be proven as some Tibetan Mastiffs have lived way longer than this.
Compared to other breeds, the Tibetan Mastiff’s health is much better. This breed suffers from less genetic health problems. Still, there are still some health issues that this breed suffers from.
Now, the diseases that are common to Tibetan Mastiffs won’t affect every puppy. Breeders work extensively to avoid these genetic disorders. Some of the diseases are easily detectable through DNA testing.
Here are the following health concerns that Tibetan Mastiffs suffer from:
Addison’s disease – This is a hormonal disorder caused by the lack of adrenal gland hormones—cortisol and aldosterone. Oral medication can be taken for dogs suffering from this disease.
Cushing’s disease – This diseases is caused by an overproduction of cortisol in the body. Also, it may be caused by a benign pituitary tumor.
Demodex – Also known as red mange, this is a condition which affects the dog’s skin. It is an infestation caused by small, cigar-shaped, eight-legged mites. When this worsens, it can lead to skin lesions, infections, and even hair loss.
Malocclusion – This means that the dog has an abnormal tooth alignment. It is when one or more teeth are not in their normal position, but the jaws are aligned normally. To treat this, surgery is needed to ectract or move the teeth.
This is a condition which causes low thyroid hormone production in the thyroid glands. Hypothyroidism causes a poor coat of hair, lethargy, and weight gain. In some cases, it can make the dog more susceptible to infection.
Canine Inherited Demyelinative Neuropathy (CIDN)
This is a rare neural condition which was inherited from one Tibetan Mastiff bloodline. It was first observed in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, this bloodline is still actively being bred. This means that an extensive number of puppies that are affected by the condition.
Now, this condition causes weakness in the dog’s legs until they are completely paralyzed. There is no known cure for this disease.
Orthopedic Diseases – Elbow and hip dysplasia are observed in this breed. Elbow dysplasia affects 15% of the breed while hip dysplasia affects 16% of Tibetan Mastiffs. The OFA offers a fair and reputable grading system.
Eyes and Eyelid Diseases – This breed is also prone to diseases that may cause discomfort and even impaired vision.
- Progressive retinal atrophy – A genetic disease that causes the slow degeneration of the retina. It can lead to blindness.
- Cataracts – This is the cloudiness in the crystalline lens of the eye. If not treated properly, it may also cause vision loss.
Ear Infections (Otitis) – Otitis is the inflammation of the ear canal. It can be caused by a bacterial infection, yeast, parasites, or any foreign body that enters the ear canal.
So, to help prevent this infection, regular cleaning of this breed’s ears is recommended. However, this can be hard for owners as the Tibetan Mastiff has a very narrow ear canal.
Epilepsy – Primary or idiopathic epilepsy is quite common in Tibetan Mastiffs. It is an inherited disease. To help keep seizures under control, lifelong medication will be recommended for those affected.
Entropion – This is a condition characterized by the inward curling of the lower eyelid. In order to prevent damage to the cornea of the eye, surgery is needed.
Ectropion – This condition occurs when the lower eyelid of the dog sags or turns away from the eye. Ectropion, instead, exposes the surface of the dog’s inner eyelid and causes severe dryness of the Tibetan mastiff’s eyes, as well as irritation and excessive weeping.
Distichiasis – This is a congenital and rare condition where there is an abnormal growth of lashes from the ducts of the eye’s oil glands.
Skin allergies – The undercoat of Tibetan mastiff is thick. Therefore it’s susceptible to external parasites, which can cause allergies. It can also cause matted hair that leads to excessive scratching. To prevent this from happening, regular grooming is encouraged.
Due to their huge frame and strong muscle mass, Tibetan Mastiffs require more proteins than most other dog breeds. They react very well to paleo and keto diets in which carbs are decreases, and healthy fats and proteins increased.
How To Breed Tibetan Mastiffs
The Tibetan Mastiff is a healthy breed, so breeding these kinds of dogs is easy. However, with the mentioned conditions above, a responsible breeder will carry out screening before mating.
Therefore, recommended health tests include hip and elbow evaluation, thyroid evaluation, and an ophthalmologist evaluation.
The average litter size of the Tibetan Mastiff is from 5 to 12 puppies.
It’s important to note that Tibetan Mastiff puppies differ in their weight gain. The growth rate can be affected by the dam’s milk supply, the intake of each puppy, and whether or not the litter is being implemented.
Remember that the largest puppy when born might not be the largest when mature.
Now, the Tibetan Mastiff is considered to be a slow maturing breed. The dam goes into heat just once a year. This isn’t like other dog breeds which go into heat twice or thrice a year.
Peng Qiwei, Vice-chairman of the China Tibetan Mastiff Club, said that an excellent male and female mastiff do not guarantee equally excellent offspring.
There are no known birthing difficulties in this breed and female dogs give birth naturally with ease. There is no record for C-sections when giving birth in Tibetan Mastiffs.
The Tibetan Mastiff is a great companion and a family pet. They are calm, quiet, and dignified—especially when they are comfortable at home.
They’re not the friendliest of breeds, but they’re not aggressive. They can be left unsupervised for hours and you’ll come back to find them sitting quietly in a corner.
With the right training, they can be a perfect guardian to your children—as well as your house. This is their natural behavior, to protect. The Tibetan Mastiff is aloof with strangers and has very good instincts. They take control of dangerous situations and can be smarter than humans.
Generally, this breed is disinterested in people. That makes it crucial for you to allow this dog to socialize. You’ll have to ensure that their protective nature will not affect your social life.
Without proper socialization, this dog can become aggressive towards other dogs and people that they’re not accustomed to.
This breed is not recommended for first-time dog owners. As this dog is independent and stubborn, the breed is considered to be hard to train. That being said, a professional dog trainer can always be called upon.
Questions about Tibetan Mastiffs
We’ve given you the low down on the breed, but it’s normal that you still have some questions. Let’s go through some of the most frequently asked questions about Tibetan Mastiffs—so you know all there is to know!
How much does a Tibetan Mastiff cost?
Generally, Tibetan Mastiffs that are bred as pets cost around $1400 to $2000. That being said, they can fetch much higher prices depending on their training and pedigree.
Tibetan Mastiffs are considered to be one of the most expensive breeds in the world. Their price made headlines in 2014 when a Chinese businessman paid $1.94 Million for a one-year-old golden-maned puppy.
There was also a Tibetan mastiff puppy that was sold for $968,209. The breed became a prized status symbol in China, especially among the newly rich people.
If you are looking to buy a Tibetan Mastiff with a prize lineage, prepare your pockets.
A 95% pure breed can cost from $2000 to $3600. A 99% pure breed costs from $3600 to $7000.
Furthermore, the price depends on the age of the dogs, the breeder, the quality, and the bloodline. Prices range from $3,000 to $4,000 to puppies that are registered with the AKC and female puppies cost more.
For puppies that are unregistered and come from a backyard breeder with no paperwork, you’ll pay between $700 to $1,100.
Can a Tibetan Mastiff kill a wolf, lion, or tiger?
A Tibetan Mastiff can’t kill a wolf, a tiger, or a lion. They would have to be heavily trained to kill other predators.
This breed is used as a guard dog—they protect and guard, but don’t kill.
An average Tibetan Mastiff would be killed instantly against a wolf that already has the skill, endurance, and stamina to kill in order to survive. Also, a wolf would be almost twice the size of this breed!
Any house pets or even guard dogs for this matter will not survive an attack from predators that are born to kill.
How much exercise do Tibetan Mastiffs need?
Tibetan Mastiffs need daily exercise, they need two walks a day. They are active in the morning and evening so it is best to walk them around the neighborhood during these times.
When walking the Tibetan Mastiff it is important to remember to walk it with a leash and the dog should be accompanied at all times. Additionally, it should be taken on different routes every day. This is to prevent them from becoming territorial.
This breed is a large dog, so it needs ample space to move about. A yard or garden is required for the Tibetan Mastiff to exercise and show off their skills as a guard dog.
Are Tibetan Mastiffs good with children?
This breed is good with children but not suited to very young children. It’s bred as a guard dog and is highly intelligent, independent, and stubborn. It can mistake yelling, screaming, and other playful acts of children as a sign of aggression.
Experts suggest that if you really want a Tibetan Mastiff as a pet for your family, it’s best to buy a well-trained puppy. It will set you back more money—almost $400 more, but it’s worth it. Especially when it comes to the welfare of your loved ones. After all, safety is always a necessity.