Tibetan Mastiff Resource

Tibetan Mastiff

Regarded as the forerunner of many mastiff breeds, the Tibetan Mastiff has been around for many centuries. In the 13th century when Marco Polo was touring the Far East, he claimed to have seen native mastiffs as large as asses. This claim is not farfetched. The Tibetan Mastiff approaches the Saint Bernard in size. This dog was bred in the Himalayan foothills to guard family and property, as well as flocks of goats, sheep, and yak. It has remained relatively unchanged because of its isolation and the need to produce a large, strong working animal.

Because of its inborn protective instincts, the Tibetan Mastiff was also used as a guardian for mansions and monasteries. The Tibetan Mastiff was kept tied during the day, and let loose to patrol at night. Like every good sheriff, the Tibetan Mastiff often worked with a trusty “deputy,” often a Lhasa Apso. The little dog alerted the larger dog to possible intruders by barking. Rugged and tough, the Tibetan Mastiff guarded with fierceness when needed, but knew to be gentle with his owners and families.Today’s Tibetan Mastiff remains a serious working dog; he’s usually too busy watching over his family and territory to play the clown. Wary with strangers, the socialized Tibetan Mastiff will learn to accept the family’s friends, but not with immediate exuberance.

Tibetan Mastiffs can be challenging to train; they were developed for independent decision making. In an obedience class, odds are the breed might view compliance as optional. Similarly, Tibetan Mastiffs aren’t typically game for agility (although they’re remarkably agile for their size), rally, or flyball. The Tibetan Mastiff enjoys the outdoors, walks, a fenced yard, and some digging on occasion. He’s not a good choice for apartment life.

Although the Tibetan Mastiff is typically gentle with the family’s respectful children, supervision is warranted given his size and strength. Supervision around strangers of any age is prudent. OK with family dogs he’s raised alongside, the Tibetan Mastiff is less than thrilled to meet strange dogs—especially same-sex ones that venture onto his property.

About Tibetan Mastiffs

An independent thinker
Steadfast about work and family
Means business

Should I get a Tibetan Mastiff?

Terrific for a person who:

      Constructively and creatively channels headstrong canine behavior.
      Needs, and knows how to control, a serious guarding breed.
    Prefers canine independence to dependence, self-reliance to compliance.

Think twice if you’re a person who:

      Feels slighted when his dog doesn’t follow him around, gazing in admiration.
      Invites new friends to “drop on in!” without a structured dog introduction.
    Delights in dog sports, and registers his dog for each and every one of them.

Tibetan Mastiff Care

Brush the coat weekly to keep it free of mats, and increase to daily during the Tibetan Mastiff’s annual molt.

The Tibetan Mastiff Standard Look

The Tibetan Mastiff stands 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder and can weigh 100 to 180 pounds. The breed sports a noble head with a solemn and wise expression. The thick double coat is comprised of a longer outer coat and an insulating undercoat and comes in shades of black, black and tan, blue-gray, blue-gray and tan, brown, brown and tan, and various shades of gold. The Tibetan Mastiff carries his thick, bushy tail curled over his back, similar to a Chow Chow.

Possible Tibetan Mastiff Health Concerns

The Tibetan Mastiff has a longer life expectancy than many giant breeds. The breed is prone to hip and elbow dysplasia.


The Intelligent and Independent Tibetan Mastiff

Susan H. Bertram, DVM


Tibetan Mastiff PuppiesSilently, systematically, four Tibetan Mastiffs paced the farm in Cle Elum, Wash., looking for the intruder. Black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes inhabit the rural landscape. “The dogs were in the house, and they just started going nuts,” says owner Debbie Harrison. “We knew it was something serious.”

Debbie and her husband, Jim, watched the Tibetan Mastiffs alternately scout sections of the property. “They worked as a team perfectly,” says Debbie Harrison. “We stood with our mouths open. The dogs didn’t make a sound. How did they communicate?”

As suddenly as they alerted, the dogs relaxed, indicating the danger had passed. A neighbor soon identified the trouble: a coyote skulking near the Harrisons’ pygmy goat pen. The couple relies on the instinctive guardianship of their Tibetan Mastiffs, 4-year-old Nakita, 4-year-old Sabrina, 2-year-old MacV, and 20-month-old Vanessa, to keep their other animals safe. Since taking their first Tibetan Mastiff to the farm in the winter of 1999, they’ve experienced no losses to predators. “I don’t even worry about the babies (goat kids) anymore,” says Debbie Harrison.

Tibetan Mastiff fanciers appreciate the innate intelligence and independent minds of this ancient dog breed from Tibet. Tibetan Mastiffs traditionally guarded property and livestock as “do-khyi,” meaning “tied dog,” because their owners kept them tied to a gate. The first Tibetan Mastiffs came to the United States as a gift from a Tibetan foreign minister to then-President Dwight Eisenhower. Breeders began active importation in the 1970s.

These decision-making dogs weigh 100 to 180 pounds and come with caveats not encountered with more popular, eager-to-please dog breeds. “Tibetan Mastiffs are a primitive dog breed with a strong desire to be alpha,” says Martha Feltenstein,  member of the American Tibetan Mastiff Assoc iation, who lives with four Tibetan Mastiffs in New York. “This creates a problem for people who may think they are just getting a big, fluffy dog. They aren’t a soft [-tempered], easy dog to live with. You have to be prepared to take a firm hand.”

Unreserved Willpower

Tibetan Mastiffs learn quickly and train easily, but owners shouldn’t count on their obedience. “Even when they know the command, they decide whether or not to do it,” Feltenstein says. “Don’t even think about walking Tibetan Mastiffs offleash. You can assume they’ll end up three states away.”

Karol Croft of Carrolton, Ga., has owned Tibetan Mastiffs for 12 years. She serves as rescue chairman for ATMA and believes that for success, Tibetan Mastiffs owners must establish mutual respect early. “Realize they’re not aLabrador Retriever,” she says. “You have to allow them some degree of independence.” Her beautifully trained 7-year-old Tibetan Mastiff, Harley, doesn’t always cooperate. “If he doesn’t feel like showing, he will just go into the ring and lie down,” Croft says. “Sometimes, you have to accept their will. You can’t force them to do anything.”

The surrender of Tibetan Mastiffs into rescue often stems from a lack of proper training and socialization, as well as misunderstanding of the breed’s instincts, Croft says. “They are very protective, and that can be misinterpreted as aggression.”

Phenomenal diggers and chewers, Tibetan Mastiffs possess extremely powerful jaws. Feltenstein’s 3-year-old Lily has chewed up three laptop computers, a cellular phone, a pocket calculator, and countless expensive imported shoes. “It’s almost funny,” Feltenstein says. “We [Tibetan Mastiff owners] share stories about what our dogs have chewed up.”

Night barking is a trait that some Tibetan Mastiffs retain from the breed’s historic role as a village watchdog in Tibet. “They think there’s something out there,” Croft says. “It’s instinctive.” Many owners take their Tibetan Mastiffs indoors at night.

So why would anyone seriously consider owning a large dog breed that digs, chews, and only comes when called if it feels like it? “I ask myself that quite often,” Feltenstein says, laughing. “Tibetan Mastiffs are a challenge, but there is something so charming about them. They’ll do things you would never believe a dog would do. They are less doglike and more like a person than most dog breeds.”

-Read Tibetan Mastiff Articles-

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Breed Details

Country of Origin:
Large Dog Breed
Black, black or blue-gray, with or without tan or gold markings.

Long, straight and thick with heavy undercoat.


Brush weekly. Brush daily during shedding season.

Life Expectancy:
10 to 12 years
AKC Group:
Working Group
UKC Group:
24 to 26 inches at the shoulder
Proportionate to height
Use Today
Pet, show, flock guardian.