Portraits of Popular Breeds at Home and Abroad: Tibetan Mastiff

These majestic dogs with a long history seem intimidating at first glance. However, with proper socialization and upbringing, they are pleasant and loyal companions. They are very intelligent and independent. Breeders Antonín Kadlec and Lenka Schneiderová helped me introduce them to you better.

Tibetan Mastiff is a big, well-shaped dog with a solid body. Its head is big and heavy. On the whole, it looks strong and majestic and commands respect with its appearance. It is an ancient breed from Tibetan Plateaus. It is already pictured in cave paintings dating back to 2 000 BC. The first written mentions come from one thousand years after that. 

The Tibetan name for these dogs is do-khyi, which translates as “a tied dog”. That’s because Tibetan Mastiffs used to be tied up from a very early age and often spent their entire lives like that. They were usually only unleashed during the night to watch over villages and herds. They were also used to guard palaces and monasteries and often accompanied caravans. Besides their guarding abilities, their size was also taken advantage of to carry loads when travelling. Mountain trails were often too narrow to use yaks or mules. 

Tibetan Mastiffs were reportedly also present as war dogs during the campaign of the Persian king, so they could spread outside the Himalayas. In the Middle Ages, the breed was used to hunt animals and protect the monarchs. For example, Alexander the Great took them with him during his campaigns. In the 19th century, the first Tibetan Mastiff came to England as a present to Queen Victoria. The import of other individuals occasionally continued until the breed was recognized with its name – Tibetan Mastiff. Both world wars had an adverse impact on breeding of these dogs and it could only continue with imported individuals in the end of the 20th century. The first recorded litter of Tibetan Mastiff was born in 1898 in the Berlin zoo.

Long-time breeders who have been breeding these dogs for more than 20 years summarize: “Tibetan Mastiff is suitable for all walking lovers, for people who have a house with a garden and do not focus on perfect obedience”. Although in ancient Tibet, these dogs were supposed to be tough and aggressive, they are calm and even-tempered companions with proper socialization and training these days and they are deeply committed to their masters. But they are quite stubborn. When we combine this characteristic feature with their ability of independent thinking and working, it is probably clear that blind obedience cannot be expected from them. “It is said that Tibetan Mastiffs have similar nature to cats. When they want to, they come for a cuddle and when they are not in a mood for a direct contact with their owner, they will lie down and enjoy his/her presence from a distance. They are stubborn but also very smart and noble dogs,” said the above-mentioned breeders.

Tibetan Mastiffs still have very strong watchdog instincts, they are very territorial and have a restrained approach to strangers. A well-trained Tibetan Mastiff is not aggressive but protective and its way of guarding corresponds to that. It will not attack intruders but if they ignore its growling, it will stop the stranger right where (s)he is and wait until its master comes. According to the breeder, Tibetan Mastiffs are incorruptible guardians. “Their favourite place is somewhere they can keep track of everything and see the entrance to the garden, i.e. its territory.” 

The breed is characteristic for its high intelligence. These dogs see themselves as equal to their family members, so they want to be close to them. They suffer if they are excluded from family life, for example by being kept in a kennel all the time. Apart from separation, it does not handle closed spaces very well. However, they don’t coerce attention. They only need to keep their “pack” in sight or to hear them at least.

Socialization from a very early age is crucial for Tibetan Mastiffs, so it is extremely important to pick good breeders -- to avoid dogs kept in kennels or puppies without proofs of origin. Antonín Kadlec and Lenka Schneiderová are trying to socialize puppies from an early age. “When people who are potentially interested in our dogs visit us, all our puppies welcome them, play with them and show off, they don’t sit somewhere in the corner. That’s you can recognize proper early age socialization and the real attitude of the breeder” he says. With a bad choice, it could easily happen that the dog would get out of control and it could cause an accident. According to the breeder , poor socialization and training are very risky with this breed. “If it is underestimated, Tibetan Mastiff can be fearful, distrustful or even aggressive. These traits are difficult to change later. It is always better and easier to tame a confident dog than a fearless and unsocialized dog,” the experienced breeders say. It is therefore perfect to choose a breeder in an official association of Tibetan Mastiff breeders. 

Due to the combination of their traits, not everyone can handle bringing up a Tibetan Mastiff. They are very proud dogs and they don’t cope well with any injustice. Poor upbringing and especially physical punishment would cause great harm. Tibetan Mastiffs require a specific kind and respectful approach, you need to gain their trust and also trust them. They are fully grown up and mature when they are around three years old. 

“Their upbringing/training needs to be calm and consistent. A person needs to be patient with this breed. If the upbringing and socializing is not neglected at first, Tibetan Mastiffs are the best companions and friends for their families or owners,” say breeders Antonín Kadlec and Lenka Schneiderová and they also mention that sports are not good for Tibetan Mastiffs. “It’s safe to teach them some basic commands but they will only observe obstacles and other items in training centres from a distance and they will not understand how other breeds can overcome them. This breed is also not suitable for running with a bike." On the other hand, it is suitable to take them for regular walks, tours, or weekend trips. 

Otherwise, they are not very demanding when it comes to taking care of them and their straight protruding hair is self-cleaning and needs only minimum care. Tibetan Mastiffs are healthy dogs and are resistant to heat and cold. However, they need (as other large and giant breeds) some support for their joints and no overloading when growing and respecting their specific nutritional requirements.


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