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BaxterBoo Blog
September 5, 2013

Meet the Breed: The Tibetan Mastiff

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  • Height: 25"- 28”
  • Weight: 140-180 pounds
  • Historical function: Flock and property guard
  • Modern function: Guard dog
  • AKC classification: Working group

Physical Characteristics:

The Tibetan Mastiff is a massive dog built for survival in the Himalayan mountains. They are impressively large with a sturdy bone structure. The build is slightly longer than it is tall at the withers. The head is large and slightly wrinkled. The muzzle is square and broad. The nose is large and black. The almond-shaped eyes are deep set and dark. The V-shaped ears are pendant and hang close to the head. The neck is muscular and may have a prominent dewlap and ruff, especially in the males. Chinese-bred Tibetan Mastiffs, in particular, resemble lions and one particularly hairy specimen was scandalously swapped for a lion in a Chinese Zoo in 2013. The topline is level. The feathered tail curves over the back. The double coat can be quite long, especially in cold climates. The coat colors can be solid black, black and tan, shades of red and blue-gray. White markings may also be present. Like the wolf, a female Tibetan Mastiff only comes into season once a year unlike most dogs who have two heat cycles yearly. A TM matures slowly, reaching full growth at age 3 for females, 4-5 years for males. The dogs are clean and lack the usual big-dog fragrance. 

Some clubs differentiate between two types of Tibetan Mastiffs - a smaller, leaner version and the larger, longer-haired version. Both types can be seen in the same litter. 

History of the Breed:

The Tibetan Mastiff is considered by many to be the basis of many of today's large working breeds. Records of the history of this dog are fairly nonexistent; however, records of a similar large dog in China around 1100 B.C. The Tibetan Mastiff was developed in the secluded mountains and high plains of Tibet and used as a flock and tent guardians for nomads, trail sentinels for caravans, monastery and home guards. They were usually confined during the day and let loose at night. The first TM seen in the West was a gift to Queen Victoria in 1847. More dogs were imported from Nepal and a breeding program ensued. Several dogs were imported to the U.S. from India, Nepal and Afghanistan in the 1970s. Purebreed Tibetan Mastiffs are now rare in Tibet but the breed is gaining popularity in England and in the U.S. 


The Tibetan Mastiff is described as cat like in temperament and cleanliness. They tend to be aloof and are highly intelligent, watchful guardians that are independent thinkers. In spite of this, they also have a reputation for being great with children. This large dog is bred to be territorial so it is recommended that extensive socialization and training take place early on and consistently thereafter with a strong pack-leader owner. This dog will be stubborn if he senses his owner is weak or unreasonable. If he understands his place in the family, this dog can be trained in obedience but unlike most dog breeds, pleasing his master may not be his ultimate goal. Therefore, this powerful dog is recommended only for experienced owners. This breed tends to bark at night a lot, so should be kept indoors to prevent complaints from neighbors.

  • Best suited for: Active families with large, secure yards. Experienced dog owners. May be good for allergy sufferers. 
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog prefers cooler climates and strong leadership.

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: The double coat needs regular brushing, especially seasonally during sheds. Rare bathing as this dog keeps itself quite clean.
  • Exercise needs: Daily walk, taking a different route to prevent territorial instincts from manifesting inappropriately.
  • Life expectancy: 15 years (an unusually long-lived breed for being such a large dog)
  • Health concerns: May be prone to hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism. Canine Inherited Demyelinative Neuropathy is a fatal disorder sometimes seen in this breed. The disease is apparent in puppies between 7 and 10 weeks old and will pass away by 4 months of age.

Breed Club Links: American Tibetan Mastiff Association Perfect Pairings: Shop our collection of Tough Dog Toys for this large breed. 

Have any stories about a Tibetan Mastiff? Please share!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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This entry was posted by Mary.

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