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Tibetan Mastiff Breed Overview: Facts, Traits & More

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Last Updated: December 14, 2022 | 19 min read | Leave a Comment

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For some dog lovers, a big breed is a perfect fit, and the Tibetan Mastiff is a big behemoth that is not as well-known as some. This giant pup is an exceedingly old canine breed cloaked in mystery. They are believed to be the ancestor of many other Mastiff breeds. This massive canine guardian hails from the mountains of Tibet and is nothing short of amazing.

The Tibetan Mastiff is not a dog you see running around every day at the dog park. These pups are enormous, have a lot of hair, and may not be the right pick for everyone. These mysterious guardian dogs are awe-inspiring, and anyone who sees one will want to know more.

Prospective owners will want to know everything about a breed. This information includes where a breed came from, what they need for care, how well they do with other pets and children, and what a breed’s health is like. We introduce you to the mighty guardian dog, the Tibetan Mastiff, and look at what it takes to be a pet parent to one of these fantastic creatures.

Tibetan Mastiff
    • weight iconWeight70-150 Pounds
    • height iconHeight24-18 Inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan10-12 Years
    • color iconColorsBrown, Black, Gray, Blue, Red
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Man sitting outside in Himalayas with Tibetan Mastiff in a village
Tibetan Mastiffs were bred in the Himalayas to protect sheep from large predators such as tigers, bears, and wolves.

The Tibetan Mastiff is a mysterious, gigantic, ancient canine. The breed’s origins are unknown. A giant Mastiff-like dog breed originated in Tibet about 5,000 years ago and is believed to be the ancient ancestor of the Tibetan Mastiff, as well as all the other European Mastiff breeds. These dogs served as guards and protectors for the Buddhist monasteries and temples nestled throughout the mountains of Tibet.

The Tibetan Mastiff is mentioned far back throughout history. These ferocious guardians were written about in ancient documents from 1121 BCE. Those ancient dogs were referred to as Do-khyi. This means “tied dog.” It is believed the giant canines were kept tied up during the day and had the night free to roam and hunt wolves, bears, and other predators that may be lurking in the dark.

They often worked alongside other smaller pups like the Lhasa Apso, who would work as an alert system, letting the muscular Mastiffs know something was there that needed their attention. The breed was very isolated as Tibet was closed off to most of the rest of the world, which is part of why these earlier canines were such highly regarded animals. They were very pure in their bloodline, with no outside genetics.

There were two classes of these ancient canines. The previously mentioned Do-khyi, which were dogs that were nomadic, traveled and worked as herders. The “Tsang-khyi” was the guardian class who guarded the temples. In Tibet, these revered dogs are believed to carry the souls of the monks and nuns who did not make the journey to Shambala, the heavenly paradise.

The breed’s entrance to the United States was very secretive. A pair of giant pups were gifted to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower by the Dalai Lama. It is said these dogs were sent to live with a senator on a farm and were kept secret for an exceptionally long time. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 2006 as part of the working class of dogs. They were called the “large dog from Tibet” before being named the Tibetan Mastiff by the AKC. They are sometimes called military dogs and are often referred to as guardian dogs.

The Tibetan Mastiff is also a popular dog to crossbreed with. There are several mixes that are in high demand. They are often mixed with German Shepherds, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Poodles, and even Huskies.

While the origin and exact history of the breed may never be known, the breed did eventually make its way out of the mountains. This is because they were also sometimes given as gifts to long-ago travelers to Tibet. It is through this process of gifting that these highly revered dogs spread throughout Europe and Asia. They began breeding with other large bloodlines and are said to be the ancestor of today’s Tibetan Mastiff.

Temperament

Tibetan Mastiff Curly Tail
Tibetan Mastiffs spend a lot of time keeping an eye on things and are very independent.

Tibetan Mastiffs are protective animals and very devoted to their human family members. They can be playful and affectionate with those they live with and trust. However, they will be fairly territorial and protective when strangers are around. These big guys tend to sleep more during the day and stay awake at night, which is part of their guardian dog nature.

Guardian dogs are independent and highly intelligent. They are affectionate and develop close bonds with their specific people, but this is not a breed that is right for everyone. Though they do like children and are friendly to them because of this pup’s generous size and very protective nature, they may not be suitable for families with young children or first-time owners.

This breed is protective but not overly aggressive unless they sense a threat. Despite their independence, they need quite a bit of interaction and do not do well when locked up inside all day. They have been described as intimidating, aloof, watchful, imposing, protective, regal, and more. While they can be quite affectionate, it should also be pointed out that they can take down a wolf or a bear without much trouble. Because of this, they will need careful training, as will anyone who lives with a dog known to be bred for its protective nature.

It should be noted that the Tibetan Mastiff is a breed that barks a lot. They tolerate other animals but might not want to be left alone all day with the cat. Owners will want to look into obedience training and ensure they teach their pup from a young age not to bite. They have an incredibly strong bite force and can do some considerable damage, even unintentionally. This is particularly important with such a territorial and protective breed.

Size & Appearance

Tibetan Mastiffs are exceptionally large, weighing between 70 and 150 pounds. Males are larger than females and tend to be in the 90-to-150-pound range. Females will way between 70 and 120 or so pounds. These hefty canines are tall and stand about 26 to 28 inches tall or more.

This dog has a significant presence. Along with his bulky frame, he also has a hefty coat of hair, making him look even larger. They have long muscular bodies and are built to be athletic hunters. Their heads are large and broad, with deep-set brown eyes. Eyes are almond-shaped and rimmed in dark gray or black. Eyes will also be somewhat slanted. They have square muzzles with broad noses and strong jaws. Triangular-shaped ears sit high on the head and lean forward when they are at ease or perk up when on guard.

Coat & Colors

3 Tibetan mastiffs in the winter forest sitting in snow
This breed’s coats are medium to long in length.

These guardian pooches have a double coat that is soft and thick. The topcoat is longer than the undercoat, which fills out to keep them warm in the colder months. They have what appears to be a main around their faces due to thicker hair growing in on the neck, chest, and shoulders. It is exceedingly rare that this breed would come with a shorter coat.

Coat colors can include brown, black, gray, or blue. Some can have red coats, but these are not included in the breed standard. Most are black or brown. They can be solid colored or have different markings, including gold, white, reddish, orange, mahogany, and tan tones. These behemoths also have plumed tails with thick, feathery hair covering them. They carry their tails at attention, curved over their backs.

Exercise Requirements

Tibetan Mastiffs have a decent amount of energy and need regular daily physical activity. They will also need mental stimulation. Without both physical and mental exercise, they can become depressed, destructive, or even overly aggressive.

This dog needs to have at least one 20-to-30-minute session of high-intensity physical activity every day. This does not mean that they only need 30 minutes of physical activity every day. They should have room to run and roam about every single day. This is not a breed that should live in an apartment because they will not be able to have the physical space they need to be comfortable and safe. These big beauties should always be walked on a leash and should not be left outside unsupervised, especially with other pets. Because the breed is known to be so protective and territorial, it is important that they are only outside under close supervision and have a secure area with tall fences they cannot escape from.

These colossal pups are territorial, meaning they like to check the area regularly. Taking them on walks throughout the day, for example, one in the morning and one in the evening, allows them to fulfill this instinct to protect and also serves as great exercise. They are highly intelligent and can be trained to play games like fetch, tug of war, and more. Be careful when playing tug of war with one of these guys, though. These guys are incredibly strong and have a powerful bite force, close to 500 pounds. That is not anything to play around with.

Living Conditions

These dogs are literally huge and need a lot of room. This is more than just a statement. It is an absolute fact. Living with a dog of this size in an apartment or small home will be miserable for both humans and canines. Your dog will also not be healthy because his exercise needs will not be met. Being locked inside a small space all day is the absolute worst thing to do for this breed.

Ideally, this breed needs homes where there is plenty of room for them to run around. They must have a fenced yard. Because of their thick fur, these dogs actually fare better in colder climates and may not want to be as active when they live in warmer areas. This is another reason these exercise walks are good to do in the morning and evening rather than in the middle of the day, which is also the hottest.

Guardian dogs should not be left alone outside, especially if you have sensitive neighbors. They like to bark and will bark even more when left outside at night. These guys can have a good relationship with other pets but will fare better if they can be raised with them from an incredibly early age. They must always be supervised when around smaller animals and children. These dogs are not inherently mean but are big and cannot always control what happens with their bodies. While they may tolerate cats, it should be pointed out that these pups are not exactly huge feline fans. Anyone who brings a Tibetan Mastiff into a home that already has cats needs to be very prepared for some rough adjustment times.

Tibetan Mastiffs like people, but not everyone. They do better with their trusted family members, and homes that have a lot of activity, as well as strangers coming and going, may cause them to become stressed out, overexcited, and increasingly territorial. They do need homes that are calmer, with owners who are available to give them attention. While these are not considered Velcro or emotionally needy canines, they do develop attachments to certain people and may be more protective of them.

Training

Dog breed Tibetan mastiff runs on green grass in the park with trainer on leash
These pups are very smart. They love to do the right thing and make their owners happy.

They respond well to positive reinforcements like treats or other rewards. With this breed, training is not necessarily about intelligence. Training for them is about developing a bond and getting the dog to trust you in order to get them to do what you want. Obedience training should start young. This breed does have an independent streak and may decide that they know better than you. Because of this, owners may want to consider professional training services, even for young puppies, to set firm behavior expectations and boundaries.

Owners need to show these dogs that they are the leader. Otherwise, these big guys will want to be the ones in charge. Not every pup is going to like treats or cuddles, so it may take time to find exactly what motivates them in training. They will not respond well to negative reinforcement, so always stick with a positive reward.

Socialization training is particularly important with this breed. Guardian pups are bred to be protective guard dogs, so they certainly behave that way. They must be trained on how to behave properly with other pets, household family members, as well as strangers. They also may not be the best breed to take to a crowded dog park, as they may get overwhelmed by all the activity.

Health

Tibetan Mastiffs live between 10- and 12 years. The breed is not known to have a ton of health conditions or concerns, likely due to their very controlled breeding for so long. As larger animals, they can be prone to some health issues like hip and joint conditions. Owners must be aware of the potential issues breeds like this might face before adopting them. It may be a good idea to consider pet insurance, as larger breed dogs may be more expensive to care for.

  1. As with many other large breeds, these big guardians are at risk for both hip and elbow dysplasia. This is a condition where their joints are loose in the sockets, which can develop into a very painful condition, even affecting their mobility.
  2. Hypothyroidism is another concern with this breed and is something owners must manage through medication and collaboration with the veterinarian. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid does not work at the right level. This affects their hormone production and is thought to be present in about one-third of the breed. Hypothyroidism can cause fatigue, infections, weight gain, pain, and more.
  3. This breed is prone to obesity due to their generous size. It can be extremely easy to overfeed a dog like this, and they love their food. Canines that are obese are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, as well as joint and skeletal dysfunction.
  4. Bloat is extremely dangerous and can lead to life-threatening conditions. Gastric torsion is also called a twisted stomach and can cause a dog to be in incredible pain. It can come on suddenly and may send a dog into shock. They will experience heavy breathing, excessive drooling, gagging, bloating, pacing, pain, and more.
  5. This breed is susceptible to different eye conditions, including entropion and ectropion. These conditions impact their eyelids and cause them to fold unnaturally the wrong way. While this may not affect their vision, it does cause pain and discomfort and may have long-term damage to the eye itself. The breed is also susceptible to progressive retinal atrophy, which can lead to blindness after some time. They can also develop cataracts which will impact their vision and tend to be progressively worse as a dog ages.
  6. Tibetan Mastiffs are susceptible to skin infections due to their very thick coats. They can develop a skin infection called pyoderma, which is a bacterial infection on or just below the skin. Owners should inspect their dog’s skin during grooming for any kind of open sores. Discuss any kind of skin condition with your veterinarian and ask for appropriate guidance on treatment. Never use human skin products on your pup Unless specifically directed to do so by your vet.
  7. It is also worth mentioning that this breed has very narrow ears, which leads them to have an increased occurrence of ear infections. Ear infections can range in severity and may affect your pup’s long-term health. They are, at the very least, uncomfortable and should not be ignored.

Nutrition

Tibetan Mastiff History
Tibetan Mastiffs should eat a diet that includes high-quality animal proteins.

These should always be listed as the first ingredient. This is a big dog and should be fed a large or giant breed formula, even as a puppy. Giant breeds like this can be susceptible to joint problems, and it is especially important that they receive nutritional support throughout their lives to help prevent and combat this. Larger breeds should eat food that is not as dense in calories as the food smaller breeds eat. This is because bigger canines have metabolisms that work slower, so they need fewer calories per pound. Large-breed dog foods are also lower in fat, something particularly important because bigger breeds do tend to want to eat more.

Overfeeding a giant breed can lead to obesity. Obesity and excess weight can cause long-term health problems, including added stress on bones and joints. Excess weight increases the risk of orthopedic disease and malfunction. Feeding them too much also puts them at risk for developing diabetes, which can become a life-threatening condition and will require treatment for the rest of a dog’s life.

Look for high-quality dog food that is specifically formulated for large and giant breeds. Along with whole meats, look for foods that contain healthy carbohydrates like natural grain ingredients, including brown rice, barley, and oatmeal. Vegetables also provide healthy sources of carbohydrates. Omega fatty acids are particularly important in a dog’s diet as they help support their bone health, skin, coat, organs, eyes, and overall health.

Fruits and vegetables will provide antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber which help support the digestive system. High-quality foods will also contain essential amino acids, which can be found in animal protein, fish oil, and egg products. Glucosamine is also important for large dogs as it supports joint health. Glucosamine is found in ingredients like fish oil, eggs, meat meals, and green lip mussels. Also, look for foods that use natural preservatives instead of artificial ingredients.

Nutrition is especially important for this dog’s health. It is the cornerstone of giving them energy for development, as well as keeping them healthy throughout their lives. Avoid cheap and low-quality products that use lots of fillers, unnamed meat byproducts, as well as artificial chemicals, color, and flavoring. If you are willing to spend a little bit more, there are plenty of fresh food delivery options, freeze-dried foods, and high-quality wet foods that you can feed your dog, along with kibble to provide them the utmost in nutrition as well as flavor variety.

Always discuss any nutritional concerns you have about your Tibetan Mastiff with your veterinarian. With a big dog like this, it is particularly important to make sure all nutritional needs are met. Poor nutrition as a puppy can lead to weakened joints and bone structure as adults, as well as a whole host of lifelong health issues. Do not add supplements or make major changes without first discussing this with your veterinarian or a pet nutritionist.

Grooming

A professional groomer blow drying a Tibetan Mastiff
Despite the massive amount of hair, their coats are easier to keep in good shape than one might think.

Tibetan Mastiffs are exceptionally large dogs with very thick coats, meaning they have an incredible amount of hair. This is not a breed considered to be hypoallergenic, and they need regular grooming. Their thick coats do not pick up a ton of dirt, and these dogs are not known to smell much. Owners will want to invest in a high-quality slicker or pin brush to help with regular grooming.

Though they do not shed an exceptionally large amount, these dogs will go through at least one heavy shed a year, usually in the springtime. They will blow their undercoat, meaning they will shed huge chunks of hair. During this big shed, they will need grooming every day. Deshedding tools, thick combs, and undercoat Rakes can help remove the copious amounts of hair they shed. These dogs may need daily brushing during their heavy shedding periods, but most of the year, they will only need it once or twice a week.

Make sure to clean their ears during these grooming sessions. You can use a damp cloth or ear wipe and avoid poking or getting into their ear canal. You can use a special ear cleaner solution if needed.

Along with brushing and cleaning the ears, it is important to make sure you clip your dog’s nails regularly, as well as clean their teeth. This can be a challenge for the Tibetan Mastiff, so this may be an area to request assistance from your veterinarian or even the groomer. Regular teeth brushing will help keep their teeth strong, as well as reduce the chance of dental disease.

Grooming can start when your pup is young, and it is good to train them to tolerate this when the pup is small and more manageable. Try to start clipping your puppy’s nails and brushing your teeth at a young age. This will help desensitize them to it, and it will just become part of their regular routine.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Tibetan Mastiff dog and puppy on a white background
A dog’s age, registration papers, training, bloodline, appearance, gender, and breeder’s reputation all factor into how much a purebred puppy will cost.

Tibetan Mastiffs can be very pricey dogs. A purebred puppy starts at around $1,500, and that price can increase to over $6,000. Depending on a dog’s bloodline, quality, appearance, and other factors, they can cost even more. Dogs who are intended for show purposes or for breeding will cost much more. While this can seem like a remarkably high price tag to some, most of that cost, at least from reputable breeders, goes into supporting the health and quality of puppies. It is important to look for breeders that are ethical, and sometimes a cheaper price tag may mean that corners were cut.

When looking for a breeder, make sure to do your research. Look for health and genetic testing information, and ask about previous litters and how many they produce a year. Ask as many questions as you would like, and reputable breeders will be happy to provide you with that information. Most reputable breeders will also have a contract where the dog is returned to them if, for some reason, the adoption does not work out. This is not a decision to rush. Make sure to do your research, as even $1,500 is a significant investment in a puppy.

Expect to spend at least $1,000, likely more, to get your puppy situated for the first year. There will be a significant investment in supplies, including extra large crates, food, toys, beds, leashes, collars, and more. In the first year, dogs require more vaccinations as well as a spay-neuter procedure. Additionally, with a dog as big as the Tibetan Mastiff, most supplies needed will have to be purchased in the extra-large size. Extra-large tends to also be the most expensive size. These dogs require significant investment both for adopting a puppy and for upkeep.

Rescues & Shelters

black Tibetan mastiff rescue sitting on a bench
A shelter dog will cost much less than a puppy that is purchased from a breeder.

For some owners, the price tag of a purebred puppy will just be too high, or they may not be in the market for a younger dog. Unfortunately, the Tibetan Mastiff does find its way to shelters and rescue groups. This happens as many people may adopt this dog and not realize that they do not have what it takes to care for such a large animal. Additionally, they are protective, and their territorial nature does not fit in with all households. If one of these massive dogs ends up in a shelter, it may end up being there for an extremely long time because they are so big, and larger breeds are often harder to get adopted.

Adoption prices will vary by organization and location. There are some national groups, like the Tibetan Mastiff Rescue, Inc., based out of Delaware, that work to rescue and rehome the breed. It is also very possible that they may end up in local animal shelters or rescue groups. You can check with your veterinarian for recommendations about rescue groups that they work with locally.

If you are specifically looking for a Tibetan Mastiff in a shelter, this may require a good amount of work. You will need to search shelters throughout the country and then work on the logistics of getting to where a specific dog is and then getting them home. Transportation costs can add to the price tag of both purebred and shelter dogs.

As Family Pets

Tibetan Mastiffs can be wonderful family pets, but they are not right for everyone. This breed does not do well with inexperienced pet owners. They need pet parents who are not intimidated by them, have the wherewithal and knowledge to train them properly, and have plenty of time and energy to dedicate to them. These dogs will need extensive training when they are younger and training reinforcement throughout their lives.

They are also not a breed that does well with a lot of other dogs around, so this breed may be better suited for a solo walk around the block, a nice moderately difficult hike, or a rousing game of fetch in the backyard. It is not a great idea to take your Tibetan Mastiff to the dog park at the peak times of business. It is best to aim for times when the park will be empty or with very few other visitors.

This breed does get along well with their trusted people, but they can be territorial and come off as very intimidating to those that they do not know. Because of this, they may not do well in a terribly busy household with many people coming and going. They will not do well in a small home or in an apartment. This is a breed that absolutely needs to have access to the outdoors and lots of room. They need regular, daily walks and exercise as well as mental stimulation.

Though this breed can be trained to get along well with other animals, they are not known for tolerating cats well. Owners will want to consider whether or not the risk is worth it when bringing a giant breed like this into a home with a lot of smaller pets. They also do not get along very well with toy breeds like Chihuahuas or Toy Poodles.

This breed can be trained to have a good relationship with children but may not be the best choice for a home with infants or small children. They should never be left alone with small children due to their sheer size. It is highly unlikely a Tibetan Mastiff would be aggressive with the child, but they may get hurt unintentionally due to the dog’s incredibly hefty weight and size.

In the right home, a Tibetan Mastiff will be a very affectionate, engaged part of the family. Though they are incredibly powerful and bred as guardian dogs, they are not mean-natured. They are affectionate with those they hold dear and will go to great lengths to ensure their people and territory are protected. It is important to remember how big and powerful these dogs are when considering bringing one home for your next family pet.

It is often asked if Tibetan Mastiffs are aggressive or dangerous. When appropriately trained and socialized in the right way, this breed is not aggressive toward people but retains an aloofness and protective nature around other dogs. They are guardian dogs and do not attack unless provoked. Because of their enormous size, if they are not properly trained and socialized, it is possible for them to become dangerous, especially because this dog is so muscular, powerful, and has such strong jaws. It is especially important that they have owners who understand the responsibility of caring for such a large breed, known for being so protective.

Final Thoughts

Tibetan Mastiffs are utterly amazing creatures. They are dogs that have been long shrouded in mystery but who have captured the hearts and interests of many. Hailing from the mysterious mountains of Tibet, these ancient guardians are quite a vision to behold. Watching one of these giant, fluffy protectors come galloping across a field is truly a majestic sight. This giant breed has long been bred to protect people and important places. They require a patient, experienced owner that knows how to handle their generous size, intelligent mind, and very protective nature. Though the Tibetan Mastiff may not be a dog you see at the dog park every day, these gorgeous canines are unforgettable to anyone who meets them.

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