Tibetan Mastiff: The Ultimate Guide


The Dog with “Lion’s Blood” Pumped by a Heart of Gold

The Tibetan mastiff is undoubtedly one of the most majestic dog breeds in the world. These calm and watchful goliaths have an almost mythic countenance, as if they shouldn’t exist beyond the pages of ancient tomes, but fortunately for us, they do.

So, let’s take a closer look at these gentle giants and figure out what makes them tick. You never know, the Tibetan mastiff could be the furry family member you’ve been dreaming of!

Tibetan Mastiff

Key Facts

Average Lifespan

Some breeders claim that these aloof woofers have a lifespan of between 10 and 16 years, and while certain crossed lines do live especially long lives, purebreds will likely only live to the age of 15 at the most. A more realistic lifespan is between 10 and 12 years.

Minimum Exercise (Per Day)

Despite their relaxed demeanor, Tibetan mastiffs absolutely love an opportunity to stretch out their long legs and feel the wind run through their luxurious mains.

On average, they require an hour’s exercise per day as an absolute minimum; however, their thick double coat prevents them from enjoying walks when the weather gets particularly hot.

It’s best to spread this hour of exercise in 2 to 3 walks throughout the day.

A dignified breed with work hardwired in their genes, they tend not to enjoy the average game of fetch as much as smaller dogs, but they do appreciate off-lead time in a secure environment.

Coat Length

Renowned for their gloriously abundant fluff, Tibetan mastiffs have medium to long-length coats that get even longer around the neck and shoulders.

How long their coats grow is determined by genetic and environmental factors. Those that have lived in warmer climates will have shorter coats, while those bred in cooler climates will retain the long, flowing coats of the mountain-dwelling ancestors.

Minimum Cost (Per Month)

First-year expenses for welcoming a Tibetan mastiff pup into your family can reach the lofty sum of around $6200, which equates to roughly $520 per month — scary, I know!

Thankfully, things get a little easier on the old bank account from the second year on, with average costs only reaching around $219 per month. It’s still a lot, but definitely more sustainable than the early figures.

Appearance

Size

Tibetan mastiffs are a medium to large breed, so you’re out of luck if you’re looking for a pampered pooch you can carry around in your bag.

Alongside their intelligence, it’s this imposing stature that makes the Tibetan mastiff such a fantastic guard dog. Any né’er-do-wells that catch a glimpse of one of these in a garden or house are sure to move on to an easier target.

Average Height

Male Tibetan mastiffs tend to grow between 66 and 76cm tall. Females are slightly smaller, but are by no means little, measuring between 61 and 71cm tall.

Average Weight

You can expect a full-grown Male Tibetan mastiff to weigh in at anything between 45 and 73kg, which means the largest of the breed weigh about half that of a full-grown panda.

Females tend to weigh between 34 and 54kg, which is still heavy for a dog, but a little more manageable.

Temperament

Apartment Living

You’d think you’d need an entire forest to home one of these grizzly bear dogs, but due to their calm disposition and intelligence, they’re capable of adapting to apartment living exceptionally well. But, as we’ve just discussed, Tibetan mastiffs are sizable dogs, so a rather spacious apartment is essential, not just for the pooch, but for you too.

Preparing a Tibetan mastiff for apartment living also takes tons of training, as they need to learn to be aware of their own size, their surroundings, and how to navigate them.

Good for Novice Owners

The Tibetan mastiff catches a lot of prospective first-time dog owner’s eyes, but it’s not a suitable breed for a novice. They require an experienced and confident owner who’s loving and firm in equal measure.

As they’re so large, intelligent, and work-oriented, you need to prove to them that you’re the rightful leader of the pack.

Sensitivity Level

They may be some of the toughest dogs on the planet, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re emotionally hard animals. On the contrary, Tibetan mastiffs are extremely receptive to mood, even in humans, and if they sense an emotional disturbance, they often become upset.

Tolerates Being Alone

Rather solitary, independent souls, Tibetan mastiffs don’t particularly mind a stint in the home alone, but they’d much rather have another dog as a companion when their humans venture out to work or to do the shopping.

On the other hand, Tibetan mastiff puppies can be a handful and will require near-constant attention. If left alone, they’ll become bored, restless, and eventually destructive — goodbye couch.

Tolerates Cold Weather

Hailing from the snowy, isolated peaks of the Himalayan mountains, the Tibetan mastiff doesn’t just tolerate cold weather, it excels in it. Their thick double coat provides plenty of insulation to survive the winter months with gusto. 

Tolerates Hot Weather

Warm and dry climates don’t pose a problem to the Tibetan mastiff either, but extremely hot and humid climates are strictly out of the question. Their coat is too luxurious and will cause them to overheat.

Affectionate with Family

The average Tibetan mastiff is incredibly affectionate and loyal to its family, so expect to doll out tons of scratches, pats, and hugs. They thrive on this sort of interaction, so it’s important you make time for them in your day, not just for exercise, but to share the love!

Kid-Friendly

You should always be wary of big dogs around kids, but as far as giant canines go, Tibetan mastiffs are big old softies around children. They much prefer the company of older humans, but they’re not particularly unsafe for bigger children to be around.

Dog-Friendly

Tibetan mastiffs are about as good with other dogs as they are with kids. They don’t mind them, and they normally won’t be outwardly aggressive towards them, but they’re not going to be making friends left, right, and center, down the park the way an Australian Shepherd or Afghan Hound will.

As long as they’re raised together, they’ll have a soft spot for other dogs and even cats in the household. They’re not natural hunting dogs, so they don’t have an active prey drive.

Friendly Toward Strangers

Tibetan mastiffs are fiercely loyal to their pack (that’s you!), which is why they can be a little untrusting of strangers. Don’t worry, they’re not going to maul them just for walking in your general direction, but they absolutely will not be cozying up to them either, especially if they’re encroaching on their territory.

Health and Grooming

Tibetan Mastiff

Shedding

I hope you’re the owner of a powerful vacuum cleaner because Tibetan mastiffs are pretty heavy shedders. There are certainly dogs that shed more than them; just look at the Shiba Inu and the Alaskan malamute, but without frequent cleaning sessions, their discarded fluff can become overwhelming quite quickly.

They shed a moderate amount throughout the year, but as soon as spring comes around, they can’t get rid of their winter coat fast enough, so be prepared.

Drooling

Tibetan mastiffs aren’t prolific droolers by any stretch, but that’s not to say the odd bit of jowl juice won’t find its way down their chin and possibly onto you or your furniture, so it helps to have a towel on hand just in case.

Grooming

Despite their amazingly thick double coats, the grooming schedule for a Tibetan mastiff isn’t as intensive as you might think. For most of the year, you really only need to give them a good brushing once or twice a week.

I’d recommend using something along the lines of this Hertzko Self Cleaning Slicker Brush. The ergonomic design is easy on sensitive hand joints, the bristles are tough on tangles but gentle on your dog’s skin, and they retract to automatically cast-off collected fur.

If you have the time, and you don’t want to be constantly vacuuming, you may want to add a third grooming session to the weekly schedule, but it’s not until they start shedding their winter coat things will really start getting messy.

To get rid of all the wooly, dead fur, you’re going to need a dematting undercoat rake. These genius brushes infiltrate the Tibetan mastiff’s furry Fort Knox and extract all the loose bits from the deepest areas of its coat.

You’ll need to pay extra attention to their majestic, lion-like mane, as there tends to be more debris and more matting to deal with due to its length and volume.

Other than these rudimentary brushing sessions, the only bits of mastiff maintenance you need to pencil into your diary include a monthly bath, the odd nail trim, and of course, a swift brushing of the chompers at least once a day.

General Health

The Tibetan mastiff is an incredibly robust dog in and out, with great general health, especially if there has been some cross-breeding at some point in the line.

Common Health Problems

As one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, there are unfortunately some common health issues to mention. Elbow and hip dysplasia are fairly typical, especially as they enter their golden years, and hypothyroidism is a concern too.

They’re also genetically predisposed to developing certain eye problems, such as ectropion and entropion eyelids. While these aren’t particularly serious ailments, they can cause a lot of irritation.

Responsible breeders should be able to provide you with pre-screening tests illustrating that their Tibetan mastiffs do not exhibit any signs of these illnesses.

There have been some reports of seizures, but there’s no concrete evidence to establish this as a genetic issue specific to the breed.

 Potential for Weight Gain

Due to their body type, Tibetan mastiffs can easily gain a lot of weight, and if they develop hypothyroidism, it can get a whole lot worse.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone, slowing down the metabolism, making it difficult for the poor pooch to burn calories.

In light of this, you need to be vigilant and check for symptoms regularly. These may include…

  • Dull or damaged coat
  • Weight gain without increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dark skin pigmentation

Frequent worm checks, proper diet, and regulated portion sizes are also essential to keeping your bear-dog lean and healthy.

Trainability

Easy to Train

Tibetan mastiffs are clever so-and-sos, meaning they learn quickly, but I wouldn’t exactly call them highly trainable dogs. They find the repetitive nature of traditional obedience training a bore, and as they’re not very food driven, the standard positive reinforcement reward scheme isn’t nearly as effective as it is with other dogs.

They do respect and listen to their owner’s commands, but if there’s any doubt in their mind, they’re more likely to pull from their nature than their training sessions. In light of this, they can’t really be trusted off-leash in an unsecured environment.

Intelligence

You’ll have noticed that I’ve repeated the “I” word a number of times throughout this guide, and it’s not by accident. These canines are wonderfully intelligent creatures, and their smarts imbue them with incredibly nuanced and loveable personalities.

However, it’s not just hugs they need. As they’re a working breed that loves a task, to keep those big brains ticking over, they need tons of mental stimulation, which means you’ll have to invest in lots of doggy puzzles and games. 

Potential to Bite

Tibetan mastiffs bite with a force of around 500 to 550lbs, which is…a lot. But the good news is that they only tend to exhibit outwardly aggressive behavior when they’re not properly socialized. Raising them around people and other animals minimizes their tendency to bite, significantly.

Tendency to Bark or Howl

While not a quiet dog, they’re not exactly big barkers either. They’re definitely more vocal than the average hound, and their bark certainly has a signature boom to it (it’s what makes them such good guard dogs), but with proper training, they can learn to keep their roaring to a minimum.

History

Tibetan Mastiff-

Bred as a herding and guard dog by Tibetan nomads and monks, the Tibetan mastiff has been a dutiful and observant animal from the get-go, the guardians of the Himalayan mountains and all their hardy inhabitants.

Meer Izzut-oolah wrote in 1872 that “During the day, they are kept chained up, and are let loose at night to guard their master’s house”.

It’s thought that the modern variant is derived from a 5000-year-old ancestor, and the reason they’re so happy at altitude is that, at some point in their line, interbreeding with a ghost population of wolf-like canines, increased their hemoglobin levels.

The first Tibetan mastiff was imported to England in 1847 and given to Queen Victoria — a present from Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India. 

The breed gained popularity in England in the early 20th century after they appeared in the Crystal Palace Show, but as war descended, the breed fell into obscurity and almost died out in the nation.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the first Tibetan mastiffs, gifted to President Eisenhower,  laid paw on American soil, and it was later still, in the 1970s, when they were imported en masse to the USA.

Since attaining AKC recognition in 2006, the popularity of the breed went into the stratosphere, which led to dangerous over breeding.

These days, their popularity is steadily on the rise, and responsible breeders are reinvigorating this magnificent canine line.

Costs

  • Tibetan mastiff pups range in price from $1500 to $8000, with the difference determined by things such as breeder reputation, training and socialization, pedigree, bloodline, age, geographical popularity, and coat color and markings.
  • Supplies for the first year of ownership can range from $245 and $945 depending on item quality and purchase location.
  • The average cost for training a Tibetan mastiff is $850.
  • First year vet costs: $425 to $855. Spay/Neuter: between $50 and $500. Gastropexy: $200 to $400. Adult year vet costs: $475 to $1025.
  • Cost of treating possible genetic ailments: $350 – $13,000.
  • A year’s food will set you back something to the tune of $450 for a puppy and $390 for an adult.

Fun Facts

  • During the peak of their popularity in China, due to their size and mane, breeders would often say that Tibetan mastiffs had lion’s blood.
  • Tibetan mastiffs aren’t technically mastiffs at all. This is a misnomer derived from European settlers in Tibet, as, for a period, all large dogs were known as mastiffs in the west. Himalayan mountain dog is a much more accurate title.
  • The wistful, serene gaze and intelligence of these dogs led the Tibetan people to believe that they harbored the souls of the monks and nuns who weren’t honorable enough to be reincarnated into people or pass on to the heavenly realm (Shambhala).
  • It’s now thought that the Bernese mountain dog, Great Pyrenees, Rottweiler, and Saint Bernard are all partially descended from the Tibetan mastiff.

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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