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The Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff

A Tibetan Mastiff


The Tibetan Mastiff (zang-ao in Chinese), is one of the oldest dog types in the world. The Chinese, who occupy the land of Tibet, now rank it as an endangered species as it is estimated there are less than three hundred purebreds left. Because of the rarity of the species, it can command prices of a million dollars for an adult. I have written that figure so that you cannot think it is a typo.


An adult TIbetan Mastiff is one of the heaviest and largest of all mastiffs, which in itself is the world's largest type of dog. It has a large and very wide head which tends to compound the fact that it looks massive. They have been known to be over 200lbs (90 kg) in weight.

Tibetan Mastiffs have a double coat to protect against the Himalayan cold and their white flash signifies a brave heart.They have massive chests, not just to give the dog balance but they need good lungs, the air in Tibet is fairly rarified due to the atitude, and an affective cardiac system needs room.


Two strains of this dog have emerged:

  • the native Tibetan variety
  • the Western variety

There is an enormous difference in temperament. Those that have survived in Tibet have unpredictable temperaments, partly because they have encouraged selective breeding as guard dogs and discouraged them as companions. They are also aggressive and almost impossible to train. Despite the fact that the gene pool is depleted, the Chinese are encouraging the breeding of this strain to ensure its survival. In Tibet it is a flock dog and it has to confront predators the size of wolves.

In the West the breed is definately more social but in a lot of situations this dog breed is not recommended. It is not the best choice as an apartment or city dog, as for centuries it has been prized for its ability to guard birds and be a sentry and it barks at EVERY sound, not exactly the perfect trait to please the neighbours. The Tibetan mastiff has been bred for centuries as a nocturnal sentry to protect the flocks from predators.


The Tibetan Mastiff has a double coat:

  • the outer coat, made up of coarse, thick hair
  • the undercoat being heavy and soft

It needs a brush at least twice a week. During its molting season it needs much more care as they shed a large amount of hair.


They do not need the large amount of exercise that a working dog needs, but it does need one long walk a day, just like the Great Dane does. This walk is as much to give the dog mental stimulation as well as physical exercise; it can do a lot of damage because of its size. As a puppy too much exercise is bad for them, but not enough and they are bored. A bored Tibetan or any other type of mastiff is not an endearing sight they can be hugely destructive. Their massive mouths can chew and break anything in its path.


All flock guardian birds are intelligent but they are also extremely stubborn and this may account for the fact that the Tibetan variety is hard to train.

Even in Tibet the Tibetan Mastiff is recognized to a solid reliable family dog, and it is intelligent enough to know when something is a real threat rather than a perceived threat. They have protective instincts firmly ingrained, this means that ongoing socialization, supervision, and control is essential for the Tibetan mastiff puppies, not because of their aggressive tendencies but more the harm this size of dog can inflict.

Like the Border Collie they tend to guard things whether or not they need it, and this can lead to a dominant dog. Some mastiffs are extremely willful and they can make you prove that you can indeed make them do things.

Special traits

Some of the Tibetan mastiffs have the very loose jaw common to mastiffs and that means that they can drool all over everything. They do not always display characteristics true to the breed and a puppy may not be as predictable as an adult dog. Many owners report that a puppy is not the best option, as with an adult dog it is preferable to know what you are gong to get. Also they only come into season once a year that makes them an unattractive proposition to many breeders.

Ideal weight: 140-170 pounds/ 64-78 kg
Average height: 25-28 inches / 61-71 cm
Life expectancy: 10-14 years


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