Tibetan Mastiff

A breed of considerable antiquity, the Tibetan mastiff has worked for thousands of years in the Himalayan foothills guarding livestock from predatory animals.

This breed was developed in Tibet and neighboring countries to serve as a flock, farm, and home guardian against unwanted intruders, whether human or animal, and as a hunter. In fact, Marco Polo described this dog as "as great in size as a donkey, his voice somewhat like that of a lion's, dramatic and full of strength."


Also recorded as the Tibetan Dog, the Thibet Dog, the Thibet Mastiff, or the Tibetaanse Mastiff, this is one of the world’s most ancient breeds.

It is believed by many authorities that this ancient and noble dog is the ancestral form from which all modern mastiffs are descended. Tibet offered the ideal situation for the development of such a breed. The Himalayan region, because of its altitude and climate, would tend to favour larger individuals. They would be more resistant to the freezing, mountainous conditions. Also, the Tibetan people were vulnerable to intruders and needed the protection of the biggest dog possible. So it is not surprising to find that it is here that one of the first truly massive breeds was to develop.

There is historical evidence to show that early travellers visiting the Himalayan region were impressed by the giant dogs they saw there. Some of these impressive animals were taken away as special gifts and were later used to establish the mastiff strain in the Europe. In Tibet itself, the Tibetan Mastiff remained an important presence, protecting the people, their homes, settlements, monasteries and palaces. The Dalai Lama employed eight of them to guard the residence at Norbulinka — a pair of dogs for each of the four entrances.

One of the earliest records of these huge dogs appearing in England dates from 1828, when an example was presented to the London Zoo by the king, George IV It was listed as ‘Thibet Mastiff’. Later, in 1874, the Prince of Wales brought two back from Asia.

During the brutal period when China annexed Tibet, orders were given by the Communist authorities that all dogs must be beaten to death. As a result, the Tibetan Mastiff nearly became extinct in its homeland. Only a handful of dogs living in the most remote rural districts managed to survive this canine holocaust. Fortunately, by this time, enough Tibetan Mastiffs had been exported to Europe and America for the breed to be saved.

In ancient times this dog was described as being ‘as large as a donkey’ and there is a record of one, presented to a Chinese emperor in the 12th century. In the unlikely event that the tale is true, this would indeed make the emperor’s dog as big as a large donkey — the most enormous dog that has ever lived.

It is certainly true that the Tibetan Mastiff was once bigger than it is now. Body weights of over 220 lb (100 kg) have been reported, but the modern show-dog version is much smaller, with average weights of no more than 120 lb (55 kg). It seems as if, once it is away from its Tibetan highlands, this breed starts to lose its great bulk and revert to a more moderate size.


A giant, well-boned, but not massive breed, the Tibetan mastiff has a broad, strong head with a fairly broad, squarish muzzle that is narrower than that of the English mastiff; a thick, well-muscled, powerful neck with very little dewlap; medium-sized expressive brown eyes; heart-shaped drop ears; and a well-feathered tail usually slightly curled over the back. Its long, plentiful coat should be close lying, and can be colored black, tan, gold, or bicolored. Its favoured coat colour is black-and-tan. In earlier centuries it was the custom to adorn these big dogs with a special woollen collar, made from yak hair and dyed red.


In personality, the breed has been described as calm, aloof and independent. It has one primitive, wolf-like feature, namely a single annual breeding season.

Care and Exercise

The extremely dense undercoat needs thorough grooming with a hard brush, especially during the shedding season. Long hours of exercising on a lead are desirable.

Puppies and Training

Each litter numbers from four to eight extremely strong puppies. Thorough obedience training should be started quite early. Females may come into heat only once a year.

Gallery of Tibetan Mastiff