Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiff
Country of origin Tibet
Patronage F.C.I.[1]
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Tibetan Mastiff (Do-khyi) is an ancient breed and type of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) originating with nomadic cultures of Central Asia.


Names and etymology

The Tibetan Mastiff also known as Do-khyi (variously translated as "home guard", "door guard", "dog which may be tied", "dog which may be kept"), reflects its use as a guardian of herds, flocks, tents, villages, monasteries, and palaces, much as the old English ban-dog (also meaning tied dog) was a dog tied outside the home as a guardian. However, in nomad camps and in villages, the Do-khyi is traditionally allowed to run loose at night.[citation needed]

'Bhote Kukur' in Nepali means 'Tibetan Dog'. In Mandarin Chinese, the name is '藏獒' (Zang'Ao), which literally means 'Tibetan Mastiff' or 'Tibetan "big ferocious dog"'. In Mongolia it is called "bankhar", meaning "guard dog", but there is another type of mastiff in Mongolia called the 'Mongolian Mastiff' (Mongol Bankhar), which is bigger than the Tibetan Mastiff and has a darker color, but is not counted as a breed The molosser type with which the modern Tibetan Mastiff breed is purportedly linked was known across the Ancient world by many names.

Note that the name Tibetan 'mastiff' is a misnomer. This dog is not a true mastiff, and first got that name when someone observed that it looked like a mastiff; a better name for the dog would be 'Tibetan mountain dog' or, to include the same dogs on the periphery of Tibet: 'Himalayan mountain dog'.

There is also controversy whether the Tibetan mastiff is a molosser.[citation needed]



Illustration of a Tibetan mastiff skull by Frédéric Cuvier

Currently, some breeders differentiate between two "types" of Tibetan Mastiff: The Do-khyi and the "Tsang-khyi". The "Tsang-khyi" (which, to a Tibetan, means only "dog from Tsang") is also referred to as the "monastery type", described as generally taller, heavier, more heavily boned, with more facial wrinkling and haw than the "Do-khyi" or "nomad type". Both "types" are often produced in the same litter.

Males can reach heights up to 31+ inches (80+cm) at the withers, although the standard for the breed is typically in the 25 to 28 inch (61 to 72 cm) range. The heaviest TM on record may be one weighing over 130 kg (286.6 Lbs)[citation needed] but dogs bred in the West are more typically between 140 lb (64 kg) to 180 lb (82 kg)—especially if they are in good condition and not overweight. The enormous dogs being produced in some Western and some Chinese kennels would have "cost" too much to keep fed to have been useful to nomads; and their questionable structure would have made them well-nigh useless as livestock guardians.

The Tibetan Mastiff is considered a primitive breed. It typically retains the instincts which would be required for it to survive in Tibet, including canine pack behaviour. In addition, it is one of the few primitive dog breeds that retains a single oestrus per year instead of two, even at much lower altitudes and in much more temperate climates than its native climate. This characteristic is also found in wild canids such as the wolf. Since its oestrus usually takes place during late fall, most Tibetan Mastiff puppies are born between December and January.[2]

Tibetan Mastiff at an international dog show in Poland.

Its double coat is long, subject to climate, and found in a wide variety of colors, including solid black, black & tan, various shades of gold / "blonde", blue/gray, chocolate brown, red, the rarest being solid white.

The coat of a Tibetan Mastiff lacks the unpleasant "big-dog smell" that affects many large breeds. The coat, whatever its length or color(s), should shed dirt and odors. Although the dogs shed somewhat throughout the year, there is generally one great "molt" in late winter or early spring and sometimes another, lesser molt in the late summer or early fall. (Sterilization of the dog or bitch may dramatically affect the coat as to texture, density, and shedding pattern.)

Tibetan Mastiffs are shown under one standard in the West, but separated by the Indian breed standard into two varieties:[citation needed] Lion Head (smaller; exceptionally long hair from forehead to withers, creating a ruff or mane) and Tiger Head (larger; shorter hair).


The native type of dog, which still exists in Tibet and the Himalayas (in Bhutan, Nepal, and North India), and the Westernized purebred breed can vary in temperament—but so can dogs of identical breeding, within the same litter, raised in the same household. Elizabeth Schuler states, "The few individuals that remain in Tibet are ferocious and aggressive, unpredictable in their behavior, and very difficult to train. But the dogs bred by the English are obedient and attached to their masters." However, other observers have found the dogs remaining in Tibet to be quite approachable under the right circumstances—and some Western-bred dogs to be completely unapproachable.

Some Western and Asian breeders are seeking to create a replica of the legendary dog which they identify as the "true Tibetan Mastiff" or "Tsang-khyi". Some breeders appear to select primarily for appearance (great size, profuse coat, heavy wrinkling, jowls, haw) while others also select for "soft" temperament (in the West) and fierce temperament (in Asia where the dogs' "ferocity" is much vaunted and encouraged).

As a flock guardian dog in Tibet and in the West, it is tenacious in its ability to confront predators the size of wolves and leopards. As a socialized, more domestic dog, it can thrive in a spacious, fenced yard with a canine companion, but it is generally not an appropriate dog for apartment living. The Western-bred dogs are generally more easy-going, although somewhat aloof with strangers coming to the home. Through hundreds of years of selective breeding for a protective flock and family guardian, the breed has been prized for being a nocturnal sentry, keeping would-be predators and intruders at bay, barking at sounds throughout the night. Leaving a Tibetan Mastiff outside all night with neighbors nearby is not recommended. They often sleep during the day to be more active, alert and aware at night.

Like all flock guardian breeds, they are intelligent and stubborn to a fault, so obedience training is recommended (although only mildly successful with some individuals) since this is a strong-willed, powerful breed. Socialization is also critical with this breed because of their reserved nature with strangers and guardian instincts. They are excellent family dogs—for the right family. Owners must understand canine psychology and be willing and able to assume the primary leadership position. Lack of consistent, rational discipline can result in the creation of dangerous, unpredictable dogs (although this is true of virtually every dog breed).

Newspaper reports have suggested that a pair of these Mastiffs have killed tigers while guarding sheep in the highlands of Nepal.[citation needed]


A Chinese bred Tibetan Mastiff

Life Expectancy Unlike most large breeds, its life expectancy is long, some 10–14 years. The breed has fewer genetic health problems than many breeds, but cases can be found of hypothyroidism, entropion, ectropion, skin problems including allergies, autoimmune problems including demodex, missing teeth, malocclusion (overbite or underbite), cardiac problems, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataract, and small ear canals with a tendency for infection. As with most large breeds, some will suffer with elbow or hip dysplasia, although this has not been a major problem in the Tibetan Mastiff. Another concern includes canine inherited demyelinative neuropathy (CIDN), a rare inherited neural disease that appeared in one bloodline in the early 1980s.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) takes many forms, e.g., the femoral head ("ball") may not fit well into the acetabulum ("socket"); the ligament connecting the two may be lax, allowing dislocation; there may be no femoral head at all. Not all forms cause clinical signs. Very active, well-muscled dogs with no femoral heads may show no impairment. Their owners may be unaware of their dogs' "hip dysplasia" unless/until there is a reason to x-ray the hips.

As with all dog breeds, hip dysplasia is caused by the interaction of genes and environment. Inheritance of CHD appears to be polygenic, i.e., it is caused by more than one gene. Mode of inheritance (dominant, recessive, dominant with incomplete penetrance, etc.)has not been determined but may be different in different breeds. Rapid growth and weight gain in puppies may trigger or exacerbate a genetic tendency to all sorts of skeletal problems. Many TM breeders recommend against feeding "puppy food" and especially against feeding "large-breed" puppy food, as these concoctions may contain too many calories, leading to fat puppies. Some breeders and owners believe that supplementation with Vitamin C may prevent the development of CHD even in dogs with the genes for it.

Canine Inherited Demyelinative Neuropathy is an inherited condition that appeared in one of the prominent lines of Tibetan Mastiffs in the early 1980s. CIDN affect the peripheral nervous system. Nerve fibers are unable to transmit impulses from the spinal cord to the muscles because of the breakdown of the myelin sheath. Starting at approximately six weeks of age, affected pups begin to lose the ability to walk or even stand. Progression of the condition can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.[3]

Because this condition is inherited as a simple autosomal recessive, it is virtually impossible to completely eliminate it from the gene pool. One known carrier was bred to over 30 times, producing at least 134 direct descendants. Many descendants of this dog are still being bred so there is always the risk—however slim—of producing more affected puppies. Breeders need to be cautious about pairing up any two descendants of this dog.

Hypothyroidism is fairly common in Tibetan Mastiffs, as it is in many large "Northern" breeds. TMs should be tested periodically throughout their lives using a complete thyroid "panel". (Simple T2/T4 testing is virtually useless.) However, because the standard thyroid levels were established using domestic dog breeds, test results must be considered in the context of what is "normal" for the breed, not what is normal across all breeds. Many TMs will have "low" thyroid values but no clinical symptoms. Vets—and owners—differ on the relative merits of medicating dogs who "test low" but are completely asymptomatic. Some researchers think that asymptomatic hypothyroidism may have been adaptive in the regions of origin for many breeds, since less nutrition is required for the dog to stay in good condition. Therefore, attempts to eliminate "low thyroid" dogs from the TM gene pool may have unintended consequences for the breed.

In affected dogs, symptoms may include decreased activity and playing, increased sleeping, weight gain, poor skin and coat condition such as flaking and scaling, a "yeasty" smell to the coat, frequent ear infections, and negative changes in temperament. Fortunately, this condition is easily treated by the use of daily thyroid supplementation.

Osteochondritis Dessicans is a skeletal defect in which the cartilage lifts off the bone, becomes thickened and cracked, causes inflammation and pain, and in severe cases degeneration of the joint. This conditions strikes males more than females. Keeping an affected puppy lean may help but surgery may be required to relieve pain.

Panosteitis is inflammation of the bones that strikes young dogs. The animal will become lame in one leg and then the inflammation will shift to a different leg. This is one condition that corrects itself over time, and only pain medication is needed.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD) is a condition that affects young large breed dogs. It is very painful and prognosis is fair to poor due to recurring episodes of the condition. Clinical signs of HOD include fever, lack of appetite, and depression. Lameness may vary from mild to severe. With multiple limbs affected, the dog may be reluctant to stand or walk. HOD may be mistaken for Panosteitis without proper diagnosis.

Treatment is only supportive. Intravenous fluids are usually required to keep the patient hydrated. Nutritional support is provided with a feeding tube if the dog refuses to eat for five or more days. Pain is controlled with narcotics and NSAIDs. Antibiotics are used if the dog has signs of pneumonia or other bacterial infections. If the bones become twisted due to growth plate damage, corrective surgery may be indicated. Because the distemper vaccination has been implicated, inoculation should be delayed until the pet has been in remission for a couple of months. Information from http://www.vetsurgerycentral.com/hod.htm

Ear Infections can be serious and the dog should be taken to the vet if you see it shaking its head or scratching more than normal. Tibetan Mastiffs have pendant ears, making them more prone to ear infections. The vet needs to determine the cause, and may prescribe antibiotics and/or ear drops. Some ear infections are contagious to other dogs if they involve mites or some bacteria.


Tibetan dog from the 1850s

This is an ancient breed. It has been theorized that an early Tibetan dog is the ancestor to all Molossuses breeds, although this is disputed by some experts. A study at Nanjing Agricultural University's Laboratory of Animal Reproductive Genetics and Molecular Evolution in Nanjing, China, found that while most common dog breeds genetically diverged from the wolf approximately 42,000 years ago, the Tibetan Mastiff genetically diverged from the wolf approximately 58,000 years ago.[4] They share many characterisitcs of many Mountain dog breeds.

Many Tibetan Mastiff breeders and owners (and their web sites) claim that Marco Polo encountered the large Tibetan dogs in his travels and described them as "tall as a donkey with a voice as powerful as that of a lion." However, reading of Polo's works does not support this. In fact, other travels told Marco Polo about these enormous dogs—and about unicorns and other exotic creatures.

In the early 19th century, King George IV owned a pair of TMs, and there were enough of the breed in England in 1906 to be shown at the 1906 Crystal Palace show. However, during the war years, the breed lost favor and focus and nearly died out in England.

After 1980, the breed began to gain in popularity worldwide. Although the breed is still considered somewhat uncommon, as various registries and show organizations (FCI, AKC) began to recognize the breed, more and more active breeders have arisen. Initially the breed suffered because of the limited gene pool from the original stock, but today's reputable breeders work hard at reducing the genetic problems through selective breeding and the international exchange of new bloodlines.

In 2008, the Tibetan Mastiff competed for the first time in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

It was reported in September 2009[5] that a Chinese woman spent more than 4 million yuan to buy an 18 month old purebred male Tibetan Mastiff, which she named Yangtze No. 2.[6] In March 2011, a red Tibetan mastiff was reported to have been sold to a 'coal baron' from northern China for 10 million yuan.[7]

Tibetan Mastiffs in popular culture

  • A Tibetan Mastiff named Max is seen in the 1993 horror film, Man's Best Friend.
  • In Blood Rites, a novel of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the main character, Harry Dresden, is "adopted" by what is likely a Tibetan mastiff (with Foo Dog ancestry). He names the dog "Mouse", who becomes a stalwart protector of the wizard.
  • A Tibetan mastiff also shows up in books by the popular Western novelist, Louis L'Amour (in 'Haunted Mesa', 1987 and 'Treasure Mountain', 1972).
  • A Tibetan Mastiff is the subject of the 2011 animated film The Tibetan Dog.

See also


External links

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