The Tibetan mastiff is a rare and large-size dog breed from China with a massive, towering frame, flowing mane, and watchful expression. The breed is said to be as magnificent and alert as a lion. Used in Tibet for thousands of years as powerful and imposing estate guardians, today’s Tibetan mastiff retains its protective instincts, watching over its home and family with endless tenacity.
HEIGHT: 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 70 to 150 pounds
COAT: Double outer coat is fine but hard, straight, and stand-off; undercoat is heavy, soft, and woolly
COAT COLOR: Black, brown, blue/grey, or gold
LIFE SPAN: 10 to 12 years
TEMPERAMENT: Intelligent, protective, strong-willed, tenacious, aloof
ORIGIN: China (Tibet)
Characteristics of the Tibetan Mastiff
In the right hands, the Tibetan mastiff breed provides unparalleled loyalty, devotion, and protection to its family. The breed’s guarding instincts are heightened at night, and many dogs of this type can bark loudly and excessively in the evening hours. It’s best to keep your mastiff indoors at night to avoid bothering your neighbors. Make sure you have a secure fence to keep your dog from roaming day or night.
Some Tibetan mastiffs are aggressive towards other dogs and must be kept away from strange dogs. In the same household, keeping dogs of the opposite sex tends to have better outcomes than owning two males or two females.
|Tendency to Bark||Medium|
|Amount of Shedding||Medium|
History of the Tibetan Mastiff
Due to the isolation of its country of origin and a lack of written breeding records, the Tibetan mastiff’s history is shrouded in mystery. We do know that the Tibetan mastiff is an ancient breed that has existed in Central Asia for thousands of years. The Tibetan mastiff breed was first introduced to the Western world in 1847 when it was brought to England and entered into The Kennel Club’s first studbook. More than 100 years later, the breed finally made its way to the United States in the 1950s. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association, which is the national club for the breed in the U.S., formed in 1974, and the breed received full recognition with the American Kennel Club in 2006.
It was not unheard of to pay upward of $200,000 for a Tibetan mastiff puppy in China in the early to mid-2000s when it was a must-have dog for the status-conscious. Today, the dog is no longer popular overseas where certain areas of China have abandoned and banned the breed.
Tibetan Mastiff Care
The Tibetan mastiff requires special care and handling. Early, intensive socialization is mandatory with the Tibetan mastiff. An improperly socialized Tibetan mastiff has the potential to grow into a liability. Introduce your Tibetan mastiff puppy to as many people, places, animals, and things as possible, keeping interactions positive, and going at the dog’s pace.
Even with careful socialization, some Tibetan mastiffs find it difficult to accept strangers or strange animals, especially those entering the dog's property. Many Tibetan mastiffs, especially those that receive adequate socialization, are far more relaxed and accepting of strangers when off their own property.
As with all large and giant breeds, exercise for puppies and young adults must be approached with caution. Due to the Tibetan mastiff’s large frame and hefty weight, and predisposition to hereditary joint conditions like hip dysplasia, repetitive exercise like jogging or jumping should be limited and/or avoided completely until the dog is at least two years old and fully mature. Even a fully mature Tibetan mastiff is not going to be a jogging partner or agility champion, although most enjoy daily leisurely walks totaling between 30 to 60 minutes.
Tibetan mastiffs are surprisingly easy to groom. The profuse coat sheds very little outside of one seasonal shed (typically in spring or summer) where they “blow coat,” losing almost all of their undercoat in just a few weeks. During this heavy shed, frequent brushing and a bath or two can help, but expect hair everywhere. The rest of the year, the coat sheds very little and requires just weekly brushing and bathing when the dog becomes dirty.
In addition to coat care and bathing, your dog needs regular tooth brushing and nail trimming.
Although Tibetan mastiffs are extremely intelligent and capable of quickly learning basic obedience skills, they can also be stubborn and not particularly inclined to always do what you ask. Training should be started at an early age and rules should be enforced consistently throughout the dog’s lifetime. Because the Tibetan mastiff is physically large and naturally suspicious of strangers, it is vital that any Tibetan mastiff owner be capable of physically restraining their dog when necessary, whether in public or at home.
Even with intensive socialization (which is an absolute must with this breed), the Tibetan mastiff can be difficult to train. Massive and powerful, the breed’s protective instincts are so heightened that some Tibetan mastiffs may not always listen when their owners say a visitor is allowed and not an intruder to be vanquished.
Common Health Problems
The Tibetan mastiff, like many purebred dogs, is prone to certain genetic conditions. Responsible breeders test their adult dogs prior to breeding them to avoid passing on inherited diseases. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association (ATMA) requires (or recommends depending on the condition) all member breeders to perform certain health tests on all dogs prior to breeding them, as listed below.
- Hip Dysplasia: This orthopedic condition is an abnormal development of one or both hip joints. The ATMA requires an evaluation for hip dysplasia from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or, alternatively, a PennHip screening,
- Elbow Dysplasia: This skeletal condition leads to malformation and even degeneration of the elbow joints. The ATMA also recommends (although does not require) that breeding dogs be screened for elbow dysplasia
- Hypothyroidism: This condition presents in dogs as it does in humans. It means your dog's thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. The ATMA requires member breeders to perform a thyroid blood panel on dogs before breeding.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: This breed is prone to PRA, which affects the ability for your dog to see. The rods, cones, and/or the pigmented layer of the eye deteriorates leading to blindness. Additionally, breeders need to become certified by the OFA’s Companion Animal Eye Registry (CERF).
Diet and Nutrition
Feeding your Tibetan mastiff may prove tricky. Despite their enormous size, many Tibetan mastiffs don’t have huge appetites, and eat far less than you might assume. Some Tibetan mastiffs even go on food strikes, refusing to eat for days at a time. For these reasons, it’s especially important to feed your pup high-quality dog food (consult with your breeder or veterinarian for a recommendation).
Pay attention to how much your Tibetan mastiff is eating so you know how much your dog is consuming and whether it's on a food strike. If your Tibetan mastiff happens to have a healthy appetite, avoid overfeeding. Free feeding can lead to weight gain, which puts stress on the joints and can contribute to health issues. Feeding measured meals allows you to track how much your Tibetan mastiff is eating, whether it’s too much, too little, or just right.
Where to Adopt or Buy
The Tibetan mastiff is one that requires an experienced dog owner. Anyone considering a Tibetan mastiff should reach out to a reputable breeder to talk about what’s it’s like to live with the breed. Some adult Tibetan mastiffs might find themselves in rescue on occasion. More often though, anyone searching for a Tibetan mastiff will need to track down a reputable breeder and get on a waitlist (often a long waitlist) for a puppy. Expect to pay between $1,500 to $5,000 for a purebred Tibetan mastiff.
Here are a few helpful resources to start your search:
- The American Tibetan Mastiff Association
- Tibetan Mastiff Rescue (and active Facebook page)
- AKC Marketplace
Tibetan Mastiff Overview
Exceptional guard dog
Doesn’t require a lot of exercise
Sheds very little outside of the seasonal shedding in spring or summer
May be difficult to train
Highly territorial; requires intensive socialization
May be aggressive with other dogs, especially strange dogs on their property
More Dog Breeds and Further Research
The Tibetan mastiff breed is rare and a challenge to train. But if you appreciate this dog, you might also like these breeds:
Otherwise, there’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!
Is a Tibetan mastiff a good choice for a first-time dog owner?
The Tibetan mastiff is not well-suited for a first-time dog owner, or those who are new to guardian breeds. This breed is difficult to train and socialize, which requires a confident owner who can be a firm yet fair leader.
Do Tibetan mastiffs get along with children?
Tibetan mastiffs are devoted to their owners, and usually get along well with children who are part of the family, although the kids must be taught to respect the dog. The breed is not always good with strange children, especially those that run around and scream, or attempt to bother the dog. All interactions between Tibetan mastiffs and children must always be supervised by a responsible adult.
Why do Tibetan mastiffs go on food strikes?
Male Tibetan mastiffs may go on food "strikes" during mating season. When females are in season, males will often refuse to eat for a week or more and can lose a percentage of their body weight. However, both males and females only eat when they are hungry, so it is not uncommon for a Tibetan mastiff to skip a meal altogether even when it's not mating season.
Are Tibetan mastiffs banned in the U.S.?
It's rare to hear a report of a Tibetan mastiff attacking a person. This breed of mastiff is not banned in most places in the U.S. The Tibetan mastiff is banned in a couple of spots, such as Washington State and Wisconsin. The breed is banned in Australia (mostly because of their size), but they are considered dangerous animals in the United Kingdom, though the breed is not banned there. Bans on dogs frequently change, so before taking home or traveling with a dog, find out if there is any breed-specific legislation that could affect you.