Tibetan Mastiff: Dog Breed Profile

The Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient guardian breed

Red gold Tibetan Mastiff

~User7565abab_575 / Getty Images 

With his massive, towering frame, flowing mane and watchful expression, the Tibetan Mastiff is 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 his protective instincts, watching over his home and family with endless tenacity. 

The Tibetan Mastiff is not well-suited to first-time dog owners, or those who are new to guardian breeds. In the right hands, the breed provides unparalleled loyalty, devotion and protection to its family, but the Tibetan Mastiff requires special care and handling. Even with intensive socialization (which is an absolute must with this breed), the Tibetan Mastiff can be difficult to train and keep. 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. This breed requires a confident owner who can be a firm yet fair leader. 

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. Some Tibetan Mastiffs are dog aggressive, 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.

Breed Overview

Group: Working

Weight: 70 to 150 pounds

Height: 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Fine double outer coat is fine that is hard, straight and stand-off; heavy, soft, and woolly undercoat

Coat Color: Black, brown, blue/grey or gold

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Tibetan Mastiff

Affection Level Low
Friendliness Low
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Low
Energy Level Low
Trainability Low
Intelligence High
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 a Tibetan Mastiff was brought to England and entered into The Kennel Club’s first stud book. 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 United States, formed in 1974, and the breed received full recognition with the American Kennel Club in 2006.  

Tibetan Mastiff Care

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. 

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 Tibetan Mastiff’s property. Many Tibetan Mastiffs, especially those that receive adequate socialization, as far more relaxed and accepting of strangers when off their own property. 

At home, a secure fence is a must to keep your Tibetan Mastiff from roaming. The breed’s guarding instincts are heightened at night, and many can bark loudly and excessively at in the evening hours. It’s best to keep your Tibetan Mastiff indoors at night to avoid bothering your neighbors.  

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 heavy 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 2 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. 

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 time. 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. 

Red gold Tibetan Mastiff adult and puppy
Ksenia Raykova / Getty Images 
Tibetan Mastiff adult and puppies
Laures / Getty Images
Black Tibetan Mastiff
~User7565abab_575 / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Tibetan Mastiff, like many purebred dogs, is prone to certain genetic conditions, including hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism and eye diseases. Responsible breeders test their adult dogs prior to breeding them to avoid passing on inherited diseases. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association requires all member breeders to perform certain health tests on all dogs prior to breeding them, including an evaluation for hip dysplasia from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or, alternatively, a PennHip screening, and a thyroid blood panel. Additionally, the ATMA also recommends (although does not require) that breeding dogs be screened for elbow dysplasia and 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 a 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 he is consuming and whether he’s on a food strike. If your Tibetan Mastiff happens to have a healthy appetite, avoid overfeeding. Free feeding, which can lead to weight gain, which puts stress on the joints and can contribute to health issues. Feeding measured meals allows you to keep track of how much your Tibetan Mastiff is consuming, whether it’s too much, too little or just right.

Pros

  • Exceptional guard dog

  • Doesn’t require a lot of exercise

  • Sheds very little outside of the seasonal shedding in spring or summer

Cons

  • May be difficult to train

  • Highly territorial; requires intensive socialization

  • May be aggressive with other dogs, especially strange dogs on their property 

Where to Adopt or Buy

The Tibetan Mastiff is a rare breed and one that requires an experienced 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. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association offers many helpful resources on its website.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Tibetan Mastiff, you might also like these breeds:

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.