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Tibetan Mastiff

Nicole Cosgrove

June 21, 2021

Tibetan-Mastiff_Tatyana Kuznetsova, Shutterstock

The Tibetan Mastiff is a large to giant purebred from China bred in the Himalayan Mountains to be a guard dog and watch dog. It is also known as the Thibet Dog, the Dok-Khyi, the Tibetaanse Mastiff, the Tsang-khyi, the Thibet Mastiff and Tibetan Dog. It is an ancient dog used to protect homes, livestock and people from thieves and wild predators. It is a breed that can seem aloof and certainly is known for its strong will and independence. It is said the Dalai Lama has 8 of them to guard his summer home. While it can still be found as a guardian in its home land today it is also valued as a companion and is successful as a show dog.

The Tibetan Mastiff at A Glance
Name Tibetan Mastiff
Other names Dok-Khyi, Tibetan Dog, Thibet Dog, Thibet Mastiff, Tibetaanse Mastiff, Tsang-khyi
Nicknames None
Origin China
Average size Giant
Average weight 100 to 170 pounds
Average height 24 to 28 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Long, dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black, blue, tan, brown, red, grey
Popularity Not that popular – ranked 135th by the AKC
Intelligence Excellent– understands new commands very quickly
Tolerance to heat Moderate – not great when it is hot or even overly warm, can overheat easily
Tolerance to cold Excellent – can live in even extreme cold temperatures
Shedding Moderate but heavy during seasonal shedding times
Drooling Low to moderate – those with a looser jowl can be prone to some slobber and drool
Obesity High – prone to weight gain so measure its food, watch its treats and exercise it
Grooming/brushing Moderate – brush regularly
Barking Frequent – will need training to control it
Exercise needs Somewhat active – needs daily exercise to stay healthy
Trainability Hard – experience is needed
Friendliness Very good – social breed
Good first dog Low – needs experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Very good with socialization
Good with strangers Moderate – socialization is essential as is supervision and proper introductions
Good apartment dog Low – too large and is best with a large yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Somewhat healthy but several issues including hip dysplasia, pano, OCD, CIDN and Autoimmune Hypothyroidism
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $665 a year for basic training, miscellaneous items, grooming, license and toys
Average annual expenses $1420 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $3,000
Rescue organizations Several including the Tibetan Mastiff Rescue, Inc
Biting Statistics None reported

The Tibetan Mastiff’s Beginnings

The Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient dog. While its specific history is much debated genetic testing suggests that these are descended from Mastiffs that were around in Tibet over 5000 years ago. There were two types, the Do-Khyi who traveled with shepherd and protected flocks and lived in villages and guarded the people, and the Tsang-Khyi, a large Mastiff who served at lamaseries acting as guardians to the lama or monks that lived there. Most dog breeds have proven to have diverged from wolves genetically about 40,000 years ago. The Tibetan Mastiff though diverged over 16,000 years before that. It is believed to be the foundation to most giant working breeds around today. Because of its location in the mountains it developed a thick coat for protection from the cold. For many centuries they remained isolated in those mountains, unknown to the rest of the world as for a long time visitors to Tibet were not allowed.

Then in the 1800s this changed and more people came across them. In 1828 the King of England, George IV gifted one to London Zoo and owned a pair himself. In 1847 Queen Victoria, an avid dog lover and breeder, was gifted one by Lord Hardinge who was the viceroy of India. In 1859 the first dog show was held and the breed became more well known. From the m id 1800s on it became quite a popular breed in England, a standard was drawn up and when the Kennel Club formed in 1873 the Tibetan Terrier was one of the dogs in its first stud book. The Prince of Wales has more imported to England in the 1870s and it appeared in the Alexandra Palace Show of 1875.

A Mrs Bailey and Colonel bailey brought four with them to England in 1928 from being stationed in Tibet. In 1931Mrs Bailey started the Tibetan Breeds Association of England and an official breed standard was adopted. However the breed then suffered a tremendous loss of numbers in both England and in Tibet with the second world war in the latter and the canine holocaust caused by the Chinese when they annexed Tibet. The Chinese army made all dog owners beat their dogs to death or the owners themselves would be beaten to death. The Tibetan Mastiff and other Tibetan breeds suffered great losses and faced possible extinction in some cases. In England the war meant strict food rationing so feeding large dogs was impossible.

New Lease on Life

Thankfully in Tibet in very rural areas a small number survived, and along with those left in the US and Europe including England, there were enough to save the breed. In 1976 breeders in England started importing once more and in 1974 in the US the American Tibetan Mastiff Association was started. In the 1980s it saw a surge in popularity in the US which unfortunately led to some poor breeding from unscrupulous people. In Tibet it is rare to find a purebred one still which has caused some crazy prices and smuggling in the early 2000s. In the last few years thankfully this has evened out. In the US it is ranked 135th in popularity by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

This is a large to giant sized dog weighing 100 to 170 pounds and standing 24 to 28 inches tall. It is a little longer than it is tall and is heavy boned with a large head. The topline is level and its tail is long, plumed and held curled over its back. It is a powerful and muscled dog with an arched strong neck and a moderate dewlap which in males is more obvious than in females. It has straight front legs and its feet are like cats. The dewclaws are removed in some countries and between the toes there can be feathering. The coat is double with a wooly and soft under coat and a long, hard straight top coat. There is a mane around the neck that is thicker in males and the legs and tail have a lot of feathering. Common colors are black, tan, golden, blue, brown and some have white markings. Recently some breeders are trying to sell an all white breed as something rare to make a large profit. In fact it is not white, it is just a very pale gold. In adverts less scrupulous breeders photo shop the images to make the dog look white.

As mentioned it has a very large head, bear like in shape with short hair. Its head is wedge shaped and the muzzle is wide and blunt. It has a black nose and the head can be wrinkled. Its eyes are almond shaped, slant a little and are set deep and medium in size. Colors are usually some shade of brown and its ears hang down, are V shaped and are close to its head.

The Inner Tibetan Mastiff


The Tibetan Mastiff is a very protective, loyal, courageous and reliable dog but it is certainly a breed for experienced dog owners who have no problem establishing leadership and holding it, not for new owners. It does have a strong independent side to it, it is alert, and not only will it bark to alert you of any intruder it will act to defend you and its home and can be a very intimidating dog for intruders to deal with! It is a sensitive breed so it does not respond well to being scolded or physically punished and it will not be happy in a home that is full of raised voices and tension.

It is a frequent barker and that should be controlled early on with training. You would find that Tibetan Mastiffs bred in the west tend to be less aggressive than those bred in the East. However it is still wary of strangers and needs proper introductions. With the right owners and in the right home it is very loving and forms very strong bonds to those it loves. When it is young it is more boisterous and then as it matures it is more serious and mellow and less likely to want to play fetch or Frisbee. It is a hard worker, always watchful, calm and even tempered. Often they will sleep a lot during the day to be on guard at night. With the right owner they can be a great family dog.

Living with a Tibetan Mastiff

What will training look like?

Training the Tibetan Mastiff is moderately easy for people with experience but if you only have a little experience, or none, it can be a challenge as it is independent and that can mean stubborn. Be prepared for gradual results and if you need to, use a professional trainer so that you get proper results. It is important with a large breed like this that it knows at all times you are the pack leader and it is not. Never bend the rules for it, be consistent, firm and strong. Use positive techniques, praise it when it is successful, reward it, encourage it, use treats. Owners who are able to maintain this balance will form much deeper bonds with their dog. And be prepared for the fact that with this breed in some situations if it thinks it knows better, it may not obey you despite successful training!

Usually house training this dog is a fairly easy process and crate training can help a lot. Early socialization is another aspect of its training that should not be neglected. It needs socialization to help it learn how to identify the good people from the bad, it can help prevent it acting aggressively and being over protective too. Expose it from an early age to different animals, people, sounds, locations and situations. While there are classes it can join as part of its socialization that should not be the only thing you do.

How active is the Tibetan Mastiff?

This is only a slightly active dog, not a lot of activity is needed to keep it healthy and happy, however given its size that still amounts to at least a couple of 20 minutes walks a day. It will still also enjoy the chance to go off leash somewhere safe to explore and play, but take care in dog parks. When it is younger it will be more energetic and need more play time. As an adult it would be happy to chill under a tree for most of the day but it needs to get some physical exercise as well as some mental stimulation. Given its size it is not an apartment dog though it does not need a hugely spacious home given it is sedate indoors once grown. Access to a yard is a good idea but be aware they need a good fence to keep them in and are likely to dig some pretty deep holes! Make sure it does not overheat by taking it out when it is cooler and giving ti enough shade and water.

Caring for the Tibetan Mastiff

Grooming needs

Being a large dog while its coat does not have any special needs there is a lot of it so some commitment to grooming is needed. It takes a moderate amount of maintenance and regular brushing is a must to keep it cleaner and looking good. It sheds a moderate amount and in some climates will also have a seasonal shedding once or twice a year which will mean daily brushing needed and lots of hair around the home for a few weeks. It is not a strong smelling dog as some large breeds can be, it can slobber and drool though so clean up will be needed around its face and the trail it might leave of water or something behind it. It should be bathed just as needed, a dog of this size can be hard for some owners to bathe in their homes. Check out your local groomers, some have bathing stations that adjust to various sized dogs and can make the job a lot easier. You could also just pay them to deal with it!

Its ears should be checked for infection once a week for things like wax build up, sensitivity and irritation. Then if they are good you can give them a clean using a dog ear cleanser and cotton balls or a damp cloth. Wipe the areas you can reach do not insert something into its ears. Going too far down can do damage to them and cause a great deal of pain. Like wise when cutting its nails do not cut into the quick of the nail where there are nerves and blood vessels, that also hurts them and causes a lot of bleeding. Use proper dog nail clippers and learn how to do it safely or have a professional groomer do it for you. Finally make sure you brush its teeth at least two to three times a week. Use a proper dog toothpaste and toothbrush.

Feeding Time

A large dog like this will consume a lot of food! It will eat at least 4 1/2 to 6 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals, but it might need even more. How much exactly can vary from one Tibetan Mastiff to another depending on its size, activity level, metabolism, health and age. Make sure it always has access to water that is freshened often.

How is the Tibetan Mastiff with children and other animals?

When around children it has been raised with and with good socialization it is playful and affectionate with them. However it is best with older children in general as younger ones tend to pull and poke. While it can be patient with children in its own home, it would not accept that from any visiting children so make sure there is good supervision. It is a dominant dog and it will try to boss the children around. It also does not like screaming and yelling and can see that as a sign the child is being aggressive. If you are a very social family and there are always kids coming around to hang with your own kids this is not the best breed to get. Its size means it would certainly easily knock over small children by accident too. Make sure children know how to touch and play with dogs in a kind and safe way. Make sure they also know not to scream around it or do play fighting around it.He’ll enjoy having another dog to play with, preferably one who comes close to his size.

In order for it to get along with other dogs it will need early and constant socialization. It will accept more any dog that is raised with it in the home, but new and strange dogs are completely different and can be an issue. It is especially likely to be aggressive towards strange dogs of the same sex especially if it has not been neutered yet. Owners need to be strong and firm with them, and supervise closely. It can get along with other pets in the family when it has been raised with them but again will be aggressive towards strange animals like cats walking through its yard, and a fleeing small animal will triggers its prey drive.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The Tibetan Mastiff has a life span of about 10 to 14 years and is somewhat healthy but can have problems with in breeding which produces dogs with life spans that are a lot shorter. It is also prone to several issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, skin issues, thyroid problems, ear infections, CIDN, eye problems, allergies, autoimmune problems, dental problems, heart problems and epilepsy. It is also worth noting that female Tibetan Mastiffs only go into heat once a year, like wolves, unlike other canines who mostly go into heat twice a year.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dogs attacking people and causing bodily harm in Canada and the US over the last 35 years, there is no mention of the Tibetan Mastiff being involved in any attack. This is not an aggressive dog towards people in general but it is a guardian and if not well trained and socialized that protectiveness can kick into high gear. If it views someone as a threat it would act. Also it is important to know that dogs can have a bad day, or an off day where they react in a way they wouldn’t normally. There is no 100% completely safe all the time breed. That potential is there in all of them. However of course some breeds can do more damage just because of their build or jaws, and some are more aggressive than others. As mentioned socialization and training are essential, also make sure you have a dog that is suited to your lifestyle, one you can exercise and give enough mental stimulation and attention to. These things won’t remove all aggression potential, but it can help lessen the chances of an incident.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Tibetan Mastiff is a rare breed in North America and comes with a pretty high price tag. You can expect to pay anywhere from $3000 or even a lot more if you are looking for top show breeders. Even in China pure ones are rare, in 2011 a red mastiff made big news for being sold for $1.5 million, the most highest price for any dog at that time. The high price tag attracts unscrupulous breeders looking to make easy money so take care not to buy from puppy mills, backyard breeders or pet stores. While you will not find this breed in a shelter, if a purebred is not absolutely set in stone there could be a great companion for you, waiting there for its new forever home. Adoptions fees run between $50 to $400 and generally include initial medical concerns taken care of.

Those initial medical costs are from the vet check it needs as soon as you bring it home. The vet needs to take some blood tests, do a physical exam, deworm and give it shots, micro chip it and spay or neuter it. These will cost about $290. There are also some initial items you will need for it when it comes home. It will need a collar and leash, bowls, crate and bedding for example. These could cost around $185.

Then there are annual or ongoing costs to be ready for and to be able to cover until it passes away. Basic health care like shots, flea and tick prevention, check ups and medical insurance will cost about $485 a year. Other costs like basic training, license, grooming, toys and miscellaneous items will cost about $665 a year. Feeding it a good quality dry dog food and dog treats is another estimated $270 a year. This gives a yearly estimated cost of $1420 as a starting figure.


The Tibetan Mastiff is a giant sized dog, powerful, strong in will and in body and there fore needs experienced firm owners able to deal with its dominant personality and with its strength. Early socialization and training are essential, it will need supervision at times too. It is a very devoted dog, it will protect you with its life if needed, and it will be loyal. As an adult it tends to be more serious and solemn and it is not likely to want to play the typical games some breeds enjoy like fetch. It is calm indoors too when mature but be prepared for a large and boisterous puppy. It will take up a lot of room in your home, your car and your life! It would not adapt to any kind of lifestyle though so make sure you are really sure you are a good fit if you are interested in this dog

Popular Mastiff Mixes

Pitbull American Bandogge Mix
American Bandogge Mastiff
Pitbull American Bandogge Mix
General Information
Size Large
Weight 70 to 125 pounds
Height 19 to 30 inches
Life span 10-11 years
Touchiness Not sensitive
Barking Low
Activity Moderate to high
Breed Traits

Devoted Guardian
Good Family Pet



Mountain Mastiff
Bernese Mountain, Mastiff Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height 28 to 38 inches
Weight 150 to 200 pounds
Life span 7 to 12 years
Touchiness Quite sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Sensitive and Kind
Docile nature
Eager to please
Great family companion



Mastiff and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Large
Height 15 to 30 inches
Weight 55 to 100 pounds
Life span 8 to 15 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Occasional
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Great family dog


Can be

Labrador Retriever and Mastiff Mix
General Information
Size Large to Giant
Weight 100 to 200 pounds
Height 28 to 36 inches
Life span 8 to 14 years
Touchiness Not overly sensitive usually
Barking Rare
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Good Family Pet



Bull Mastiff, Rottweiler Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height 24 to 27 inches
Weight 80 to 130 pounds
Life span 10 to 12 years
Touchiness Quite sensitive
Barking Occasional to frequent
Activity Quite high
Breed Traits

Confident and Happy
Loyal dog
Needs experienced owner
Good family dog



Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Kuznetsova, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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