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The Tibetan mastiff is a favorite breed of many big-dog fans. They not only reach impressive sizes, they also have one of the thickest, fluffiest coats around, which makes them look even bigger than they actually are.
But before you add any dog to your family, you must learn about the breed to ensure it is a good fit for your family.
Below, we’ll explain the basics of the amazing Tibetan mastiff, including their build and coat, personality and common health problems, among other things.
As their name implies, Tibetan mastiffs hail from Tibet. However, they aren’t especially unique in this regard – all mastiff breeds are thought to descend from ancestors who lived in this part of the world.
But while many of these early mastiffs were transported to England, Italy, Africa and other places, where they developed into different types of mastiffs, the earliest ancestors of Tibetan mastiff were kept in Tibet. Through decades of selective breeding, these dogs eventually began to resemble modern members of the breed.
Tibetan mastiffs were originally tasked with basic guard dog duties. They were expected to protect traveling caravans and livestock, as well as their owner’s home. They were often left to live outside while doing so, and they became quite independent in the process.
Tibetan mastiffs were exported to Europe and the United States a few different times in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but they didn’t really become established outside their ancestral home until the 1970s. Purebred Tibetan mastiffs are currently quite rare in Tibet, and most guard dogs in active use are mixed breeds.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Tibetan mastiff is its immense size. Standing 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 160 pounds, they are clearly giant dogs.
But while they are large, their fluffy coats make them appear even larger than they are. A large male individual with a full coat is an intimidating sight, to be sure.
They actually brandish a double-coat, comprised of a thick, wooly undercoat that traps air close to the skin and insulates their bodies, and a long, coarse outercoat, which helps protect them from the elements.
The hair of the head, neck and upper shoulders often becomes quite long and thick, which makes it resemble a lion’s mane. This mane helps to make the dogs appear larger, and it provides some protection against the teeth of predators, with whom they may be forced to tangle.
Mastiffs exude confidence, power and athleticism – these are not slow, lumbering giants. They are active canines, who have fairly high energy levels for their size and the strength to control their bulky bodies.
The shoulders and hips are well-muscled and massive, and their long, fluffy tails are carried in a lazy curl over the back.
Most commonly, Tibetan mastiffs are black with brown chests, legs and masks, but they also occur in all cinnamon and blue color forms, either with or without chest, leg and face markings.
In total, the AKC recognizes Tibetan mastiffs in 8 different color combinations.
Tibetan mastiffs have unique personalities, which differ markedly from those of many other breeds.
It is important to remember that the ancestors of modern Tibetan mastiffs had to live alone, outside and in horrible weather conditions, while guarding their territory, their owner’s belongings and their flocks from wolves, bears and other dangerous predators.
These demands and the selective breeding efforts of their owners significantly shaped the breed’s personality, which is best characterized as intelligent, brave and independent.
They solve problems well, never flinch in the face of danger and get along fine without the love and affection so many other breeds require.
None of this is to suggest that Tibetan mastiffs aren’t loving and loyal canines. They do bond with their families, and they’ll come say hello and appreciate a bit of behind-the-ear scratching.
But they don’t obsess about their owners the way Dobermans, Rottweilers, German shepherds and Labrador retrievers often do.
Tibetan mastiffs are often aloof, reserved and a bit suspicious around strangers, and they occasionally decide that they do not like a given individual. In fact, while they are gentle, goofy and playful with the family’s children, they can become uncomfortable with the antics, noise and energy levels of visiting or unfamiliar kids.
Tibetan mastiffs can be conditioned to get along with other family dogs but use caution when introducing them to cats or unfamiliar dogs. Tibetan mastiffs can be quite vocal, and they're quick to bark at perceived threats or trespassers – particularly at night.
Tibetan mastiffs are a low-maintenance breed. They don’t require constant attention or affection, and they typically appreciate a fair amount of freedom. They are completely inappropriate for small homes or apartments, and they truly require a large, fenced yard.
You’ll want to bring your Tibetan mastiff indoors at night to keep him comfortable and prevent him from driving your neighbors crazy with barking that lasts until the wee hours. But during the day, he’ll be most happy hanging out in a large yard, where he can run around and guard his domain.
Just be sure to provide him with a good house or shelter so that he can get out of the elements during inclement weather. In a perfect world, you’d install an (extra-large) doggie door, so that he can come and go as he pleases.
In either case, it is important to provide him with somewhere that he can escape high temperatures – these long-haired canines can quickly become overheated during the hot days of summer.
You’ll need to feed your Tibetan mastiff with a high-quality food, appropriate for a giant breed.
However, because these dogs can become obese easily, you should avoid super-high-calorie foods. Instead, look for a food that provides plenty of protein, and features at least one whole protein at the beginning of the ingredient list.
It’s also a good idea to look for a food with glucosamine, chondroitin or both, as these supplements may help to prevent some of the joint problems that can afflict this breed.
We’ve written about great dog foods for large and giant breeds before, so be sure to check out our comprehensive review of the topic before adding a Tibetan mastiff (or any other big dog, for that matter) to your family.
Your canine will also need a big comfy bed at night, but it is important to select one that provides sufficient padding and space for such a large dog.
However, top-notch beds aren’t cheap, and the Big Barker has a price tag befitting its quality. But you can check out our comprehensive dog bed review to learn about a few more affordably priced options.
Don’t forget you’ll need to provide your Tibetan mastiff with a few good toys to keep him entertained and give him something he can chew. But you can’t give a dog of this size just any old toy; you must give them one that is large and resilient enough to withstand his cavernous mouth and powerful jaws.
You can check out our review of the Five Most Indestructible Dog Toys to find some of the best options.
It is also important to groom your Tibetan mastiff regularly, to keep their coats clean, soft and prevent matts and odors from developing. A bath once every month or two is probably sufficient for these dogs, but you’ll want to brush their hair once a week to eliminate tangles.
Tibetan mastiffs are generally healthy dogs, who don’t suffer from a large number of health problems. However, they are susceptible to a few conditions that afflict many large dog breeds. A few of the most common include:
Feeding your dog sensible quantities of a nutritious food will help prevent obesity and the secondary health problems associated with the condition. But keeping your dog fit and trim will also help reduce the stress and strain on his joints.
You can reduce your dog’s risk of suffering bloat by feeding him multiple small meals throughout the course of the day, discouraging activity for about 30 minutes after eating and by not providing fatty foods or treats. However, you can also help protect him by slowing down the feeding process.
One of the best ways to do so is with a complex food dish, which forces your dog to slow down and “work” for his food. The Pedy Pet Fun Feeder Bowl is a great example that will work for most dogs.
Of course, you’ll always want to develop a relationship with a good vet and take your canine in for frequent checkups. Your vet is likely to spot many health concerns long before you will, which can make problems easier to treat, and, in some cases, save your pet’s life.
Be sure to begin visiting the vet shortly after acquiring your puppy. Not only will your new dog need several rounds of immunizations, it is important to condition him to the vet’s office, the personnel and the common procedures at a young age.
This way, he won’t be unnecessarily difficult to take in for visits when he’s reached his full size.
Simply put, Tibetan mastiffs are somewhat difficult to train. It isn’t because they aren’t bright dogs; they’re actually quite intelligent.
However, unlike labs, poodles and Belgian Malinois, Tibetan mastiffs are not motivated to please their owners in the same way. These dogs are rarely trained to perform agility trials, participate in the show circuit or work in protection contexts.
However, for safety’s sake, it is still necessary to teach your Tibetan mastiff basic obedience. To do so, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the most important basic commands and start the training regimen at a young age.
With patience, consistency and a firm, but loving spirit, you’ll likely be able to teach your dog the basics.
But no matter how well you train your new dog, you'll still need to use a high-quality collar and leash for him.
As you can see, Tibetan mastiffs are unique dogs with big bodies and even bigger personalities.
They possess a number of very endearing traits, and many people find them to be wonderful companions. However, they are not a great fit for all owners – particularly those who don’t have a great deal of experience with dogs or lack the space and resources to provide these giant dogs with everything they need.
But, those who have the time, energy, space and patience for this breed may find that they offer everything one could want in a dog.
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