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Tibetan Mastiff: Temperament, History & Care – Guide to the Nomadic Guardians of Tibet

The Tibetan Mastiff is a (very) large Tibetan breed of dog whose name in Tibetan is “Drog-Khyi.” The name means “nomadic dog” and was given because of their origins with the nomadic tribes of Tibet, China and Mongolia.

The Tibetan Mastiff’s primary use was to protect the tribe’s sheep from dangerous wild animals, such as wolves.  They were known to be top-tier guard dogs for their tribes.

Despite being called a Mastiff; this dog breed isn’t a true Mastiff. It was given this name by Europeans when they arrived from the west, simply because most dogs of its size were referred to in this way.

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Tibetan Mastiff Basic Profile

Friendliness: For how big they are, they are considered to be relatively friendly. Despite all the videos of vicious mastiffs that have popped up on YouTube, with early socialization, they can be gentle. Still, they will retain their natural instincts to protect and guard no matter how much socialization they receive as puppies.


Trainability: A Tibetan Mastiff is fairly intelligent, making them somewhat easy to train. However, because of their massive size, they are still not recommended for novice owners. Obedience training for this dog will be tough and trying to restrain them on a leash can be a terrifying experience.


Grooming: These dogs have a long double coat and maintaining their fur is the most important task in regards to grooming. Without a regular brushing schedule, they can easily get tangles in their coat, leading to pain and other problems. All the basics like brushing their teeth, nail clipping and occasional baths are still needed, however.


Adaptability: These dogs were meant for living environments in high altitude. However, through years of domestication, they have adapted well to low altitude conditions. Because of their size, they don’t do well in small enclosed spaces. This means having a Tibetan Mastiff in your apartment is a bad idea.


Activity: The Tibetan Mastiff requires daily exercise in the form of walks, catch or other physical activities. They won’t be satisfied with a short stroll through the neighborhood. Rather, they need real exercise to stay healthy mentally and physically. They are a force, and unless you want them to destroy your home, give them adequate exercise and space.

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<strong>Tibetan Mastiff - </strong><strong>Vital Stats</strong>
  • Height: 24 – 33 inches
  • Weight: 100 – 170 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 10 – 15 years
  • Dog Breed Group: n/a

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Origins of the Tibetan Mastiff

The Tibetan Mastiff originated from the nomadic tribes of Tibet, China and Mongolia.

A 2008 study concluded that the Tibetan Mastiff had lineage that went back as far as 58,000 years ago! Even today, they are still classed as a primitive dog breed. Little is known about the Tibetan Mastiff before the 19th Century, however. Because westerners were unable to visit Tibet, this breed of dog wasn’t seen across the world until fairly recently.

Tibetan Mastiff in the West

The first Tibetan Mastiff to be brought over to England was given as a gift to Queen Victoria. This breed first became popular in England in the 1900s, with King George V being particularly interested in them. During the war years, however, the Tibetan Mastiff almost died out and it wasn’t until the 80s that the breed’s popularity began to soar once again.

In the US, two Tibetan Mastiffs were brought over in the 1950s and given to President Eisenhower by the Dalai Lama, but nothing much was heard of them after their arrival. Eventually, more were imported in the 1970s when the breed took off.

The Tibetan Mastiff was almost extinct during China’s communist rule of Tibet. These dogs were treated terribly and were beaten to death. Some illegal breeding took place and fortunately the breed returned strongly, unlike many other native dog breeds of Tibet.

The Tibetan Mastiff’s Appearance

The most expensive dog sold was a Tibetan Mastiff.

Generally, Tibetan Mastiffs are known to be large and heavy-boned dogs with broad heads and square muzzles. Their necks are thick and their brown eyes are of medium size. A Tibetan Mastiff’s ears are triangular or heart-shaped and they drop down. Their tails are long and feathered and they curl over the dog’s back.

Two Types of Mastiffs

There is some differentiation between Tibetan Mastiffs and some breeders like to separate them into two different types. One variation, the Do-Khyi is the ‘nomad’ variant, who is smaller, lighter and smaller-boned with fewer wrinkles on the face. The Tsang-khyi is the other variant. It is often that both variants are born within the same litter.

Physical Characteristics

Size-wise, a Tibetan Mastiff can reach around 33 inches tall and weigh up to 200 pounds. They are slightly longer than they are tall, making them massive dogs indeed.

In terms of looks, they are still considered to be primitive as they retain many of the characteristics needed to withstand high altitudes. They also possess strong instincts such as a canine pack mentality. They are also one of very few dog breeds that only mate once per year as opposed to their lower-altitude living counterparts that breed twice a year.

The coat of the Tibetan Mastiff is long and can range in colors from black to bluish grey. The colors are not always solid, as there can be a mixture. The coat is a double coat with the undercoat being soft and woolly.

Unlike many other dogs of this size, the Tibetan Mastiff’s coat doesn’t smell like ‘dog.’ It is a clean coat that gets rid of dirt and smells. Shedding of the coat does occur but there is only one real shedding period per year.

The most sought-after Tibetan Mastiffs are agile but not considered to be light on their feet. They tend to have a strong scissor bite and straight legs.

Tibetan Mastiff Temperament

The Tibetan Mastiff isn’t an easy dog to care for, as they are very independent and determined. They expect to be respected. They are not, however, totally opposed to people-pleasing, but they do have their own agenda. With their own family, they can be loyal but at the same time, wary of strangers. Hence, the ideal guard dog.

Socialization with People and Dogs

If you want to reduce the issues these dogs have with strangers, it is best to begin socializing them early on in puppyhood. If they are not given opportunities to socialize with strangers or other dogs, they may become downright aggressive and protective of their space and property.

Socializing can appear in many forms: visitors in the home, walks in the park, pet stores where other dogs will be and so on.

If your dog is well socialized there is no reason why it cannot live in a spacious, fenced outdoor space with another dog. With that said, they are not really suited to living in an apartment. Cramming a dog of this size with other dogs and people in a small space is usually asking for trouble.

Guard Dog Instincts

If left out overnight, these dogs will focus on keeping predators away. Naturally, they’ll become more active and alert at night time, often barking if they sense other people or animals are too close.

Due to their origins of being guard dogs, they use guard-dog territorial markings, such as scent-marking and barking.

Even though these dogs retain a lot of their guard-dog characteristics, there is no reason why they cannot be an excellent family pet. As long as owners understand their need to be assertive and consistent, these dogs can be excellent companions.

Their primitive instinct to protect is astounding. Many owners suggest that they would have made excellent police or military dogs for this very reason.

Behavior and Training

Tibetan Mastiffs are quick learners and can begin learning as soon as they arrive in your home. The best form of training for this breed involves patience, firmness and consistency. They don’t respond well to obedience training. Instead, they are motivated by praise and rewards.

Training is something that should be done frequently in short bursts. Socialization also needs to occur alongside training so that they don’t suffer from boredom or loneliness.

Without proper socialization can turn them into very noisy characters indeed! In other words, a Tibetan Mastiff can become overly assertive and protective.

House and Leash Training

The Tibetan Mastiff can be house-trained with relative ease, particularly with a crate. They may also appreciate a crate as their own safe space, but will not react well to a crate that is used as a punishment.

Since these dogs will probably grow up to weigh more than their owners, it is important to begin training them with a leash from puppyhood. The last thing you want is a 170-pound dog pulling you around the park! They’re not really suited off-leash training so getting them used to having a leash is really important.

Reaching Full Maturity

It is essential to bear in mind that a Tibetan Mastiff won’t be fully mature until much later compared to many other dog breeds. It is said that females reach full maturity somewhere between three and four years old, while males take up to two more years.

They are considered to be slow in maturing, so it is important that you are in it for the long haul when choosing this breed of dog.

When properly trained, a Tibetan Mastiff is a great dog to have in the family home. He will guard and protect you but also love you unconditionally.

Tibetan Mastiff Care


As far as brushing is concerned, you should groom a Tibetan Mastiff a couple of times a week in order to keep its coat in good condition. Without proper brushing, it’ll be difficult to rid it of loose or dead fur.

It is important to brush your Tibetan Mastiff regularly as with its double coat is more susceptible to tangles and matting. Matting can cause other problems for your dog, such as skin infections. It can also mean that your dog is unable to keep adequately warm.

Flea treatment should not be forgotten too. With dogs of this type, fleas are harder to treat as they can easily hide in your dog’s thick coat.

Baths can be as infrequent as every six weeks, as their coats are generally clean and odor-free. You should always give your dog a good brush before bathing in order to get a deep clean of the coat.

Your Tibetan Mastiff’s ears should be inspected once per week to look for problems like wax or irritation. They can be cleaned as necessary with cotton wool and a special cleanser that can be obtained from your local vet.

For the best oral hygiene, teeth should be brushed weekly and, if your dog’s nails don’t wear down naturally on their walks, they should be cut every four weeks or so. If a dog’s nails become too long, they can cause painful feet.

You also need to check the dew-claws. These are the nails that never touch the ground so it is important that you maintain them at a reasonable length.

Food and Diet

It is recommended that Tibetan Mastiffs have two meals a day, totalling around 5 cups of food depending on individual needs. Just as people require different amounts of food to be healthy, so do Tibetan Mastiffs. If you have a particularly active dog, it will probably require more food than an inactive dog.

You should feed your dog the best quality dog food that you can afford. Remember, less can mean more nutritionally for your dog.

It is important not to overfeed your dog and allow it to become overweight. A good way to check is to see if their waist is visible. You can also feel their body, as you pet them, to check.

If their ribs are palpable but not visible, they are likely to be a healthy weight. If in doubt, it’s best to check with your local vet.

In terms of types of dog food, a high-quality dry food is highly recommended as it contains everything your dog needs nutritionally. Tibetan Mastiffs also like fruits, vegetables and eggs.

Keep in mind, they should be getting 90% of their intake from dog food. As with any dog, it is important not to give them too much human food or treats so that they will be in the best health possible.

Tibetan Mastiff Health

Usually, Tibetan Mastiffs live between 10 to 15 years. Despite being a pedigree, these dogs do, in general, have fewer medical problems than other dog breeds. Some common medical problems of Tibetan Mastiffs include: entropion and ectropion, skin problems, mouth problems and problems with the heart and joints.

Eye Conditions

Entropion and ectropion are problems with a dog’s eyelids. If the dog is suffering from entropion, it means that the eyelids fold inwards causing irritation to the eyeball. T

his can lead to infections and even ulcers. Ectropion occurs when the lower eyelid is turned outwards and can be very uncomfortable. The Tibetan Mastiff’s eyes can also suffer from progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which can lead to blindness and cataracts.


Hypothyroidism is also relatively common with this dog breed and involves their thyroid gland failing to produce hormones. Your dog should be regularly tested for this condition in order to stay in the best possible health.

It usually affects dogs in middle age (and beyond) and requires medical care for life once diagnosed. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include rapid weight gain, poor skin and lethargy.

Bone and Joint Conditions

In regards to joints and bone, Tibetan Mastiffs often inherit CHD (Canine Hip Dysplasia), which basically means the femur doesn’t fit properly into the hip. Dogs can be screened with an x-ray to see if they have this condition and, if they do, they should never be used for breeding.

Although this is a hereditary condition, poor diet, excessive play and injuries can make it worse. In addition to Hip Dysplasia, you also need to be aware of Elbow Dysplasia. This can be treated through surgery or pain medication.

Reputable Breeder for Good Health

It is a good idea to choose a breeder who is willing to show you and talk to you about the puppy’s parents. The parents should be at least two years of age so that you can see for yourself if the dogs have any health conditions.

Many breeders also show certifications and clearances to prove the health of the parents. Typical litter sizes range from four to eight puppies.

Healthy Exercise

In order to maintain your Mastiff’s health, they will need regular exercise. Not only does this help them physically but it gives them the necessary stimulation to stay healthy mentally as well. Failure to do so can cause a lot of problems in the future.

A Tibetan Mastiff needs daily exercise in order to be in the best possible shape. They need entertaining walks that allow them to run, chase, dig and burn off their excess energy. They are really not the type of dog that would be happy with a ten-minute strolls around the block on a pavement surface.

Cost of a Tibetan Mastiff

In the USA, a Tibetan Mastiff can cost as low as $500 to $1000 USD. With a reputable breeder, they can range anywhere between $1,800 and $2,500 on average. They are not cheap dogs and are considered to be one of the most expensive dog breeds in the world.

As with any dog, Tibetan Mastiffs will cost a lot of money over their lifespan so it’s important you make calculations in advance. A rough estimate is that a Tibetan Mastiff costs its owner around $30,000 over the course of its life.

Think about food, toys, supplies, microchipping, flea and worm treatments, grooming products, insurance and dog vaccinations. Remember that these dogs are prone to inherit certain medical conditions and so may end up costing a lot in veterinary bills.

In Popular Culture

Tibetan Mastiffs have appeared in films including “Man’s Best Friend,” a horror film from 1993. Two animated films have also featured Tibetan Mastiffs. These were called The Tibetan Dog, released in 2011 and Rock Dog, which starred two Tibetan Mastiffs as characters.

Other Famous Tibetan Mastiffs

In 2014, a high-flying Chinese businessman bought a Tibetan Mastiff for $1.95 million dollars USD. The dog was said to have lion’s blood, but that has not been proven. This particular dog was 31 inches tall and weighed an impressive 200 pounds

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Wednesday 6th of September 2023

I have a TM, the most delightful dog I've ever had the privilege to parent. The advice offered about being an experienced Mastiff owner is accurate; don't even try iff you cannot commit to proper training, diet & ongoing, loving attention. Also, while still a puppy, he earned his seeing eye silks; best not to underestimate their intelligemce.