Origins of the Tibetan Mastiff
The Tibetan Mastiff is an ancient breed of dog which has remained
largely unchanged over the centuries due to the remoteness of its
homeland on the Tibetan Plateau, also known as The Roof of the
World. They are known locally as Do-Kyi which means "tied dog", a reflection of the fact that they are often tethered at
the entrance to their owners' tents or houses. The irony of the name
is not lost on visitors, Marco Polo having once described them as
being "as tall as a donkey with a voice as powerful as
a lion". They are natural guardians with a deep bark and fierce
demeanour, although in reality they are affectionate and
good-tempered with people that they know.
Although our knowledge is sketchy, it is hypothesised that many other breeds descended from the
Tibetan Mastiff, including the Leonberger, the
Newfoundland, the Kuvasz, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and oddly enough
the Pug! Actual evidence is sparse, but the theory is that as
the nomads of Central Asia migrated westwards they took their dogs
with them, which then over the centuries adapted to their new
environment and roles to become the breeds we see today. Of
course there are other theories, but it is reasonable to suggest
that this one is at least partially credible.
During the early part of the 19th century there was a growing
interest in the natural fauna of distant lands, particularly those
bordering the Himalayas. At this time the first dogs from
Tibet were seen in England, sent as gifts to royalty as curiosities
and inevitably consigned to zoos where they were put on public
Purportedly, King George IV possessed at least one dog from Tibet
in the 1820's, and William IV received a pair as a gift in 1834. The
twists of time are such that these may in fact be referring to the
same animals, but with no documents to confirm it we can but guess.
More certain is that in 1847 the Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge,
sent a "large dog from Tibet" named Bhout to Queen Victoria,
although there is no record of any breedings and its fate is unknown.
Interest in dogs was growing in England during the middle of the
19th century, and in 1859 the first ever dog show was held in
Newcastle-on-Tyne. Within a few years it was perceived that an
overseeing body was required to record, regulate and legislate, and
in 1873 the Kennel Club was born in London.
At this time the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward
VII) had a keen interest in dogs and brought two Tibetan Mastiffs
into England, the most well-known of which was named Siring
who was exhibited at the
Alexandra Palace show in December of 1875.
There are various reports of further dogs being imported during
the following years, including Dsamu who was exhibited in
The start of the 20th century saw an expedition into Tibet led by
Francis Younghusband, and subsequently several dogs were exported to
England during 1904-1906 including two named Bhotean and
Lhasa. Also, King George V imported a male which,
following its demise, was stuffed and presented to the Zoological
Society. In 1912 it was put on display at the Natural History Museum
in London, and can today be seen in the
Rothschild Zoological Museum (part of the Natural History Museum) in
In 1928 5 dogs were brought back from Tibet by Colonel Eric
Bailey and his wife, including Tomtru (meaning "young bear"),
Gyan-dru, Gya-pon, and red Rakpa who later won
first prize for Foreign Dogs at the Kensington Show and was also a
winner at Cruft's and the Kennel Club shows. The Hon. Mrs.
Eric Bailey later founded the Tibetan breeds Association in 1931
which set the breed standard for the Kennel Club.
The first known litters to be born in the UK came from Rakpa
out of Gya-pon, one of
these puppies being a bitch named Tonya who was subsequently
mated to another import called Gyam-druk. Their son,
named Bru, had a successful show career prior to WW2 and was
bred back to his mother Tonya, however the war and changing
political landscape resulted in the eventual loss of these lines,
and there were no further imports for many years.
In the 1980's the Tibetan Mastiff walked our shores once again
when Ausables Apache Ann and Ausables Black Magic were
imported from the USA having been already mated by Angmo
Rajkumari von Chattang, also known as "The Dutchman". Their
offspring, along with 3 dogs from France and one from Nepal, formed
the foundation of Tibetan Mastiffs in the UK.
Most recently the introduction of the Pets Passport Scheme, which
alleviates the requirement for dogs to spend 6 months in quarantine,
has opened the doors to new blood-lines, and encouraged a wider
association with clubs and dog showing abroad.
Today's Tibetan Mastiff
Today's Tibetan Mastiff makes
a good pet, although some have a disposition to barking which is often worse at
night-time. They are good with children (although as with any dog it
advisable to leave them unattended near toddlers), and are also
generally good with other
animals. They are quick learners when they want to be, but get bored
quickly which makes teaching them tedious. Their fondness of
wood can lead to some destructive tendencies in the house, so plenty
of chew-toys are a wise precaution!
You'll need a secure garden to contain your Tibetan Mastiff, but
don't expect to play "go-fetch" games with your dog since they are
not disposed to hunting activities, preferring to choose their spot
from which to survey and watch-over their territory. As a
large breed they should not be allowed to over-exercise during their
1st year for fear of damaging their joints, and for the same reason
it is wise to fit a stair-gate to prevent them climbing the stairs.
In the UK they tend to weigh between 140 to 180 pounds (64 to 82
kg), and in height they vary between 25 and 28 inches (63 to 71 cm).
Currently they can be shown under the Kennel Club rules as a Rare
Breed in the Working Dogs section, although it is hoped that they
will eventually achieve Championship status. There are not many
breeders in the UK so there may be a long waiting list for puppies,
possibly even up to 2 years.
The Tibetan Mastiff is a large, coated breed with a woolly
undercoat which tends to moult all in one go once a year. They say
that you can fill three dustbins with their fur! When they moult it tends to
be to the
skin which means they will very rarely if ever get too smelly, however they still need regular grooming to keep their coat in top condition.
In the UK the accepted colours are black, black and tan,
grey, grey and tan, and gold.
They are a long-lived breed for their size, it not being uncommon
for them to live to 15 or so.
The females are fully matured by the age of 3, but the males
take a little longer, maybe as long as 5 years. The males have a
more profuse coat than the females, and from my experience they are
also more stubborn. Generally they are an aloof breed, and are
natural guardians who tend to be
cautious of strangers to varying degrees. Females come into season
just once a year between October and
Dogs from the Roof of the World
- The Hon. Mrs. Eric Bailey
Do-Khyi Tsang-Khyi - Molossarworld
A History of the Tibetan Mastiff in the United
Kingdom - Chortens Tibetan Mastiffs
The American Kennel
The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum