The Tibetan Mastiff was developed for the purpose of guarding homes, villages, monasteries, nomadic camps, and livestock herds from thieves, wolves, leopards, and other predators. There are two variations of the breed―the larger, mastiff-like 'Tsang-Khyi', and the comparatively smaller, shepherd-like 'Do-Khyi'.
The ancestors of the breed were probably in existence since the Bronze Age, and traces of bones from 1000 B.C. have been unearthed in China. These dogs are known to have been prized by the ancient Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Huns, and Mongols, accompanying them on war expeditions. The European Mastiff breeds probably developed from these animals. The pure Tibetan Mastiff, however, remained confined to the Tibetan Himalayan valleys and plains, and was not seen in the West until 1847, when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, presented one to Queen Victoria. Later, in 1874, the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII) evinced an interest in the breed, and the dogs began to develop a following in Europe. The Tibetan Breeds Association was established in England in 1931 by the efforts of Mrs. Bailey, the wife of a former Political Officer who had been stationed in Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet. Despite some fluctuations in its popularity, the breed has now been recognized by Kennel Clubs in India, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, U.S., and most other parts of the world.
Since it is a primitive breed, it has certain unique characteristics, like a single estrus per year, usually in fall, for the bitches. They are clean, easily house-trained dogs, lacking the usual canine smell, and are known to be hypoallergenic. They have a long, thick double coat, with a fine, somewhat woolly texture that is denser in the males than in the females. The coat is shed once or twice a year, and the shedding generally lasts about four weeks. The thick coat gives the neck and shoulders a mane-like appearance, while the bushy tail is curled over the back to one side, and the upper parts of the hind legs are well feathered. The color varies―black, brown, gray, ochre, blue, yellow, black, and tan, and with some white markings.
The minimum height at the withers for the male dogs is 26 inches, and for bitches it is 24 inches. The general appearance is powerful and muscular. The head is broad, somewhat wrinkled in mature animals, with strong jaws, wide-set, slanting and very expressive eyes, and forward dropping pendant ears. The dog moves with a powerful, deliberate gait. Health wise, being bred for surviving the severe climate and treacherous terrain of Tibet, this dog normally has few problems. The few that occasionally occur are entropion (an inward turning of the lower eyelid), hypothyroidism (a glandular deficiency), and otitis (an infection of the ear canal). Previously a hereditary peripheral nerve disorder called CIDN (Canine Inherited Demyelinative Neuropathy), which destroyed the nerve covering (myelin) and caused a paralysis of the limbs, was seen in puppies descending from one blood-line. However, controlled and selective breeding has all but eliminated this problem, and no affected CIDN puppies have been reported anywhere in the world in recent years.
The Tibetan Mastiff is not a breed for everyone. Aside from the fact that it is a large dog that requires a lot of space and exercise, it is personality-wise a very strong-willed, independent animal, capable of making its own judgments, and unless properly socialized and trained, it can become hard to handle. The best way to socialize a new puppy is to take it along everywhere as much as possible, and let it become accustomed to new experiences, places, people, and other animals. Although a quick learner, it can sometimes be very stubborn, and cannot be trusted to walk off the leash and return when called. Its highly territorial and protective instincts, which will not allow visitors to walk about the house at will, can also put a spanner in any active social life. And, while it is generally good with children, it requires to be watched, as it is apt to take normal boisterous behavior for aggression, and will react accordingly to protect 'its' children from their friends. Unless properly introduced, it is also likely to be dominating around other dogs, especially of the same-sex.
It also takes a long time to mature―3 or 4 years for females, and 4 or 5 years for males―and can be incredibly destructive in its growing period. Its powerful jaws can chew through doors, furniture, fences, concrete, and much else. This trait can become particularly pronounced if the dog is left for most part to itself and doesn't have anything to engage its attention. Persistent digging and night-time barking are other habits, that, unless checked, could cause problems, especially with the neighbors. While only supervision can deter the digging, the barking issue can be resolved by letting the dog sleep indoors. Also, unless the dog is regularly groomed during the yearly coat-shedding, the sheer amount of discarded hair can become a source of real tribulation. Despite its independence, the Tibetan Mastiff is a very sensitive breed, easily upset by an upbraiding, and some of the dogs can be finicky about their meals. The dogs, unless fenced in, can develop a bent for wandering around the neighborhood. With the dog's penchant for digging under or climbing over fences, it can prove difficult to be confined.
However, once all these aspects have been taken into consideration, and time taken to involve the dog in family activities, no other animal can be a more patient, loyal, and gentle companion.