Names and etymology

The Tibetan Mastiff also known as do-khyi (variously translated as “home guard”, “door guard”, “dog which may be tied”, “dog which may be kept”), reflects its use as a guardian of herds, flocks, tents, villages, monasteries, and palaces, much as the old English ban-dog (also meaning tied dog) was a dog tied outside the home as a guardian. However, in nomad camps and in villages, the do-khyi is traditionally allowed to run loose at night.[citation needed]

The molosser type with which the modern Tibetan Mastiff breed is purportedly linked was known across the ancient world by many names. Bhote Kukur in Nepali as bhote means someone from Tibet and kukur means dog. In Mandarin Chinese, the name is Zang’Ao, which literally means Tibetan Mastiff or Tibetan “big ferocious dog”. In Mongolia, it is called bankhar.

The name Tibetan mastiff is a misnomer; it is not a true mastiff. The term “mastiff” was used primarily because it meant “large dog”. Early Western visitors to Tibet misnamed several of its breeds: The “Tibetan Terrier” is not a terrier and the “Tibetan Spaniel” is not a spaniel. A better name for the dog would be Tibetan mountain dog or, to encompass the landrace breed throughout its range, Himalayan mountain dog.

There is also controversy whether the Tibetan Mastiff is a molosser.

Currently, some breeders differentiate between two “types” of Tibetan Mastiff, the Do-khyi and the Tsang-khyi. The Tsang-khyi (which, to a Tibetan, means only “dog from Tsang”) is also referred to as the “monastery” type, described as generally taller, heavier, and more heavily boned, with more facial wrinkling and haw than the Do-khyi or “nomad” type. Both types are often produced in the same litter with the larger, heavier pups being more rare.

Males can reach heights up to 31 inches (80 cm) at the withers, although the standard for the breed is typically in the 25- to 28-inch (61- to 72-cm) range. Dogs bred in the West weigh between 140 lb (64 kg) and 180 lb (82 kg)— especially if they are in good condition and not overweight. The enormous dogs being produced in some Western and some Chinese kennels would have “cost” too much to keep fed to have been useful to nomads; and their questionable structure would have made them less useful as livestock guardians.

The Tibetan Mastiff is considered a primitive breed. It typically retains the instincts which would be required for it to survive in Tibet, including canine pack behavior. In addition, it is one of the few primitive dog breeds that retains a single estrus per year instead of two, even at much lower altitudes and in much more temperate climates than its native climate. This characteristic is also found in wild canids such as the wolf. Since its oestrus usually takes place during late fall, most Tibetan Mastiff puppies are born between December and January.

Its double coat is long, subject to climate, and found in a wide variety of colors, including solid black, black and tan, various shades of red (from white to deep red), bluish-gray (dilute black). There is only one breeder in the world outside of China who is selecting for solid white Tibetan Mastiffs; this is the rarest color of all.

The coat of a Tibetan Mastiff lacks the unpleasant “big-dog” smell that affects many large breeds. The coat, whatever its length or color(s), should shed dirt and odors. Although the dogs shed somewhat throughout the year, there is generally one great “molt” in late winter or early spring and sometimes another, lesser molt in the late summer or early fall. (Sterilization of the dog or bitch may dramatically affect the coat as to texture, density, and shedding pattern.)

Tibetan Mastiffs are shown under one standard in the West, but separated by the Indian breed standard into two varieties:Lion Head (smaller; exceptionally long hair from forehead to withers, creating a ruff or mane) and Tiger Head (larger; shorter hair).


The native type of dog, which still exists in Tibet and other areas of the Himalayas (in Bhutan, Nepal, and North India), and the Westernized purebred breed can vary in temperament, but so can dogs of identical breeding, within the same litter, raised in the same household. Elizabeth Schuler states, “The few individuals that remain in Tibet are ferocious and aggressive, unpredictable in their behavior, and very difficult to train. But the dogs bred by the English are obedient and attached to their masters.”

Some Western and Asian breeders are seeking to create a replica of the legendary dog which they identify as the “true Tibetan Mastiff” or Tsang-khyi. Some breeders appear to select primarily for appearance (great size, profuse coat, heavy wrinkling, jowls, haw) while others also select for “soft” temperament (in the West) and fierce temperament (in Asia where the dogs’ “ferocity” is much vaunted and encouraged). Some Chinese breeders readily admit to having crossbred Tibetan dogs with Neapolitan Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, Chow Chows and other breeds in creating what is now called the “market dog”.

As a flock guardian dog in Tibet and in the West, it is tenacious in its ability to confront predators the size of wolves and leopards. As a socialized, more domestic dog, it can thrive in a spacious, fenced yard with a canine companion, but it is generally not an appropriate dog for apartment living. The Western-bred dogs are generally more easy-going, although somewhat aloof with strangers coming to the home. Through hundreds of years of selective breeding for a protective flock and family guardian, the breed has been prized for being a nocturnal sentry, keeping would-be predators and intruders at bay, barking at sounds throughout the night. Leaving a Tibetan Mastiff outside all night with neighbors nearby is not recommended. They often sleep during the day to be more active, alert and aware at night.

Like all flock guardian breeds, they are intelligent and stubborn to a fault, so obedience training is recommended (although only mildly successful with some individuals) since this is a strong-willed, powerful breed. Unless they are to be used exclusively as livestock guardians, socialization is also critical with this breed because of their reserved nature with strangers and guardian instincts. They are excellent family dogs — for the right family. Owners must understand canine psychology and be willing and able to assume the primary leadership position. Lack of consistent, rational discipline can result in the creation of dangerous, unpredictable dogs (although this is true of virtually every dog breed).


Unlike most large breeds, its life expectancy is long, some 10–14 years – at least in some lines. Other, more closely inbred lines, produce short-lived, unhealthy dogs. The breed has fewer genetic health problems than many breeds, but cases can be found of hypothyroidism, entropion, ectropion, skin problems including allergies, autoimmune problems including demodex, missing teeth, malocclusion (overbite or underbite), cardiac problems, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataract, and small ear canals with a tendency for infection. As with most large breeds, some will suffer with elbow or hip dysplasia.

Canine inherited demyelinative neuropathy (CIDN), an inherited condition, appeared in one of the prominent lines of Tibetan Mastiffs in the early 1980′s. Unfortunately, known carriers were bred extensively and are behind many lines still being actively bred.

Hypothyroidism is fairly common in Tibetan Mastiffs, as it is in many large “northern” breeds. They should be tested periodically throughout their lives using a complete thyroid “panel”. (Simple T2/T4 testing is virtually useless.) However, because the standard thyroid levels were established using domestic dog breeds, test results must be considered in the context of what is “normal” for the breed, not what is normal across all breeds. Many dogs of this breed will have “low” thyroid values but no clinical symptoms. Vets and owners differ on the relative merits of medicating dogs which test “low”, but are completely asymptomatic. Some researchers think that asymptomatic hypothyroidism may have been adaptive in the regions of origin for many breeds, since less nutrition is required for the dog to stay in good condition. Therefore, attempts to eliminate “low thyroid” dogs from the Tibetan Mastiff gene pool may have unintended consequences for the breed.


This is an ancient breed. It has been theorized that an early Tibetan dog is the ancestor to all Molossus breeds, although this is disputed by most experts. A highly questionable study at Nanjing Agricultural University’s Laboratory of Animal Reproductive Genetics and Molecular Evolution in Nanjing, China, found that while most common dog breeds genetically diverged from the wolf approximately 42,000 years ago, the Tibetan Mastiff genetically diverged from the wolf approximately 58,000 years ago.[4]

Many Tibetan Mastiff breeders and owners (and their web sites) claim Marco Polo encountered the large Tibetan dogs in his travels and described them as “tall as a donkey with a voice as powerful as that of a lion.” However, reading of Polo’s works does not support this. In fact, other travelers told Marco Polo about these enormous dogs, and about unicorns and other exotic creatures.

In the early 19th century, King George IV owned a pair of Tibetan Mastiffs, and enough of the breed were available in England in 1906 to be shown at the 1906 Crystal Palace show. However, during the war years, the breed lost favor and focus and nearly died out in England.

After 1980, the breed began to gain in popularity worldwide. Although the breed is still considered somewhat uncommon, as more active breeders arose and produced adequate numbers of dogs, various registries and show organizations (FCI, AKC) began to recognize the breed. Since AKC recognition, the number of active breeders has skyrocketed, leading to over-production of puppies, many of which are highly inbred and of questionable quality. Initially, the breed suffered because of the limited gene pool from the original stock, but today’s reputable breeders work hard at reducing the genetic problems through selective breeding and the international exchange of new bloodlines. However, some few breeders cling to the practice of inbreeding, do not perform health tests on their breeding stock, and do not support buyers of the puppies they produce.

Wikinews has related news: Four new breeds in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

In 2008, the Tibetan Mastiff competed for the first time in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

A Chinese woman was reported to have spent more than 4 million yuan to buy an 18-month-old purebred male Tibetan Mastiff, which she named Yangtze No. 2. In March 2011, a red Tibetan mastiff was reported to have been sold to a ‘coal baron’ from northern China for 10 million yuan. There have been other similar reports of dogs sold for astronomical prices; however, most of these appear to be breeders’ attempts to drive up the prices of their dogs.

FCI-Standard N° 230  / 02. 04. 2004  / GB


(Tibetan Mastiff)

ORIGIN :    Tibet.



UTILIZATION :  A companion, watch and guard dog.

CLASSIFICATION F.C.I. :  Group  2  Pinscher and Schnauzer- Molossoid breeds - Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs.

Section  2.2  Molossoid breeds, Mountain type.

Without working trial.

BRIEF HISTORICAL SUMMARY : The Tibetan Mastiff (Do Khyi) is an ancient working breed of the nomad herders of the Himalaya and a traditional guardian of the Tibetan monasteries.  It has been surrounded by great myth since its first discovery in antiquity.  From the mentioning by Aristoteles (384-322 b.C.) to the famous writings of Marco Polo, who went to Asia in 1271, all historical reports praise the natural strength and impressiveness of the Tibetan Mastiff- both physically and mentally.  Even its bark has been described as a unique and highly treasured feature of the breed.  Leading European cynologists of the past, like Martin and Youatt, Megnin, Beckmann, Siber as well as Strebel and Bylandt have intensively covered the Tibetan Mastiff, as they had been fascinated by its origin and function in the Tibetan culture.  Some even considered the breed to be the very forefather of all large mountain and mastiff breeds.  One of the first known Tibetan Mastiffs to reach Western shores was a male sent to Queen Victoria by Lord Hardinge (then Viceroy of India) in 1847.  Later in the 1880s, Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) took two dogs back to England.  An early recorded litter of Tibetan Mastiffs was born in 1898 in the Berlin Zoo.

GENERAL APPEARANCE : Powerful, heavy, well built, with good bone.  Impressive; of solemn and earnest appearance.  Combines majestic strength, robustness and endurance; fit to work in all climate conditions.  Slow to mature, only reaching its best at 2-3 years in females and at least 4 years in males.


Skull measured from occiput to stop equal to muzzle from stop to end of nose but muzzle may be a little shorter.

Body slightly longer than height at withers.

BEHAVIOUR / TEMPERAMENT : Independent.  Protective.  Commands respect.  Most loyal to his family and territory.

HEAD  : Broad, heavy and strong.  In adults a wrinkle may extend from above the eyes down to the corner of mouth.


Skull : Large, very slightly rounded, with strongly pronounced occiput.

Stop :  Well defined.


Nose : Broad, as dark as possible depending on coat colour, well opened nostrils.

Muzzle :  Fairly broad, well filled and deep.  End of muzzle square. Lips : Well developed and covering the underjaw.

Jaws/Teeth :  Jaws strong with perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper incisors closely overlapping the lower incisors and set square to the jaws.  Level bite acceptable.  Dentition fits tightly.

Eyes : Medium size, any shade of brown and in accordance with coat colour, the darker the better.  Set well apart, oval and slightly slanting. Eyelids tightly fitting the eyeball.  Expression of dignity.

Ears : Medium size, triangular, pendant, set between the level of the skull and the eye, dropping forward and hanging close to head; carried forward when alert.  Ear leathers covered with soft, short hair.

NECK : Strong, well muscled, arched.  Not too much dewlap.  Covered  by thick upstanding mane, not so pronounced in bitches.

BODY : Strong.

Back : Straight, muscular.

Croup : Broad and rather flat.

Chest : Rather deep, of moderate breadth, with good spring of rib, to give heart-shaped ribcage.  Brisket reaching to below elbows.

TAIL : Medium length.  Set high on line with top of back, carried high, loosely curled over back, when dog alert or in motion; well feathered.


FOREQUARTERS : Straight, well angulated, well covered all over with strong hair.

Shoulders :  Well laid, muscular.

Elbows : Neither turned in nor out.

Forearms : Straight.  Strong bone.

Metacarpus (Pasterns) : Strong, slightly sloping.

HINDQUARTERS : Powerful, muscular, with good angulation.  Seen from behind, hindlegs parallel.

Upper thigh : Rather long; strong, with good hard muscles, but not bulging.

Stifle : Well bent

Hock : Strong, low set.

Dewclaws optional.

FEET : Fairly large, strong, round and compact, with good feathering between well-arched toes.

GAIT / MOVEMENT : Powerful, but always light and elastic: with good reach and drive.  When speed increases tends to single track.  When walking appears very deliberate.  Capable of functioning over a varied terrain with stamina and suppleness.


HAIR : Quality of greater importance than quantity.  Coat harsh, thick, top coat not too long, with dense and rather wolly undercoat in cold weather which becomes rather sparse in warmer months. Males carry noticeably more coat than females. Hair fine but harsh, straight and off-standing.  Never silky, curly or wavy.  Neck and shoulders heavily coated, giving mane-like appearance.  Tail bushy and well feathered; hindlegs well feathered on upper rear parts.

COLOUR : Rich black, with or without tan marking; blue, with or without tan markings; gold, from rich fawn to deep red, sable.  All colours to be as pure as possible.  Tan ranges from a rich chestnut to a lighter colour. White star on breast permissible.  Minimal white markings on feet acceptable. Tan markings appear above eyes, on lower part of legs and underside of tail.  Tan markings on muzzle; spectacle markings tolerated around eyes.


Height at the withers :   Dogs  :  66 cm (26 ins) minimum,.

Bitches  :  61 cm (24 ins) minimum..

FAULTS : Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.


Lacking physical condition and fitness.

Head light or heavily wrinkled.

Pendulous flews.

Pronounced dewlap.

Large and/or low set ears.

Light eyes or staring expression.

Weak pigmentation, particularly of nose.

Barrelled ribs.

Tightly curled tail over hips.

Over angulated or straight hindquarters.

Heavy constrained movement.

Under minimum height, tolerance 2 cm.


Aggressive or overly shy.

Undershot or overshot mouth.

All other colours than above mentioned e.g. white, cream, grey, brown (liver), lilac, brindle, particolours.

Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.

N.B. : Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.