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The Tibetan Mastiff is a highly intelligent, independent thinker and is protective to an extreme degree. He loves his family fiercely and tends to be good with children, but he is not for everyone. He needs firm, consistent training and moderate activity in order to be the gentle, quiet watchdog he is meant to be.
Tibetan Mastiffs and Lhasa Apsos worked as a team, with the little Lhasa sounding the alarm and the Mastiff going off to investigate and, if necessary, dispatch any intruders.
Tall with a heavy coat and a bushy tail that curves over his back, the Tibetan Mastiff today has a calm and majestic presence. He is a giant breed, weighing 80 to 150 pounds or more. While he has many good qualities, the Tibetan Mastiff is not the right breed for everyone. If you want a gentle and patient dog, be prepared to do a lot of homework in order to find him as well as put in plenty of effort to train and socialize him once you bring him home.
The Tibetan Mastiff is quiet, watchful, and protective of his family, including other pets, and he is inclined to be gentle with and tolerant of children. He has an independent nature with a determined and territorial temperament. He is suspicious of strangers, so much so that he might not let people you approve of into the home. Because of his heritage as a village guardian, he tends to bark a lot at night.
While his protective nature is attractive, the Tibetan Mastiff is not the best choice for a novice dog owner. He needs someone who can guide him with kind, firm, consistent training, never force or cruelty. He is an independent thinker but responds well to routine. Tibetan Mastiffs do not like discord, so it’s not a good idea to argue in front of them or discipline children in their presence. They are likely to step between you to put an end to arguments or scoldings. It's also not a good idea to let TMs supervise children’s play. It’s all too easy for them to mistake roughhousing for attacks and step in to protect “their” children.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Tibetan Mastiff puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. That 20-pound ball of fur will quickly grow much larger. It’s always a good idea to take a Tibetan Mastiff to puppy kindergarten followed by basic obedience class, especially if you are working with a trainer who understands the Tibetan Mastiff mindset. To get the best from this dog, use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards, never force.
Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Tibetan Mastiff from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Tibetan Mastiff puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Once vaccines are current and your vet gives the green light, continue socializing your Tibetan Mastiff throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, on visits to friends and neighbors, and on outings to local shops and businesses. It is the only way he can learn to be discriminating, recognizing what is normal and what is truly a threat.
The mature Tibetan Mastiff has a low activity level, but puppies are active and need room to run in a safe, traffic-free area. The breed is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least 5 or 6 feet high. Tibetan Mastiffs are territorial and must learn their boundaries. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to contain a Tibetan Mastiff. The shock it provides may not deter the dog from leaving the yard if he wants to. Never walk a Tibetan Mastiff off leash. This is not a dog who can be counted on to respond when called.
Like most dogs, Tibetan Mastiff puppies are inveterate chewers, but because of their size, they can do more damage than some other breeds. Unless you want your walls and furniture eaten, don’t give them run of the house until they’ve reached trustworthy maturity at 3 to 5 years of age. And keep your Tibetan Mastiff puppy busy with training, play, and socialization experiences. A bored Tibetan Mastiff is a destructive Tibetan Mastiff.
Chaining a Tibetan Mastiff out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, but it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior. The Tibetan Mastiff can live outdoors, and he is independent enough to stay home alone while his owners are at work, but he does best with another dog as a companion. When his people are home, he should be indoors with them.
The Tibetan Mastiff is one of the oldest breeds, considered to be the progenitor of the other mastiff breeds in the world. He is a guardian breed from Tibet who either traveled with nomadic herdsmen, watching over their flocks, or served as the protector of villages and monasteries. Travelers often wrote of the dogs’ ferocity, which was encouraged by the inhabitants. Chinese documents dating to 1121 BCE make note of Tibetan guard dogs that may well have been the progenitors of today’s TM. The dogs were called Do-khyi, meaning “tied dog,” because they were restrained during the day but allowed to roam at night.
Tibetan Mastiffs were first brought to the United States in the 1970s. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2006. He ranks 124th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
The Tibetan Mastiff loves his family with a fierce intensity. Though he may not show it with public displays of affection, he wants nothing more than to be with them and protect them. The TM has been guarding people and property for more than 2,000 years, so it’s safe to say that he’s pretty good at it. Aloof and watchful, he will take care not to let anyone in your home unless you permit him or her, and even then the TM can be reluctant. On his home turf, he’s highly territorial. He can extend that attitude to the whole neighborhood if he isn’t confined by a tall, solid fence and walked on different routes so that he doesn’t become possessive about a certain street or the things he sees on it.
Because of his heritage as a guardian breed, the TM is an independent thinker with his own agenda. In his mind, he knows best and therefore can be strong willed and stubborn when it comes to getting his own way, especially if he thinks it’s for your safety. It’s essential to establish yourself as a leader he can respect but without using force, harsh words, or physical punishment. The TM understands consistency and firmness but won’t take abuse. A nothing-in-life-is-free program, requiring puppies to “work” for everything they get by performing a command before receiving meals, toys, treats, or play, is a good way to establish your leadership.
The Tibetan Mastiff is sensitive to emotions. It’s not a good idea to argue with your spouse or spank your child in front of him. He may think it’s his job to intervene.
He is an intelligent dog who learns quickly, but again, he’ll make his own decisions about whether he wants to obey. It’s not really his goal to please you but to protect you. That’s just one of the reasons he can’t ever be walked off leash. You can never be sure if he will respond when you tell him to come. He may also be aggressive toward other dogs, especially those of the same sex.
The Tibetan Mastiff is quiet indoors but active outside. He’s a moderately active and athletic dog, and a securely fenced yard is necessary for him to get the exercise he needs. But don’t think that he can’t climb your chain-link fence if he decides he wants to go exploring. He also likes to dig, so don’t be surprised if you come home to new landscaping one day. On the plus side, he’s generally easy to house-train.
Nighttime is the right time for barking as far as the TM is concerned. In Tibetan villages he was allowed to roam at night and barked various communiques until dawn: “All’s well,” “I hear something suspicious,” or “Get out of here before I kill you.” He’ll do the same at your home if you leave him outdoors at night. Give the neighbors a break and let him sleep inside. That way he’ll be right there to protect you if someone breaks in.
Tibetan Mastiffs are often said to be good with children. That is certainly true if they are raised with them from an early age. A TM in this situation will love and protect them with all his heart, but it’s also important to teach children how to interact with the dog and supervise them when they’re together. The TM is not a babysitter. In fact, no dog should ever be left alone with young children, no matter how gentle or loving he seems. Always make sure a child’s behavior isn’t making your dog uncomfortable or unhappy. When other children visit, watch that the TM doesn’t mistake loud play for danger and step in to protect “his” kids.
The same is true of other animals. The Tibetan Mastiff can get along with them if he is raised with them or introduced correctly to visiting animals, but he will expect to be treated with respect.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a larger, more headstrong adult dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Once your vet gives the green light, socialization can be ramped up. Invite people to your home, so your TM becomes accustomed to visitors. Let him meet people on the street, at the mall, and any other place you can safely take him. The more experience he has, the more adaptable he will be to different situations and the better he’ll be able to decide when something is a threat.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Tibetan Mastiff, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Avoid any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Tibetan Mastiff has some health conditions that can be a concern. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, persistent pupillary membranes (an eye disorder), and canine-inherited demyelinative neuropathy.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The American Tibetan Mastiff Association, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) Program. For a Tibetan Mastiff to achieve CHIC certification, he must have evaluations for hips and thyroid from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). An OFA elbow evaluation is recommended but not required.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Don't fall for a bad breeder's sales pitch. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or any of the other excuses irresponsible breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dog can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and cause of death.
Be aware that Tibetan Mastiffs mature very slowly. They will not reach their full size until they are 3 to 5 years old.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Tibetan Mastiff at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Tibetan Mastiff has a long, thick double coat, with males having a more lavish covering than females. The heavy undercoat is soft and woolly; the topcoat is straight with a hard texture. The amount of fur on the neck and shoulders give the TM the appearance of having a mane. His tail and “britches” (the rear thighs) are also heavily coated. There’s no need to trim any part of the coat unless you want to give the feet a neater appearance. With regular brushing, he shouldn’t need frequent baths.
Brush the TM several times a week to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy. During shedding season, you’ll want to brush him daily to keep the loose hair under control.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the best dog for you and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She should be more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and will come back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. And remember that breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Tibetan Mastiff and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the American Tibetan Mastiff Association (ATMA). Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ATMA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and requires the breeder to obtain specific health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or an expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Tibetan Mastiff puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment and come from parents with health clearances, as well as conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Tibetan Mastiff might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Tibetan Mastiff may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Tibetan Mastiff in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (house-training status, for example) or very general (all the Tibetan Mastiffs available on Petfinder across the country). Animal Shelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Some local newspapers also have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Tibetan Mastiff. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Tibetan Mastiffs love all Tibetan Mastiffs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association's rescue network can help you find a dog that could be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Tibetan Mastiff rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be up front about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so that with training, you could bring a Tibetan Mastiff home to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he house-trained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Tibetan Mastiff, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Whether he's a puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Tibetan Mastiff to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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