Last month, a zoo in China tried to pull the wool over its visitors’ eyes by passing off Tibetan Mastiff dogs as lions. Granted, Tibetan Mastiffs are intimidatingly enormous dogs, and their thick fur bunches up around their collars in a way that can resemble a mane, so we can kind of see how some folks could confuse one for a lion out of the corners of their eyes from a distance in the dark.
Unfortunately for the zoo, their cover was blown when their “lions” began to bark. We’re sure you can tell the difference between a dog and a lion, but just in case, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Tibetan Mastiffs.
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES OF TIBETAN MASTIFFS?
Name: Tibetan Mastiff
Origin: The Himalayan Mountains in Tibet
Height: 24-26 inches
Weight: 140-170 pounds
Colors: Black, brown and blue-gray, without or without tan, gold or white markings
Life span: Approximately 15 years
WHAT'S THE TIBETAN MASTIFF APPEARANCE?
The most immediately notable thing about this breed is its size. These massive dogs typically weigh about as much as an adult human man, while standing at about half his size at the shoulder. Some people have claimed to have had Tibetan Mastiffs that weigh well over 200 pounds, but that’s a more uncommon extreme. They have a coat that is thick and heavy, especially surrounding their large, broad heads, where it forms into something resembling a mane, which certainly helped those Mastiffs be passed off as lions to unsuspecting zoo-goers.
WHAT IS THE TIBETAN MASTIFF'S HISTORY?
Although not recognized by the AKC until 2006, the Tibetan Mastiff is an old breed, with ancient versions of it dating back to 1000 B.C. For centuries, the dogs existed only in the Himalayan Mountains, where they were used as guard dogs. The English royal family were given Tibetan Mastiffs in the 19th century, and they became more well-known and popular for a time, although they eventually dwindled out in England again and remained obscure until a resurgence in popularity during the 1980s.
WHAT IS THE TIBETAN MASTIFF'S PERSONALITY?
Though large and imposing, even intimidating, Tibetan Mastiffs are generally calm and even-tempered if they are well-trained, although they can become willful and stubborn if their owner and master is not strong and confident in training and discipline. Mastiffs were bred as guard dogs, so they excel in this capacity, and they can become fiercely loyal to and protective of their families. As a result, they are generally good with kids and even other pets, but may not trust strangers very easily.
HOW TO TRAIN A TIBETAN MASTIFF
As stated, a Tibetan Mastiff requires a master with a strong guiding hand, ideally someone who has experience training dogs and will be confident, self-assured and lacking in hesitation. Training should start as soon as possible, when the dog is still a young puppy, and remain consistent. These dogs want to please their owners, so if they are trained by someone who knows what he or she is doing, they tend to be easy to train.
WHAT ARE SOME TIBETAN MASTIFF HEALTH CONCERNS?
Perhaps surprisingly for such large dogs, Tibetan Mastiffs are relatively long-lived compared to other dog breeds — generally living for around 15 years. They are hardy and mostly free from the genetic health problems that plague many other breeds of dog. The most common health problem in Tibetan Mastiffs is hyperthyroidism. Hip and elbow dysplasia and canine-inherited demyelinative neuropathy should also be watched for. The latter is a genetic disease and a fatal one, but it manifests early. A puppy born with the disease usually will die within months.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF TIBETAN MASTIFFS?
Tibetan Mastiffs are quiet companions yet fiercely protective of their families. They’re gentle when you need them to be, and not so gentle when you need them to be. Due to their easy-going nature, the breed is good for families with kids, assuming the family has the capacity to train the dog well and give it what it needs, particularly a lot of space. These are massive dogs that were bred to roam, and they will not do well at all in apartments or small homes in urban areas. Sorry, city slickers. Also, if you like to have guests in your home frequently, this breed may not be a good match for you. Tibetan Mastiffs don’t like strangers, and because they’re so big and intimidating, your guests are unlikely to feel comfortable in their presence.
Next: Chihuahuas 101
WHY ARE TIBETAN MASTIFFS IN THE NEWS?
Big dogs are big business in China, and Tibetan Mastiffs can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Puppy smugglers have been skirting the law to bring Tibetan Mastiff puppies into Hong Kong.
In 2011, a Tibetan Mastiff became the world’s most expensive dog in the world when a Chinese business tycoon paid $1.5 million for a Mastiff named Red Splash.
In February of this year, a Tibetan Mastiff died tragically while getting a facelift. Apparently the dog’s owner wanted the unnecessary plastic surgery in order to make the dog’s appearance more aesthetically pleasing.