So you think you want a Tibetan Mastiff

If you have gotten this far, you are obviously considering getting one of these dogs. And why not? They are beautiful, impressive, loyal, excellent guardians, sturdy, and mostly healthy with relatively few common problems. However, they are also extremely powerful, stubborn, independent, too intelligent to ever be really obedient, they get bored easily and often decide to destroy something.  When they get focused on something they are hard to distract and they never forget where they see you put something they want.  If you don’t continue regular socialization of your puppy throughout its life they can become overly protective of you and your family and property and suspicious of strangers. If you have intact dogs during the breeding season there can be quite a lot of same sex aggression.  Mothers and daughters are usually fine, if they have been kept together. Male/female pairs rarely have problems.

Tibetan mastiffs require quite a bit of grooming over a month long period when they are blowing their dense undercoats.  The longer coated dogs will require much more through this period and also more grooming throughout the rest of the year.  If you spay or neuter your longer, thicker coated TM (as opposed to one of the more moderately coated dogs), the coat becomes almost unmanageable unless it is groomed professionally every few weeks.  For this reason I do not automatically recommend spaying and neutering this breed.  Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes not recommended.

Fencing for Tibetan Mastiffs is a major issue.  They have to have at least a sizeable yard with shade, sun, and features (not just a flat expanse of lawn) and no fence under 6 feet can be expected to hold them.  Fences need to be heavy duty, either picket with 4 x 4 posts set in concrete and 2 x 4 supports on both sides and the pickets need to be protected from the dogs by either heavy wire fencing or heavy chain link (I believe it requires 10 ½ gauge). Alternatively, heavy duty chain link with extra heavy steel posts set in concrete is recommended.  Ideal is pickets on the outside for privacy to keep the dogs from being teased and from seeing everything going on and chain link on the inside to keep them from eating the pickets.  NEVER trust a TM to an electric underground fence and, needless to say, no TM should EVER be outside your yard off leash unless it is in an enclosed dog park. They need some kind of out of the house shelter, either a garage or outbuilding with a doggy door or access to an enclosed porch or barn so that you don’t have to leave the dog in the house when you are not at home until it is older.  Tibetan Mastiffs should always have access to the home and people when you are home.
Although middle aged or older "retirees" or rescue Tibetan Mastiffs may work out as a single dog, particularly if a person is home a lot, young Tibetan Mastiffs are not good in single dog homes. All dogs are social animals and TMs are too smart to lie around in your back yard all day and wait for you to come home.  A dog companion for your TM will save a lot of furniture and doors. This companion may be either another TM or another appropriate breed.

Your puppy will be supremely socialized when you get it from Timberline.  It will have been bottle fed once a day (along with normal maternal care) for several weeks and picked up and handled every day.  It will have been played with by children and multiple adults and will have met several adult dogs.  The rest will be up to you.  You must continue to expose them to new people and to being petted and fed treats by others.  Do not let anyone else discipline your dog. Take them for rides in the car to visit people and dogs (as soon as their vaccination schedule permits).  You can have a wonderfully socialized dog in your yard, but if you don’t take them out as puppies, they will not want to go as adults. Because Tibetan Mastiffs are such independent dogs, they can become much less bonded to you and less socialized if they are left in the yard alone when you are home. You should give them as much access to you and your home as possible when you are there.

Tibetan Mastiffs, as a breed, dig, destroy things, eat articles of clothing and anything else that can be reduced to a size suitable for swallowing, bark at anything new, and can be aggressive with dogs of the same sex and with strangers.  Now no TMs do all of these things, but most of them will do some of them.  They tend to specialize in one or two unappealing habits.

Lastly, a crate is not a home.  Crate training is very useful, but should only be used on small puppies at night for sleeping and for an hour or so at a time as a time out, or for feeding away from other dogs, or for a safe place for a short time, no more than an hour, when you have to leave.  It is NOT a substitute for a yard.  You can leave the crate open and the puppy may choose to go in for a nap, but if your dog is spending more than 9 hours (including sleeping at night) out of every 24 in the crate, you are not raising the animal properly. If you are still reading, I will tell you what kind of person does well with TMs.  The most important trait is flexibility.  If you have rigid ideas of training, what you want your dog to do, where you want it to sleep, exactly how you are going to manage it, this might not be the right breed for you.  You have to be patient, willing to try alternatives if one thing doesn’t work and be realistic about training.  All obedience training should be done with positive reinforcement only, except for some very mild discipline when the dog repeatedly does something you are sure he knows is wrong.  I am in profound disagreement with those who advocate dominance training. All you are teaching the dog is that violence and strength is necessary to get your way and remember, the mature TM will be as strong as you are. (I absolutely do not recommend any kind of guard dog or schutzhund training.) Also, making sure you eat first and then the dogs are fed is nonsense. Finally, you have to be smarter than the dog.

Now, if you think you can do it, your reward will be to experience the greatest household companion in the world.  Tibetan Mastiffs are clean, funny, loving, playful, rarely demanding of your attention (other than when you first come in the door) and almost all of them will defend you with their lives the very first time it’s necessary without ever being trained to do it.  Most of all they are interesting.  After 25 years I still see new things and learn new details of their lives every year.  Don’t enter into this lightly.  Tibetan Mastiffs will change your lives, but if you are right for each other, they will enrich it immeasurably.