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.
Tibetan Mastiff at an international dog show in Poland
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).
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.
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