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The Tibetan Mastiff (Wylie: do khyi; Lhasa dialect IPA: [tʰòcʰi]) is an ancient breed and type of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) originating with nomadic cultures of Tibet, China, Nepal, Ladakh, and Central Asia.
The Tibetan Mastiff also known as "Dokhyi" ( translated as "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 dokhyi is traditionally allowed to run loose at night.
The guardian type with which the modern Tibetan Mastiff breed was known across the ancient world by many names. Bhote Kukur in Nepali as bhote means someone from Tibet and kukur means dog. The Chinese name for the breed is 藏獒 (Mandarin: Zàng áo; Cantonese: Tzong ngou), meaning "Tibetan mastiff-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 "big 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.
In Nepal Tibetan mastiff is known as Bhote Kukur since Nepalese called Bhot for Tibet. People living in mountain region keep these mastiff to safeguard their sheep and yaks.
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 4 feet. Dogs bred in the West weigh between 150-200 lbs —although dogs in the upper range are often 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 or property guardians.
The Tibetan Mastiff is considered a primitive breed. It typically retains the hardiness which would be required for it to survive in Tibet and the high-altitude Himalayan range, including the northern part of Nepal, India and Bhutan. Instinctive behaviors including canine pack behavior contributed to the survival of the breed in harsh environments. 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 estrus 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 pale gold to deep red) and bluish-gray (dilute black), often with white markings.
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 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 capable of confronting predators the size of wolves and leopards, although it uses all the usual livestock guardian tactics (e.g., barking, scent-marking perimeters) to warn them away and avoid direct confrontations. 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). The protectiveness of Tibetan Mastiffs requires alertness and planning by the owner in order to avoid mishaps when the dog is simply performing as a guardian. The breed is not recommended for novice dog owners.
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, underbite, wry mouth), cardiac problems, seizures, 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 1980s. Unfortunately, known carriers were bred extensively and are behind many lines still being actively bred. Because the mode of inheritance appears to be as a simple recessive, continued inbreeding can still produce affected puppies.
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.
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. Many puppies and adult dogs end up in shelters and in rescue situations.
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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. Photos of dogs shown on web sites are frequently photoshopped to exaggerate color intensity, size, and "bone". Buyers have reported getting their dogs home only to find that bathing removes both color and "hair extensions" from the coat.
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