The Tibetan Mastiff Today

Sometimes serendipity steps in and causes one to sit back and take stock. Whether or not the UK Breed Database is actually a case of serendipity rather depends on ones point of view but it certainly is something which is important to those of us who are interested in the history of the breed. A huge amount of credit is due to Andy Briggs for having the will and determination to produce such a document. It does represent an invaluable record of the breed in this country.

Seeing the table of stud dogs and finding Jhelum Ben Son de la Chevauchee des Dieux  heading the list, caused me to think back to the time Peter and I went over to France to choose a dog puppy for us and a bitch puppy for Rick Eichhorn (Chris Ballardie and Bob Vallance were there too and decided to have a bitch puppy) from a litter sired by our home bred Chortens Ben Sharbaz who was by then living in France with Evelyne Collombet and her family. We were not new to Tibetan Mastiffs and had enjoyed many  successes with our dogs and so our intention was to give something back to the breed. I have to say that Jhelum, which was the dog we chose and named, but later sold to Chris and Bob, certainly did make his mark. It was always our plan to bring a dog here which would influence the breed and by the yardstick of the number of puppies he sired, it must be argued that he did just that. Is this fact alone though something which is a reason for celebration? Has the breed really improved since then? Are our dogs today better than those to be seen 15 to 20 years ago? Is construction any better? Is a better and more consistent type in evidence? Indeed, has anything got worse within the breed?

It might seem that I will now be digressing but, I think it is relevant to what I want to say. It is related to how our dogs are viewed in the wider world.

Although I do not subscribe to the following point of view at all, I am saddened when I read or hear about 'all' European dogs being of a somehow inferior Nepali or Sheepdog type. This comes usually from people who seem content to forget that the foundation dog in the US came from an area of Nepal NOT TIBET, albeit that that area is populated by indigenous Tibetans to a large degree. I have never heard it said that Jumla's Kalu of Jumla was not a TM!!  Many people today however, do doubt the purebloodedness of many dogs purported to be TMs. Do not these other 'breeds', which might appear in the dogs seen today, have genes which would have influenced, in a number of ways, our breed today?

I am sure no one can have missed out either, on the talk about the Tsang Khyi 'breed'. We've all seen photographs on various websites of, what are said to be, this 'breed' of dog but as everyone knows it is fraught with problems judging how a dog actually is from looking at a photograph and few people have physically handled or 'gone over' as a judge, such a dog. Nevertheless I have lost count of how many times I have seen it written that the tall, overly loose fleshed, large eared and poorly constructed dogs with lots of coat, are just what a TM should look like, even to the extent that  a new breed should be recognised and called Tsang Khyi. Where this would leave most of us with dogs which do not look like that, we can only conjecture about, but the point is that, at this time, there should not be enough inconsistencies of type within the breed, to allow anyone to differentiate between a Dho Khyi and a Tsang Khyi.

I  even read recently that the Tsang Khyi was not bred by the nomads at all, rather that these dogs are bred by the Tibetan nobles in their mansions and monks in the monasteries and that it is the lowly or subbreed Dho Khyi/ Sheepdog type which was bred by the nomads.  To use the current vernacular, yeh right!  It is this sort of statement which, apart from being ludicrous and totally a thing of fiction, causes problems for those new to the breed. Any reading of Tibetan history, so far as it relates to their dogs, will make it clear that the Dho Khyi or 'tied dog' is the dog bred by the nomads to protect their encampments: those dogs are very specifically described in numerous writings about Tibet. There is simply no evidence that there was ever a Tsang Khyi breed which is separate from, or superior to, a Dho Khyi, which itself is a very different dog from a Tibetan (or Himalayan) Sheepdog. Tsang Khyi means 'Tribute' or 'Best' dog and as such were those considered by the nomads to be the very best of the dogs they had bred and were thus worthy of being offered in Tribute to gain merit in some way, or to secure a favour being done for them. It is not up to us to try and change history. On the contrary, I would argue that the way the Tibetans viewed their dogs is something we should emulate. A Tsang Khyi was simply the finest of the Dho Khyi available to a Tibetan nomad at any given time. Indeed by employing this way of looking at the breed we know as the Tibetan Mastiff, and some already know as the Dho Khyi, we have an excellent incentive for striving to produce the very best Tibetan Mastiffs but not to get into the realms of manufacturing a new breed.

Getting back on track now, I, for one, make no apologies for any dog that Peter or I have ever bred, or owned for that matter, even though those dogs have all come from the often maligned, European/Nepali 'sheepdog lines': yes they are indeed from them and that includes more than one street dog picked up in Ladakh. It really is inconceivable to me that there can be such a blinkered attitude when it comes to these dogs, for ever since the breed was reintroduced into the west, large, substantially built dogs have been bred and it is those dogs which have won the major prizes. There is no evidence that the 'giant' and untypical dogs being promoted these days are any better, in any significant way, to allow it to be argued that there is anything 'special' about them and this is despite a number of voices telling us that this is so. Those voices are not Tibetan voices though, and it should be their voices which count when it comes to Tibetan dogs.

The problem as I see it now, is that too few dogs which would have been called Dho Khyi, let alone Tsang Khyi, by a Tibetan nomad, are being bred. Probably it has always been the case that few Tsang Khyi were ever found in litters, but that, in itself, is not something which would be unexpected given the conditions in which dogs were bred and raised in Tibet although the undoubted survival of the fittest aspect of Tibetan life would have influenced the way the dogs which survived looked. Going off at a tangent and trying to introduce a 'new breed' is what is going to lead to there being even more problems when it comes to breeding to a type. Trying to achieve perfection with something which already exists is a far easier goal to strive for than to start again with a new breed, for no good reason, other than to produce something on a commercial basis and without giving any credence to how things should be and always were

Of course there is another problem and a serious one at that, and this is right on our own doorsteps in the UK, although we are not alone: it relates to the lack of typical TMs seen in the showring or being bred and this perpetuates the myth about the allegedly untypical European/Nepali dogs, which, by the way, do not have to come from Europe. I am sorry if this offends but it is true. I believe that part of the reason is the misguided notion, held for many years both here and abroad, that certain colours ought to be 'preserved' and/or bred for. This has been proven to be detrimental to efforts being made to breed typical TMs - dogs which would be recognisable to a Tibetan nomad as a Dho Khyi. The desire to produce particular colours has been paramount for some and type and soundness have suffered, and are suffering, as a result.

At this stage of the breed's development in this country we should not be seeing dogs rejected at any show, let alone Crufts, on the grounds of being untypical and unsound. This follows on from shows where untypical and unsound dogs have been placed and other dogs rejected on the grounds of having too much white on their legs. Of course judges must share a measure of responsibility when they mislead the newcomer, and perhaps the even more experienced TM owner, by placing such dogs but credit to judges when they have the courage of their convictions and reject those dogs. There is nothing in the current UK Standard nor any previous Standard, which gives judges enough leeway to allow dogs which clearly are not in accordance with that Standard, to be promoted as worthy examples of the breed and this means they should not be placed.  If a less than typical dog is shown, then one should expect to be penalised and learn from the experience. This has not happened often enough in previous years, in my opinion, with the result that instances like Crufts 2005 can occur. Perhaps the question should be asked: what part of the word mastiff is hard to understand, and does the Standard count for nothing?  And all this is despite the Club organising judging seminars.

I care about this breed and do not want to see it lose its way again or for it to die out, as it did in the 1950s, because there is insufficient interest in it or love for it. It is time for a more serious look at the breed to be undertaken and what can be done to prevent another Crufts incident from taking place.This is why I asked the questions I did in the second paragraph of this article and raised other aspects which, at first glance, might seem unconnected. I do not want the breed in this country to become a laughing stock.

We have a club which will be 20 years old in 2007 and maybe that will provide an incentive to organise something to really benefit the breed and its followers and try and achieve even greater things during the next twenty years. Searching questions will have to be asked and answered but that would be worthwhile if positive results follow.

I hope everyone reads this article in the spirit in which it was intended. Having honestly held opinions and voicing them should not be taken for backbiting and it is counter-productive to think otherwise. Unfortunately with the demise of the Club website and the Newsletter, we now have no avenues open to us, apart from on private websites, to make our views and opinions known. Anyone is welcome to discuss what I have written either in an open forum or by private email. But a degree of honesty would be very welcome right now.