What is a TM
We do have specific ideas about what a Tibetan Mastiff should look like. We have been asked to provide our opinions both written in critiques after we have judged the breed and at the ring side. We are always prepared to provide our opinion as long as those seeking them are prepared to hear things they might rather not.
To us a Tibetan Mastiff should not be a dog which comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. The basis of our belief about how a Tibetan Mastiff should look was formed from our reading of a wide variety of books about Tibet and by listening to the informed views of anyone who has made it their business to find out something about the breed and its history and, importantly, the part the dogs played in the lives of the Tibetan nomads.
So, to us, a Tibetan Mastiff, or more correctly a Do Khyi, or possibly even the finest example of all, a Tsang Kyi, should be a large, imposing dog, whose outstanding features are its massive head and heavy bone. From this it follows that the rest of the body must be appropriately large and never be fine boned, nor lightweight in any way.
Despite its reputation for being fierce, we believe that this reputation for ferocity is often assumed to indicate that the breed is a naturally agressive one. This is far from the truth. The reputation for ferocity in Tibet was encouraged by the Tibetans mainly because the dogs were there as guardians of the nomad's encampments and in some instances monasteries and the homes of noblemen. Common sense dictates that unwanted or unexpected visitors to these places are not to be encouraged and a distinct means of dissuading visitors is to own what appears to be a ferocious dog or dogs. That such dogs were never wontonly agressive is indicated by the fact that the task of leading away dogs from strangers or visitors after their approach had been noted, was given to the old women or children. They would be able to control the dogs easily and this would not be possible with a truly agressive dog in a state of high excitement.
Anyone who justifies agression in the Tibetan Mastiff, is doing
the breed a disservice and laying the way open for much trouble
in the future. Likewise the reports of Tibetan Mastiffs roaming the
streets of towns and cities in Tibet and other Himalayan countries,
should be dismissed as erroneous. Street dogs roam the streets,
or at least they did until they were rounded up in a number of
purges and those street dogs should not be confused with
Tibetan Mastiffs, even if there is a superficial resemblance.
On the question of colour, despite many assertions to the contrary, the Tibetan Mastiff/Do Khyi/ Tsang Kyi was never found in a variety of colours. Reports were periodically made of red puppies being seen in litters but the vast majority of references to colour were to Black or Black and Tan, with the tan as dark as possible, sometimes making it almost indistinguishable from the black. The dogs offered in Tribute to the 13th Dalai Lama were Black or possibly Black and Tan and thus it is reasonable to assume that these colours were the preferred and most usual colours. There is no evidence that Gold was ever a preferred or highly prized colour in Tibet. The existence though of gold coloured dogs in Tibet today is not doubted and gold is an accepted colour in every existing Breed Standard.
To us, it is better to evaluate all Tibetan Mastiffs on their overall type and not be overly concerned with colour. Paying heed to historically recorded facts and not being swayed by unsubstantiated reports emanating from biased sources is of more importance.
The Tibetan Mastiff - a dog of mystery and legend
Is the Tibetan Mastiff a dog of mystery and legend or a supremely practical dog, bred over many centuries to fulfil a role of guarding and protecting the encampments of the nomadic people in Tibet, and later, once its abilities were recognised, as a guardian of monasteries and the homes of noblemen?
To us, the answer is yes to all of this, but to understand the dogs and their role in the lives of the Tibetan people, it is necessary to know something about Tibet and its history and culture.
Some might be more interested in the often quoted references to Tibetan Mastiffs being the original Dogs of War and the frequently shown likenesses of them from ancient civilisations but, as interesting as those portrayals of the dogs are, are they really of much relevance today? In our view, the answer this time is no. Instead we believe that the more recent and well documented role they have played in the lives of the Tibetan people is more appropriate and provides a better understanding of the dog we now call the Tibetan Mastiff.
A Tibetan would not know the term Tibetan Mastiff; to them the large substantially built dog is a Dho Kyi, meaning “Tied Dog”. This description, when accompanied by adjectives like huge, massive, impressive, imposing, should leave little doubt about what a Dho Kyi should look like. Other types of dog did and still do exist in Tibet but these had their own roles and should not be confused with a Dho Kyi.
Interestingly, the breed is now known in FCI countries by the name Dho Kyi.
Talk is often heard about a Tsang Kyi but there is no proof that they ever existed as a breed of dog in Tibet. This however does not mean that the Tibetan nomads would not have recognised a supremely good specimen of a Dho Kyi, indeed they did and these dogs were highly valued and appreciated by the Tibetans. So much so, that to purchase one of these dogs was next to impossible. In time, such was the worth of these dogs, and not necessarily from a monetary point of view, that they came to be a way for the nomads to settle debts without money changing hands and, more importantly, as a means of paying Tribute to High Lamas or noblemen. In this way the very best Dho Kyi became known as Tsang Kyi or “Tribute Dog”. This searching for excellence should be guiding us when we breed these dogs, thus maintaining an ancient perception of what is an excellent Dho Kyi.
To a Tibetan, especially during the more lawless and violent times in the country's history, a dog had a very important part to play in the protection of its human owners. Thus a “Tied Dog” would need to look a certain way and behave in a way which would give warning of the arrival of visitors or prevent or deter unwanted visitors from approaching encampments or other buildings. This was at least for a while until the visitor had been identified, and the women or children sent out to hold them tight until it was made clear to the dogs they were welcome. It follows that a larger dog would be more imposing and seemingly more fearsome, than a smaller, finer built dog and all the evidence suggests that Dho Kyi were substantially built dogs. Smaller, less imposing dogs might well have played their part in the lives of the nomadic shepherds, particularly as sheep dogs and guardians or even herders of the flocks but that is another matter.
When Tibetan Mastiffs were again seen in the West in the 1970's and 1980's it was believed that the breed was on the verge of extinction and must be saved at all costs. This resulted, despite some worthy intentions, in less than typical dogs being bred to achieve the aim of saving the breed. Much as these efforts can be understood and applauded, with hindsight it is clear that the original look of the dog was lost sight of and the Tibetan Mastiff became a breed which varied in type and temperament. Now there is a greater understanding of how the breed did look and should look. This is the way forward for the breed and many breeders are working to breed Tibetan Mastiffs which would be recognizable to a Tibetan nomad.