The history of the Tibetan Mastiff - the large guardian dog of Tibet - is hidden in the mists of legend, along with the people of the high Himalayan Mountains and the plains of Central Asia. Accurate records of the genetic heritage of the dogs are non-existent.
In 1847, Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, sent a "large dog from Tibet" called "Siring" to Queen Victoria. England had its first dog show in 1859; and in 1873, The Kennel Club was formed with the first Stud Book containing pedigrees of 4,027 dogs. In the official classification made by The Kennel Club (England), the "large dog from Tibet" was officially designated the "Tibetan Mastiff" for the first time.
Even so, history has reserved a special place for the Tibetan Mastiff. They are considered by many to be the basic stock from which most modern large working breeds, including all mastiffs and mountain dogs, have developed. Even though a great deal has been written about them since the 17th Century, there are few specific details available.
Two more Tibetan Mastiffs were brought into England in 1874 by the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and they were exhibited at the Alexandra Palace Show, December 1875. From then until 1928, there was a trickle of imports into England and Europe. In 1928, the Hon. Colonel and Mrs. Bailey imported four Tibetan Mastiffs which they obtained while Colonel Bailey was on duty as Political Officer in Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet. In 1931 Mrs. Bailey formed the Tibetan Breeds Association in England and the first official standard for the breed was adopted by The Kennel Club. It was also the standard used by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI).
Earliest written accounts place a large dog around 1100 BC in China. Skulls of large dogs date from the stone and bronze ages. Ancestors of today's Mastiff breeds are believed to have accompanied the armies of the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans and later, traveled with Atilla the Hun and Genghis Khan as far west as Europe. During these centuries, it is believed that the Tibetan Mastiff remained isolated on the high plateaus and valleys of the Himalaya to develop into the magnificent animal so highly prized by the people of Tibet.
In the late 1950s, two Tibetan Mastiffs were sent from Tibet to President Eisenhower. They were taken to a farm in the midwest and nothing more was heard of them. Beginning in 1969, several Tibetan Mastiffs were imported from Nepal and India into the US. The American Tibetan Mastiff Assoication was formed in 1974, with a dog imported from Nepal, Jumla's Kalu of Jumla as its dog. The first National Specialty Match was held in the USA in connection with the California Rare Breeds Dog Association in October 1979 and the first National Specialty Show was held in 1983.
Today in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and other Himalayan regions, a pure Tibetan Mastiff is hard to find, though they are still bred by the nomads of the Chang-Tang plateau. They are bred and live at an average altitude of 16,000 feet, and some are brought to the Barkhor, the market that surrounds the Jokhang Temple, the holiest temple for Tibetan Buddhists, for sale. Although Tibetan Mastiffs are traditionally kept tied to the gates of the house or monastery, or tied to stakes in the nomad camps, they are let loose at night. In addition, when the flocks are moved to higher pasture, the Tibetan Mastiffs were traditionally left behind to guard the tents and the children.
The close relationship of the Tibetan Mastiff with man throughout the centuries has given the dog an almost uncanny "human" understanding. Generations of working as a guardian of yak, sheep and, more importantly, women and children, requiring always a protector and not a killer, has produced a disposition and temperament of controlled strength, initiative, and fearlessness, tempered with patience, loyalty, and gentleness.
Prior to the early 1800s, few Westerners were allowed into Tibet so little was known about Tibetan dogs. In accounts of visits to Tibet by early travelers, very little mention was made of the dogs they encountered. Marco Polo wrote of the dogs in Tibet being as large as donkeys, and Jesuit missionaries in the 17th Century, wrote of the ferocious, huge dogs ("Many of the Thibetan dogs are uncommon and extraordinary. They are black with rather long glossy hair, very big and sturdily built, and their bark is most alarming" I. Desideri, 1712). In 1800 Captain Samuel Turner, in his "An account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet" mentioned his experience with huge dogs ("The mansion stood upon the right; on the left was a row of wooden cages, containing a number of huge dogs, tremendously fierce, strong and noisy. They were natives of Tibet; and whether savage by nature, or soured by confinement, they were so impetuously furious, that it was unsafe, unless the keepers were near, even to approach their dens.").
At the April 2006 Board Meeting the Tibetan Mastiff became eligible for AKC registration on September 1, 2006 and was eligible to compete in the Working Group at shows held on and after January 1, 2007. There will be an open registry for the breed until August 31, 2009.
At the August 2004 Board Meeting the Tibetan Mastiff was approved to compete in the Miscellaneous Class this became effective January 1, 2005.
In December 2003 the AKC Board approved the eligibility of some Foundation Stock breeds, which meet certain criteria, for competition in AKC Companion Events (Obedience, Tracking, and Agility), effective January 1, 2004. The breeds must have a minimum of 150 dogs with three generation pedigrees recorded in the FSS®, a national breed club with members in at least 20 states, and an AKC approved breed standard. The Tibetan Mastiff was one of 20 breeds who met the requirements. Requests by breed clubs to have their breeds compete in the various Performance Events would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Tibetan Mastiff was recorded in the AKC Foundation Stock Service in 1996.