DOGS TODAY OCTOBER 2007.
When I was asked to write this article my immediate thoughts were unprintable-where on earth should I begin? As this piece is entitled “Living with a Tibetan Mastiff” I can only draw from my own experience.
Tibetan Mastiff owners for the most part seem to reflect the breed or is that the other way around? Patience is a definite requirement with many people waiting years for their first TM. This is partly due to the small number in the UK and partly due to the fact that females only come into heat once a year. This is usually in late autumn/early winter and often results in an interruption to Christmas festivities for the delivery of puppies!
They come in a variety of colours: rich black, with or without Tan; slate grey, with or without tan or rich golden. Whilst dogs are generally larger and have more coat than bitches both have an impressive coat with a thick woolly undercoat. Indeed many a TM will sit outside in what to us is unbearable cold with snow covering them where they lie. The fact that this snow does not melt gives you a good indication of just how efficient this coat is. Remarkably this amazing coat does not require hours of attention, a thorough brush once a week will suffice – until the dreaded spring moult. Up to now you have amazed disbelieving friends and other dog walkers with the revelation that you only attend to your dogs coat once a week - this is all about to change! For a period which can range from two weeks to two months you have a different dog. Every time you walk past him he leaves hair on your clothes, you know where he has been sleeping thanks to the circle of hair left behind. Your house, your garden, the field where you walk all show signs that a hairy beast has passed this way. If you prepare yourself for an invasion of hairy tumbleweed you will not be disappointed! At the end of all this your TM looks different to say the least. Gone is the impressive coat, in males crowned by a shaggy mane. No longer do you constantly hear passing strangers remark to each other on your dogs crowning glory - fear not it will return and with remarkable speed.
The TM is a generally healthy animal and many adults reach their teen years, which for a large breed is no mean feat.
With any large dog temperament, in my opinion, is paramount. The standard uses terms such as noble, dignified, loyal, calm, aloof and protective and my personal favourite independently minded! Add to these stubborn, intense, delightful, lazy, sensitive, pig headed, demanding, rewarding and with the ability to constantly surprise you and you should by now have realised that the TM is not a dog whose life revolves around you-quite the reverse. The standard also uses the word agile, which in my experience is something of an understatement. Whilst generally a laid back breed they have, when called for, explosive speed (albeit over a short distance) and will clear a six foot fence from a standing start should the mood take them. They can dig a large hole quicker than you can fill it in and never seem to tire of that particular game. After a while they will lull you into thinking they are just making a dirt scrape to lie in-until your back is turned when full scale excavation can begin again – did I forget “challenging”!
They do not as a rule take to obedience like a normal dog, although there are some notable exceptions. It seems to be more a case of the two of you coming to an understanding of what is required and as long as your TM believes this will not place either of you at risk all will be well. I was once told that trying to train a TM like a Border Collie would be like trying to knit jelly and ice cream! As a result of this off lead exercise can be tricky to say the least and many TM owners can tell you stories of watching a loosely curled, well feathered tail disappear in to the distance!
After having other breeds the realisation that I was not the centre of my TMs’ world took a while to sink in. The inherent confidence these dogs can have is still a wonder to me and this was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in order for our relationship to flourish, until that point it caused me nothing but headaches. The Tibetan Mastiff is known as “The legendary guardian of the Himalayas ” with good reason and in bygone times this guardian instinct was key to their survival. They retain that instinct to this day and as soon as I came to understand this everything else fell into place. If he is sleeping the TM will not jump to his feet and follow you should you decide to go and make a cup of tea if however you do not return, in what he thinks is due course, he will come and find you. When puppies come to a show for the first time they are watched over by the adults who will take it in turns to sit and scan the area around them. He will be perfectly happy to sit alone in the garden whilst the house is full of people yet should someone leave or arrive he will take note although you may not realise it.
By now you may be thinking “this doesn’t really sound like much of a family pet” and although I can see your point how wrong you would be! Mine accompanies me on business trips, revels in the attention received at hotels and has been to countless Country Fairs and Horse Shows and all these things have been accepted in the same laid back manner Affectionate and easy going they will adapt to your lifestyle, as long as they are satisfied you are not doing anything foolish, and a breed more natural with SENSIBLE children I have never seen - told you they had the ability to surprise you! Personally speaking my TMs have always been relaxed and confident around other dogs, male or female, although like any dog they do not appreciate a direct challenge. If this does occur I have frequently been amazed at how tolerant they can be and generally this allows time to for owners to diffuse the situation. It is unusual for a TM to instigate aggressive behaviour – all part of their inherent confidence.