Tibetan Mastiff History, Lore and Modern Living
“No one knows where they came from,” said Sabrina Novarra, one of the original Tibetan Mastiff breeders in the U.S. “The myth of the old monks of Tibet say that snow leopards bred with wolves. Now, we know that’s not true. But, we cannot trace the ancestry. They are the oldest large breed in existence.”
Novarra acquired her first Tibetan Mastiff in 1987 and worked to help establish the breed with the American Kennel Club, where it was recognized in 2007.
Low key breed is long-lived but not easy to train
She said this ancient breed is relatively healthy and long-lived, but, while generally low key, they are not particularly biddable.
“This is a landrace breed,” Novarra said. “… basically, a breed that has evolved itself as opposed to us evolving it. They are self-thinkers. They are not easily trained. You learn after you’ve had them as long as I have, that you make them think it’s their idea to be trained.”
In Tibet the dogs developed as family and flock guardians who were tied during the day and roamed the village at night as protection. They still bark at night if they are outdoors, as that was their job in ancient times.
“This is not a dog if you want to do agility and obedience and take 300-mile hikes, this is not the dog for you … they’re very lazy,” Novarra said. She did note that she accomplished an obedience title on one of her older girls.
The dogs are very large and powerful and need significant amounts of socializing, according to breeders.
“Tibetan mastiffs need to see everything twice,” said Dan Nechemias, owner of the 2018 National Specialty Best of Breed winner. “Just because they saw a red basketball doesn’t mean that they’ll accept a yellow basketball. They were bred for 2000 years to be suspicious of absolutely everything but their family. So, everything that they see in their space — which is their entire visual field — is a threat until they decide it’s otherwise.”
Nechemias, who purchased his first Tibetan Mastiff in 2001, adds that, like many of the working and guardian breeds, the Tibetan Mastiff is very discerning about people they meet.
“… Tibetan Mastiffs are wary of people that are determined to meet them,” Nechemias said. “So what happens is the person’s just really working hard. They’re staring at the dog — you should never stare down an Asian breed much less a Tibetan Mastiff — they’re in their face. … If you ask a Tibetan Mastiff permission to touch it, it will wonder why you’re asking it permission. They’re an incredibly sensitive breed and then they say well this person’s asking me permission they must not be OK.”
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Not a breed for the new dog owner
Tibetan Mastiffs are not considered appropriate for first time dog owners. Both Nechemias and Novarra said they work hard to educate their puppy buyers about the nuances of owning this unique breed.
“So, all I can say is, please research, research, research,” Novarra said. “It’s not a dog to just go buy one. Talk to as many breeders as possible and go visit their dogs.”
“…we almost always turn away first-time dog owners,” Nechemias added. “Some dog experience is better generally. People that understand and are excited about the time commitment to go to basic puppy class, to crate train and really understand that they want to and need to put more work in. But the reward that they’re going to get is worth it.”
While Tibetan Mastiffs are large and carry a massive coat, breeders generally find they are very manageable in terms of grooming. Routine brushing to help keep the coat healthy will cover most of the requirements.
“I find that coat maintenance on Tibetan mastiff is actually a lot less than you would expect,” Nechemias said. “They only blow their coat once a year in the spring. The entire undercoat comes out. The rest of the year, they don’t shed. An adult that has a correct coat will only need 2 3 baths a year. Their coat will … shed the dirt and they don’t get smelly at all.”
Please enjoy these insightful interviews conducted with long-time breeders at their National Specialty Show in Albany, Oregon in March.
Transcript: Tibetan Mastiffs with Sabrina Novarra and Dan Nechemias
Pure Dog Talk is the voice of pure bred dogs. We talk to the legends of the sport and give you the tips and tools to create an awesome life with your purebred dog. From showing to preservation breeding, from competitive obedience to field work, from agility to therapy dogs and all the fun in between – your passion is our purpose!
LAURA REEVES: Welcome to pure dog talk. I’m your host Laura Reeves and I’m joined today by my friend Sabrina Novara at the Tibetan Mastiff National. Sabrina is a long time – involved with the Tibetan Mastiff and she’s going to talk to us about the history of the breed in general, and the history of the breed in the United States, since she was one of the people who helped get it recognized in the American Kennel Club – am I right?
SABRINA NOVARA: Yes.
LR: Excellent. So Sabrina talk to us. Give us the 4-1-1. Give us your background – what got you started in dogs, what got you started in Tibetan Mastiffs.
SN: Well my family raised dogs for years. My father was a police officer so we had K-9 dogs. He worked with a K-9 and we also had a 360 acre farm so we had Border Collies and we had livestock guardians. That is what got me involved in dogs. I was born into dogs. Once I moved from home and got married and decided it was time to get my own personal breed, I researched dogs. I wanted something independent and aloof. I don’t want a dog that’s needy, but I also needed a dog that was not real active <LR: Right> but could be when necessary. And a dog that was a guardian but not aggressive. One that is a self thinker and that is absolutely what a Tibetan Mastiff is.
LR: I was just going to say – you just described a Tibetan Mastiff – good job! <laughter> So what year was that?
SN: My first Tibetan Mastiff was 1987, ok, and they were not accepted in the American Kennel Club until 2007. Right. So 20 years later. Yeah. We worked diligently to make that happen. Actually I first started – I was going to do obedience with a Tibetan Mastiff – imagine that – how stupid can that be? <laughter> But, I actually got a CD on my bitch at 9 years old – my very first dog.
LR: Oh, that’s so cool.
SN: I was taking my second dog into obedience training and the trainer said to me, “You are crazy – this dog is stunning and she needs to be competitive in a different arena,” so, hence here I am. I became addicted <LR: At the Tibentan Mastiff National-…> so, over the years I’ve probably owned, oh, maybe 40 or 50 Tibetan Mastiffs. If you go to any country – any country – the dogs will have my dogs back in the pedigree. And it’s quite difficult to even find a dog in the US without one of my dogs somewhere back in the pedigree- …
LR: And that happens when you’re the foundation of the breed in this country.
SN: Actually when I got into the breed there was the original two breeders. One was Ann Roher who was actually with the Peace Corps in Nepal. So she brought in the first two Tibetan Mastiffs into the United States from Nepal. And my very first dog goes back to those dogs.
LR: Wow that is a great story <SN: Isn’t that cool?> This is a good segue before we get into more of it in the United States, it is such a fascinating breed – I mean it really is – Tibetan Mastiffs – so can you give us just kind of an overview of the history and sort of the purpose and what the Tibetan Mastiff was <SN: Absolutely> in its home country?
SN: Absolutely. In Tibet, the people travel – they live in encampments – and they travel with their flocks. So they were looking for a livestock guardian that wasn’t a livestock guardian. It had to be able to travel with the flocks, not herd – nothing like that. But as far as being a full livestock guardian you don’t throw a Tibetan Mastiff out like you do a Great Pyrenees with the flock, because it’s not going to work. That’s not what they do. They also,, when the men were on the trails the women and children were left behind in the villages. So the Tibetan Mastiff would guard the women and the children of the villages. They were chained by day, let loose by night, to protect the village/the encampment.
LR: And their history goes back – when can we date it-…
SN: We can’t date it. No one knows where they came from. The myth of the old Monks of Tibet say that snow leopards bred with wolves <LR: Oh my gosh> that was the myth. Now we all know that’s not true <LR: But I’ve never even heard that> We cannot trace the ancestry. They are the oldest large breed in existence. Almost all your large working dogs stem down from the Tibetan Mastiff – your Bernese – your Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees – they come down from the Tibetan Mastiff.
LR: Wow. And so they guarded the flocks, they guarded the families, they guarded the monasteries?
SN: Absolutely. The monastery dogs were generally a bigger dog. There’s many different types of Tibetan Mastiff as far as structure and look. <LR: Style> Yes and it depends on how high the elevation was from where they come from. <LR: How Interesting> The hair, the heavy coat, etc. The monastery dogs and the Tibetan Spaniel and the Tibetan Mastiff work to gather to guard the monasteries. The Tibetan Mastiff is a notoriously lazy dog, and the ones that guarded the monasteries were the larger of the breed and not necessarily agile. So the Tibetans Spaniels would run the walls of the monasteries and if there were intruders they would alert the Tibetan Mastiff to the intruder. Then the Tibetan Mastiff would get up and take care of the intruder. <laughter> So if you ever see, a lot of Tibet Mastiff people have Tibetan Spaniels as well and people say oh my god are you afraid your big dogs will hurt your little dogs? Absolutely not. The little dogs were the boss. They told the Tibetan Mastiff, “It’s time to work.”
LR: And they still are the boss.
SN: They still are the boss. <laughter>
LR: Absolutely. OK so 1987 to 2007. That’s a long time frame that you’re working, building up the numbers that you needed.
SN: Well the numbers and actually the education. It’s landrace breed and a lot of judges who don’t – you know Toy judges, etc – that a landrace breed is a difference gamut.
LR: Now explain that for our listeners.
SN: Landrace breed is basically a breed that has evolved itself as opposed to us evolving it. They are self thinkers, they are not easily trained. You learn after you’ve had them as long as I have, that you make them think it’s their idea <LR: Oh yes> to be trained. But the other problem was, most of the people early on in the breed really didn’t know anything about conformation showing. So at the rare breed shows it was more comfortable, less grooming, a little different. So we actually had to train our breeders and our owners before we were accepted into the AKC. And the standard – because it’s a landrace breed and there are so many different looks – we needed to come together with a good standard.
LR: OK so and you were involved <SN: Yes> in developing the standard. So give us the high point – so we talk about all the time the hallmarks of a breed …
SN: Head and tail. That’s the hallmark. The tail tells you the temperament, the attitude, and what’s going on in the head. And the head of course – need I say more – the Tibetan Mastiff head is the most glorious head of any dog. I’m sorry, I might be prejudiced <laughter> – but you know, there’s just nothing that looks like a Tibetan Mastiff.
LR: Right, and that big-…
SN: Big mane. It’s just an impressive breed. So literally the hallmark is the head and the tail.
LR: That’s interesting. They say the same thing about Akitas.
SN: Huh – There you go!
LR: And we were just talking – Mike Brantley – we were just talking earlier – Chow Chows.
SN: And they’re from a similar area as well.
LR: Very interesting. Okay. And so talk a little bit – and we’re gonna have, you know, another guest along the way that will give us more information on this – but as someone who’s been with them for so long – the temperament. Because certainly there are opinions about Tibetan Mastiff temperaments that may or may not be accurate. So I’d like you to really talk to that.
SN: Tibetan Mastiff temperament. I visited China and I’ve spoken and done seminars with the Chinese Kennel Club in China. It’s a different temperament because they are expected to do different things. In China, they chain their dogs to make them aggressive. So they’re chained. In the western world that’s not acceptable. I like to say that my Tibetan Mastiffs – they have great, even temperaments. But when they need to respond or react, they do. They should never be outwardly aggressive to anyone unless there’s a threat. And I think that that really, really is important. They’re too big a dog – but there’s too many horror stories out there and that is not a Tibetan Mastiff. I have three grandchildren and they can control, probably better than I, did any of my dogs. But again remember what they did. They guarded the women and the children of the villages. So it’s an even temperament but they decide when they need to come on and I have to tell you also, they’re very in-tune to their person. I have a debilitating health disorder and when I have an issue my Tibetan Mastiffs almost know before I do. Very in-tune to their people.
LR: Very much so. And I – when I had my Akitas found them to be “guardier” during that-… <SN: Oh, yeah – no> … Don’t even …
SN: Oh you … don’t cross … No. No. Come into my personal space if I’m sick. Right. And their counterparts in Tibetan spaniels – absolutely the same way.
LR: Interesting. Just that whole mentality. Yeah, I always said the Akitas were like people with fur.
SN: And the Tibetan Mastiff is as well and they’re very low key. This is not a dog, if you want to, you know, do agility and obedience and take 300 mile hikes, this is not the dog to do it with. They’re very lazy. That’s why I like them – lazy.
LR: I was going to go with laid back but-…
SN: They’re lazy! They’re absolutely lazy. I have many who eat laying down. <laughter>
LR: Can’t be bothered to stand up to eat.
SN: Not that exciting.
LR: I love it. So best advice for someone looking to or considering a Tibetan Mastiff to purchase
SN: Do your research on the breeders and the lines. There are lines that have been imported that are tough dogs because, again, different countries except different things in temperament – China being a prime example. So all I can say please research, research, research. It’s not a dog to go buy one. Just go buy one. Talk to as many breeders as possible and go visit their dogs. Never purchase a puppy without seeing the parents.
LR: Hands on.
SN: Hands on the parents because you’ll see a lot of what you’re getting.
LR: OK. And development as they grow puppies into adults.
SN: OK. They’re a very slow maturing breed. Quite frankly the males generally don’t mature until five to six years of age. They’re a long lived breed.
LR: Mentally or physically or both?
SN: Both. Both. Your bitches probably by four, they’re – can I say this – that they’re so much smarter than the boys so <laughter> they’re so much more in-tune and of course they’re smaller than the boys so they mature faster than the boys. But again I do want to say this is a long lived breed. I’ve had numerous Tibetan Mastiffs live to 16 years old.
SN: I have a 14 year old right now that runs my farm.
LR: Wow. So average age?
SN: My particular line is about 14.
LR: Wow. For a breed that weighs 150 to 200 pounds, that’s a long lived giant breed.
SN: Yeah and it’s line related. There are lines that their average age, and they will tell you, is eight to ten.
LR: That’s still good for a giant breed.
SN: Yeah, but you know a lot of that, too, is I got it in the very beginning so I started with very healthy dogs and I’ve kept with what I have.
LR: Health issues?
SN: Just like any large breed, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, osteosarcoma is our common cancer. You know truly they’re pretty healthy dogs – a lot of hypothyroid because of the lazy, low metabolism. But you know, more arthritic issues. We are seeing a lot now, with importing a lot of dogs from Russia and China, we’re seeing some forearm anomaly, too.
LR: Some which?
SN: Forearm anomaly, where the forearms are bent and the elbows don’t grow correctly.
LR: Interesting, so bone growth disorders-…
SN: And a lot of that too, with a Tibetan Mastiff, it has to be a very low protein diet. We don’t use puppy food on puppies.
LR: Yeah, no, any giant breed, no-no.
SN: And I think that a lot of your orthopedic issues develop because people are not educated and they don’t – you know breeders will sell somebody a dog and then they don’t explain.
LR: Please don’t feed it this 30 percent protein puppy food.
LR: And the final thing then is education. Educating your buyers.
SN: Absolutely and I can’t preach it enough, because they can be a scary dog in the wrong hands. <LR: Oh yeah!> They’re big.
LR: Any dog that big is gonna be scary.
SN: So really do your research. I actually researched the breed for about five years before I purchased one and I visited – I flew all over the country. So when I got into the breed there were the two original importers and two other breeders so I am number five in the US. And since then all have passed but one so there’s myself and one in California that are the long-term breeders.
LR: Like the originals. <SN: Yep>
LR: But pretty amazing to have watched your <SN: Thank you> you know, kind of, that’s the thing that you did, right? And that’s gotta make you proud.
SN: It does. It does. It brings joy to my eyes. And here at the national this weekend I only have old dogs. I have two 11 year olds and a 12 year old.
LR: Very good. Well thank you very much Sabrina, we appreciate your time.
SN: Thank you very much.
Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host Laura Reeves and I am joined today by Dan Nechemias. Yes?
DAN NECHEMIAS: Close enough.
LR: Close enough? <laughter> Who is a Tibetan Mastiff fancier, breeder, owner and he’s going to bring us some more information about this breed. We’re here at the Tibetan Mastiff National so this is a really great opportunity to hear from people about really a very special and very ancient breed, yeah?
DN: Yes, yes. The Tibetan Mastiff is the progenitor of many of the Molosser dog breeds and it’s a really special thing to be a part of. To see all of not just ancient breed itself but the descendants of the breed and how they’ve evolved.
LR: Right. And how many do you have entered at the National?
DN: We have three.
LR: No – how many is the National entry. <laughter> <inaudible>
DN: Yes, I know – I always think of myself. I believe the entry is just over 40.
LR: That’s actually good!
DN: Yeah, a really healthy entry. The breed historically evolved much stronger on the west coast of the United States. And so there is a much larger concentration of breeders on the west coast and we get a good entry out here.
LR: Excellent. So how did you personally get into dogs to start with and then what brought you to Tibetan Mastiffs?
DN: Yeah, so I grew up like every mid-west kid. I had a Cockapoo that was black. His name was Jasper and Jasper inspired the bravery of a dog by getting chased by our Maine Coon. So, how that led me to Tibetan Mastiffs – I’m not sure but-…
LR: It was the Maine Coon – that was it.
DN: Yeah so I went away to college and decided I needed a bachelor dog. And I got a Malamute. And of course creatively named him Denali and he came from a rather sketchy breeding operation in Indiana – I didn’t know any better at the time. But Denali was my buddy. He was big, he was hairy, he was a Working Dog. And Malamutes have a distinct Working Dog temperament and I think as I moved on into other breeds it was something that I definitely appreciated.
LR: That independence of mind … that thinking … the way just Working Dogs have a very specific mind.
DN: “I’m going to do things for myself and if it coincides with your direction then great. Otherwise – bye!” <LR: See ya later> “It’s all good – I’ll go around the neighborhood.
LR: Yeah, exactly. So when did you first encounter a Tibetan Mastiff?
DN: Yeah, so we’re a happy family living in the mountains in Utah and my wife, Lois, had a Golden Retriever puppy and I had my second Malamute who was about 6 or 7 at that point, and the Golden Retriever was like 9 months old – can’t wear him out. Malamute didn’t want to play with Golden Retriever. I’m like, “Honey, we need dog to wear this puppy out.” She said, “Well it’s your turn to pick a dog.” So I knew we wanted another large Working Breed and so we got out the AKC book and started looking on the Web sites, and we were really sort of concerned about the lack of genetic diversity and hardiness of some of the large Working Breeds, and came across a Tibetan Mastiff – large mountain breed, very independent and strong minded. Lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Very diverse gene pool, even though it’s a rare breed, and that sort of enticed us both. It was a year after that before we met our first one.
LR: And so what are we talking about?
DN: This would have been 2000. We started in 2001 – we got our first. We went to Southern California to Drakyi Kennels – Rick Eichorn’s place – who is one of our mentors. He was what I would describe as Generation 1-A as far as the breed in the United States. Not the very first but one of the first. And we got there and we saw adult dogs which was really cool. It was neat. They barked at us, they lunged at the fence, they spit – you know – pretty much looked like they wanted to eat us. And we saw puppies – lots of puppies.
LR: They’re so flipping cute.
DN: They are, they really are. They just have this, this teddy bear-ness about them that’s irresistible-…
LR: And somewhat deceiving. <laughter>
DN: Yes it’s very deceiving because that’s not what they grow into nor is it what they should grow into. So we said to Rick, “Gee we’re really interested. We’d like to learn more.” He didn’t have any puppies available at that time. “Can we put a deposit down get a puppy?” So we did that. And about nine months later we had a puppy and we had told Rick we’re not breeders. We have limited dog knowledge, but we would really like a show/breeding-quality female in case we’re up for this. And my wife had come from horses and she was a little more educationally prepared for it than I was. But he was very encouraging. We got a very nice female. I showed up at our National Specialty with her as a 6 month old. She made a complete ass out of me. <LR: As only a TM can do> Laid down in the middle of the ring. No one could get her up. No food would get her up. No amount of cheering would get her up. She didn’t go to the bathroom for three days. And you would think that that would have completely turned me off.
DN: But somehow or another the challenge of it made it even more enticing and within a few years we had a farm and several Tibetan Mastiffs and our first litter. <laughter>
LR: So much for that “I’m not a breeder” thing.
DN: Yeah, well … you know, I think the puzzle of purebred dogs – whatever your breed is – something that either instantly grabs you in or it doesn’t. And it definitely grabbed us both and I think, too, at the time in 2004/2005, there was still the belief in the United States and Europe that the Tibetan Mastiff was a very rare and endangered breed. And in fact, as China began to open up more, it became evident that there were still many indigenous dogs in Tibet. And some pedigrees have been accessed now that were not previously available or that people were even aware of. And unfortunately, that’s led to some over-breeding in China and some dogs that are of questionable pedigree. But in the U.S. and Europe it’s really allowed the breed to flourish.
LR: Nice. And so talk to us. I think one of the things I’d like you to concentrate on is the Tibetan Mastiff temperament because I know there’s lots of people with lots of stories and we’ve seen good and bad and we had another breeder earlier talking – Sabrina was talking about the history of the breed and what they have historically done. But what I would love to hear from you is to talk to our listeners – whether it’s someone who wants to own one, who is maybe going to show one as a handler, is going to judge one – let’s talk about proper etiquette with a Tibetan Mastiff.
DN: I’ll take that in a couple phases. First phase is just raising a puppy as an owner.
DN: Tibetan Mastiffs need to see everything twice. Just because they saw a red basketball doesn’t mean that they’ll accept a yellow basketball. They were bred for 2000 years to be suspicious of absolutely everything but their family. So everything that they see in their space, which is their entire visual field, is a threat until they decide it’s otherwise. Now the easiest way to de-tune them from that is to expose them to as much as possible so that they’ve “seen it all”. And that’s really the first six months to a year of their life is a really serious focus to that. When you do that, they are extremely judicious and thoughtful and well-mannered dogs. They will still defend their space, they will still bark at night, they will still likely be pretty firm with someone who just happens to walk in the backyard and it’s not supposed to be there. But that’s their job, too. So that’s OK. But we always tell them no matter how many times you have house guests over, and it seems like they like house guests, you should always formally introduce them to house guests. Bring them to the door on a leash, say hi, then let them go do their thing.
DN: The other thing is that Tibetan Mastiffs are wary of people that are determined to meet them. So what happens is, the person’s like, just really working hard. They’re staring at the dog -, you should never stare down an Asian breed much less Tibetan Mastiff. They’re in their face. They’re, like, reaching their hand out in a way that doesn’t seem aggressive to them, but in reality any extension of your body is. <LR: To the dog.> And so, the best way really is let them sniff them at the door. Welcome your guests in the house, and you know go have that guest sit on the couch, or at the bar, or come in the kitchen and ignore the dog. <LR: Ignore the dog> And eventually the dogs going to come up sniff them a little more and everything’s fine.
DN: And now what’s fascinating is that that segues directly in to judging the Tibetan Mastiff. As a judge, you never extend your arm to a Tibetan Mastiff. It’s fine to walk by them on the line before you start judging them individually and do an exam. It’s a great way for them to scent you and that’s an opportunity. But if you haven’t done that when you start exam you don’t want to extend your arm.
LR: So that the typical thing we tell people – have them sniff your hand – don’t do that.
DN: Nope. Don’t do that. Start straight under and come from underneath the dog’s jaw and not over the top. If you ask a Tibetan Mastiff permission to touch it, it will wonder why you’re asking it permission. They’re an incredibly sensitive breed and then they say, “Well this person’s asking me permission they must not be OK.” And it doesn’t mean the dog’s going to haul off and eat you because Tibetan Mastiff fanciers aren’t going to bring that dog into the ring. – But you may not get a successful exam the dog might sit, it might back up, it’s going to turn its head. It may not gait its best because you’ve put it off because of your uncertainty.
DN: So the best way to do it is to act like you’ve known the handler and the dog your entire life. You’re very indifferent to it all. It’s a very fast process. The other tip that I like to remind judges of is that once they get past the head, do not lean over the dog. It’s very easy with a Tibetan Mastiff because dogs are so tall. You’re right there. So it’s really easy to actually lean over it without even thinking about it. And so that’s the other thing in terms of their temperament and judges.
DN: And then as a handler, if you’re a handler and you’ve got a Tibetan Mastiff client, the most important thing that you can
do goes back to what we said about teaching your Tibetan Mastiff everything twice. They’ve got to start their crate training early. They’ve got to start, you know, their mouth exam early. They’ve got to start traveling early, because if they get set in their ways they’re very OCD dogs. And you break them and send them off with the handler for a weekend or two weeks and they haven’t experienced all those things as they’re developing. I mean we start ours as soon as they’ve had their second vaccination – they’re on the road with us and at shows and going through the experience because a handler cannot teach them that at a year old. That’s too late. They’ll rip the crate up, they won’t eat, they won’t go to the bathroom, and they’ll be so distressed and uncomfortable they won’t perform in the ring either. And it makes it really hard on the handler. I would encourage – Lois and I actually, once they’re usually about five or six months old – we actually set them off for a couple of weekend trips with the handler to get the hang of it. There you go.
LR: And I think that’s so smart. Coming from the handler perspective some of my smartest clients were the ones that are like, “OK here you go – have a weekend with a young dog.” Without it being shown. I think that’s super important – they don’t need the stress of being shown. They just need to go.
DN: Yeah, they just need to see it. And that is true. They need a little bit of a relationship with the handler, too, because Tibetan Mastiffs are not a breed that you can just hand off to someone ringside as the handler comes running up in a hurry – they’ve never shown the dog before – it doesn’t work. You’re better off not showing the dog. In fact I think of the three or four Tibetan Mastiffs that we’ve really specialed, the handler’s assistant even only showed the dog a few times. And it wasn’t like the assistant didn’t have a great relationship. You know, they took care of the dog day-in and day-out. But that extra trust and who’s in charge and the lack of “hurry”. They’re just a very perceptive breed. One of the things we tell our puppy buyers that’s really fun to do, is to go get your puppy out in the yard let them run around for 15- 20 minutes, and while they’re out there move a piece of furniture. Change where a picture is on the wall. Move a flower vase. When you let them back in the house they will pace in that room for 15 or 20 minutes till they figure out what went wrong, what’s different, and come to grips with it. They’re that sensitive. And then, they’ll – like all good guard dogs do – go find the high ground. Whether it’s the couch or the top of the stairs and watch and see. It’s funny. We have a 20 acre farm and it’s all fenced. But the house and the kennel are on top of a hill. And people say, “Oh your Tibetan Mastiffs must love the 20 acres!” They hardly ever go out to the farthest point. They sit on the patio where they can see everything and just watch – they watch. They’re actually a very, very sedentary breed until the time comes to use their energy. And then they are very <LR: Powerful.> Yes
LR: Excellent. So any additional advice to people just getting started that are considering this particular breed. Who makes a really good Tibetan Mastiff owner, who does not make a really good Tibetan Mastiff owner. How’s that?
DN: Sure. So we almost always turn away first time dog owners. Some dog experience is better. Generally people that understand and are excited about the time commitment to go to basic puppy class, to crate train, and really understand that they want to and need to put more work in. But the reward that they’re going to get is worth it. And it’s sometimes hard to get that out of a questionnaire and a phone call. I find that just like anything in life there are people that will say anything to please you. Sometimes it’s hard to see through it, but we’ve done pretty well. And you just as a breeder – like with any breed – you have to be comfortable with the idea that some dogs are gonna come back. And that happens more in, Guardian Breeds probably than some other breeds. But it’s for the good of the breed that they do come back rather than be out there as a bad example of the breed. So it’s OK. We don’t mind it.
LR: And talk about – a little bit – about just the maintenance. This is a big dog with a lot of hair that falls out!
DN: You know, it’s interesting, I find that coat maintenance on Tibetan Mastiff is actually a lot less than you would expect. They only blow their coat once a year in the spring. The entire undercoat comes out. The rest of the year, they don’t shed. An adult that has a correct coat will only need 2-3 baths a year. Their coat will actually, if you let it dry out, or dry it out, it will shed the dirt and they don’t get smelly at all. So you really just need to be committed to that. An interesting change really in the last five years – we’ve stopped recommending spay neuter – one because of all the health studies, and two because it changes the texture of their coat. And even a male or a female with a correct course top coat will start to get a little downie and then it gets clumpy and then it’s really hard to care for. Yeah, it mats and so we hope and we try to find good responsible puppy homes that can manage that additional responsibility of not spaying or neutering. And so far, that’s been our policy for three years now, and I actually have to say that it’s gone really well and I’m pretty happy with it. And I think the puppy owners are happy with it, too, because I think they have better dogs when they’re intact.
LR: Yeah, healthier. Absolutely. Well thank you very, very much. I appreciate your time.
DN: Thank you. It was my pleasure.
LR: And the National Specialty-…
DN: Whoo! Go win some ribbons
LR: Go win some ribbons! That’s right.
DN: Thanks Laura.
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