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Tibetan Mastiff’s Origin, History and Culture

Time: 07-06-2018 This Article is Composed by BudgetTibetTour

Origin from the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

The Tibetan mastiff, just as its name implies, is a kind of dog originating on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and with Tibetan inhabited area as its main domain.

Origin from the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Many scholars hold the view that its ancestors were from Tibet, and had countless relations with the Tibetan ethnic group living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. A famous philosopher in ancient Greece thought that “huge, strong and ferocious Indian dogs are dogs from the Tibetan plateau, and they were transported from there to Persia and Asia.” Some Chinese sophists agree with the idea that the Tibetan mastiff had its origins on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. In 1240, when Genghis Khan led his mastiffs was organized. When fighting ceased, about three thousand dogs were left in Europe. These pure Himalayan Tibetan mastiffs crossbred with local dogs and to create world famous breeds.

Name of Tibetan mastiff

There were some books about the Tibetan mastiff while browsing in bookstores recently. Among them, a picture album with the name China’s Tibetan Mastiff has a Tibetan book name of “karung-gao-baod-kayi-khayi” (meaning Tibetan dog or dog of Tibet), as its name implies, refers to all kinds of dogs originating from Tibetan-inhabited areas. But the dog introduced in this book is different from common Tibetan dogs. Hence, it is not correct to call the Tibetan mastiff as a Tibetan dog (or dog of the Tibetan). But it is strange that the Tibetan mastiff, closely related with daily life of Tibetans, does not have a unified name in Tibetan inhabited areas until today. Some call it “Dorqu” or Zhoqoi”, and others call it “Zhago”, “Lhawo”, “Biqoi”, and these names obviously greatly differ from each other.

Name of Tibetan mastiff

The names of “Dorqu” and “Zhoqoi” are very popular in some places such as U-Tsang, Hainan, Huangnan and Gannan, and Gannan, and they are written as “vdaogs-khayi” and “vbarog-khayi” respectively in Tibetan. The latter names are explained in the Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary. The former refers to “bound dog” and “watchdog” and the latter refers to “shepherd dog” and “mastiff fed by herders” Obviously the explanatory sources of the two names reflect the functions, roles and the living environment of dogs. If we followed these explanations, we would have “bound dogs”, “watchdogs”, “shepherd dogs” and “mastiff fed by herders” in all the Tibetan inhabited areas were the Tibetan mastiff and other breeds occur. But it is not true. The Tibetan mastiff is a very special breed and is not governed by whether it is bound, whether it occurs in herding areas, or whether it serves as a watchdog or for other purposes. So, these two names are suspected of covering all with the part and tending to result in different meanings.

Apart from the aforementioned names, the Tibetan mastiff also has a name of “seed of lions”. Just as its name implies, the Tibetan mastiff is a huge size and very powerful and strong like a lion. According to aesthetic interest in traditional Tibetan culture, the lion is king of the animals as it is brave, fierce, and dauntless and it is often viewed as a symbol of prestige and worship, implying some divine, inviolable or incomparable knowledge and wisdom, just as the holy seat of a Living Buddha is called “Lion Seat” and works of sages are called as “the roar of fearless lions”, etc.

The Tibetan mastiff seems like a lion in many aspects in appearance, character, etc., such as large head, wide face, large tongue, fat lips, deep and fiery eyes, huge size, long and thick hair, broad chest, strong legs, fat neck, and especially its dense inane is just like the African lion. It is born with a kingly air of prestige, sturdiness, and fortitude. But it has double features especially in its character. It seems gentle and calm in surface appearance, hut this masks characteristics as ferocity, atrocity and fearlessness, making people feel fearful.

Name of Tibetan mastiff

The cultural meaning of viewing lions in terms of prestige and loftiness extends to Tibetan mastiff, which creates an aura of romance and incomparable fame in comparison with common dogs. However, the name of “seed of lions” also has a paucity of variable meanings in the Tibetan language. For example, “ha-ba”, “ha-lau” and other dogs are also called as “saung-pharug” (meaning of small lions) and “saeng-gae” (meaning of lions) because of their long hair. But they are another kind of dogs, nothing like the Tibetan mastiff.

“Sarung-ma”, also called as “naor-gsaung”, is also a name of the Tibetan mastiff as well as “gao-khayi” with the respective meaning of shepherd dogs and watchdogs. According to some relevant Tibetan literature, a chapter of “Subduing Dogs” in a well-known Tibetan heroic epic, Gesar: Daser Gives Alms, says that after Gesar won victory with his armies when attacking “saog-khayi-dgau-chang” he sent all his dogs to the many herders as “sarung-ma” (i.e. shepherd dogs). In Thousand Songs written by a famous Tibetan poet, the 6th Dalai Lama, there is a poem related to the Tibetan mastiff, saying “the mastiff with beard around the cheek is cleverer than the human: don’t say I went out in dusk and returned back in the morning”. The Tibetan mastiff referred in the poem because “sagao-khayi” (i.e. watchdog), and its loyalty, faithfulness and cleverness are vividly described. It can be said that the names of “sarung-ma” (naor-gsang) and “sgao-khayi” reflect appropriately the role of the Tibetan mastiff as the most faithful partner of Tibetan herders in real life.

However, it should be explained that “sarung-ma” (naor-gsaung) and “sgao-khayi” also have various meanings. For example, not all shepherd dogs or watchdogs are Tibetan mastiffs, and other kinds of dogs can also till these roles. In view of this meaning, these two names are not names particular used by the Tibetan mastiff hut the joint name of all kinds of dogs which serve as shepherd dogs and watchdogs.

The Tibetan mastiff also has its own name. Usually masters call them according to their age, appearance and color. When naming a Tibetan mastiff, Tibetan cultural characteristics should be respected and they cannot be named at peoples pleasure which have become very fashionable hut lose the strongest cultural elements of the Tibetan mastiff.

Name of Tibetan mastiff

In recent years, some people with unclear knowledge about the Tibetan mastiff thought it was good at running and could serve as a hunting dog, which is wrong. A hunting dog is completely different from a Tibetan mastiff, having short hair, good sense of smell, long legs, and strong resistance, and is very good at long-distance running and chasing. However, the Tibetan mastiffs do not like hunting (legs in running and chasing after quarry.)

Dog Festival

The Tibetan ethnic group loves feeding dogs. The custom of “Dog Festival” has been popular in some Tibetan regions, and the specific time is the second day of Tibetan calendar. There is a saying that the first day of Tibetan month is a festival of people and the second day is a festival of dogs.

In this “festival”, with the rising of sun in the early morning, the master must prepare a piece of meat, zanba (roasted barley flour) and other favorite foods of the dogs, which is called “lao-skal” and has the main objective of thanking them for staying with their masters in the past year. That night is dogs’ “khayi-yai-staon-mao”. Masters will do something in relation to a specific situation, such as cleaning the dog’s kennel to improve the living environment and changing the dog’s cushions or red ribbon neck ring. If, in that evening, masters dress up intentionally, they will he viewed as participating in “dog celebration” activities. Of course, the “dog festival” mentioned here only reflects humanistic care of animals. We should explain that celebrating a festival for dogs might he very popular in early times in Tibetan inhabited areas, but now except for some areas of the Amdo regions, the custom is no longer celebrated or even remembered.

Anecdotes of Dogs

The Tibetan ethnic group regards cattle, sheep and horses as dependents, “naor” of herders. The dogs including Tibetan mastiff are faithful partners of the herders, but in their minds, their position and influence is far behind that of livestock, and they are always used to satirize, castigate and put down some flunkies, and are always related to guile, stealing, impudence, and lack of faith.

Anecdotes of Dogs

For example, old men are vituperated as old dogs; outrageous women as bitches, youth as puppies, thieves as thieving dogs, etc. in various popular proverbs in Tibetan regions satirizing and vituperating by means of dogs can be found everywhere. In regard to color, Tibetan people think red dogs are “thief dog” or “ghost dogs”. In Tibet proverbs it is said that “dogs belong to red families can do nothing but steal.” Many folk stories in Tibetan people relate red dogs with “ghost”, treating red dogs as an incarnation or unlucky aspect of “ghost” with bad dame. Pure black dogs and colorful dogs are regarded as suitable to serve as “shepherd dogs”. But, of course these saying are only folk legends and not necessarily true to real life.

Tibetan people think the longest life of dogs is nine years, and there is saying that “people live for a hundred years and dogs live for nine years”. The lives of dogs are improvement of people’s daily life, the food for feeding dogs are very abundant and their life span has been extended. Particularly, those dogs who are well cared for by their masters usually live longer wild dogs.

Cultivation of Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan mastiffs are bred in all Tibetan-inhabited areas. In the hinterland, there are about 20-odd Tibetan mastiff breeding based, which is remarkable. It is reported that world’s largest Tibetan mastiff breeding base is now in Japan; Ma Junren, former State track and field team coach as well as “mastiff god” in China, also has many mastiffs. Another thing worth attention is that the living spaces of Tibetan mastiff are on plateau at an altitude above 3.000 meters, and they have much stronger ability in breeding and living than other animals due to the their ability to cope with a bad natural environment.

Cultivation of Tibetan Mastiff

Last year, the China National Kennel Club (CNKC) of the China Animal Agriculture Association (CAAA) and Tibetan mastiff clubs held activities of “China Tibetan mastiff return” and sent back 20 pure and fine Tibetan mastiffs to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This kind of cultural returning activities show people that the only original source of the Tibetan mastiff--the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau--has the natural and humanistic and geographical conditions for breeding pure Tibetan mastiffs, preventing the increasing degeneration of the breed and promote the sound and stable development of a Tibetan mastiff industry in the hinterland.

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user portrait Ms. Ho*** from: 7 Days Lhasa to Kathmandu Tour via Everest Base Camp


My husband and I are looking at travel in April 2019. We currently are only a group of 2, but it is possible we may have another 2 friends join us.
We are comparing tours for the 7 day tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu. What price can you offer for group tour for 2 (or 4 people) for the Lhasa to Kathmandu trips if we were to book in the next two weeks?

Many thanks,

Answered by Nancy

Dear Ms. Ho***,

Greetings from Nancy Chung at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry, if there are 4 people in your group, I recommend you to take it as private tour, thus you will have the guide and driver on your own, and the tour can be flexible. If there are 2 in your group, of course take part in a group tour is better, and we have several groups in April, or we can open a new date based on your travel time, and our group size is 4 to 13 people. And if you will book in next weeks, I can apply some discount for you. Please check the email for more details. Best regards.

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user portrait Ms. Mi*** from: 4 Days Lhasa Holy Landmarks Express

I am interested in a tour with you all in and around Lhasa for a party of two.
We would be arriving on the 23rd of December and departing on the 25th.

We plan on arriving on train from Chengdu, China on the 23rd. Thinking of doing a monastery/temple tour the day we arrive. On the 24th, our full day, we would be interested in going to Yamdrok lake or something similar, 25th be in Lhasa to see rest other temples/monastery before we fly out in the evening.

We would like to get a tentative itinerary and price for the trip all inclusive.
Transportation, hotel stay, meals and Tibet permit. 

Thank you so much,

Answered by Helen

Hi Ms. Mi***,

Thanks very much for your inquiry. According to your itinerary, there is no group tour that suits for you, while we can arrange a private tour for you. Taking private tour, our guide will take you to visit all the scenic spots that you mentioned, and we will give you a quotation of this tour based on two of you, which includes transportation, hotel, guide and Tibet Permit. I will send detailed itinerary and quotation to you by email, please check your email. Warm regards.

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user portrait Mr. Go*** from: Why Mount Kailash is worshiped as the most sacred mountain in Tibet?

I want to organize tours to Tibet from Nepal can you sent me cost rate for all tours what you organize with detail itinerary

Answered by Nancy

Dear Mr. Go***,

Greetings from Nancy Chung at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry, please kindly let me know your nationality if you will visit Kailash, as we cannot apply Tibet permit to Kailash for Indian passport holders, and also Kailash is not possible to go from late Oct to early April due to the cold weather, and it will closed. If you will just take the tour from Kathmandu to Lhasa via Mt. Everest, which will be no problem to go year around (except every March). If you can provide how many people in your group and when you would like to take this tour, you will get the precise quote within 24 hours. Thanks and best regards to you.

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