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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.

Other Travelers' Questions

The questions raised by our past customers can help you get a more clear picture about tours to Tibet, read them or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side, our specialists will reply you within 24 hours.

user portrait Mr. Mi*** from: Mount Kailash Tour from Kathmandu, Nepal

I want to do tour from Kathmondu, coming from USA. what do you recommand in August 2019? Thanks.

Answered by Nancy

Dear Mr. Mi***, 

Greetings from Nancy at Budget Tibet tour, and I am glad to be at your service. Please kindly let me know your nationality firstly since your tour will be involved with Kailash. If you will enter Tibet from Kathmandu, you must leave 3 working days in Kathmandu for you to apply your China visa there, and also if you would like to visit Kailash for sure, I recommend you fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa to join in a group tour as almost all the group tour start from Lhasa. I recommend you to fly to China from USA then go to Kathmandu after the tour as we can drop off you at the border so you can go Kathmandu by overland. Anyway I will send you more details by email. Best regards. 

Email to Nancy about any question or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side

user portrait Mr. Ge*** from: 1 Day Lhasa World Heritages Tour

Dear we are a couple planning to travel from Kathmandu to Lhasa on march 2020 by flight.
We eould like to know the price for the 1 day Lhasa tour
Can we stay 2 additional days without tour-guide ? what about the price of tibet visa??



Answered by Helen

Dear Mr. Ge***,

Thanks very much for your enquiry. Please kindly note that the Tibet will closed to foreign tourists in March every year, I was wondering whether you could adjust your travel time or not. Sure, we can arrange 1 day Lhasa private tour for you, the quotation is based on your travel time. Please check your email for more details. Warm regards,

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user portrait Mr. Ma*** from: 18 days Tibet Mount Kailash & Guge Kingdom Expedition

Hello there

I am favouring with one of your tours including the pilgrimage around mount kailash.
What is the level of fitness required ?
I am female, 54 years old and I gues medium fit. I dont do too much sports but regularly hiking.
The timeframe for me would be mid May until Mid june.



Answered by Nancy

Dear Ma***, 

Greetings from Nancy at Budget Tibet tour, and I am glad to be at your service. As we do not have group to Guge, but we do have 15days Lhasa to Kailash trekking pilgrim tour on 15th May and 10th June, both dates are available for you to join in. 10th June group tour will come cross the Saga Dawa festival in Kailash on 17th June, so if you can make it that would be great. Your age is quite young, please worry free, and most of our clients were your same age, some are more than 70 years old even did the tour quite well, and 3days pilgrim tour would be no problem. You will leave most of your luggage in hotel, and carry the necessary stuff, and also there are some tea house there providing hot water, simple food and basic shelter for sleeping, but of course please do not expect too high about it. And we will do the outer circle for the pilgrim trekking which will be 54km in total. I will send you more details to your email please check it there. Best regards.  

Email to Nancy about any question or tell us your own questions via the form on the right side

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