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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.

Travelers' Questions Might Help

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. St*** from: Kailash Circuit ( 18 Days )

ello, we are willing to organized a tour of Kailash from Lhassa for a group of 4 persons (3 french and 1 from Kazakstan) around end of august. Could you provide a private tour for 4 persons ? and for what price ?

Thank you very much


Answered by Helen

Dear St***, 

Greetings from Helen at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry. I do not know if your friend who hold Kazakstan can apply China visa, as it is quite strict for them to get China visa, and almost the embassy would turn them down. So please tell your friend about it. No offence, and we had Kazakstan clients before but failed to get China visa so cannot come to join in the tour. If there are 3 or 4 of you, and I just wonder whether it will be OK for you to join in a group tour, and we have the group tour on 12th Sept, which I can provide you some discount if all of you would like to join in, and also our group size is 4 to 12 people, so not large group.  I will provide you the private tour quote too with 3 people and 4 people and also you can start it in Aug or Sept any time you want. And 30th Aug. will be Tibet Shoton festival which will last about 1 week in Lhasa, and the highlight will be the first day in Drepung Monastry for Thangka Buddha Show there. Best regards.

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

user portrait Ms. jo*** from: 10 Days Tibet Mt. Everest Base Camp plus Namtso Lake Group Tour


I am interested in your 10D Tibet Mt. Everest Base Camp plus Namtso Lake Group Tour for the departure date on 20 May. However I may likely book the flight arriving Lhasa on 17 May. is it possible to arrange the Tibet tour permit from 17 May before start of tour?

as my flight will be arriving at around 6pm after the free airport pick up time, can I take the airport shuttle bus by myself to my accommodation without a guide? how do I arrange pick up from my own-arranged hotel to the hotel booked by this tour on day 1 of itinerary?

also I am booking for one pax only and will like to share room. currently only one pax has booked. may I know if there is a minimum group size for the tour to be confirmed? or will it be last minute cancelled if the tour booking does not meet the minimum pax requirement.?

Answered by Helen

Dear Ms. jo***,

Thanks very much for your inquiry, and we currently have one departure date on 20th of May, you are quite welcome to join us! I was wondering whether you could fly to Lhasa on 20th or not. Well, you can also arrive in Lhasa on 17th, but there is extra fee. When you arrive in Lhasa at 6pm of 17th, you'll miss our free pick up on 20th, please note that you can't take bus or taxi from airport to hotel by yourself, because when you enter Lhasa, you must be escorted with a guide according to the policy (there will be policeman check-point on the way from airport to downtown), so the guide will pick you up at the airport and help you pass the check-point, and there is extra pick up fee. There is one tourist who has booked this tour, but he will stay in a single room. We will try our best to find a roommate for you, but if we fail, I was wondering whether you mind staying in guesthouse (dorm-bed, public bathroom, with breakfast), which can avoid single room supplement fee for you. The minimum group size is two persons, now there is one tourist has booked this tour, if you book this tour, there are two persons together, we won't cancel it. I will send detailed itinerary to you by email, please check it. Warm regards.

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

user portrait Mr. Ro*** from: Mount Kailash Tour Cost

Hi ,

Can I get information to do the Inner Kora Darshan of Mount Kailash. I am planning to start my tour from Lhasa. Appreciate if you could provide details//// Tour Operators . Please note I will flying from Canada to Lhasa and I do have a mutiple Chinese Visa.

Answered by Helen

Dear Mr. Ro***, 

Greetings from Helen at Budget Tibet Tour, thanks for visiting our website and sending your inquiry. Normally people are not allowed to take the Inner Kora unless they finish the 13 circles outside kora, so at present we never managed it successful for the inner Kora tour there. And we only have the 15 days Tibet Mount Kailash Trekking plus Mt. Everest Base Camp tour available every month from April to Oct. Please kindly let me know when you would like to do this tour? So I can recommend you the proper date. Your visa will be No problem for us to apply Tibet permit. I will send you more details by email. Best regards.

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

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