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Tibetan Mastiff, Guardian of Monasteries, the Most Ancient Dog Breed

A companion at the icy ‘top of the world,’ a shepherd with his Mastiff. (Image: Wikipedia)
A companion at the icy ‘top of the world,’ a shepherd with his Mastiff. (Image: Wikipedia)

Tibetans Mastiffs are the most ancient and rare breed of dog today. Their genetic heritage is linked to the grey wolf, more than 58,000 years ago. All other breeds tested were only 42,000 years removed from their wild relatives.

A highly prized breed in China, the Tibetan Mastiff. (Image: Igrvv/Flickr)

A highly prized breed in China, the Tibetan Mastiff. (Image: Igrvv/Flickr)

Tibetan Mastiffs have an ancient connection to the people of the Qingzang Plateau (Tibetan Plateau) regions, including Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, China, and India, of high altitudes ranging from 3000-5000 meters.

Able to withstand extreme cold, guard livestock, and groups of people living in such hostile landscapes, these dogs were revered as protective deities.

An extremely rare Tibetan Mastiff is called "snow lion" due to its pure white coloring (Image: Petdoctor/Wikimedia commons)

An extremely rare Tibetan Mastiff is called “snow lion” due to its pure white coloring. (Image: Petdoctor/Wikimedia commons)

The local nomads claimed these dogs could run swiftly like a tiger, stand tall like a donkey, and roar loudly like a lion, while being handsome. These dogs bravely protected their herds and villagers from animals such as leopards and wolves.

There’s a saying among Himalayan folk that one Mastiff is equal to nine dogs or three wolves in might and ability.

Tibetan Mastiff, guardian of Buddhist monasteries

These large, yet relatively quiet, dogs do not bark unnecessarily, making them perfect companions and guardians of Buddhist monks and nuns posted in remote mountainous locations of Tibet.

Traditional Chinese painting of a Tibetan Mastiff. We can see that is was revered (Image: Wikipedia)

Traditional Chinese painting of a Tibetan Mastiff. You can see that this breed was revered. (Image: Wikipedia)

It is said that a Mastiff sleeps at the head of the Abbot’s bed during the night, raising the alarm if anything “strange” happened.

Owners say that they are friendly giants unless danger threatens; in an instant, they become fierce and bold. They are also noted to not have a bad “doggy smell,” making them acceptable as an inside dog.

Tibetan Mastiff as a historical figure

The earliest record of this dog was a gift-dog offered to Emperor Wu in 1121 B.C. The dog’s name was Ngau.

These very large dogs were also noted in Marco Polo’s journals of A.D. 1257, when he traveled through Szechwan, China. He simply called the breed the “dog from Tibet.”

Tibetan Mastiff is the grandfather of modern breeds

DNA sampling confirms that many large breeds of dog poplar across Europe share a blood linage with the Tibetan Mastiff. These include old purpose breeds such as the Old English sheepdog, Rottweiler, and Saint Bernard.

Traditionally, the Tibetan Mastiff is also called 'the dog that can be tied' (Image:  Wikimedia Commons)

Traditionally, the Tibetan Mastiff is also called ‘the dog that can be tied.’ (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This dog has played an invaluable role for humans over thousands of years, as they have helped to create the many breeds of dogs used and adored today.

How much would you pay for this dog? 

In China today, people are known to pay over a million yuan (US$150,000) to own one of these giant pooches.

For example, in 2011, a Coal Baron was reported to have spent 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) on a red Tibetan Mastiff. There are many other cases of Chinese paying an exorbitant price for these dogs.

However, it is said that removing the dog from its natural environment has meant the integrity of the dog’s true characteristics are slowly being lost. Avid breeders around the world try their hardest to maintain good bloodlines. Yet being the rarest of dogs, this may be a challenge to maintain.

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