If you’ve ever spied one of these massive breeds during an afternoon stroll through your local dog park, it's a sight you’re not likely to forget. Both come from working-class origins with breed lines that are ancient by canine standards, yet each is a fairly rare sight in the United States. Both are gentle at rest but require consistent training to help redirect their independent and territorial natures, along with human families willing to put in the extra grooming time their XXL double coats require.
Described in Chinese literature as early as 1100 B.C., it’s believed the Tibetan mastiff is an ancestor of all modern mastiffs and most large working dogs, including “mountain dogs” such as the Caucasian shepherd, according to the AKC. Males stand as tall as 29 inches at the shoulders and may weigh 180 pounds. Females are a bit more petite, measuring a mere 27 inches at the shoulders. Their dense double coat is straight and comes in shades of black, brown or blue/grey with tan to mahogany markings. Used for centuries to guard people and property in the Himalayan Mountains, the Tibetan mastiff only became eligible to compete in AKC shows in 2007.
Recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1995, the Caucasian shepherd, also known as the Caucasian Ovcharka, hails from the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia. The UKC notes that some believe this ancient breed is the result of a cross between wolves and the Tibetan mastiff while others contend the line originated in Mesopotamia. According to breed standards, the minimum weight for a male Caucasian shepherd is 110 pounds but most weigh more, as much as 150 to 200 pounds. These muscular, heavily boned dogs may reach a height of 30 inches at the shoulder. Females are distinctly smaller with a height of approximately 25 inches. Their long double coats come in varying shades of gray, white, red, fawn and tan.
Both breeds were developed to act as guardians over humans, livestock and property. This created an independent nature that could turn ferocious when invaders threatened their charges. The UKC notes today’s Caucasian shepherds are also highly suspicious of strange people or dogs entering their territory and may react quickly to real or perceived threats. The Tibetan mastiff retains a reputation of being aloof with strangers and is highly protective of its people and property, according to the AKC. Both are much less territorial once they’ve left their property, meaning you needn’t forgo long walks or other chances to socialize your dog. Consistent obedience training from early puppyhood, using positive reinforcement rather than harsh discipline, works best with these noble dogs.
A large backyard with sturdy fencing and room to romp is a must for both the Tibetan mastiff and Caucasian shepherd. Neither should be considered an “outside” dog, however, since they tend to bark loudly and long if an unexpected sight or sound indicates a potential intruder. Also, their commitment to guarding their family means they may not hesitate to rid your property of perceived interlopers if necessary. The American Tibetan Mastiff Association notes that the breed does quite well with visitors, including other animals and people, as long as you take the time to introduce your visitors properly and monitor their reaction.
- American Association of Caucasian Ovcharka Owners: Breed Standard of the Caucasian Ovcharka
- United Kennel Club: Caucasian Ovcharka
- American Kennel Club: Tibetan Mastiff History
- American Kennel Club: Tibetan Mastiff Breed Standard
- American Tibetan Mastiff Association: Is the Tibetan Mastiff Right for You?
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