Showsight Presents the Tibetan Mastiff


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A s judges, on any given day, based on the entries present in our ring, we are responsible to select our winners. Ideally, we have a working knowl- edge of the breed standard and experience in judging the breed before us. With a rela- tively rare breed like the Tibetan Masti ff , “relative” is the operative word. Which standard (AKC, FCI, CKU, or ???), which preferences and which variety or type come into play and are prioritized as we make our decisions? When in doubt, do we play it safe, or venture out, go with our gut and make a statement? As a breeder-judge with thirty five years invested in this breed, and having judged TMs in the US, Germany, Holland, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, Russia, Estonia and numerous times in China (writing this

very article en route to Beijing now), I can o ff er my experience and insight as to what makes a proper Tibetan Masti ff for me, and suggest how to prioritize your place- ments. And second guessing yourself after you have handed ribbons out can be par for the course. I have to admit, there have been occa- sions when even I look back on my win- ners and I surprise myself. But such is the nature of judging dogs. Each of us has a method or formula by which we reach our decisions. Do we narrow the field by correct movement and structure and then select for type from those sound examples of the breed, or do we make our first cut based on correct type and then find the overall soundest dog? Half a dozen of one, six of the other. I can tell you what has served me well and hope that it inspires others and equips

them with an expanded skill set. I watch everything. From how the dogs behave at ringside, to how they enter the ring, to how they line up and how they interact with the other dogs entered. Everything potentially counts and lends perspec- tive. In the initial lineup, I take a long,

(Left) Beautiful head study of a mature adult gold sable male with desired type and expression. (Top) Four black/tan TMs showing the variations in the shades of tan, and the amount of tan. (Bottom) The various shades of gold detailed and preferred in breed standards. 4 )08 4 *()5 . "(";*/& " 13*- t

(Left to Right) An ideal outline; Mature male in correct coat.; 3-year-old male with desired type and expression; Top-winning European TM “Harish” with myself handling him to BOB at Crufts 2011.; “Dom”; “Leo”.

slow look down the entire entry, giving priority and taking notice of the silhou- ette and breed-defining type. Leg to body ratio, the length and arch of the neck, the depth of the chest, the tail set, the angula- tion, the overall condition and quality of coat are all noted. I make a mental note of who I like, and then proceed on to the individual examinations. Will my favorites hold up when it comes to the hands-on examination and show me their best and “ask for it?” Or will the plain-Jane sleeper suddenly turn it on and dare me not to notice the breed-winning performance? While TMs are not to be judged with a premium placed on showiness, one can hope and pray for a glimmer of anima- tion and expression! Head type is every bit as equal in importance as the silhouette. When approaching the Tibetan Masti ff , I pause to take in the quality of the head and give the dog time to notice me and to anticipate the introduction. I always ask the handler if I may touch the dog and to show me the bite, and then to secure the head forward as I go over the head and front. It is not uncommon for some

TMs, especially those being owner-han- dled to extend their home-based guardian instincts to their perceived turf and charge in the show ring, and you are entering their space as far as they are concerned. Better to be safe and not expect this primitive breed to behave like its man-made counterparts. And don’t get me wrong, it is still your ring on your terms, but think of it more as striking a treaty rather than expecting the dog to stand for the compulsory examina- tion that other breeds accept with ease. Let your fingers and hands do the talking as you make your way down the sides, shoul- der assembly and topline to the tail. Dogs who are not thrilled with the judging pro- cess may not hold their tail up. Check for the length, type of curl and profuseness (is that a word?) of feathering, and look for the tail to be carried in the upright posi- tion at least once while moving. As for color, pick a color... any standard color. If color comes into your decision making process, you either have a great entry and your favorite color can be the tie-breaker, or you have a small or lack- luster entry with faulted or disqualified

colors. Th e shades of gold (pale gold to rich red-gold) correspond directly to the shades of tan on the tan pointed black/tan dogs. Personally, I give preference to an outstanding, typey example of the breed with faults over the generic, safe choice who is a solid working dog. It must be a proper looking Tibetan Masti ff before it can be a correctly moving, preferred- colored Tibetan Masti ff . “The shades of gold (pale gold to rich red-gold) CORRESP ON D DIRECT LY to the shades of tan on

the tan pointed black/tan dogs.”

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By Susan Ochsenbein

I was certainly experienced with dogs when I acquired my first Tibetan Masti ff in 1992. My family was not involved in showing but was devoted to our family dogs. I can only remember brief periods of time when I was without a dog and during those times I worked with rescue organizations and animal shelters. When my first Tibetan Masti ff entered my life I realized right away that I did not have an ordinary breed. Th e young male I brought home would forever change my life and I often told him that he was “the reason for the rest” who joined him and followed him. ordinary breed. THE YOUNG MALE I BROUGHT HOME WOULD FOREVER CHANGE MY LIFE...” “When my first Tibetan Mastiff entered my life I realized right away that I did not have an

T he most common rea- sons that prospective Tibetan Masti ff owners give me as a breeder are: they are beautiful, they are wonderful with chil- dren, they are livestock guardians and they are “gentle giants”. Hopefully I can dispel some of the misunderstandings that lead people to the Tibetan Masti ff and help others to appreciate this marvelous breed. After thousands of years in existence, the Tibetan Masti ff is still considered a rare breed. Not until 2005 when a par- ticularly zealous exhibitor became the

driving force behind getting the Tibetan Masti ff accepted into the American Ken- nel Club was there even much interest in AKC recognition by most breeders and fanciers. Th e Tibetan Masti ff came into the AKC in January of 2007 but it is still uncommon to see a large entry at AKC events. National Specialties typically only attract 15-20 entries and there are no regional clubs. As a breeder of Tibet- an Masti ff s and an AKC judge for the breed I am often asked why the breed is not exhibited more. To understand that requires that you appreciate the breed and the people who are attracted to it.

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I want to make sure that the impor- tant characteristics of the Tibetan Mas- ti ff do not get lost in this article. First and foremost, the Tibetan Masti ff is a guardian breed. Puppies have such natu- ral instincts that they will bark and alert in their whelping box when they have only just opened their eyes. Watchful and attentive of everything and everyone around them, they are an ideal property guardian. Th e relaxed demeanor of the TM belies the fact that they are ever vig- ilant to each and every change in their territory. When there is a change, howev- er benign, the Tibetan Masti ff will raise their voice to alert their families. Th eir voice is their trademark but can also create havoc in their families. Tibetan Masti ff s that live in urban settings can pose special challenges for their owners. Simply put, the breed can be destructive if left unsupervised in the home and they can be a barking nuisance if left outside

in a setting where they are stimulated to guard. Th e Tibetan Masti ff is sometimes mistakenly identified as a flock guardian. While they are wonderful for predator control, they are not trustworthy with livestock or fowl. Th e characteristics that first attracted me to the Tibetan Masti ff were their health and longevity. Typically, well bred Tibetan Masti ff s will live 12-15 years, with females generally being slightly longer lived. While it is true in every breed that there are health con- cerns, they are relatively minimal in the Tibetan Masti ff . Of course people con- sidering a Tibetan Masti ff will want to interview breeders and make sure that health checks and socialization are pri- orities. Th e truth is that TMs live a good long life as compared to many other large breeds. Th e Tibetan Masti ff o ff ers some other very desirable traits. Th eir beautiful coat

is comparatively low maintenance and odor free. Th ere is no evidence that they are hypoallergenic despite some claims to that e ff ect. Th e breed loses its undercoat usually in the spring in large manage- able clumps and then shedding is almost non-existent the rest of the year. Simply wiping the TM down with a damp towel and blowing the coat to remove dust/dirt is usually su ffi cient for dogs not entered in shows. Grooming for shows involves bathing and brushing with trimming of the feet only. Tibetan Masti ff s are one of the easiest breeds to house train and leash train. Th ey are naturally clean and one almost never hears of a Tibetan Masti ff that has any issues with house breaking. Leashes should be durable and flexi-leads should be avoided, still Tibetan Masti ff s love a leash walk with their family. With proper socialization Tibetan Masti ff s do not over react to other dogs or people on a walk. Th e TM is generally tolerant

“Simply put, the breed can be destructive if left unsupervised in the home and they can be a barking nuisance if left outside in A SETTING WHERE THEY ARE STIMULATED TO GUARD.”

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“It is an important part of Tibetan Mastiff ownership to


SOCIALIZING PUPPIES and to expose the youngsters to new situations and new people.”

and loving with children if introduced to them when they are puppies. So, let’s discuss the downside of Tibetan Mastiff ownership. This inde- pendent breed simply does not come when called. No amount of training will change their fundamental inde- pendence. TMs are too intelligent to be left with nothing to do, so they may become destructive or hyper vigilant on their home property resulting in aggres- sion towards strangers. Temperament is a subject for a separate article all togeth- er. Objectively the temperament of the Tibetan Mastiff is one of the primary reasons that they are not shown more often. They seldom display a “show atti- tude” and are generally indifferent to people other than their family. While they are usually devoted to the people they live with, they are frequently aloof and sometimes will not allow themselves to be touched or handled by strang-

ers. Their guardian characteristics can make them unreliable in the show ring and so many fanciers choose to forego exhibition of their dogs. It is an impor- tant part of Tibetan Mastiff ownership to be actively involved in socializing puppies and to expose the youngsters to new situations and new people. I mentioned that understanding the people who love the Tibetan Masti ff is a key to understanding the breed. Having been involved with TMs for over twen- ty years I can say that the best owners for this breed are: sensible, stable, level headed, patient, consistent and inde- pendent. Expectations for the Tibetan Masti ff owner will have to be realistic given the primitive guardian nature of the breed. Th ose of us who love them do so in spite of the special challenges they present but also because they are without parallel as canine companions and natu- ral guardians and protectors.

BIO Susan Och-

senbein has owned Tibetan Masti ff s since 1992 having exhibited and bred only this breed for more than twenty years.

Her old dogs and young dogs share her secluded farm with herself in Chesapeake, Virginia. Susan is an AKC Breeder of Merit, exhibitor, AKC judge and Inter- national judge for the Tibetan Masti ff . Since 2008 she has co-bred with world renowned Saras Tibetan Masti ff s in India and the United States. Th ey have bred top winning owner handled Grand Champi- ons and International Champions. Susan may be contacted via himala-

“WHILE THEY ARE USUALLY DEVOTED TO THE PEOPLE THEY LIVE WITH, they are frequently aloof and sometimes will not allow themselves to be touched or handled by strangers.”

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