The tibetan mastiff
puppy to young adult
© Susan Ochsenbein
The first two years of your Tibetan Mastiff's life will be an
adventure for both of you because the TM is not an "easy" or inherently
cooperative breed. Slow to mature but very intelligent and primitive,
a puppy poses certain challenges to even the most experienced pet
owners. A number of the behaviors I discuss may not apply to your
puppy, but it is likely that you will recognize your puppy in the
general descriptions I offer of puppy development.
The most important time in a Tibetan Mastiff's life is the first
two years during which he will go through three distinct phases.
The timing of the phases varies a bit from puppy to puppy, but
you can recognize the changes and prepare for them so that your
puppy can grow into an adult that is a pleasure to own and know.
At about ten weeks of age, your puppy will come home with you.
I prefer to keep the puppies until they are close to ten weeks
to allow them a bit more time to mature and gain confidence through
their interaction with the rest of the litter and the adult dogs.
The proper temperament for an adult TM is relaxed, watchful and
somewhat aloof with strangers but your puppy will need guidance
to gain the self-confidence that he needs so that he won't become
a challenging and aggressive dog. Much of temperament is genetic,
but the balance is clearly environmental. Most people are aware
that puppies go through various "fear" stages, but understanding
that "emotion" in your TM puppy is critical. Molding your puppy
into a companion and friend will take patience but will be well
worth the time invested.
When your puppy comes home, he
will be a bit unsettled and may go through a period of separation
anxiety. The presence of other pets in the home can be helpful
in eliminating the "loneliness". The truth is that the puppy is
feeling displaced and uncertain - not "lonely" as we think of it.
Learning his new space and family will be the key to his comfort,
so keep the puppy's exposure to new people and events within his
abilities. Meeting new people, going places, even new smells will
be intense experiences for a young puppy. Although the puppy is
young, he is still a Tibetan Mastiff and will already feel an instinctive
need to control his situation. Make sure that you introduce the
puppy to new people and have them wait until the puppy has had
a "sniff" and a minute to evaluate them before approaching. Allowing
strangers to pick him up or handle him without an introduction
will make your puppy uncomfortable - even if he doesn't act bothered
by it. This is especially important at the veterinarian's office
where those unfamiliar with the Tibetan Mastiff character may make
him so uneasy as a puppy that it will be difficult to get him in
the front door of the office later. Many times new puppy owners
feel embarrassed if the puppy is not highly approachable and this
embarrassment can create tension that your puppy will sense and
respond to. Try to be relaxed and self-confident in new situations,
so your puppy can relax as well.
One of the most common mistakes that new owners make is avoiding
activities that the puppy doesn't like to do. If your puppy doesn't
take to riding in cars, it is a good idea to work with that problem
before he is over 100 pounds and you have to wrestle him into the
car to go to the vet. Many puppies are carsick or experience motion
sickness at first. Much of this is brought on by the anxiety of
being "out of control". Sometimes, just sitting in the car for
a few minutes is the first step, followed by short trips, which
increase in duration until your TM can settle and ride without
concern. If you drive a large enough vehicle to accommodate a crate,
then you will find that your puppy will travel most safely that
way. In no case should you ever travel with your puppy or dog in
the back of an open truck.
Collars, Leash Training and Crating
Sometimes a puppy may rebel against leash training. Again, the
reason is that he is being forced to give up some control.
To make your puppy comfortable on a leash, you should select a
well-fitted flat collar preferably with no noisy tags or medallions
on it. Dangling items are distracting to the puppy and he will
sometimes scratch at the collar to remove it. Once your puppy has
had the collar on and is comfortable with it, try attaching a leash.
I personally like a flexi-lead for puppies because the flexi-lead
will allow the puppy more latitude in movement at first. Many times
a puppy will follow an adult dog on a leash so if you have another
adult dog or a friend who can walk their dog with you, that may
help get him accustomed to walking on leash. Try to keep the puppy
walking on your left side as his training progresses and get him
accustomed to being under control without pulling.
As your puppy grows, use caution in the selection of leashes
and collars. Check them for wear as TMs have been known to strip
out a flexi-lead and break a weakened collar or leash. My TM puppies
also like to chew collars off of each other. Never use
a choke collar on your Tibetan Mastiff puppy as you can easily
Leash Training and Housebreaking
The need for leash training is obvious, but it is also helpful
in house breaking. I suggest that you take your puppy out on a
leash to relieve himself. This will help him to make the connection
between going outside and his purpose there. In many cases, puppies
that are just "let out" in the yard will play only to then come
back in the house after a time and relieve themselves. When your
puppy does what you have taken him out to do, praise him, take
him back inside and then you can let him out for play. Another
technique that works well is to tie a bell to the door through
which you will take puppy out. If you tap the bell on the way out,
the puppy will eventually learn to do the same when he wants to
go out. This can save damage to your door from scratches.
training is a sensitive subject for many people. Generally, people
do not like to be confined and we project that on our dogs. In
fact, dogs are animals that have a den instinct and like to have
a little place of their own. The Tibetan Mastiff puppy is very
mischievous and can cause quite a lot of damage in your home if
left unsupervised or uncrated. Again, you may have to kennel your
dog one day or leave him overnight at the vet's - so let's teach
him to be comfortable in a crate. Leaving his crate set up in a
quiet spot where he can see what's going on and fastening the door
open so he can't get closed in by accident are good ideas. You
can start by offering your puppy a special toy or treat only when
he goes in his crate. Be prepared for some resistance when you
first close the door on the crate. He may whine, cry, bark or howl
to get out. Do your best to wait until the racket stops before
letting him come out. If he thinks that throwing a fit will get
him released - he will continue to throw a fit. Please understand
that your puppy will not "hate" you although the "Legendary Guardian" may
just get a bit pouty for not getting his way. You must draw the
line with your puppy unless you plan to be his pet.
Allotting enough time for early puppy training can save you a
lot of frustration and heartache and strengthen the bond between
you and your new best friend. Patience and perseverance will yield
a puppy that enjoys a jaunty leash walk and can easily be crated
when the need arises.
By the time your puppy is four months old, you should be able
to travel with him in a car, walk him on a leash and crate him
fairly easily. While he is learning these good habits - watch that
he doesn't pick up some bad ones along the way. However "cute" his
behavior may be as a puppy, he is developing behaviors that will
be the foundation of his adult conduct.
Puppy chewing is a common complaint. TM pups have a special fondness
for wood and are not averse to cutting their teeth on your fine
furniture. This is another reason for crate training, as in most
cases TMs cannot be "trusted" not to damage your property. The
most common complaints are items of a personal nature that are
damaged or destroyed including: e yeglasses, pagers, remote controls,
shoes, etc. in addition to furniture and or fabrics. Even as puppies,
TMs can be amazingly destructive, especially if they become bored.
TM puppies also have been purported to climb to the highest point
in a room (they are mountain dogs, after all!) including perching
regally on the dresser or dining room table. No, I'm not kidding.
While your puppy is four to six months old, he will be cutting
his adult teeth and will be even more inclined to chew. I like
to give puppies green willow branches to chew as the wood is not
especially hard and the willow bark has certain medicinal properties
to ease gum pain. Of course, willow branches make a mess in the
house, so please make sure puppy doesn't "sneak" one in. During
this same time your puppy may become an erratic eater due to gum
pain. This is also a time when puppies tend to play hard enough
to hurt themselves if not carefully monitored. Of course, no large
breed puppies should be allowed to jump onto or off of decks, steps,
and furniture or bound into or out of an automobile without assistance.
At about five to seven months, puppies sometimes begin to be a
barking nuisance. The breed has been barking to warn predators
or just for the joy of it for a couple of thousand years - so you
will have to expect a bit of barking. Train your dog to stop barking
on command if you can. If not, you will have to bring him in at
night to prevent sleepless nights. The breed is very alert after
dark and even a small disturbance may yield a barking episode.
In my view de-barking the dog is terribly cruel and really unnecessary
with training. No bark collars can work with some dogs, but it
is cruel to leave them on continuously. Barking and Tibetan Mastiffs
are almost synonymous, so you should be prepared to work with,
but not eliminate, that behavior.
At seven to ten months a number of significant changes will take
place with your puppy. First, he will begin to act a little less
like a puppy and will become more independent. You may find that
the puppy that previously came when you called him or seemed somewhat
interested in pleasing you, has a new agenda . . . pleasing himself.
Digging, climbing and chewing can continue to be problems, but
the additional concern of sexual maturity begins to emerge. The
males will begin to act more protective at about this time and
the females can be "all over the map" emotionally. Your female
may experience her first estrus (heat cycle) as early as six to
seven months, although the age of nine to twelve months is more
common. This time is very important with a female puppy and distinct
character changes have been noted after the first estrus. This
stress is more intense because the breed has a single, annual estrus,
which directs them to have a strong and persistent desire to breed.
In my view, under no circumstances, should a first year male or
female be bred. It is not possible to be certain of the health
of the dogs and the female's character can be forever changed.
Of course the physical strain on a female of about a year to carry,
deliver and raise puppies is obvious. The emotional strain is just
as profound. Keep your puppy under close observation during this
critical time. Temper guardiness and watch for aggressive behavior
toward other dogs and toward people.
ALL Tibetan Mastiffs have issues with food. Food is a means of
sorting out pack order and a young dog may show any of a number
of food related behaviors. These behaviors are commonly overlooked
so I will describe some things to watch for - even if you crate
your dog or separate him to feed him. You may notice any of the
- a kind of stillness and watchfulness when food is presented
- circling of the food dish repeatedly, especially with the head
- lifting or moving the food dish
- dumping or burying uneaten food or empty food dishes
- resting with the food dish between the front paws, sometimes
with the head resting in the dish
- grumbling or growling while eating or when the food dish is
- rapid gulping of food
- refusal to eat at all
- sitting with and guarding the food dish, including racing over
to it when anyone else approaches
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of dealing with your dog's
food issues. Recognition is the first step in dealing with your
dog's expression of food anxiety. The outcome of these issues if
unaddressed can range from anorexia in dogs that only guard their
food and refuse to eat to full-fledged food aggression in which
no one can approach an empty food bowl. These circumstances can
affect your dog's health and can result in injury. Make sure that
your dog stays relaxed and confident when food is placed in front
of him; be sure that you can pick up the food bowl and/or biscuits
and other treats without his becoming aggressive. You may have
to pet the dog and talk to him while he eats to get him comfortable
with your presence and the sound of your voice. Dogs that won't
eat in the presence of other dogs are a very special problem and
may have to be fed by themselves. These dogs often starve themselves
if left in a kennel because they cannot find the privacy they need
to "let go" and eat. Many times, the same kind of dog will also
go quite some time before relieving themselves in a new place.
This type of tension can be difficult for both of you.
This brings me to the next phase of your dog's development, which
focuses on young adult behavior and socialization. At a younger
age, socializing your puppy just means introducing him carefully
to new situations and helping to build his self-confidence. At
ten to fourteen months the focus of socializing your puppy changes.
He now looks almost like an adult and your expectations of his
ability to behave well are pretty well set. During this time he
will start to assume his job as guardian in a more serious manner.
He may begin to be more "on guard" when at home, in the car or
on a leash. He is determining his territory and his responsibilities.
This is a time when dogs that have been kept too much at home may
begin to act aggressive toward visitors to your home. The dog that
walked casually on a leash, may begin to growl at other dogs or
people that he sees as a possible threat. Guiding your dog's behavior
during this time can make all the difference in his adult behavior.
Let him know that he is a good dog and that you appreciate his
guarding you but also let him know when he can relax and just continue
watching. You can say, "Okay, boy, you're fine - it's okay now".
Whenever possible, introduce him to the person or thing that got
his attention so he will know that you are paying attention to
his concerns. Once, a young male that I own was walking through
a motel lobby at a dog show and had a serious moment with a large
carved wooden horse that was a part of the decor. At the same time
that the scene was quite comical, I had to be careful not to dismiss
his concern and patiently take him to the carving so he could see
it was not a threat. Really, your puppy is just learning the world
and he will live to protect you from any and every threat.
Between fourteen months and two years, your puppy will mature
physically and will begin to resemble the dog he will become at
three to four years of age. Your dog's behaviors should be fairly
predictable and manageable. You will have discovered that your
Tibetan Mastiff is not going to let people enter the house or car
in your absence. You will have developed a protocol for introducing
him to new situations and new people so that he can evaluate his
role. At about two years of age, if your dog is of breeding quality
and has had all of the routine health checks, you may decide that
you want to breed him or her. I hope you will let your breeder
help with that decision. Ultimately, the choice and the responsibility
are yours if you purchased a breeding quality puppy. There are
decided changes in behavior after breeding. The males become quite
alert and sexually motivated for several weeks following their
first mating. They are really grown up now and want the world to
recognize what they see as elevated pack status. The females if
they are bred and conceive go through an entire palette of emotions
and hopefully go on to become wonderful mothers. Again, they are
profoundly changed by the experience. If you choose not to breed
your dog, the decision to spay or neuter is a sound one. Females
are a real nuisance when in season and the males are happier and
easier to manage when neutered. The only reason to breed your dog
should be that he has something special to contribute to the Tibetan
Mastiff breed. Every breeder must take responsibility for every
puppy they produce for the life of the puppy - so it is not a matter
to enter into without a lot of guidance and thought.
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