Tibetan mastiffs not at home in Hong Kong flats, expert says

Chief veterinary surgeon for Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals describes breed as meant for outdoor life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 10:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 10:28am

The Tibetan mastiff, one of the largest breeds of canine in the world, is a working dog known for its loyalty and the ability to guard animal herds in freezing winters.

The dog originated in Tibet – the landlocked part of western China which sees temperatures regularly plummet to below freezing in winter. The furry giants boast a thick coat of hair and are comfortable with outdoor life, says Dr Jane Gray, chief veterinary surgeon at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Obviously, from the name, it is very primitive,” she said.

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The SPCA has over the years taken in or treated 58 Tibetan mastiffs in Hong Kong, the first one in 2000.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had issued 294 dog licences for Tibetan mastiffs in the past three years.

They are not suitable as an apartment dog
Dr Jane Gray, SPCA veterinary surgeon

Keeping the dogs became a symbol of wealth on the mainland a few years ago. A one-year-old golden-haired mastiff reportedly fetched 12 million yuan (HK$14 million) when it was sold at a “luxury pet” fair in 2014.

Gray said the breed can grow as tall as 83cm and weigh between 45kg and 72kg, which puts it 10th in a list of the 25 largest dogs the SPCA keeps.

Because they were originally allowed to roam outside to guard homes and animal herds such as sheep and goats, the canine has to be walked a couple of times a day if kept as a pet.

Under the city’s Dangerous Dogs Regulation, a dog weighing 20kg or more must be kept on a lead no more than two metres away from its owner, a law which therefore covers all adult Tibetan mastiffs.

The breed is not classed as a “fighting dog” however like the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, and Argentine and Brazilian mastiffs, which have to be muzzled in public under Hong Kong law.

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Gray said the Tibetan mastiff boasts a stubborn and strong-willed character and usually appears quiet during the day, but some bark a lot at night.

“They are not suitable as an apartment dog,” she said.

Hong Kong’s humid weather and lack of space do not make an ideal home for the breed, she added, advising against keeping one.

Gray said the dog should only be kept by experienced owners.