Tibetan mastiff attack stirs debate about dangers of ‘world’s most expensive dog’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 October, 2014, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 October, 2014, 8:29pm

Revered as a status symbol in mainland China, the Tibetan mastiff can be a highly dangerous, ferocious animal, as a woman in Beijing’s Miyun county found out to her misfortune.

According to the Beijing Times, the woman had gone to her neighbour’s house to ask for help turning off the supply to a leaking water pipe. She was bitten multiple times by the neighbour’s Tibetan mastiff, which was not tied up, and suffered a brain haemorrhage. This week she was awarded 14,000 yuan (HK$17,700) compensation by a Beijing court for her injuries.

The Tibetan mastiff, originally bred to protect sheep from wolves, is banned in many Chinese cities. Last August, the Bandao Daily reported that a six-year-old girl died after being attacked by a Tibetan mastiff, and accounts of attacks by the dogs are common in Chinese media, including one case in which 20 police officers were called to deal with two dogs which had attacked pedestrians in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Perhaps the greatest example of the animal’s perceived ferocity is that a Henan zoo reportedly attempted to pass one off as an “African lion”.

Tibetan mastiffs are also expensive. According to the Qianjiang Evening News, a property developer paid 12 million yuan for a one-year-old golden-haired mastiff at a “luxury pet” fair in Zhejiang province.

While insiders have warned that sky-high prices may be the result of insider agreements among breeders to attract publicity, the dogs have proved a hit with China’s nouveau riche as a living status symbol.

Whether any breed of dog is more dangerous than another is a matter of debate. In the 1990s, Britain and a number of US states passed legislation making it illegal to own a number of “dangerous” dogs, most notably the pit bull terrier, after a series of attacks by pit bulls received heavy media attention.

Defenders of the pit bull and other dogs labelled dangerous often argue that any risk posed is more to do with the animal’s socialisation and breeding than any genetic predisposition to savagery.

“Given the powerful impact of socialisation, it’s no surprise that dogs that are chained outside and isolated from positive human interaction are more likely to bite people than dogs which are integrated into our homes,” the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises in its official statement on the danger posed by pit bulls.

A 2009 study published in the international Journal of Forensic Sciences found that owners of so-called vicious dogs were almost 10 times more likely than other dog owners to have a criminal conviction.

Biting or mauling their owners “goes against the nature of purebred mastiffs, which are well known for their loyalty,” Guo Feng, vice chairman of the China Purebred Tibetan Mastiff Association told the Global Times.