The vast territory of Tibet is home to a legendary population of large guard dogs that have lived alongside human beings over the course of millennia, and their character is inextricably bound to those remote districts with their high altitude and mystic delights. Considered essential in tackling life’s demands and the day-to-day survival of nomads and resident tribes, the maximum morphological expression of these animals became sacred, whereby they embodied a sort of deity personified featuring in the most obscure Lamaist religious practices.
There are explicit mentions of their presence on the wild moors to the west of the dynastic Chinese centres of power in the 1st millennium BC, but it was only much later, when the first Italian explorers arrived in the 13th and 18th centuries, that these phylogenetically supreme dogs started to become known throughout the West. During the flourishing 19th century, the scientific community and the European elite regularly showed interest in their origin, nature and phenotypic variability and, even though they never managed to reach any real conclusions, they produced a rich legacy of documentation. This information is now crucial for fully understanding the actual environment inhabited by these animals, and resolving any apparent contradictions. Crucial because, from the second half of the last century onwards, that environment underwent various changes to its delicate balance due to the mass urban drift of the local population and the transformation of its social structure. To some degree this upset the continuity in selecting dogs, which had been complex but linear up until that point.
The practical approach of the Tibetan ethnic group is basically to split large dogs by structural category, with a single standard reference model that constitutes the actual final breed, which for some time has been the subject of speculation, misunderstanding and disheartening recreations outside of Tibet. This breed, which was sought, shaped and pursued by natives of the ethnic majority, probably transpired within a more primitive native canine variety embedded throughout Tibetan territory, inevitably more diverse but with recognisable, and sometimes unique, shared characteristics.
Traditionally described with a series of superlatives in their homeland and in copious accounts from past explorers, these large guardians of the high plains have always been characterised by a sturdy structure with strong bones, wide neurocranium, prominent occipital bone, thick undercoat, drooping ears, a tail curved firmly over their back, and a character which is highly suited to their key role.