Since the turn of the millenium the Tibetan Mastiffs seen in the UK show ring have varied tremendously. Imports continue from Europe and the United States along with overseas studs being used and this, coupled with advances in transport and storage of semen which have allowed importation of frozen straws from Australia, have combined to enable breeders to take significant steps to improve their stock with the result that the short-listing or placing of a Tibetan Mastiff in the Group at Championship level no longer illicit gasps from the crowd! Of course for a rare breed to be seriously considered several things need to happen, of course the quality must be there but often there needs to be a trailblazer and the UK had just such a dog. Imported in 2004 from the United States, Sierras Yogananda (Shang-Hai’s Jack the Bear x Sierras Miti Princess of Ista) has enabled Tibetan Mastiffs in the UK to be viewed with an objective eye rather than dismissed as “just another numerically small breed”. The statistics surrounding “Yogi” are not in dispute, twice a World Winner, several Crufts wins, multiple Group placings, Intl and SW Champion but to me the most impressive and, at the same time, concerning figure is the vast number of Best of Breeds he has amassed. I am sure this number must be in excess of sixty and for any exhibit to win this number must demonstrate the quality of the dog in question – of that I do not feel there can be any argument. My question to you would be how did the Tibetan Mastiff in the UK, as a breed, get to such a point after 20 plus years that one dog could sweep all before him with virtually no meaningful competition? As a breed the TM in the UK had, and has, many dogs that bear only a passing resemblance to the breed standard but things are improving.
On the whole the TM in the UK is a healthy breed, hip and elbow scores are generally good, thyroid and entropion seem to be rare – certainly as far as symptoms being presented in dogs we see. Temperament is also, on the whole, very good but we do have dogs that fail in this respect. That said the decisions to use dogs with high hip scores, poor conformation, lack of bone, thyroid issues, entropion or some other such malady are still being made – this is not good enough. In the past the argument that these were the only dogs available only occasionally held water, these days it leaks like the proverbial sieve!
If we want to elevate the TM in the UK back to the position where it can truly compete with the best in the world this must stop. The standard is there to assist us all and when we see new young dogs in the ring that are large and powerfully built along with many of the other attributes the standard asks for we can take heart. The recent imports into the UK have shown in stark contrast how far behind the rest of the world we have fallen. As many have said over the years the perfect dog does not exist but there are some core fundamentals that all breeders should strive for such as good basic construction, soundness, breed type, temperament and last but not least health. Without these basics no breed can prosper and unfortunately this seems to have been forgotten by some, although certainly not all, UK based breeders. The red herring of breed colour is sometimes used in the UK as a reason to dismiss well constructed dogs and in an ideal world this might well be a valid argument but placing a poorly constructed dog above another simply because it is Black and Tan has done the breed no favours. In the past few years new, younger dogs have taken over the mantle of competing in the Group for the breed and we have a real opportunity to move forward with judicious use of new bloodlines combined with all that is best from the UK gene pool. The disparity of size between dogs and bitches is being addressed and I am extremely hopeful that, with time, we will once again be a force with which to be reckoned. I often consider the strength of a breed can be gauged by how many dogs you would happily add to your “dream” home/kennel when judging, particularly at a Breed Club Show. Having recently lost count at some overseas shows using this method it behoves many in the U.K. to consider this when casting their, what should be critical, eye over the next generation of brood bitches and stud dogs regardless of whose kennel they originate from. So where do we go from here? Thankfully the quality of some Tibetan Mastiffs in the UK has improved greatly but we appear, certainly to my mind, to be at the stage where our good dogs are improving through slow and thoughtful breeding whilst our bad dogs are heading in the opposite direction at an alarming rate of knots. This comparison can also be applied to the numerous imports that we are seeing – some show real quality whilst others look as if they will add no quality – time will tell!
Of course for all my warnings we do have a number of dogs in the UK that can, and do, hold their own wherever they are shown although I should qualify this as just meaning Europe. In March 2015 the very first set of Challenge Certificates were awarded to Tibetan Mastiffs in the UK allowing a TM to achieve the accolade of Champion. This monumental change has resulted in seven sets of CCs available, per sex, per year. All those shows that award them have now been completed and we have 5 bitches with one CC and 1 that has gained two – so the field is wide open as they say! Where the dog CCs are concerned 2 males have a single CC whilst 1 has been awarded the other five! Which now means that we have our first UK Tibetan Mastiff Champion in the form of Sierras LL Cool Jay at Heronsview. Bred by Kristina Sherling and owned and handled by Richard Gardiner. The more observant amongst you will have noticed the link to an earlier part of this article however these days UK bred TMs can at least hope to compete, and on occasion, beat a good quality imported dog. Of course this does bring into stark focus the potential quality, or otherwise, of the many other imports.
A final thought - as we approach 2016 it appears that many litters are planned to be born this winter in the UK, just how many of these will grace the show ring nobody knows but regardless of whether they are “big winners” or not it is the responsibility of every breeder to ensure that the Tibetan Mastiffs they produce are happy, healthy, and able to do the hardest job of all that of the valued family pet.