Book Reviews

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Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas

A Personal Journey

Don Messerschmidt

2010, xiv, 268 pp., 40 b & w illustrations, 5 maps, bibliography, index, 23 x15 cm., softbound.

ISBN-13: 978-974-524-130-5 $29.50

Review -
Posted Thursday, June 30th 2011

Book review by Charles Radcliffe

Timberline Tibetan Mastiffs

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I must say that the author used one of my articles on color genetics in Tibetan Mastiffs as one of several addenda to the book, but because this was with my full permission and I neither requested nor received any financial considerations, I think I can be fair.
   The author, Don Messerschmidt, has spent the greater part of his life living and working as an anthropologist, ethnographer, free lance writer and keen eyed observer in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet. As most people seem to, who have any contact with them, Don became fascinated with the breed (or as he more aptly calls them, the landrace) of dog known in the west as the Tibetan Mastiff. These fabulous dogs are the central characters in this fascinating book which is part adventure, part travelogue, part cultural history, but mostly an ode to the mystique of the Tibetan Mastiff.
   I have been keeping, studying, and breeding these dogs for 25 years and I learned more about them than I ever expected from this book. He manages to give a feel and appreciation for their personality and their role in Tibetan culture that is unrivaled in the literature. I have one small quibble with the book which I have placed in the middle of this review because I don’t want it to detract from the book as a whole. This comment is really only relevant to Tibetan Mastiff afficionados. The author, on a few occasions refers to the very large specimens of Tibetan Mastiffs, which have been observed and documented a number of times in Tibet, as examples of gigantism, suggesting some unusual mutations or freakishness. Such is not the case. In the 30 or so litters I have produced and the several hundred dogs I have seen here in the US, it is very clear that size is just a quantitative trait and dogs are distributed along a normal bell shaped curve from a few very small (70+lbs) thru many big (85-120) to a few very large (140+). There is no suggestion of any single mutation that is responsible for the big dogs they are just toward the end of a normal spectrum and are consequently not as common. Consequently, there should be no prejudice against them.
   Don also found time in his studies and travels to acquire a couple of Tibetan Mastiffs. He lived with them, showed them and even produced a few litters. (One of my early TMs was a direct descendent of one of his dogs in the book, Saipal Baron). He has doubtless seen more Tibetan Mastiffs in their home range than any other Westerner and he writes about them, their place in Tibetan culture, and how they were shaped by that culture with a love and appreciation. The book is well written, impeccably researched with an extensive bibliography. Read it for the dogs, for the culture, or just for a good read.

[Read a review from] [Read a review from Chowkidar Magazine] [Read a review from ECS Nepal] [Read a review from Peace Corps Worldwide] [Read a review from The Italian Tibetan Mastiff Club] Download an excerpt from the book, published in ECS Nepal. [More Orchid Press Reviews]