Back to Basics: A Comparison of the Tibetan Mastiff, Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard

Here we compare three massive Working breeds of the dog world, each one created to serve a different purpose.

Here we compare three massive Working breeds of the dog world, each one created to serve a different purpose. Of these three breeds, all are distinct in their looks and manner. One would seldom be mistaken for the other, even in the eyes of a novice. They would only know that they were in the presence of some very large and impressive animals, each having its own distinct look. Anyone coming upon any of these three breeds is awestruck by their immense size and presence. We have the awe-inspiring, aloof guard dog, the Tibetan Mastiff; the friendly longhaired, water-loving Newfoundland; and the massive and noble Alpine rescue dog, the Saint Bernard. In size, all are large, with the Tibetan Mastiff being the lightest in weight of the three, the Newfoundland being in the middle and the Saint Bernard being both the tallest and heaviest of the three on average, with much overlap. All three originated with Molosser-type dogs in their backgrounds.

While the Tibetan Mastiff is used as a guard dog for his family and their property in his native Tibet, he is often watchful of strangers and is rather aloof in nature while functioning as a very valuable family member. He is not the dog for every family because, while he has a high regard for those closest to him, he may not welcome strangers to his home. They are also exceptional guardians of yak and sheep. Although the TM is not called a giant breed, but instead a large one, his huge coat and mane make him appear even larger than he is under that coat. The TM has a regal and aloof bearing.

The Newfoundland was developed in North America since its settlement in the 18th and 19th centuries on and near the island of Newfoundland. The Newfoundland is a swimmer and a hauler. His disposition is that of a gentle companion. A Newfoundland gravitates toward water, as that is his nature as a water rescue dog. If he escapes from his yard, he can often be found swimming in the neighbor’s pool or even in a nearby mud puddle if nothing else is available.

The Saint Bernard was mainly a farm dog and a family companion, and his nature should be friendly and welcoming. His history as a remarkable alpine rescue dog, along with his name, Saint Bernard, comes from Saint Bernard Pass and the Hospice du Grand Saint Bernard in the Swiss Alps where he rescued lost travelers in the treacherous mountain pass between Italy and Switzerland. The Saint in the snow is truly in his element, playful and digging his nose into the snow with gusto.



The heads on all three breeds are distinctive and important to breed type. The Tibetan Mastiff has a head that is broad and strong with prominent brow ridges and a broad square muzzle. There should be no heavy wrinkling, for that would be a severe fault. However, a single fold extending from above the eyes down to the corner of the mouth is acceptable at maturity. A correct head and expression is essential to the breed. His expression is noble. These characteristics are all set off by the large mane and make him a very impressive animal. He is a watchful and aloof dog in character, and his expression should reflect that.

The Newfoundland has a head that is broad in the skull while slightly domed. The top of his muzzle is rounded, in opposition to that of the Saint Bernard, which should be flat on top. In the Newfoundland, the muzzle is straight or slightly domed. The Newfie has good cheekbone development. He should have no wrinkle. His expression is friendly and welcoming, soft and sweet. There should never be any look of ill nature, either in appearance or action.

The head of the Saint Bernard is a hallmark of the breed. It is massive and imposing, and there is a deep stop created by the deep furrow between the eyes and the strong brow ridges. There should be very prominent cheekbones. As one famous breeder stated, “The Saint Bernard’s head should look chiseled, never poured.” The flat, broad top on the muzzle and the very broad skull should add up to a dog with nobility that reflects intelligence in his expression. He will have wrinkles across the forehead when at attention but not down the sides of the head such as seen in the Tibetan Mastiff. The lips shall not be deeply pendulous.


Size and Proportion

The Tibetan Mastiff is a large dog with a preferred range of 26 to 29 inches at the withers for males, with bitches being on average slightly smaller. Dogs 18 months or older that are less than 25 inches at the withers are to be disqualified, as are bitches this age that stand 23 inches or less at the withers. All dogs and bitches within the preferred range for height are to be judged equally, with no preference to be given to the taller dog. TMs are only slightly longer than tall (a 10 to 9 ratio). In weight, the TM is about 120 to 140 pounds on average for males.

In the Newfoundland, the following proportions are approximately correct. He is slightly longer than he is tall. The body depth is at least 50 percent of his height. However, skin, muscle and coat make this distance appear to be approximately 55 percent. In weight, the male is from 130 to 150 pounds. His outline gives the impression of a slightly rectangular figure. It is not a case of the bigger the better, and he should never be soft and spongy. He is a natural at draft work and water rescue. He is a true working dog.

The Saint Bernard is proportionately tall, that is he must have daylight under him and be only up to 10 percent longer than tall, thus giving the impression of a square dog while never having a chest below the elbows. He should be 50/50 in depth of body to length of leg, but it is better to be longer in leg than too short of leg. He is massive and is a true giant while still being athletic in structure. The average male is about 150 pounds and up. Though he is a giant breed, this is not a case of the bigger the better. It is said that the Saint should more resemble a horse than a cow.


Coats and Colors

All three of these breeds are double-coated. The TM has a coat that stands off from the body, with outer hair longer and coarser than the soft undercoat. The coat should never be wavy or curly. This coarse coat with a huge mane around the neck serves them well in the high altitudes where they were developed. They come in many colors: Black, brown and blue/gray, with some white or tan markings in specific places, are all acceptable, as is gold.

The Newfoundland has a flat, water-resistant double-coat that tends to fall back into place when rubbed against the nap. The outer coat is coarse, quite long and full, either straight or with a wave. The Newfoundland can come in black, brown or gray, with white patches allowed. There is also the Landseer, a white base color with black markings.

The Saint Bernard has two coat types, short and longhaired. Up until 1830, all Saints were shorthaired. Both coats are double, with coarser guard hairs and a softer undercoat in each case. The standard for the Saint is written for the shorthaired dog, with a paragraph at the end describing the longhaired variety. The shorthair is the one used in the mountains of Switzerland. The longer-haired one, which, by the way, is medium in length, was developed in the late 1800s when crossed with a Newfoundland-like dog. It was found that this coat did not do well in deep snow, as it balled up on the legs and between the toes, so those longhaired or rough dogs are relegated to the valleys. In color, the Saint Bernard comes in all shades of red, all of which are equal in value, along with favored dark shadings on the head and necessary white markings on prescribed areas, such as the chest and feet. In either coat, one may see some indication of wave without being curly.



Each breed moves like a large working dog, strong and powerful. The movement of the Tibetan Mastiff is athletic, powerful, steady and balanced, but he also can easily move in a light-footed and agile manner. He should be moderately angulated, having maximum drive within that nearly square frame.

The Newfoundland, being a more heavily angulated dog, moves smoothly and rhythmically, while most often showing some roll as he gaits. His stride covers a lot of ground and takes a minimum amount of steps as he covers ground.

The Saint Bernard standard does not address gait, but do not take this to mean that gait is unimportant to the breed because it is necessary for an alpine rescue dog to be strong and powerful while on the move. The Saint is only moderately angulated because his build is short in the loin, and he moves in a noble manner. All three breeds must show strong movement.


Disqualifying Faults

The Tibetan Mastiff has three disqualifying faults, those being undersize, bites other than scissors or level, and coat colors and markings other than prescribed. The Newfoundland has only one disqualifying fault, and that is color other than described in the standard. There is no disqualifying fault described in the Saint Bernard standard.


Acceptance in the AKC

Of the three breeds, the Tibetan Mastiff is the most recent arrival to AKC, having officially entered the Working Group in 2007. The Newfoundland by the late 19th century largely resembled the breed of today. Since then, the breed has developed the final characteristics that make up the Newfoundland that we know today. As the Saint Bernard was developed in Switzerland, the Swiss Saint Bernard Standard was first written in 1884, with the English importing hospice dogs as early as 1820. The Saint Bernard Club of America is proud to say that it uses the original Swiss Saint Bernard standard with only very minor changes.

The background of the Tibetan Mastiff is rather sketchy because Westerners were generally not allowed into Tibet until more recent times. It is said that one or two large Tibetan dogs were brought to England in 1847 and presented to Queen Victoria by a Viceroy to India who visited Tibet, but the breed was not developed in England at that time. It took some time before enough TMs were brought to the US to get the breed established in this country.

The Newfoundland is the subject of many paintings and other artwork, and was particularly favored as a faithful companion. The explorers Lewis and Clark on their trek to the western sections of what is now the western US brought along with them a Newfoundland named Seaman. He accompanied the explorers on their trek from St. Louis to the Pacific and risked his life many times on that journey. The breed was recognized by AKC in 1886.

The Saint Bernard has many legends surrounding his emergence as a mountain rescue dog. The most famous of these rescue dogs was Barry, who saved more than 40 lives between 1800 and 1812. His body is preserved in the history museum in Bern, Switzerland. It was a legend that they carried casks of liquor around their necks to help when saving lost travelers in the treacherous pass. It was actually due to artist John Landseer, who did a portrait of such a dog with the cask. Saints have been depicted in fiction in books and movies from Cujo to Beethoven to Topper, the famous TV series. Recognized by AKC in 1885, the Saint Bernard breed was accepted only one year before the Newfoundland.

In closing, I would like to say that all three of these remarkable breeds are stunning in their size, presence and in their intelligent abilities to perform the tasks for which their breeds were created. In spite of humans intervening in their development, all three still exhibit these instincts in awe-inspiring ways.


From the May 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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