The earliest accounts of Tibetan Mastiff history date back to about 1100 B.C. Genetic testing proves the dog has been around for about 5,000 years. What may be most amazing is a 2008 mitogenome study that essentially put the breed at the forefront of dogs: the conclusion was that diversion from the Gray Wolf occurred approximately 58,000 years ago. (Twelve other ancient breeds diverged from that wolf breed many millennia later around 42,000 years ago.) Other studies have posited that this "mastiff" may have been partially responsible for other mountain dogs such as the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Great Pyrenees, the Rottweiler and the Saint Bernard.
In the 1870s, they made their way out of Tibet as gifts from Easterners as well as exports by Westerners, with England being the place where the breed landed. Queen Victoria received a "large dog from Tibet" from the viceroy of India, and the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VIII) took two others for himself.
When the stud books for the The Kennel Club (TKC) were formed in 1873, it was then that the misnomer "Tibetan Mastiff" was coined. It took several more decades before England became home to the Tibetan Breeds Association, which created a standard. The association, formed in 1931 by Mrs. Bailey (who was married to and lived with a Colonel Eric Bailey stationed in Tibet), was done so after she had become acquainted with the lama who managed the kennels for the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama.
The invasion of Tibet by China took place in the 1950s, and the resulting action threatened the breed's existence. During that time, U.S. President Eisenhower received a pair (although nearly nothing is known of them) and it was rumored that in the 1960s, hippies used them to transport drugs. (Import / export personnel apparently refused to endanger themselves to inspect the dog crates.) In any case, the breed survived — although finding a truly purebred Tibetan Mastiff was rare and often meant traipsing up into the Himalayas to find one.
Because of the reports that the breed was being exterminated, breeders in the U.S. went to work. In 1974, Ausables Kennels (in New York) registered the first litter, the "A" Litter, out of which came the legendary Apache Anne. By the 1980s, the breed had become highly coveted worldwide. Despite being perhaps the absolutely oldest dog breed on the planet, the AKC only recognized Tibetan Mastiffs in 2007. Shortly thereafter, the dog's popularity exploded even more. In China, there was reported to be some specimens that were sold in excess of $1 million (about 6 million yuan).