This photo was taken several years ago, but I still enjoy its balance and how baby brother Ferda works with his big sister to get the toy from Zodd. So focused and sweet.
The lure of Tibet
The reason I was drawn to the Tibetan Mastiff is mostly circumstance (if there is such a thing).
When my first dog, a crossbreed named Rocky, passed away in December 2006 at the age of 12, the emptiness was overwhelming. I was already a dog fanatic and had followed the Tibetan Mastiff from afar since 1997, but now I had a reason to actually dig a little deeper. Rocky had been black and tan, with a long coat, very clever and stubborn, and I saw the similarities.
At the time I really wanted a Caucasian Ovtcharka, but since I was at the mercy of my parents, living in their house, I had to rethink. They were very cautious of the Caucasian. So I started to look around at different options. Finally, there were two candidates left: the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Tibetan Mastiff.I reserved a Tibetan Mastiff puppy from a breeder in Sweden and decided that if there would be no pup for me I’d get a Bernese Mountain Dog instead.
I waited. And waited. Time passed horribly slow. And then finally I learned that the breeder’s female had given birth – to one stillborn male ... I was so disappointed: By then my heart was set on the Tibetan Mastiff. But the Tibetan Mastiff is quite a rare breed in Sweden, I had already decided I wanted a black-and-tan male, and the two other breeders who had puppies at the time had nothing that suited my wishes.
So I told my sister Nina, who often assists me during my photo shoots, that I would get a Bernese instead. She looked at me, shook her head and said, “No, that just isn’t you.”
I was so upset with her since it had taken a lot for me to “settle” for a Bernese (there is absolutely nothing wrong with the breed, but my sister was correct about it not being the breed for me), and I remember how I started crying.
A few days later I had checked the import rules and decided to contact Jarmila Bendova at Sundari kennel. She sent me photos of Zodd, and my heart was stolen.
Ever since that day, it has belonged to the Tibetan Mastiff.
This photo was taken during one of my Tibetan Mastiff trips, this time to the Czech Republic. I pretty much felt like I could return home after taking this photo, that’s how pleased I was. The Tibetan Mastiff queen in the photo is Aneta, and she was just as beautiful in real life.
And now for something completely different
As I mentioned, I have a passion for rare breeds, and I like the primitive breeds very much. They are dogs, sure, but at the same time they are very different – the same is true about the Tibetan Mastiff – with their honest and straightforward ways.
On paper, the Azawakh reminded me of the Tibetan Mastiff. Both are guard dogs, territorial, very loyal to their own people and not especially interested in, and often reserved with, strangers. The Azawakh is one of the more extreme dogs shaped by its environment and living conditions with the Tuareg people of the Sahel desert of Africa. They are living art, and truly breathtaking.
I’ve wanted one for a very long time, since their looks are stunning and their manners sounded appealing. When we finally found our home, the time felt right for an Azawakh to enter our lives.
A study in contrasts: Soleil the Azawakh and Temudjin the Tibetan Mastiff.
It turns out the similarities are on paper only. One cannot find two breeds more different from each other. When people ask about them, I often answer that the Tibetan Mastiff always thinks before acting and the Azawakh always acts before thinking. That pretty much sums it up.
Azawakhs react and show it with body language that can almost be described as screaming. If they feel uncomfortable, they look like the world is ending, and if they are happy it’s easy to get a black eye from the jumping, frolicking, exuberant dog in front of you. Tibetan Mastiffs are more discrete in their body language and are more “whisperers.”
Their energy levels are miles apart, but still they get along well. Even though the Azawakh prefers to play chase games and the Tibetan Mastiff prefers some serious wrestling, my gang mixes it up and plays well together.
I will never forget the first time my Azawakh girl Soleil got to play with another Azawakh. BOOM – the other Azawakh was sprawled on the ground with a wrestling Soleil on top, Tibetan Mastiff style! Soleil’s poor new friend had no idea what had just happened, but after a few minutes they played the normal Azawakh game of chase.
Even if the Tibetan Mastiff and the Azawakh get along well, there are moments of obvious confusion where it’s not hard to imagine the dogs being people – a Tibetan and a Tuareg trying to communicate using only their native tongues. Neither one gets the other.
When Veronica Tofte, one of my closest friends (once again we met because of our Molossers) had her first Dogue de Bordeaux litter, I went at least once a week to see and photograph the little ones. Their “uncle” Bulten (same boy that’s flying in one of the other photos) really loved the puppies, and we decided to try to take one of him and the male Veronica was keeping. Photos like these are near impossible without an assistant, and Veronica’s been with me on several shoots, so we made it happen with a bit of time and patience.
The Central Asian Ovtcharka is another favorite breed of mine. I am quite partial to all the large livestock guardians. And I like how this young puppy male (no more than six or seven months) already shows that special attitude the breed has: “Do not mess with me!”
During a couple of summers some years ago, I had the pleasure of getting to know the Cane Corso up close. I had several in my boarding kennel and learned that they are really friendly, loving and energetic friends. Those summers I took a lot of photos of these stunning and athletic Molossers. Taco, the boy in this photo, was my absolute favorite of the bunch.
Taking my best shot
I have photographed Molossers for many years now, and it’s strange how I never tire of it. There is some grand satisfaction in capturing these beautiful creatures, and the biggest reward is always that one epic shot that shows up every now and then. That one photo that speaks volumes to the observer.
For me, that is what draws me in and keeps me taking photos of the dog world’s greatest: the Molossers.
I have almost as many photos of the Dogue de Bordeaux as I have of the Tibetan Mastiff, mostly because a lot of my friends have this breed, and I have, in a way, been sucked into the Dogue world. This photo illustrates the true nature of the breed; they make people smile!