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Meet Molosser maven Sanna Sander of Sweden

Sanna Sander of Gaslundavägen, Sweden, is a long-time contributor to Modern Molosser. Here, she talks about what makes Molossers so special to photograph, her love of the Tibetan Mastiff, and what it’s like to have that Molosser share the household with an otherworldly Sighthound like the Azawakh.  

About me

I am a freelance dog photographer and writer who also runs a small dog-grooming shop. It’s dogs all day long for me, and has been for years and years. It’s a case of passion turning into a job but still remaining a passion.  

I live in the middle of the forest in the south of Sweden together with my husband, our four dogs and two cats. We searched for the right house for three years before stumbling on our place. We were in total agreement – no neighbors were a must!  

Before moving we lived in a small village, but there was a lot of tension between one of the neighbors and my first Tibetan Mastiff, Zodd. We wanted to offer Zodd a chance to be what nature intended him to be without any restrictions, and without grumpy neighbors complaining about barking and guarding. And it felt so great to see Zodd at his new place, when he finally understood it belonged to him. He became much more harmonious and calm when he was free to act the way he wanted at all times.  

Now the pack consists of two Tibetan Mastiff boys (cover models Temudjin, who is two years old, and his 4-month-old son Tamtam); one 2-year-old Azawakh girl called Soleil, and our commander-in-chief, the little half Tibetan merle mutt named Chibi, who is four years old. Sadly, Zodd passed away suddenly this past September. He is greatly missed by us all.  

 

A photo of my mutt Chibi as a puppy, asking my first Tibetan Mastiff Zodd about the big, wide world. The photo was taken on a hill during sunset in the middle of winter. And it was the only shot out of countless ones where Chibi actually was sitting down. He was (and still is) a very energetic boy, always up to something! A photo of my mutt Chibi as a puppy, asking my first Tibetan Mastiff Zodd about the big, wide world. The photo was taken on a hill during sunset in the middle of winter. And it was the only shot out of countless ones where Chibi actually was sitting down. He was (and still is) a very energetic boy, always up to something!  

 

On Photographing Molossers

When I was a kid, the family camera was always full of photos of four-legged models. Later, I started collecting breed books and dog postcards, just to soothe my addiction of looking at photos of dogs.  

Rare breeds are a passion of mine, and long before I actually took good photos I went to dog shows, stalking the rarest breeds I could find, photographing them and asking the owners a lot of questions. Often these were Molosser breeds. One of my first Molosser subjects was a Dogue de Bordeaux, but one of the very first dogs I shot was a Drever (a Swedish hunting breed).  

 

Airborne Dogue de Bordeaux, “Bulten” (All Brand Bordeaux Maximus). He was one of the best friends of my first Tibetan Mastiff Zodd. We have had a lot of photo sessions together, but this is probably the photo of him, showing not only the strength but the power and agility of a healthy and soundly built Dogue de Bordeaux.Airborne Dogue de Bordeaux, “Bulten” (All Brand Bordeaux Maximus). He was one of the best friends of my first Tibetan Mastiff Zodd. We have had a lot of photo sessions together, but this is probably the photo of him, showing not only the strength but the power and agility of a healthy and soundly built Dogue de Bordeaux.

 

Looking through my archives, this must be one of my favorite photos I’ve taken of the Cimarron Uruguayo. It’s of daughter Dare and father Pancho. Pancho is also the first Cimarron Uruguayo imported to Europe, and I have had the pleasure of following him quite closely from the beginning.Looking through my archives, this must be one of my favorite photos I’ve taken of the Cimarron Uruguayo. It’s of daughter Dare and father Pancho. Pancho is also the first Cimarron Uruguayo imported to Europe, and I have had the pleasure of following him quite closely from the beginning.

 

Point of Attraction

Power and that hard glint of determination and pride in their eyes are what fascinate me about Molossers. They are always interesting and challenging to shoot since they have a very strong mind of their own. I would place the Tibetan Mastiff on the far end of that stubborn scale, and since I live with that breed I have to say that the other Molossers are a bit easier to shoot.  

But when it comes to using sounds to get a Molosser’s attention (I often yelp like a pup), it works once or twice, and then they have you all figured out and give you nothing but pitiful glances. And that makes them all the more appealing to me since I love a dog with a mind of its own.   And of course it’s great to show the agility of these big and powerful breeds. People often think that they can’t move because of their size, which is so wrong.  

 

My first choice when I was getting my first Molosser was the Caucasian Ovtcharka, due to this boy here, but it never happened. Ozzo guarded a mink farm near our home, and over the years we became friends. He was later joined by Nalle (the boy who is not in focus in this shot). He had a character like few other dogs I’ve met – incredible integrity and sense of right and wrong. Even as I talk about him, I feel gratitude that I had the chance to get to know him.My first choice when I was getting my first Molosser was the Caucasian Ovtcharka, due to this boy here, but it never happened. Ozzo guarded a mink farm near our home, and over the years we became friends. He was later joined by Nalle (the boy who is not in focus in this shot). He had a character like few other dogs I’ve met – incredible integrity and sense of right and wrong. Even as I talk about him, I feel gratitude that I had the chance to get to know him.  

 

Playing favorites

One might think I would grow tired of photographing Tibetan Mastiffs, since that is the breed I share my home with, but actually the opposite is true. They are my number-one favorite subject. To my mind there is nothing more beautiful than a Tibetan Mastiff, inside and out. Other favorite Molossers? I can’t pick. They are all so appealing, even if the Mastino Napoletano is a little extra special to me.  

 

There are few things as cute as a Mastino puppy in that too large of a suit. I am lucky enough to have a friend who adores the breed. To be honest, that is the reason why we became friends in the first place. All my really good friends have something to do with Molossers, who seem to bring people together.There are few things as cute as a Mastino puppy in that too large of a suit. I am lucky enough to have a friend who adores the breed. To be honest, that is the reason why we became friends in the first place. All my really good friends have something to do with Molossers, who seem to bring people together.  

 

Heart dog

My heart beats for the Tibetan Mastiff. I got Zodd (Fu-Hsing Sundari), back in 2007. He turned my world upside down: All I had ever learned about dogs had to be reviewed and revised, and by that time I had had dogs for 10 years already, and I had worked actively with dogs, running a boarding kennel and a small dog-grooming business for several years.  

Zodd had a huge impact on my life as a whole. Without him, I would not have pursued photography the way I have. He was my muse and my number-one model. I would never have met my husband, who turned out to be the brother of a friend I got to know through Zodd, and I would never have moved into the house where I live today, far from neighbors in the middle of the woods.  

 

My little mutt Chibi and my ever-so-patient first Tibetan Mastiff, Zodd. These two were the greatest team, and the patience from Zodd was endless. He loved his little brother, who loved him back, fiercely. Chibi is a high-energy little dog and really loves a good tug-o-war, no matter if the opponent is a huge and strong Tibetan Mastiff male. That’s what’s happening in this photo. One-sided tug-o-war, but still.My little mutt Chibi and my ever-so-patient first Tibetan Mastiff, Zodd. These two were the greatest team, and the patience from Zodd was endless. He loved his little brother, who loved him back, fiercely. Chibi is a high-energy little dog and really loves a good tug-o-war, no matter if the opponent is a huge and strong Tibetan Mastiff male. That’s what’s happening in this photo. One-sided tug-o-war, but still.

 

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.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.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.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.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!”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.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!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!
 
See more of Sanna Sander’s work at www.sannasdd.com.   
 

 

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