Rici the bullmastiff is best described as a rock star.
He is a four-year-old Australian champion, who takes home ribbons, sashes, trophies and rosettes most weekends, and owner Shelley Johnson says he is well known in the international bullmastiff community.
“At the shows, it’s all about him,” she said.
“He struts his stuff around the ring.”
Rici was destined for fame from the get-go, with Shelley naming him ‘High-Octane Ricciardo’ after the Australian Formula One driver.
“We called him after Daniel Ricciardo, and he ended up being like him,” she said.
“High-octane is full-on, and full of energy.
“You’ve got to be careful what you name your dogs.”
Shelley has bred bullmastiffs for about 20 years under the name ‘Sweetbryer Bullmastiff’, and was initially attracted to the breed's lovely temperament after dog-sitting for a friend.
“I had rottweilers at the time, and I thought, ‘I want one of these instead’," she said.
“I absolutely love bullmastiffs — they’re a family-orientated dog who like to be involved.”
But she admits Rici was something special from the beginning.
“I’ve got five bullmastiffs and a bulldog, and none of the others are like him,” she said.
“Rici will respond to ‘hello’, he’ll sit in his chair and chill out with us.
“He’s more like a person than a dog.”
He was the first pup from a female bullmastiff Shelley brought over from Denmark about eight years ago, but his mum rejected him when he was born, so Shelley raised him like he was her own child.
“She only had the one puppy, and was inseminated in her sleep, which means they very rarely recognise that they’re pregnant,” she said.
“I bottle-fed him, and he still sleeps beside my bed.
“Being the only boy, he just sat around with us when he was growing up — we were his dog family.”
She started to teach him to ‘stack’ at around eight weeks old — a natural, ‘square’ position show dogs are taught to assume for competitions so the judges have time to admire the pooch.
It turned out he was born for the stage, winning ‘Best Head’ out of 24 dogs at a national bullmastiff competition in Queensland about three years ago.
“He’s pretty special — we went all the way up there and won a nice rosette,” she said.
But Rici is more than just a cool competitor. Shelley says he is a total clown and has some quirky behaviours, including his love for bananas.
“He barks for his bananas,” she said.
“We were eating bananas once, and he was so excited.
“We don’t know why he likes them.”
He also loves being petted and pampered — Shelley has videos of him lounging as he gets his nails done, and her partner Frank has a nightly routine with him, where he will tell Rici to “assume (his) position”, and the 70 kg pooch will flop on his back and happily receive a belly rub until he goes to sleep.
Shelley said they were still working towards getting Rici a Grand Champion title, conceding he is a few hundred points away from getting there.
But this does not matter too much to Shelley — he is her favourite, regardless.
“He’s one of the loves of my life, but mainly the main one,” she said.
“When he’s gone we will miss him.
“I’ll never get another one like him.”