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Swagger a surprise contender at Westminster dog show

February 12, 2013|By Tina Susman
  • Swagger, an Old English sheepdog, won best in the herding group at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
Swagger, an Old English sheepdog, won best in the herding group at the Westminster… (Frank Franklin II / Associated…)

NEW YORK -- Swagger has swagger, and why not? The relatively untested Old English sheepdog scored an upset of sorts at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show by trouncing more mature and show-tested sheepdogs to win best in group in the herding category, putting him in contention for the title of best in show on Tuesday.

Like the hundreds of other dogs in this year’s competition, Swagger, who hails from Colorado Springs, Colo., has a formal name used in competition.

It is Bugaboo’s Perfect Picture.

PHOTOS: Westminster Dog Show

For the sake of simplicity and, might we say, dignity, we’ll stick with Swagger, who joined the other finalists Tuesday evening before showtime, soaking up the admiring stares of spectators streaming through the dogs’ rest area. Looking into his large crate, it was impossible to tell which end was up with Swagger, whose gray and white hair fell in silken sheets over his eyes, nose and mouth.

He weighs about 90 pounds, said Swagger’s owner, Colton Johnson. Eighty if you don’t include the hair.

Swagger’s success is due to the Westminster show being opened this year to so-called “class” dogs, which lack the points scored in competition to earn the label “championship” dogs. The rules change meant that Swagger, who had appeared in only three shows before entering the ring for the herding group competition Monday, could go head-to-head against dogs with years of experience and rooms full of trophies and ribbons.

“So for him to win the group is unbelievable,” Johnson said. “I’m still in shock. This is a hard show for dogs that are seasoned, let alone dogs that have showed just four times.”

That was evident in the so-called bench area, where the dogs who had made it to the finals were lazing in various states of exhaustion as they waited to be called to the ring. Not even the smell of sweet-and-sour chicken, McDonald’s burgers, roast beef sandwiches and the other meals being wolfed down by their hungry owners could rouse the slumbering hounds.

Johnson was asked if opening Westminster to class dogs such as Swagger had diminished its prestige.

“I get where they’re coming from,” he said of those who opposed the change. But Johnson said pros wouldn’t bring any dog but the best here, whatever their rank, thereby preserving the show’s prestige.

Asked who was the dog to beat for best in show, Colton was diplomatic. “If you won the group, you’re the one to beat,” he said.

Asked if he ever got tired of answering questions about his dog, Colton replied, “No.”

“But sometimes I wish he could talk so he could answer some of these questions,” he added.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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