Now that he’s back from The Show, Swagger can return to the roles that occupied his time before he became an international canine celebrity: Floor pillow. Crumb catcher. Eater of shoes and sunglasses.
You know. Dog stuff.
“I find fruit snacks and Doritos in his fur. This can be a home to a lot of things, with all this hair,” said owner Colton Johnson, whose two daughters, ages 3 and 5, enjoy playing with the exuberant Old English sheepdog. At just 22 months, he’s still mostly puppy.
“This dog has never had a bad day in his life,” Johnson said.
Competing in only his fourth show, Swagger, who’s registered name is Bugaboo’s Picture Perfect, was named best of breed, best of group (herding) and ultimately reserve best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show last month, beating out all but one of his 3,200 competitors, most of whom were far more experienced and decorated.
Top honors went to an affenpinscher named Banana Joe, who then announced his retirement.
Before he won over the judges at Madison Square Garden, Swagger, who’s owned by Colton and his wife Heather, won over the crowd — and he didn’t need a fake Internet girlfriend tragedy to do it.
Sunrise and Woodmen Kennels, owned by the Johnson family, took in more than 300 animals displaced during the Waldo Canyon fire and cared for them free of charge until owners could reclaim them. In recognition of the Johnsons’ goodwill, as well as Swagger’s accomplishments, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach presented the pooch with a Spirit of the Springs Award at a small ceremony last week.
“It’s the first time we’ve presented the award to a dog,” said Bach, before handing over the framed certificate.
Swagger is a giant gray-white dandelion puff who, despite what he clearly believes, is not a lap dog. During a post-Westminster appearance on Denver’s KWGN morning show, his attempts to climb aboard knocked over a fawning (and giggling) anchorwoman, proving to audiences there is indeed a dog — a quite substantial one — under all that fur.
Before Swagger is finished growing, he’ll likely add another 15 or so pounds to his 90-pound frame, said Doug Johnson, Colton’s father.
“The breed description says they’re supposed to amble like a bear,” he said. “They’re like a linebacker — fast, powerful and substantial.”
Like any famous pro athlete, Swagger gets a regular workout and a fluff and brush. Johnson exercises him on a golf cart, two miles, three times a week. Perfecting the sheepdog’s coif, head to toes to docked tail, takes a little more nuance.
“He had (his bangs) teased up for the show so he could see. When he’s at home with us, it has to be (tied) up,” said Colton Johnson.
“We groom him once a week. His whites get shampooed and conditioned and his grays get brushed. If you wash the grays too much they get soft, and the goal for a sheepdog is a coarse coat.”
The sheepdog runs deep with the Johnsons, who have been breeding award-winning versions of the woolly herding dog for two generations, spanning nearly 40 years. Swagger’s mother, Bugaboo’s Georgie Girl, is the top-winning female sheepdog of all time, and both she and Swagger’s father, Bugaboo’s Big Shot, have won best of breed at Westminster. Swagger’s uncle was named best in the herding group in 2006.
“He’s got a lot of heritage that goes back to Westminster, so we had high hopes when we bred (Georgie Girl),” Johnson said. “When (Swagger) was born, we all looked at him and said, ‘Wow, this is a beautiful puppy.’ His markings were perfect.”
Unlike most sheepdogs and people, Swagger managed to skip the dorky “teenage” phase of his development, Johnson said.
“Usually, puppies go through an awkward, gangly phase, but not him. He was almost too good to be true.
“We kept waiting for something to go wrong, but it never did. We had our fingers crossed,” Johnson said.
Still, Johnson and his family waited six months before officially choosing a registered name, just in case genetics had any wrenches to throw.
“We wanted to be sure he really was picture-perfect,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to take things slow and show Swagger selectively as he matures, with an eye on Westminsters to come.
“Sheepdogs look their best at 3 or 4 years old,” Johnson said. “At this point, he’s only going to get better.”
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364