February 12, 2013 / 6:47 AM / 4 years ago

Sheepdog emerges as surprise contender at New York dog show

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NEW YORK, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A crowd-pleasing old English sheepdog with only three previous shows to his name emerged as a surprise contender for best in show at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog show, which concludes on Tuesday.

Swagger, a 20-month-old, 90-pound (40-kg) cloud of white and gray fur, won best in group for herding dogs on Monday at New York's Madison Square Garden to some of the loudest cheers of the night.

He will be one of seven finalists for best of show. Four of them advanced on Monday with three more due to qualify on Tuesday.

Swagger was a late entrant to the show after Westminster expanded its rules this year to allow so-called class dogs, which are dogs that have not won enough shows to be considered a champion under American Kennel Club rules, for the first time since 1991.

"He's such a cool dog," Colton Johnson, the dog's handler and owner, said of the happy-looking dog whose eyes are barely visible through his shaggy fur. "He's a natural."

Swagger is so young he still has not shed all his puppy fur, said Johnson, of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Swagger joined an athletic American foxhound called Jewel, a little black affenpinscher called Banana Joe and a fluffy white bichon frise called Honor as contenders for best in show after they won their respective herding, hound, toy and non-sporting group shows on Monday.

They will be joined by the best of the sporting, working and terrier groups, due to be picked on Tuesday.

This year, two newly recognized breeds have been approved to appear in the show: the treeing Walker coonhound, a tall, flappy-eared descendant of the foxhound; and the Russell terrier, the subject of some controversy stemming from the differing taxonomic habits of kennel clubs in the United States, Britain and Australia.

More than 2,700 dogs were due to compete over two days. This year's dogs come from all 50 U.S. states and there are more than 100 foreign entries from Brazil, Croatia, France and Japan, among other countries, organizers said.

The 2012 show was won by Palacegarden Malachy, a male Pekingese, who, as is traditional, has since retired. (Editing by Daniel Trotta and Mohammad Zargham)

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