Slug 07.05.1997 – 11.06.2007
Today my poor old Sluggybug lost his fight against cancer of the lymph nodes, which he was diagnosed with a couple of months ago. He had been very perky on high dose prednisone until a couple of days ago, when he started going downhill, chewing an old wound on his leg very badly, and was starting to rattle a bit when he breathed. The vet agreed that all we would do by keeping him going was prolong the misery, so he was quietly put to sleep this morning.
Ch Pandemonium Falstaff ("Slug") was born on 7 May 1997, one of a litter of 8, and was the son of my beloved Emily (Sharbara Elemi), and Ch Sharbara Cotton Baron ("Baron"), from whom he inherited his glorious movement. Slug was his litter name, because he was the biggest and most vigorous pup, and would drink himself to a standstill very quickly and then fall asleep on his side next to the pigrail, looking for all the world like a large garden slug!
I had originally intended to keep a different pup, but Slug decided that he was staying, so I tried to start calling him Falstaff, his registered name – but somehow, Slug had stuck, and Slug he stayed!
This would have been fine if he’d been a pet and nothing else, but Sharlene Sutherland, my great dog-breeding friend and the person who bred all my dogs, got me to show him.
In March 1998, when Slug was 9 months and 3 weeks, he and I went into the ring together – the first time for both of us! – and promptly took the Challenge Certificate (cc). No Open shows required! In Port Elizabeth a couple of months later at the Easter Shows, when he was a couple of weeks away from his 1st birthday and only just eligible for Puppy Class, he took Best Puppy, Puppy Working Group and Best Puppy on Show on the Friday show, bombed on Saturday, and then went Best Puppy and took the Puppy Working Group again on the Sunday.
In his Junior innings, at Grahamstown he went CC, Reserve Best of Breed, Best Reserve in Working Group and Second in the Mini-Grand. In October at Hottentots Holland KC, he went CC, Best of Breed and 3rd in Working Group, thus qualifying for Top Dog (which we couldn’t attend because I had moved out to McGregor and was working in the United Kingdom for a couple of months.)
Because of his Best Puppy In Show at Port Elizabeth, he had also qualified to take part in KUSA National Puppy and the extremely prestigious Supreme Puppy tournament. Sharlene showed him through to 3rd place in KUSA National Puppy, but was unable to show him in Supreme Puppy because she and Barbara had a joint 50th birthday party on that evening, so it was up to me to do the honours.
Supreme Puppy is terrifying. The entrance qualification is a Best Puppy in Show at an All Breeds Championship Show in the preceding season, so the standard is formidably high, and many of the pups have matured as a result of having taken their show early in the season (Slug was almost 2 when he competed.)
It’s very ritzy, with huge prizes and sponsorship, big audiences, a PA system for the ring steward, a special ring, and a huge rosette with a number just for making it into the competition.
All these marvellous dogs are herded into a ring with an international guest judge, shown once, and then the handshaking starts. The judge comes up to you, shakes your hand and thanks you for taking part, and then you may leave the ring. You’re out.
The first cut reduces the total number of dogs to 16, the next to 8, then to 4 and finally down to the 2 winners. We made the first cut – I could hardly believe it!
We showed – and showed – and ran – and stacked – and showed. Then the handshaking started again. We made the 2nd cut too! 8 dogs in the ring.
More showing and stacking, and running, and showing, and we made the 3rd cut! 4 dogs left in the ring. I was almost beside myself with terror by now, noticed a foot out of position, bent down to adjust it, and heard the ring steward saying: "Ladies and Gentlemen, there are now two dogs left in the ring!"
Gosh, I thought, I’d better get out of here. Then I realised that we were still in.
And so we ended up with Reserve Supreme Puppy – pipped to the post by a Toy Poodle! But it was a wonderful win, and certainly my most exciting experience in the show ring!
Slug finished his Championship with a surprise CC and Best of Breed in Port Elizabeth again – always a lucky ground for him. I travelled at the last minute – I had intended to send Jessie up with Sharlene and then decided to go along when Sharlene’s driving companion fell through. Slug was entered and came along because I couldn’t find a dog sitter at short notice, and so I showed him, and he came up trumps!
But Sluggy was much more than a show dog. He was a dear and much loved pet, and a grouchy teenager who got me to change my thinking about dog handling (because whatever I was doing, it wasn’t working!), and he was ultimately responsible for my taking up clicker training and getting into animal behaviour professionally. You will find many references to him in the training articles on this site – he taught me lots!
One of my most challenging training exercises was teaching Slug to retrieve, because in spite of being a Dobermann, he didn’t have much prey drive, and so we had to shape the exercise from scratch, starting by clicking him for looking at the dumbbell. He ended up with a perfect retrieve and lots of other behaviours too.
And most of what I will remember and miss is his utter faithfulness. He wasn’t the bravest, cleverest or even the most beautiful Dobermann around. But he slept under my duvet every night of his life, and whenever I came home, no matter how cold or wet the weather, he would be at the garage door to say hello. He had a real ear-to-rear grin – he waggled his whole body when he was happy, which was most of the time. And even at the end, when he was getting tired, slow and uncertain on his feet, he insisted on doing his retrieve and getting his treat, like a good dog.
Bye-bye, SluggyBug. Sleep well.