The dog Anton who captured the hearts of a whole nation – and how he is doing today
TV-award nomination, popular Norwegian show ‘Lindmo’ visit, three books and countless hours of cuddles from strangers. Newfoundlander Anton has experienced more than most dogs.
lildog’s slogan is "Dogs are family", and for Monica Sagen, the slogan could not have been more appropriate.
- For me, Anton means almost everything, says Sagen.
National celebrity overnight
The dog Anton became a national celebrity overnight when he, Monica and dogdad Fredrik Holmen participated in the series "From bully to best friend" on NRK in 2020.
With guidance from dog trainer Maren Teien Rørvik, the Stjørdal family got help with a specific problem that created challenges in their everyday lives. Anton was a stubborn dog who liked to lie down on the ground when he did not get his will. There are probably several dog owners who have experienced something similar, but when the dog weighs 81 kilos, it suddenly gets worse.
Often Monica experienced that Anton would lay down in protest when they were out for a walk. Naughty as Anton was, he refused to move on until he got a treat, preferably chicken spread.
Anton had a very eventful 2020.
- Controls my life
For Sagen, it has not been unusual to be left outside in cold and miserable weather, while she waits for dogdad Fredrik to come and pick up Anton with the Mercedes, the only car he agrees to get inside. For sometime Anton refused to move on, no matter what the dogmother tried.
- I know that Anton is fine, but he controls my life, laughs Monica.
- Yes, he does. In the beginning, after we participated in the program things went pretty well, but now we are back to square one. I understand now that it's about me. Anton has the personality he has, but I can not be consistent enough.
Gets frustrated with himself
The problem with Anton has not been cured.
- I can not get mad at Anton. It's completely impossible when he looks at me. But I do not blame anyone but myself, says Monica firmly.
The look she talks about can probably be recognized by many dog owners. It simply takes a lot to not give in to his charm when the dog sits down and looks like the world's most innocent living creature.
But there is no doubt the bubbly dogmother gets frustrated from time to time.
- I get very annoyed with myself. I get stressed because I spend so insanely much time while not getting anywhere. It can go beyond my mood towards the people I live with. But I never let it go beyond Anton.
- Like losing a child
Even though Anton is six years old, and potentially has many good years left, Monica already dreads the day it ends.
- Anton means everything to me. Just the thought of him disappearing one day makes me unwell.
Stjørdalingen lives with dogfather Fredrik and has two adult children who have now left their nest. The very absence of the children is a lot of the reason why Anton plays a large part in Monica's life.
- Since my children have moved out, they are not dependent on us in the same way as before, but I like that someone is dependent on me because I feel that I have so much to give. It's Anton and the cats, then, says Monica, before she takes a break, takes a deep breath and says:
- I do not think I can manage life without Anton. I feel that if I lose him, it's the same as losing a kid. There are probably some who will react to this, but I think I will mourn in the same way as if I had lost a child. The grief may pass a little faster, but it will still hurt a lot.
A big trickster
Monica's love for Anton clearly shines through when we visit the family at their home in Stjørdal. We are greeted by a smiling lady, with Anton walking at a leisurely pace behind her. After greeting and cuddling a little with Anton, he lies down on the stairs in the entrance area and lies down when the rest of us enter.
Has Anton always been so calm? How was he as a puppy?
- He was quite calm when he was little, but naturally, there were still some puppy tendencies. Among other things, he could be a cunning guy.
- When we looked at him, he never did anything wrong, but as soon as we turned our backs, he came up with some shenanigans.
She examples an episode about a wolfskin they had lying on the floor.
- Anton was so scared of this wolf, so I was not afraid that he would do something about it, says Monica.
One day when she was about to take a shower, she first had to walk past the wolf. When she came out again, she found Anton lying on the floor, while he was chewing on the ears of the wolf.
- He had tricked me and was just waiting for the opportunity to seize the chance.
Started to lie down early
Anton was not an old dog when he started to lie down during walks.
- Already when he was six months old he started doing this. I thought it was very sweet and could do nothing but laugh and give him cuddles. But I should not have done that, because this only reinforced this behaviour.
- Maybe it’s just his personality?
- Yes, maybe, but I have completely, unconsciously, reinforced this behaviour. I was not aware this was the case until we joined the program. In fact, I had not thought about the fact that the cuddles served as a reward for the unwanted behaviour. He's still lying down. But I can not get angry, I can not resist those eyes.
- "Anton will become a celebrity"
- Were you in any way prepared for Anton (and you) to become a national celebrity?
- When the film crew was here to record us, the crew said several times that "this is going to take off, you have to be prepared for Anton to become a celebrity". We actually laughed a bit at this… celebrity? It's a dog! But when I saw the series, and it gained attention on social media, it suddenly exploded. I think it was fun with all the positive responses.
But not all attention was equally positive. Suddenly, Monica had to deal with accusations of animal cruelty.
- The critics chided both me as a human being and Anton. It was said that he was fat, that he could not walk, that there was something wrong with his joints. Some thought I was committing animal cruelty, and it stung so hard that my tears started rolling. I considered contacting some of them, but I ended up "raising" myself above it.
However, the vast majority of feedback has been positive, and Monica does not regret any of what the family has been involved in.
- Once in a lifetime
Since the participation in "From bully to best friend", Monica has made her debut as an author with the book "Anton - a very special dog", and in addition, a children's book about Anton has been published, as well as a quiz book with dog-related questions. A YouTube series about the six-year-old has also been made, through a collaboration with Rema 1000, and Anton has been in a Newton episode and appeared in TV commercials.
- I could never have dreamed of being a part of the things we have participated in. This was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
Often strangers show up at the door because they want to greet Anton. Monica and Anton are often stopped by people when they are out and about.
- I felt for a while that I was living in a bubble. It was very strange, but also incredibly fun. And there is still attention around Anton. For example, there are a number of schools and kindergartens that get in touch because they want me to take Anton with me and visit them.
- How does Anton cope with celebrity life?
- It sounds absurd, but I think Anton loves it. There is so much attention towards him, and I know he likes that. He has had an incredible amount of fun. I think Anton lives a kind of luxurious life. He has never experienced any pain, never experienced adversity. It's just me who experiences a little adversity from time to time, says Monica and laughs.
Convinced that Anton was a bear
During the conversation with Monica, we suddenly hear a "boff" from the porch.
- Now he wants to come in, says Monica, and gets up from the sofa.
She walks over to the porch door and opens it. Anton comes in, as usual, at a very leisurely pace. He sits down next to me and obviously expects comfort, which he also gets. With the beautiful fur coat, the giant paws and the massive size of the dog, I can understand that some people think Anton looks like a bear. He is simply massive.
- Once we went for a walk in the woods, with Anton roaming freely. When he came out of the forest, he frightened a jogger, who was convinced that Anton was a bear, says Monica.
Anton may not be a bear, but what many do not know is that Norway's biggest celebrity dog is an exceptional swimmer. Newfoundlanders are used in several places in the world as rescue dogs precisely because they love water and can swim far and for long.
- We have always done water training with Anton. In the summer I can sit in a rowing boat and row out to sea, with Anton swimming behind. When I pull in the oars and throw out the rope, he pulls me back ashore.
Anton loves to do this, according to the dogmother.
- He loves to pull me in because then he gets to use his abilities. This is how he can go on for hours. In fact, it is we who must limit him.
- Broke my heart
Anton's love for water only became even more clear to Monica and Fredrik when the couple was in Oslo in connection with the TV award nomination. It was summer and really too hot for Anton. But then he found a small outdoor pool, which he really appreciated. He played and enjoyed himself in the water for a long time.
Half a year later, the family was back in Oslo, this time to record a commercial. When Monica was going for a walk with Anton, he purposefully went down to the same pool he had bathed in several months ago. The dogmother was surprised that Anton remembered this. But to Anton's great dismay, the water was gone. The pool was empty.
- His facial expression when he realized this. You know it was like breaking my heart. He had been looking forward to that. I thought, are we going to refill this pool?
Not just Anton
Not too infrequently, Monica receives video clips of other New Foundlander owners. In several of these videos, the dogs, just like Anton, lies down during walks.
- Then I just have to laugh. Most of them, however, does not have to stand there for two hours. Anton probably has the record for lying down at crossroads (two and a half hours). I was so wet and cold when I got home that I started crying. But Anton was just as happy as he always is, says Monica.
- What advice would you give to others who are considering acquiring a New Foundlander?
- You should have a lot of time on your hands because it is time-consuming. You should also be fond of hiking and water. Do not get a New Foundlander if you are in a relationship where both work full-time positions. In addition, you should love to groom and tolerate that there are dorm rabbits everywhere. Not least, you must be prepared for the dog to weigh up to 80 kg.
But most importantly:
- You must have a heart of gold.