Barbie & Willie, Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I originally called this post “Barbie’s Not Always a Nice Girl,” but then I thought about what the title would look like on Google and the kind of people who’d click on it. Hmm, not really my “brand,” as they say.

I thought though, that you’d be interested in yet another interaction between Barbie, my cantankerous, lead ewe and Willie. Barbie, as you may recall, is the only sheep who has ever seriously challenged Willie. She won a few times when she had three-week old lambs this spring, literally chasing Willie away, her anvil-like head down and ready to bash Willie into the ground. He ran away like a frightened chipmunk, because Barbie was serious, and because we all know she can be a witch, and because well, he’s just not the bravest dog in the world. That’s partly why I love him so much, because he’s not perfect and neither am I, and he still tries his best, and when I’m being who I want to be, so do I.

Here are photos I took just a few minutes ago (Willie is still panting rapid fire at my feet.) First we found the sheep lolling in the shade of the woods on a steep hill between the barn and the main pasture. Barbie was lying by herself under a dead tree.

Soon after I took this photo she grudgingly got up (who could blame her? — it’s mid day and hot outside) and trotted down the hill with the others toward the barn. Willie picked them up (eventually, more on that later) and we moved them into the Orchard pasture and practiced driving a little bit.

In this next photo you can see, as is often the case, Barbie being the last to move away from Willie and turning  her head toward him. I imagine her saying something like “Your mother eats kitty litter.”

Willie stood his ground, good boy, and here’s the result: Barbie turned away and began walking forward.


You might ask yourself at this point: “I get the Barbie and Willie title, but what’s with the mad dogs and Englishmen in the title? Simple: Remember “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun?” (Words in an old song for those of you not familiar.) We were working in the noonday sun, and I’m wondering if I had a mad dog. Not “mad” as in with rabies, but “mad” as if angry.

We all know how often people wrongly assume their dog is being disobedient because they were “mad” at them. Usually it’s confusion or mis-understandings or pain or fear or anything beside the fact that some dog is ticked off at its owner. But, here’s my question to you: Can it EVER be true, even if rarely? Are dogs ever truly irritated by their owners, especially while doing difficult work? I wondered this while I was working/photographing Willie for this post. He behaved atypically: he didn’t listen as well, he seemed slow and disconnected. But more than that, he gave me a look a few times that was hard to interpret as anything but some canine equivalent of a finger. There are several reasons he could have been off his game: We’ve been working on driving for an upcoming trial, and it’s difficult, tiresome work. I think it’s stressful to dogs (constant whistle signals given out 2-3 to a second), and especially to dogs like Willie who don’t like being in constant contact with the sheep.

In addition, during the “photo shoot” the sheep got all the way back to the barn before Willie could round them up again, in part because I was busy taking that first photo of  Barbie. It’s hard work running down the steep forest floor, going into the small, enclosed area of the barn and forcing the sheep back up the hill. He wouldn’t have had to do it if I’d been paying more attention. Hummm.

It’s far more likely that Willie was tired from our work of the past few days, or maybe his shoulder was hurting. But that look he gave me started me thinking: Although most attributions of anger as a motivation for disobedience are undoubtedly incorrect, are they always? Have you had an experience in which you had good reason to believe that your dog was irritated by your behavior? I’m curious.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Today is all about wrapping up work and leaving for the WWSDA herding dog trial up in northern Wisconsin this weekend. Willie and I run in our first big Pro-Novice course  against some of the best dogs and handlers in the country. The outrun will be 250 to 300 yards, the drives through 2 drive panels ridiculously far away and over my skill set, and the sheep have never been worked by dogs until the day before. If we get numbers (ie, a score) versus letters (ie DQ for Disqualified or RT for Retired) I’ll be satisfied. If we get in the top half (there are about 42 entries) I’ll be thrilled. If we do any better than that I’ll be over the moon. Tonight I’m going to work Willie when it’s cooled down, and just ask him to do some simple, easy outruns. Then tomorrow he won’t work all day, so he should get a good rest. He deserves it.

I know several of you compete in a variety of dog-related sports, from Agility to Sheepdog Trials. You’ll understand then when I say that all I really want is to not let my dog down.  I have worked with dangerous dogs for decades, but standing at the post about to run my dog is a million times more nerve wracking to me. I am basically a lousy competitor because I get so nervous, but yet some strange compulsion is getting me back into the sport. So cross your paws that I don’t throw up at the post in front of all the other handlers, and am able to keep my senses about me enough to handle my good dog Willie as well as he deserves.




  1. Sarah says

    I’ve never felt like my dogs were mad at me, they are very sweet natured, forgiving dogs. Sometimes they think I’m really being stupid, and they’re a little disgusted with me. But not angry. I’ve had times in competition where I’m asking for something and my dog (one dog in particular) will give me this “are you CRAZY?” look, and then grudgingly do what I ask. Embarrassingly, I usually figure out that the dog was right, I was asking for the wrong thing.
    Well, and okay, when my cues are bad enough, my dog can get a little frustrated with me, but I still wouldn’t call it irritation. Maybe I’m wrong. In this agility run, about 20 seconds in, you can see my dog get frustrated enough to cuss at me:
    (ironically, I was just standing there because I was trying to get her to settle a little before we continued, all the errors were my fault)
    But I still don’t interpret it as irritation with me, just frustration because she wants to GO, and she doesn’t understand why we aren’t going.

  2. Rachel Pfister says


    Good luck at the trial! I have a story related to ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen”. Seven years ago I purchased a nine year old Border Collie, Belle, who had recently retired from a very successful trialing career. She was born in Scotland and imported at 4 months. She had quite a life and changed hands several times. I bought her from my herding instructor and I learned to herd mainly from her. I don’t think that she ever got mad at me for my ineptitude and constant blunders but I could feel disgust and exasperation in her look when I would flank her in what was obviously the wrong direction. She did, however, have a temper. She was fantastic at reading sheep and she would not tolerate sheep back talk. One day we were trying to separate an ornery ram into another pasture and he was giving us a hard time. Belle was starting to steam and I could really tell that she was losing her temper. Finally she ran around in front of him, leaped up and grabbed him by the nose. I know, and she knows, that gripping is a no-no but I truly believed that he pushed her to the breaking point. Once she let go we had no trouble moving him and Belle had a wicked gleam in her eyes.
    She is 16 now, deaf and almost blind but enjoying her life on the couch and taking short walks.

  3. Marcia in NorCal says

    Oh Tricia: I can SO identify with the comment about not wanting let your dog down. In agility, rally and freestyle, I always entered the ring hoping that I wouldn’t screw up, because I KNEW my dog would do her best for me and I wanted to make sure she got the same from me. In working with and watching other competitors, I’ve decided that this is the difference between the person who strives for teamwork with his/her dog, and the person who wants to be in control.

    As for my dog being irritated with something I’d done … I’m not sure. But I’ve seen behavior that made me think she’d like to tell me “Y’know, we’ve done this 14 times now; I’ve proven I can do it; is it really necessary to do this again???”

    Best wishes to you and Willie this weekend. I envy anyone who gets a chance to watch their dog do what he was born to do!

  4. Steven Bishop, Cert.DT says

    One of my dogs, Duncan, used to bark incessantly at feeding times. I tried everything I could think of to get him to stop: putting the bark on cue, incompatible behavior, etc., etc. My wife finally had the idea (I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t think of it) of DRA – alternate behavior. We tried a sit at feeding time and it worked like a charm. However, when I told Duncan to sit, instead of plopping right down as usual, he looked at me for a second, slammed his bottom on the floor and made a “hrrumph!” sound. Nothing I can call that except annoyance with me for not feeding him faster.

  5. says

    Great idea on renaming the blog post! I wish I would have done that on a post I wrote called, “Thundershirt, Spanx for Dogs?” This was a bit of mistake. You would be SHOCKED by how many people actually google “Spanx for Dogs”.

    I have experienced the “look” from my border collie while training him on stock. It’s usually after I’ve asked him for something he believes he has done and I ask again because it wasn’t really what I had in mind. He will often times pull off the sheep and go lie down and look at me. I think it has more to do with confusion, frustration and being dog tired.

    Good luck this weekend, and remember to have fun!

  6. Stacie says

    My male BC, Hob, does get irritated at me. He is a very strong personality and is dog aggressive. He’s nearly 10 now and we worked a lot of that out, teaching him to have self control but he does have a temper. There are times in the agility ring when he gets so frustrated by my lack of speed and inability to give him the commands when he needs them. He barks (a lot) on the course but there are times when it’s a bit beyond the normal frustration barking and then he just does as he pleases. He’s a loon but I love him.

  7. Alexandra says

    Once when my bc Jagger was quite little, he wanted to follow me out into the garage. It’s not really safe out there for puppies, so I body blocked him and started to walk into him so he would back up and I could shut the door. He bit me right on the shin with his little 9 week old puppy teeth in what I interpreted as irritation at having his desires thwarted. I suppose it could also have been herding instinct, but he really did seem ticked off to me. Another time, he sank his puppy teeth right into my forearm while I was trying to get his collar on to go outside, and it seemed like he was just mad at the delay. I’m pleased to say he has since learned much better manners.

    One thing that’s helped me with nerves before agility competitions is to mentally acknowledge those butterflies I am feeling and tell myself that they are from excitement, not fear, and that it is natural and actually good to be excited to play my favorite game with my best friend. Then I look in my dog’s eyes, think about how happy I am to play with him, and we share a big smile.

  8. emily says

    I have been reading your blog for a few years now but have never been brave enough to comment; but your last paragraph really tugged at my heart. I know with my English Shepherd, when I stopped thinking about what we try to do as compitition(even though it was and it scared me too) and thought of it as just another chance to help me learn how to better meet the needs of this dog I love so much, it made a huge difference for both of us. As human beings, I don’t think any of us are able to handle our dogs as well as they deserve but good heavens, if any can come close, it’s you. As you say, you may be” a lousy competator ” but you’re willing to push yourself hard for the dog YOU love and I respect you a ton for it. And yes, to answer your question, I believe my bossy little girl has gotten irritated with me and, it is usually when I expect her to be human and expect unrealistic and sometimes unfair behavior from her. Thank-you for all that you do…. it has helped both me and my dog.

  9. Annika says

    Living with an elderly husky-basset bitch, I have no trouble imagining her being irritated with me on a regular basis. If I take a shorter walk than I normally do for example, she will respond by throwing herself on the ground in front of the door once we get home and refusing to go inside while staring reproachfully at me. The moment of protest doesn’t come when I take the turn that leads home “too soon” (although sometimes she will protest there too) but when we’re back home again. She gets irritated if I crowd her when she’s sleeping on the couch as well. She likes her personal space. She’ll stare morosely at me for a while and if I don’t move away, she’ll sigh deeply, get up and get off the couch. But she’s not a stressed or anxious dog – I don’t see any signs of that, no tongue flicking or panting or tucking of the tail. And she also is not aggressive – she’ll make her feelings clear but without either growling, barking or snapping.

    In general, I don’t think it’s so unimaginable that dogs get angry with us, their “live-in partners.” After all, we spend a ton of time together and sometimes disagree on things. The reason we rarely see it, IMHO, is that we *really* get after our dogs for showing anger or irritation toward human companions (us) since we are afraid that it will translate into growling and biting. But why wouldn’t they show anger or irritation toward us when they frequently show it toward other doggie companions?!

  10. says

    I do agility with my Cardigan Corgi and my nerves are the source of many a disqualifying run. It makes me so disappointed because my little guy gives it his all, and I mess it up with my ring nerves. He deserves better!

    Best of luck with the herding!

  11. Beth with the Corgis says

    I don’t think that my Madison is capable of being angry at a person. She’s one of those sweet dogs who think that People Are Always Right, and if she ends up on the wrong end of something, well then that is just her lot in life.

    Jack, on the other hand, can be annoyed, defiant, and any number of other things. He makes a face like a ticked-off child throwing a tantrum if we try to walk one way and he had his heart set at another. He will be openly defiant at times (grabbing the leash in his teeth and shaking it, or flopping on his back with all four feet in the air, or just planting his feet and not wanting to move). He also gives me the disdainful ear-flick sometimes and very purposefully sets off in another direction. He is an independent and incredibly smart dog (he has a vocabulary of many dozens of words and usually learns new commands after just two or three repetitions). His wheels are always turning. The dog makes PLANS, and when our plans don’t match with his, well call it anger or stubborness or frustration, but it is clearly defiance and not misunderstanding what I want or being unable to comply.

    He’s usually a very good boy and we use tons of praise and treats, but it is work to get him to listen because you need to convince him that your ideas are best.

  12. Lindsay says

    I took a seminar recently on negotiating, presented by a former police services hostage negotiator. One of the more interesting things he said was “Anger is not a primary emotion – you show anger because of something else – fear, irritation, annoyance, etc”.

    So, while I don’t really think my dog has been angry with me, I do think he’s been irritated and annoyed by me, which may display as anger.

  13. JJ says

    Best of luck! I’m thinking good thoughts!!

    I can’t think of a specific time where I would have bet $50 that my dog was angry at me. I have no doubt it has happened both with my dog and others, I just can’t swear to a specific incident. On the other hand, I know there are plenty of times that I’ve gotten angry/frustrated with him. Who’s the superior species I wonder?

    If I’m going to mention that I’ve been angry with my boy, I think it only fair to also mention how often I have been super proud. Just two days ago, he did something so amazing, I couldn’t stop saying “What a GOOOOOD boy you are!!!!” over and over and over.

    What happened?: Most of the time, my dog’s treats are fruits and veggies. There are several that he likes so much, he drools for them. Watermelon is one such fruit. The other day, I left for work and accidentally left four giant (like 2-4 cups a piece worth) chunks of watermelon right on the edge of the counter. Duke knows that he is allowed to put his Great Dane nose up to the edge of the counter, but not over it. He is usually pretty good when I am home, but when I am not home, it is a toss up on whether something left out will be taken or not. Usually I try to de-foodify the counter before leaving.

    When I came home two days ago, all four chunks were sitting right where I had left them. I was so, so proud.

    Now, let’s see if I remember that when it comes time to be mad again.

  14. John says

    You say that “some strange compulsion is getting me back into the sport”. Does that mean you have been out of the sport? Is there a story to tell there?

    -credential-less john (a cat person who also volunteers as a dog walkabout accompanist at

  15. Michelle says

    My dear Husky mix quit coming to me when I’d call him to go for a walk. I realized it was because, after he came to me and I put the leash on, I’d do 5 or 10 mins of other stuff before we’d go out for that walk. He started to give me that ‘Walk? Ya, right. I’m not moving from my soft bed and you can’t make me.’ look. Dashed expectations leading to frustration and confusion…yep. But I’ve never seen anger from either of my dogs.

  16. em says

    Good luck with your upcoming trial!

    As to anger from dogs, hmm. I would guess, but with confidence, that dogs almost certainly feel anger and irritation (along with impatience and resentment) toward humans from time to time. Why wouldn’t they? Some dogs (my Sandy-girl for one) seem to be so ‘soft’ that they never appear to express anything like anger toward people. They are sooo deferential that it just doesn’t seem to be in their emotional vocabularies. Hurt, sure, but not anger. Of course, it is possible that they feel something like anger but never express it, but for many of them, I doubt it.

    Others, (like Otis) seem to have an opinion about everything, and are not shy about expressing it, even if it is unlikely to please the humans to hear it. He is not usually moved to outright defiance, but he makes his feelings very clear with the speed and demeanor with which he acts. If he’s having a good time and doesn’t want to leave the park, it’s a foot dragging slow shuffle to the car. If he’s hot and tired and ready to go, he trots ahead. If he’s comfortable and doesn’t want to get up for his last bathroom break before bed, his 150lb self goes limp like a 60s protester, defying anyone to roust him out. He’ll get up eventually, if we insist, but he totally slowfoots us, stopping to stretch and scratch itches that suddenly have become urgent and rub his face pitifully on our legs and under our elbows as he heaves heavy sighs of discontent. His feelings are crystal clear. Raining? Mule-braced refusal to cross the threshold without his coat.

    I should say for the record, he does not seem at all stiff or sore- he moves normally once he deigns to rise, and he positively bounces out of bed in the morning, eagerly anticipating his morning walk. He just doesn’t want to do what he doesn’t want to do.

    Still, I can’t think of an occasion upon which Otis seemed outright angry with us-it’s more of a long-suffering vibe of grudging compliance, generally. I think, between he and Sandy, we don’t get anger because they fall too far to opposite temperamental extremes (they don’t ever seem to express anger with one another, either) . Sandy is too eager to please us, and Otis doesn’t care enough to follow our directions if he thinks they are wrong. If we tried to use him to herd sheep (horror!), he would not have just sucked it up if I missed a cue. He’d have done what HE thought best. THAT, I’ve seen plenty of times. I always know when it’s going to happen. He’ll look me right in the eye, give me a moment of his calm, deliberate, full attention…and shrug me off.

    I think of the difference between my two dogs like this: My relationship with Sandy is like a relationship with a six-year-old child. She’s able to handle a little bit of independence in her play and activities, but she’s very reliant on my guidance and the sense of security that my presence brings. When a loud noise startles her, she leaps behind my legs.

    My relationship with Otis, dog of my heart, is more like a relationship with a twenty-six year old child. I’m still in a parental role- the very great majority of the time he is respectful of my feelings, deferential to my wishes, more than willing to let me make most of the decisions about where we go and what we do. But he seldom if ever seems to obey without thinking, hesitating for a moment before EVERY request, even the most simple, giving me the impression that he is evaluating the situation and considering whether or not to comply.

    When one of those bird-scaring cannons went off right next to us and we both leapt about three feet in the air, he came down in FRONT of me, head high and chest puffed out. This is absolutely typical of his MO. He’s loving and easygoing and very, very attached, but he doesn’t act as though he believes that I know best when push comes to shove. Not really.

    Fortunately he only uses his ‘veto’ in rare and unusual circumstances, but if there’s a problem, his impulse is to handle it, not to look to me for guidance, and if there is an irreconcilable conflict between what I want him to do and what he thinks is the right thing, he won’t bother obeying, then getting annoyed with me about it, he’ll just do what he thinks best. Unfortunately for my credibility, he’s usually right.

  17. Elizabeth Smith says

    Yes, I do believe our dogs become frustrated and angry with us. There have been instances on the agility course where I misdirected my Sheltie, then sent him on to the correct obstacle. He’ll stop first, make eye contact and bark, letting me know he thinks I’m wrong. And my Icelandic sheepdog will do the same thing especially during obedience or rally practice. If we’ve done a sequence too many times for her comfort, she’ll give me a very specific bark, again with eye contact, to let me know she’s annoyed.

  18. Beth with the Corgis says

    em, I like your description of Otis as an adult child. I believe that Jack seems himself (and I see him) as my second-in-command. He enforces house rules. He keeps schedules. And (like any good co-pilot) he is willing to challenge me if he thinks my decisions are bad. He is never willfully disobedient just for the sake of it. In fact, I could set a sandwich on the coffee table and leave the room and he would not take it. I have routinely given him cardboard boxes to shred as a toy and yet I can leave a box sitting in a room for weeks and he would not touch it unless I said “Do you want a box?” and tossed it for him.

    I use his judgement rather than mine if I’m in doubt about approaching a strange dog. If he hears a strange noise or sees something suspicious, he heads towards it rather than away from it, and had done since he came home at 10 weeks old.

    The reason I say he gets annoyed/frustrated/angry is because of his size, we can (and do) force him at times to do what we want, specifically when on a walk. He always wants the longer walk, or to stay longer and visit with new friends he’s made, or to take the path through the woods where he can go off-leash. It’s not always the same way that he wants to go, and many days he’s content to go our way, but once he decides he wants a different walk he exhibits any of the behaviors I described above. I will ask him to walk with me but if he does not eventually I do sort of haul him along. That’s when he gets annoyed. He must think we are fools for walking away from all the people and dogs having fun at a picnic, or leaving the nice new people who were giving him neck scratches, or heading inside on a lovely day when the woods are nice and cool. And he makes it clear how he feels. He has an opinion on most matters and isn’t shy about sharing.

    He also hates having his belly toweled. As a low-riding dog, unfortunately he gets lots of towelings. He will grumble loudly and sometimes squawk at me, but he never assumes a threatening posture. Rather he’s making it perfectly clear that he hates the proceedings, but is putting up with it for my sake, so to speak.

  19. Maryk says

    Oh yes, dogs can get very angry.

    You should see my Gracie after a trip to the vet’s for nails, bloodwork, vaccine, rectal temperature and clean-out of anal sacs. Last time she didn’t speak to me for 3 days! Totally ignored me at all times; walked away whenever I tried to play with her. She would not be bribed with food either. Now that’s a mad corgi!

    PS I hope you and Willie have a wonderful time!

  20. Kat says

    Wishing you the best fortune in the trials and keeping all paws crossed.

    @em, Once again your description of Otis has captured my Ranger extremely well. He’s happy to comply if it suits him but if he has a different idea about how things should be he simply won’t comply. And if I ask him to do the Wrong Thing he’ll just ignore me and do the Right Thing. Sadly, his judgement when he does that is more often than not correct. I have an adult daughter living at home at the moment and your description of the Otises and Rangers of the world being like adult children is very apt. Daughter and Dog will both tell me when I’m wrong but are content to let me be the parent most of the time.

    The only times I’ve seen Ranger exhibit what I’d describe as anger is in relation to grooming. I’m not sure why I haven’t uprooted the agrimony plant since Ranger came to live with us five years ago. It forms nasty burrs that leap from the stems and bury themselves in his rough coat. Working those out can be very uncomfortable. Ranger is patient for awhile but there comes a point when he’s had enough. He’ll communicate that but often there are only one or two burrs left and I ignore his request that I stop. That’s when I see him get angry. He gives me the hard eye and I can imagine him saying “I said that’s enough” in that tone that means a line has been crossed.

    Unsocialized Finna is more often angry, usually at my husband. He’ll make a noise that wakes her up and she scolds him soundly for it. I really don’t have any other description than “scold.” She leaps to her feet, advances deliberately to within a few inches and barks at him. After she’s scolded him she goes back to her comfy place and resumes her nap.

  21. Marianna says

    I was working with a trainer to train my dog as my service dog. We were working on take, hold, give. She didn’t like working in the office and would do it no problem at home. We were facing one another and I was getting frustrated. She took the dowel and purposely spit it on the floor. I huffed because I was so frustrated and she huffed right back at me looking me straight in the eye. The trainer started laughing loudly. I wish it was on tape. Would have been one to send to America’s funniest home videos.

    On the other note, my husband did frisbee contests with our border collie. He couldn’t go once, so I threw. I was so bad, I knew Jasper just wanted one good throw. I actually got one, but not a long one and it made the paper.

  22. ABandMM says

    Hi Trisha,

    Good luck to you and Willie. Remember, before you send him out to herd the sheep, do the following:
    1) Breathe… nice deep breath
    2) Smile
    3) Tell Willie it is time for you guys to play and have fun

    My 7.5 yr old hound mix is one leg short of her Novice Obedience title and at the end of September we are making quite the road trip to try and get that last leg.

    We have been practicing on our own and I am hoping that we do earn it (have 4 chances to get that last leg), but even if we don’t, we are going a going on a trip together and we are going to have fun.

    As for my girl getting annoyed or irritated, not too much; she is a pretty laid back hound. However, she isn’t very “cuddly” so sometimes I do get “the look” when I go give her a hug and try to “steal some kisses”.

  23. ABandMM says

    PS… There is a wine called “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”. It is a Spanish wine made from Shiraz, Cabernet, and Monastrell. My friend gave me a bottle for watching her dogs. So she brought the “mad dogs” but unfortunately, no (cute) Englishmen.

    This was about 6 years ago and according to google, the vineyard still exists. So maybe you can track down a bottle to celebrate your trial successes :).

  24. Ravana says

    Oh I have annoyed my dog. When he was about a year old my dog caught a squirrel, didn’t kill it, ran up to me and tossed it to me in an obvious gesture of deep affection. I jumped back, the squirrel hit the ground and ran off and I got a major “YOU IDIOT!” stink eye. For the rest of the walk whenever he saw a squirrel he would look at it and then turn back to me and pointedly give me the stink eye again and then walk on.

  25. Trisha says

    I’m loving all these stories, keep ’em coming. And I too love em’s description of her relationship with Sandy as with a 6 year old child & Otis a 26 year old one. That makes we want to make the same analogies with my dogs. I’d say Willie is a 12 year old boy, Tootsie a 85 year old woman. I mean this only in that Willie is very eager, joyful and often very dependent, but he has moments of true teenage-ness, if you know what I mean. Tootsie wants to be cared for, massaged, given chocolates and never be asked to go potty in the rain.

    And thanks for the good wishes at the trial. We will have fun, that I’ll guarantee. If I can just keep from feeling sick to my stomach at the post (I”m not nervous I’m excited, I’m not nervous I’m excited….”) the entire thing weekend will be heaven.

  26. Parallel says

    Don’t have a dog currently, but I’ve got a very smart, defiant cat. He’ll obey commands like ‘lie down’ or ‘off’, but usually with a big huffing sigh and clear irritation. That’s only when he’s well aware he’s doing something he shouldn’t be though. If I’m stopping him from doing something he’s normally allowed to do, he skips irritated and goes straight to enraged. He typically shows it by coming up behind me, jumping up, and sinking his fangs into my rear.

    I have never had a cat that responds to the word ‘No’ by throwing a full blown temper tantrum before. I’ve seen him turn somersaults across the floor and throw himself into the wall…it reminds me so much of a kid stomping his feet.

    I don’t want to give the impression that he’s a complete brat or not trained. He’s very affectionate, knows a number of commands, and MOSTLY obeys them. But he seems to have a definite opinion on what’s fair and what’s not. He’s also the smartest cat by far I’ve ever had, to the point where I had to seek help from a behaviorist when he was a kitten because he was acting out due to boredom.

    The most amusing part of it all is that he has no eyes (he was a feral kitten and both eyes were removed due to untreated herpes) but he still manages to glare when he doesn’t get his way!

    It honestly always seems odd to me that people in general seem to accept that animals feel emotions, but only ‘positive’ emotions like love and loyalty. Grief falls under love, I think, so many people will accept that animals can experience it. For some reason animals aren’t supposed to feel things like guilt or anger…but why would they have some emotions and not others?

  27. liz says

    To Trisha and Willie: Go get ’em this weekend!

    Is anger the same as rage or are they separate? The angriest I’ve seen my dog has involved territorial protests towards invaders, and he will indeed get worked up to the point of what I’d call enraged (hackles, bouncing up w/ deep, throaty barks). If I use this example as a gauge, then I’m lucky to say that he’s never been truly angry with any of ‘his people,’ but surely annoyed a few times!

  28. Sarah says

    The story about a dog being angry after a trip to a vet does remind me of one time one of my dogs was definitely mad at me, years ago. I had left my bitch, Tully, in a boarding kennel, while I went to an agility trial with my other dog, Elmo. Tully was very young at the time, and was in season as I recall. When I went to the kennel to pick her up, she came busting out of the run all happy, and then she sort of stiffened up, gave me a glare, and stopped looking at me. We went out to the car, and she sat in the passenger seat, with her back to me, for the entire ride home. There, it turned out, she also blamed poor Elmo. She wouldn’t give him the time of day, either. Which was fairly funny, since she’d been worshiping him since she was a puppy, and he always acted like he just tolerated her, but now he wanted some of the attention he was used to, and she was NOT giving any. Tully sulked for about 24 hours, I think, and then decided to forgive us.
    She was always a bit of a diva.

  29. Frances says

    I have cats as well as dogs – I’ve always said living with a dog is like living with a child, while a cat is another independent adult. I don’t think my dogs have ever been really angry with me – irritated, frustrated, confused, certainly, but we don’t really do outright anger or confrontation. But I have not forgotten my last agility session with Sophy at the end of the introductory course. She hated jumping, and I had signally failed to teach her to weave. As I made yet another inept attempt to get her to weave, and we went back to the start for the third time, she moved off a few yards, sat down, and stared at me. And if ever a dog said “Make your bleeding MIND up!” she did. That was when I decided that agility just was not her thing, at least not with me as her human partner!

    I remember some good techniques for controlling butterflies from public speaking days – to do with tightening certain muscles in the diaphragm. May be worth a quick Google? Good luck to both of you.

  30. Samantha says

    One of my dogs, a Rat Terrier, has a very short coat and in winter he likes to sleep curled up on the couch under a blanket. If you even so much as touch the blanket while he is under it he grumbles. It’s not a growl, it’s not aggressive it just sounds like an old man complaining about kids on his lawn. If you do take the blanket off of him he just looks up and wags his tail so he holds no grudges, he just makes it really clear with a long stream of low level dog mumbling that if touch his blanket he’s not going to be thrilled about it.

  31. Laura says

    first of all, good luck to you and Willie-boy. Just breathe, that’s the best advice I can give. Where is the trial by the way? My grandparents owned a home up in Northwest Wisconson in the town of Hayward, I miss it.
    So, have my dogs been angry with me? I’ve never seen them angry, but I have seen them irritated and amused all at once. There’s a phrase my guide dog instructors use a lot. “Follow your dog.” It’s self-explanitory and once… ok more than once, I found out why you should always obey that phraise. I was late for class one morning and I was close enough to the front of the building to make out where the doors were. I dropped my dog’s harness handle and grabbed the leash. I commanded Marlin to heel and started jogging for the doors. Marlin hung behind, moving slowly and I kept jogging, asking him to heel over and over again. The last words out of my mouth were “heel damn it!” before I ran full on into a sign post in front of the doors to the building. I stopped, got myself together… ouch, and looked back at Marlin. He was looking at me and I believe if he could have, he would have heaved a very exasperated sigh, and said, “Mom, you’re an idiot.” Our dogs aren’t trained to do what is called “leash guiding,” so I was entirely in charge of where we were going. He reacted the same way I would have if I’d seen someone doing something like that without listening to others. Ok, let them run into the obstical, they’ll learn better that way. I still laugh at myself for that story. My dogs are smart and they can see better than I can, let me never forget that.

  32. Harriet Irwin says

    Trisha! Deep yoga breaths, smile and enjoy. I will be thinking of you this weekend and both Ashby and I will cross our paws. H

  33. Kat says This isn’t exactly a case of anger but it is similar. This morning my husband was signing to Ranger with broad, slow, exaggerated gestures because he is just learning K9 sign but Ranger appeared to decide that Dad was hard of seeing and responded with large, broad, exaggerated gestures. I wish I’d had a video camera because I could sign “What is this” the way I generally do with small gestures and Ranger would respond with small subtle gestures then my husband would sign with his big slow gestures and Ranger would respond in kind.

  34. Sherron says

    Good luck this weekend, Trisha! I’m sure you and Willie will have a great time!

    Em, uh…I think Otis and I are exactly alike. That just cracks me up. But truly, my relationship with my boss and others in authority over me is exactly like Otis’s relationship with you.

  35. LisaH says

    I definitely think dogs can show irritation or distain. Zach, the BC we grew up with, was given a bath one day in a large metal tub outdoors. He didn’t care for this, stood stock still in the tub & when done, he carefully stepped out, shook off and stalked away, refusing to look at me or my sister for hours. One of my current BCs will cuss me out on the agility course – its very distinct & I’ve seen it on video. Its when I gave a sloppy cue or cut him off – its the only time he barks on course, he never breaks stride & its very specific & brief. I interpret it as frustration in the moment. He is quite a thinker & there are many situations in which I can see him thinking no & occasinally trying to wait me out, which never works. Recently Java began sleeping on our bed again at night and he was entirely stretched out on my husband’s side so I asked him to move over (the dog, not the husband) …. very, very dramatically, w/a lot of sighing, & waiting a long moment or two, he finally moved his muzzle about 2 inches. And after we were done laughing he moved over entirely. So he is another one of those dogs who grumbles on occasion just to let you know where he stands & then he complies. Bottom line- frustration & irritation yes, anger -thankfully no.

  36. Marcia in NorCal says

    You know what I love most about all these comments? Every one of them acknowledges that (a) dogs get angry/annoyed/frustrated with us, and (b) THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO DO SO. I think that is VERY cool, and I am so grateful to have found such a smart bunch of people to “hang out” with!

  37. Mireille says

    Oh yes, Chenak was a master of The Glare. if he was outside but wanted to be Inside and I did not notice soon enough. He never digged in the garden, except at those times when he would dig like crazy and look pointedly at the door now and then with a look I can only translate as Now will you let me in!?
    In the beginning, when we just had him, he would snap at my hand if I would trie to take him from his comfy pillow to the outside pen. In the end I solved that by pulling his pillow from uniderneath him. He would then walk slowly to the outside pen, grumbling all the way.
    He scolded us every time we left him in a boarding kennel. He would sit with his back to the door of his outside pen whenever we put him there to prevent him from stealing food. Major cause for anger that, being prevented from stealing food, on those occasions he would growl and sometimes snap.
    Then there was the time we were scootering. i had been scolding the dogs for stopping to often for peeing, for jumping into puddles, for going left instead of right because of a juicy rabbit. Finally they had had enough and just flopped down on the path, refusing to move. Yup, I really felt silly and powerless. It took about ten minutes before they were good enough to stand up and start pulling again. Lesson learned…
    Chenak would also take revenge while skijoring; if we prevented him from marking where he wanted to, he would just accidentally walk past the wrong side of a tree so we would fall.
    One time where he alternated between angry and happy; he had escaped, chased wild boar. We had been looking all over before returning to the car. Off course there he was, waiting for us, with a bloody muzzle and a sore paw. He was both relieved we were there and angry that it took us so long.
    Chenak was a dog with a great dignity and indepedence. Trish, I think you once mentioned you found Merle, fro Merle’s door, to be extremely independent. Well, for me reading that book was a feast of recognition. It could have been about Chenak, only he never got the kind of freedom Merle had, because tha was just not possible in this tiny overcrowded country (Netherlands). He died a year ago, I still miss him 😉 .


  38. Anne says

    My GSD doesn’t like to be cuddled. She shows this with lids low, clearly just tolerating. When it gets too much, she turns her head away. She sighs, she shifts, she sidles away. It’s very clear this isn’t her thing, but my husband just loves to cuddle, loves to nuzzle his face in her scruff, making kissy noises. (He does this to me, too, and although some might find this a joy, I’m a lot like my dog – which come to think of it might be why he goes to the dog, hmmmm…..) I think my dog gets a kick out of it, too, sometimes, but she has her limits. She does like to be nuzzled and loved on sometimes, kind of like a cat.

    When she was younger, she would sometimes grunt after he didn’t get the message with her sighs and head turning. Husband would continue, and so she would grunt, and if things continued, she’d let out a longer grunt that became a soft grumble, almost impossible to hear. He would push her, and a few times she gave a lowish, short, light growl. None of this came from the gut, just the throat. Once she even showed her teeth straight at him. He pulled away in horror that she would bite him. I told him no, extremely unlikely, but she’d asked him clearly to stop enough times to warrant this growl, and if he didn’t take the message, he deserved the growl, so back off. Which he did, but he was unsure of her. I was not. But fair is fair, some people need to be told in certain ways. She was clearly irritated.

    All this happened within about 2-3 minutes. Over time, they learned each other’s rhythms and how far to go. Now well out of adolescence, she will get up and walk away when he gets too nuzzly, and of course, he doesn’t follow her. On occasion when she’s not feeling well (lots of GI and back issues), she will grunt/sigh, and he leaves her alone, just stroking her head and ears lightly with his hand, which she likes. When it’s too much for her to get up and walk away, then she will tell him to leave her alone, but even that’s rare now. I think it’s because he’s learned not to push her, and she’s become more tolerant. Ah, the wisdom of age for all of us.

    So yes, absolutely, she gets irritated. I can’t remember seeing her angry, though. I’ve seen her disgruntled, depressed, bored, frustrated, but not angry, per se. However, maybe that teeth-showing incident bordered on anger…perhaps.

    Absolutely, my GSD has shown irritation.

  39. says

    Saw your FB update, thrilled your trips to the post went well today :) I agree with you that my biggest wish when I walk to the post or to the start line with my dogs is not to let them down. These are TEAM sports and I want to hold up my end of the bargain. I want to be a good communicator: accurate, salient and timely. I want my dogs to do the same and agree to be team mates with me.

  40. Jennifer says

    I’m sure that my dog gets irritated with me, mostly when I’m not being clear with handling in agility (we’re not competing yet, but first trial is coming up soon). We’re still complete novices but one of us (her) catches on to new exercises much faster than the other (moi). I completely agree with not wanting to let my dog down, since she is so game to try what I ask. That being said, if I mess up and we have to repeat part of an exercise I get a bit of barking in frustration – it almost feels like she’s yelling “what what on earth do you want lady?”. And if I’m still not clear enough, I could swear that the look on her face is irritation, punctuated by barks of “just give me a cookie you fool”. The part I love is that she’ll still keep trying, though I’m sure she thinks I am a blithering idiot some days hahaha. Without her I don’t think I would be nearly so patient, and it makes me plan more ahead of time so that I’m less like a forgetful navigator giving random clues to where we might be headed.

  41. Elizabeth says

    Oh I SO want to tell this story. I acquired from a rescue group a strongly dog reactive 7 year old BC who’d been kept in a kennel for long periods of time. I was/am a completely inexperienced dog owner and had no idea what his problems were or how to deal with them (and the rescue group didn’t tell me). I went to a trainer recommended by the rescue group and paid a fortune to be told that he just needed a strong leader and that I should walk him on a short leash, give him no commands and no treats, make no eye contact and just force him to walk along as I made sharp, unexpected turns.

    It was no fun for either of us but I thought it important to give the technique a fair try. We worked diligently this way for over a month. Finally, one day in the middle of our walk, I decided it wasn’t working and we weren’t going to do this anymore. Just then, I looked down to find that my dog was peeing on my leg. I would say that he and I came to the same conclusion at the same time! And that he was quite literally pissed at me.

    Soon after this, I found an opportunity to let him run wild and chase squirrels (we live in a large urban area and such opportunities are hard to come by). That was what he needed first and foremost to expend all that pent up energy and frustration. I also found valuable resources like The Other End of the Leash and got hooked up with good trainers. We’ve come a long way since that horrible month of being a “leader”.

  42. Alexandra says

    My beagle, Romeo, shows frustration but rarely (never?) anger with people. While he will tell off a rude dog, with people if we do something he doesn’t like, or ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he has a routine for showing his annoyance – it’s a codified little dance. If I ask him for an obedience command when he wants to be all over the place (like a sit/down/wait at the pet store, say) he will scratch his collar, whine, and then comply, possibly with a violent sneeze. In fact, sneezing his his biggest method of showing disgust and frustration with us – if he starts sneezing, it’s not because he’s got something tickling his nose, it’s because one of the humans in the house is being really annoying!

  43. Debbie Schoene says

    I field trial English Springer Spaniels and years ago, was attending a trial. The gunners kept missing which meant that my dog did not get a retrieve (reward) for all of his hard work finding those pheasants. When the last bird was shot at–and missed—it was more than my dog could stand. On his way back in to me, he stopped briefly in front of the gunner who had “failed” him, looked up at his face and barked. 😉 As noise of any kind while competing is severely frowned upon, this was not something he EVER did. All I could ascribe it to was his frustration and annoyance at the gunner’s failure to provide him with a retrieve!

    Trisha, so glad your performance this past weekend exceeded your expectations…congrats!

  44. ABandMM says

    Hi Trisha,

    For those of us not on Facebook (ok, maybe that is just me), can you post on your blog how you and Willie did at the sheep trials?


  45. Trisha says

    ABandMM: Absolutely! Thought I’d actually try to show some videos later this week, but no time yet to get them edited…. Briefly, Willie did pretty well. The sheep were exceptionally difficult (someone said the hardest they’d ever seen at a trial), and half the Pro Novice contestants didn’t even get a score for their first run. Willie and I did, we were 14th out of 42 contestants. So we got in the top half which was my goal. We were doing even better on our second run, but then I had to leave the post because Willie got stuck and simply couldn’t move the sheep. Some dogs nipped noses to get them moving (others got DQ’d because they did more than that), but Willie simply doesn’t have the push in him to deal with sheep that tough at that distance yet. So we got letters (RT for Retired) instead of numbers for our second run. Overall though, I was proud of him. He listened at a distance greater than we’ve ever worked and most of our problems were from my lack of precision timing while handling him. More later, thanks for asking!

  46. JJ says

    ABandMM Says: Oh no, not just you! I think there are more of us who don’t do the Facebook thing.

    Thanks Trisha for repeating that info here!

  47. ABandMM says

    Congrats on getting numbers in your first run and even though there were letters in the second run, it sounds like Willie still did a good job. Thanks for the recap.

  48. says

    Mad–no; frustrated? Damn right! I can’t tell you how many frustrated barks have come my way even a few nips (bad dog) when I used to do Agility. I am not fast, I forget the course, I give wrong directions. My first Agility dog was an Airedale terrier, yes really, and she was very good and patient. My second and last Agility dog is a Border Collie, and as those of us who have one know, they have no patience for slackers!

    But I have never had a dog get mad at me. I don’t believe it is an emotion they have because mad/angry is actually a combination of feelings + thoughts and I don’t think dogs have that combination. They are instant beings.

    I have seen dogs turn on a dime and bite the hand/arm of a person who just caused them big pain, but again that is different than ‘being angry’, if they could talk they would have said, “ouch stop it”

    Love the pictures of Willie herding.

  49. Mireille says

    Isn’t anger the primary emotion and frustratio anger with ghaddition if self control? Why should dogs not be able to be angry? I think anger is one of the mos basic emotions there is, the “fight” in the fight,fright, flight three some. Ever seen a mother defending pups from a perceived threat? I once saw a film of a vixen chasing away a cougar from her cubs. Although you would maybe describe the behaviour as defending the cubs, I would describe the primary emotion there as angry as hell ;-). Why should dogs be any different in the primary emotions, I just think a veneer of civilisation is added

  50. says

    @Mireille I understand what you are saying, and I do realize that anger is considered a primary emotion but I don’t believe it is. retaliation due to frustration–my understanding of it–is not anger. My understanding of Anger is the result of a ‘mix bag’ of other emotions. Even in humans I don’t think that defending once’s children (at the time of attack) is anger, but maybe ‘fueled’ by anger but more survival/instinct etc which IS what our dogs are principally made of, although it seems to be changing some with the way we are raising them these days. In the defending your kid scenario I see the anger coming post fight, and again a mix bag: adrenaline, frustration, shock, fear etc. I believe fear to be often present as a primary emotion where anger is present.
    I do understand I’m going rogue with my understanding of Anger not being a primary emotion…

  51. manducasexta says

    I’ve had four dogs, and I think none of them has ever been angry at me. They certainly experience a wide range of negative emotions, but they all seem brief and event-specific rather than the kind of things that bleed into a relationship. My pessimistic gsd-rottie could not at first believe it was ever a good idea to cross a street (he’d been found with a mangled leg; I concluded a car was involved). My otherwise happy-go-lucky and fearless rottie-dane was terrified of garbage cans rolling in the wind and projected movies. In all cases, they resisted proceeding, but without any apparent resentment. On the other hand, my gsd responds to commands very slowly when a person with a movement disorder is walking on the other side of the park; I think he thinks his judgement about the threat posed is better than mine. It’s as if the first two dogs I mention respond to my encouragement with the message “I hear you say it’s ok but I still don’t want to” while the latter would say “I hear you and I think you’re wrong.” He will also make fast but soft snap at my hand when the brush snags on his hair. And he will destroy a door or window if left under conditions he finds stressful, but I don’t interpret his behavior as anger or resentment. I think it’s all pessimism, anxiety and a extremely developed sense of responsibility. On the other hand, when I was staying with my friend, her cat came into the room I was staying in, jumped on a pile of clothes and sprayed the clothes and wall. I didn’t have any trouble interpreting that as some form of resentment.

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