Video Analysis: What’s Up with Willie?

Here’s an interesting video for you to analyze. Katie and I were taping one of my favorite signals, “Get Back.” I use it in a variety of contexts, and can’t imagine life without it. You can see some of the ways I use the cue on the video below, and I’ll talk more later, if you’d like, about why I love the cue so very much.

After we taped, Katie and I were watching the video and I said “Oh wow, did you see how he [—] right after [—] happens? (Fill in the blanks!)

And so, that’s your assignment (should you decide to accept it Agent 99): Watch this video and tell us what we might have found interesting in it. I’m giving no more instructions than that… Who knows then what you might find that we didn’t! I’ll jump in early next week (and will answer comments sooner) about what we found so interesting, and as importantly, what we think it might mean. I’m guessing that this could lead to a very interesting discussion!

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie clearly lost some confidence after working the almost immovable sheep at the trial last weekend, so I’ve been working on building it up. I’ve been encouraging him to come up, come on, keep them doggies moving… (This is where you burst into song, singing “Raw-hiiiiiiide” at the top of your lungs.) I’ll let you know how it’s going. Poor Mr. Willie boy, you know how much I love him; and that includes knowing who he really is: A slightly crazy, people-loving, hyper-reactive, sound-sensitive, fun-loving creature who lacks confidence in a variety of settings. I’ve always known he’ll never be a national level sheepdog trial competitor, but I love him more than I can say, and love him even more than that for trying so hard.




Here’s a photo of me and Willie a friend took (thanks Rich!) several years ago when we were at a sheepdog clinic (the first time I was able to let Willie greet unfamiliar dogs.. what a huge step that was for him!) It’s hard to imagine that he was out of the game for over a year and a half since then!










  1. says

    I love watching the videos and great picture of the two of you!

    Everything you asked Willie to “Get Bcak” he licks his lips/nose. On serveral occasions he did circles as well.

    Interesting to see that on tape, I wonder what cues my dogs are giving me when I ask them to do certain behaviors? I guess I should tape and watch too!

  2. Wendy W says

    Thanks for inviting us all to join in this new type of exercise! I noticed that Willie did a few tongue flicks with each of the “get backs” that involved a door, the car and those well-loved frisbees. I wonder how Willie perceives the cue – and if the tongue flicks suggest he is expressing a bit of tension in response to having to hold himself back and wait. I couldn’t see if he did the same thing while working the sheep – would be interesting to know.

    My dog Hope understands the “get back” cue, and I have been teaching her to back up a few steps while in a heel. I’ll be real interested to watch her tonight and look more closely for her response to the cue!

  3. Jen says

    Hey – so what jumped out at me the first time I watched it was the way Willie seemed scared or startled by the crate door when you were loading Tootsie into the back of the van. I listened/watched several times during that moment – 0.43 sec in – and it was hard to tell what spooked him. The swing of the gate? The noise? Hard to know when we are not at his level. Was there a shadow? Did he think something was going to fall on him? Had something similar happened before at the back of the van? Boy, to have a microphone right in our dog’s brains, hey?

  4. Debbie says

    hahah, Willie’s so cute eager to please. I love how closely he watches you.

    The only thing I noticed was the lip licking at the car. Was he uncomfortable about something? He didn’t appear to be.

    He sure has a fun life, doesn’t he?

  5. Angela says

    My guess is that he lip licks almost every time you say “get back.” There were some shots where the angle wasn’t right, and I didn’t see it in the scenario where he is working the sheep, but the majority of the time, that is what I’m seeing.

  6. Christianne says

    Hi Mrs McConnell!!

    I will try to fill the blank

    After we taped, Katie and I were watching the video and I said “Oh wow, did you see how he [—] right after [—] happens? (Fill in the blanks!)

    He moved way back right after the closing of the cage happens?

    Have a wonderful Day

  7. Donna says

    At the door I seen hay run to the window see what she is doing.
    At the car forwad between the leg Iwant to go or may be not then at the barn door can’t wait so exciting.
    I know nothing about hearding so not sure what the quick return is about more like a bounce back than a get back.

  8. LynnSusan says

    ohhh boy!

    “Did you see how he got back, and then went right in between Trisha’s legs as Tootsie got in the car—-then resumed his “get back” position, very casually, hoping she didn’t see!” (around 0:25)

    Willie also complied with “get back” in the house when you picked up Tootsie and took her outside—-but he glanced over his shoulder at the door.

    I think he may be having some status issues with Tootsie,although, good boy that he is, he is not really acting on them…yet.

  9. Melissa Bishop says

    Lip-licking! Every time you asked Willie to get back, he did at least a tongue flick, or at times, a full-fledged chop lick. (To be honest, I couldn’t see it in every example—one where he had his back to the camera, and the one where he was working the sheep, he ducked his head and turned away from the camera.) To me, it would seem that he shows a bit of stress when being asked to move away from what he wants (the door, the frisbee). One of mine does this, too, and she is also a quick, soft little bc. She gets so close to the door that I can’t even open it, and she backs up a little scoot at a time. Now I’m curious if there’s a lip lick every time!

  10. Peggy says

    In the social situations he tongue flicked after you asked him to get back. I could not tell in the working situations cos I couldn’t see his mouth.
    It seems like you pair the get back and wait commands a lot of the time. I wonder if he tongue flicks because he is conflicted. He does as you ask but he’d rather be moving forward. He seems to move back but have body forward posture. I love that you’re videoing this stuff. Is there a way to slow the video down? I’d like to see it in slow motion.

  11. Parallel says

    I have a blind cat who knows ‘back up.’ It’s used most of the time to let him know a door is about to open and that he needs to be out of the way so it doesn’t hit him. In fact, he will only respond to it near a door.

    The only thing I noticed in the video was that at the very start he immediately goes to the window after you exit. But I’m thinking the actual answer has something to do with the sheep…I just don’t know enough about herding to spot anything unique!

  12. liz says

    What a long way Willie’s come since surgery and rehab. Congratulations.
    (Fun to see his tail shoot up when using play as a reward- wheee!)
    I saw that he tongue flicks after the cue is given and before moving back. The only exception comes at the end, with the sheep, and it’s also the only time he doesn’t lead with his rear as he ‘gives space.’ He turns and moves away front first. So I suppose the tongue flick could mean that he is uncomfortable, physiologically or otherwise, when moving straight backward, and/or the presence of sheep alters what he’s willing to do or show in front of them.
    Super interesting. I wonder if he reacted the same way before surgery.

  13. Laura Anne says

    To me, watching the video shows that Willie “gets back” twice, once right after you ask him to, and then when you are paying attention to the other dog, he “gets back” a lot more, including a spin and look back at you. I am not good at these videos, but really enjoy trying. Thanks for posting these videos.

  14. Beth with the Corgis says

    What I noticed was that twice (once when you put Tootsie in the back of the van, and then again working the sheep) when you said “get back” he actually moved quickly sideways with his body curved in a “C”; in another context, I would have thought he spooked.

    I didn’t notice the lick-lips til others commented and here’s why: I know that my dogs just about always lick their chops in response to commands for which they have received heavy food rewards in the past; I interpret it not as stress, but as anticipation of eating (Pavlov’s bell, if you will). So honestly I rarely notice lick-lips in situations where I assume a dog has received treats in the past. I’ll notice a yawn or look-away in response to a request much more quickly.

    Anyway, in the two instances above Willie jumped so quickly that I would tend to think he became a bit apprehensive for some reason, though I could not narrow down the precipitating factor.

  15. Martha says

    Sorry can’t fill the blanks so many things in the video, don’t think I could ever guess the right answer so all I can offer are my observations and notes:

    Lots of lip licks and his mouth closes all the way through when ever he is asked to ‘get back’. Every time I have observed dog classes I have seen many lip licks when the dogs are asked to ‘sit’ or perform.

    In the garden when the frisbee is being thrown the second time while Willie is having a chew on the frisbee – his name is called first, then slight pause and then the ‘get back’ – he seems to do a very abrupt head turn, then lip lick and then slowly shifts backward.

    Outside the barn door Willie seems to drop his head and do a paw lift before the ‘get back’.

    What I found particularity interesting is how he responds with the ‘get backs’ in the home/garden environment as opposed to when he is doing them around sheep. With the ‘get backs’ around the house, garden and doors he moves backward very slowly, also his shoulders are still facing towards you. I think the only time he shift his weight and slight starts turning is body away from you in the first car scene? With the sheep it is almost more like a curve, where he turns his body and curves away and moves side on. So I see a movement of angle and shoulder direction change. He “seems to” respond quicker with the sheep as opposed to home environment.

    All these calming signals … is he calming himself down or calming you down? I find the difference in how he uses his body when with the sheep as opposed to the household environment interesting.

  16. Maureen Schooley says

    Three behaviors attached to one cue. 1) straight back 2) straight back with a turn and 3) when working sheep a turn first with an arch movement back….?

  17. Jeanine Renzoni says

    Well, oh wow did you see how he lip licks and/or head turns after the cue most times, and rushes away with a slightly crouched body posture after you close the door/crate and leave him. However, except for the frisbee there appeared to be no/little reward for Willie complying with the cue and just loss of company/fun, and so he showed anxiousness and distress and calming signals toward you. He seemed to ‘steal’ the go on through the door in the barn. I don’t know much about sheep herding, but I doubt that you want the turn away disconnect where he quits watching the sheep briefly because of the cue.

    So I’m thinking that although the cue is a very handy one because he wants to be close to you, he needs much more rewards for doing it and maybe a different cue so that he can feel comfortable that it is not just a signal for ‘too bad for you Willie.’

    I didn’t see any dog to dog issues. All the best to you and Willie.

  18. Kathi Scherf says

    Hi Trish,
    I noticed how he jumped back when you were loading in the back of the vehicle. Can’t figure out what triggered that. Lots of lip licking but not when working sheep.

  19. em says

    In almost all of the instances in the video which his face is visible, Willie flicks his tongue when you ask him to get back. He looks a little uncomfortable, too. Though it’s hard to say since his back is to the camera, he seems less uncomfortable and more dramatically/instantly responsive when working the sheep, and possibly most uncomfortable when your back is to him and you are manuvering Tootsie out the door or into the car.

    I wouldn’t like to guess why without knowing Willie better, but I do have an anecdote (don’t I always? 😉 ) about my own dogs that might be analagous. My shepherd-mix Sandy is very, very sensitive to anything that seems even the littlest bit like a criticism or correction. We use ‘back up’, ‘go ahead’, and ‘out’ very frequently with Otis (big dog, small house- there’s lots of cooperation required to make the logistics work) and he never seems to take it the least bit personally, so we had to adjust our communication style when it became clear that cues like these sometimes stressed Sandy out. She’d tongue flick, duck her head, sometimes do a slight tail tuck or scared eye, even though we used a gentle, friendly tone.

    Outside on our walks, even sternly spoken cues have no such effect on her demeanor- she seems focused on her “job” of exploring and travelling together and takes such directions in stride.

    The key to Sandy seemed to be the need to keep things completely positive (not in the sense of training methodology, but just in the layman’s use of the term). She does GREAT when we tell her what we want her to do in a positive sense (come/go to this spot, sit or lie down), but she has a hard time with ‘negative’ instructions (don’t do that, don’t be right here, etc.). I’m not totally sure whether it’s because she has a hard time understanding what we want/mean by them and is stressed by having to guess at how to comply with our non-explicit wishes, or more likely, because she interprets these cues as meaning that she is “wrong”, which stresses her out. She seems anxious AND doesn’t comply as reliably.

    So we’ve been trying to completely revamp our communication style to completely eliminate these implied corrections (it’s still a work in progress, especially for my husband, who is only able to walk with us on weekends) by making sure that we always frame our cues as asking for positive actions ‘come/wait here’ vs. ‘back up’, ‘to your bed’ vs. ‘out’ etc. It’s helped hugely.

  20. Wendy W says

    Hmmm…. I’m wondering about the relationship between the very quick tongue flicks that Willie gives when you give the “get back” cue while making little/no eye contact (when you are with Tootsie at the door and while loading her in the car), and the more slurpy nose lick that Willie gives when you are both looking at each other. It seems that Willie’s posture is a bit tense when he gives the quick flick, and more relaxed/happy when he does the nose lick.

    My (very soft) dog Hope usually yawns and does a number of nose licks when I come home. I’ve always wondered if this indicates low-level stress, or is just a normal “wake up” routine (i.e., when is a lick just a lick?). I watched for flicks/licks last night while giving an assortment of cues, and found that she seemed much more relaxed and confident (open versus closed mouth with very few nose licks) when I moved more slowly and made full eye contact for a moment before giving each cue.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on this!

  21. Beth with the Corgis says

    Now I can’t wait to hear what Trisha says! I did want to add that calming signals in certain circumstances are not always a bad thing. Jack gives me big stress yawns if I set food on the coffee table; he can reach it but knows he should not. My reaction is generally a “he’ll deal with that on his own.” Learning to self-manage stress is an important part of teaching impulse control. After all, I feel a bit stressed if I’m really hungry and see the people at the table next to me eating. Does not mean I need to change something. Similarly, if a dog is a bit stressed because he’s been asked to leave something that he really wants to do, then assuming that he’s fairly stable in most circumstances, he should be able to handle that stress and move on with his day.

    On the other hand, if I see so much as a tongue-flick or bit of whale-eye when little kids are petting my dogs in the way toddlers tend to, I will cheerfully get them out in a hurry. I want my dogs to know that I will protect them from over-zealous kids BEFORE the situation escalates, and therefore I want them to know that I will respond to the very first sign of stress that I see.

  22. Rebecca Rice says

    Having watched the video multiple times, and carefully avoided reading the comments, what I noticed is that Willie reacted to Tootsie in the car in the same manner as he did the sheep. Which would imply to me that something about going in the car (assuming that that was going to be the next step) or about being separated from Tootsie (if he’s not going along) is stressful to him. The backing up in those cases was much more exaggerated than in some of the others.

    I will also say, from those snapshots in time and with no other information on what’s going on, that there seems to be a bit of small-dog bias going on. For example, Willie was asked to back away from the car and wait while Tricia was messing with the back seat, but Tootsie was not asked to do so, or to wait before being allowed in. Now, it could be that she had been patiently waiting and that this was being done strictly so that she could be loaded into the car, but I have a feeling that Trisha would not have allowed Willie to crowd in like that.

  23. Lisa W says

    I was trying to see if I could spot something other than what has already been mentioned. It’s kind of like “Where’s Waldo?” One thing I did notice was when you and Willie were in the yard with the frisbees, you asked him to get back, he did, frisbee toss, play, Willie’s rump was in the air, you asked for another get back, and he did a very quick look behind before he lowered his rump and scooched back. Was he looking for sheep or Tootsie or making sure it was safe to go backward?

    Does Tootsie’s tail ever stop wagging? I got distracted by her beautiful plume that was always in motion. Puts a smile on your face, eh?

  24. Rebecca Rice says

    Having now read the comments, and rewatched the video, I do have to agree with Jeanine Ronzoni that this seems like a command that may have a negative association for Willie. He does it, but doesn’t get rewarded for doing it, and, since he seems to be at least a bit stressed about being asked to go away from you, I would be acknowledging the action before closing the door, or picking up Tootsie, etc. With the frisbee he was rewarded for backing, and seemed much happier. At the door in the barn, and with the sheep, I think he was self-reinforcing (getting to go through that door… given the rush he did, I would say he was stressed being on the side of the door that he was, and getting away from the sheep). I wonder if, as em says, he would do better with a “go to” command instead of a back command. For example, in the first scene, if he had a bed he could go to, instead of being told to back, wait, and then just left hanging with no idea of what he should do next.

    Which is also something I noticed. You ask for a “wait” quite often, but never give a release command. Which makes me wonder what Willie thinks that command means. Stay here for one second? Until my owner moves? Can I lie down and take a nap? I use a wait command as a mini-stay: stay there (in whatever position you want, and you can dance around a little even) until I say “ok” at which point you can go forward.

  25. liz says

    Oh the suspense…I can’t wait for expert analysis, too!
    And I’d like to add a few things, but don’t know if I should. (am I jumping the gun,will it be covered later,etc?)
    Prioritizing, what I most want to know is if “get back” was part of post-surgery shoulder exercises. If it was, then the picture changes, and the tongue flick could be several different things: confusion as to whether exercises are beginning, a lingering expression of discomfort kind of embedded in the cue even though it’s no longer physically painful to move backwards, or just appeasement with the hopes of being asked to do a different task.
    Of these options, most interesting to me is whether a behavior like licking, that reflects an initial physical/ emotional state, can become embedded in a cue even if the state is no longer present. Can what was once an expression just become habit?
    No rudeness or rushing intended!

  26. Trisha says

    Tons more to talk about in a few days, but quickly, “Wait” means “Pause momentarily, then do what you want.” It has no release, unlike Stay. Lots more soon!

  27. Kathy says

    Willie does the tongue flick at the door and the car, also steps back then moves way back a few seconds later at the door and car. I know my dog does the tongue flick when she’s not sure why I want her to do or not do something. I noticed Willie does NOT do it when with the sheep, he knew exactly what was going on and why. I couldnt see his face at the barn door but I’m willing to bet he didnt do it there, his posture was already entering “sheep mode”. Maybe he understands the why behind the cue with the sheep but not when there is nothing he can identify that will “react” when he gets back. He’s already thinking 2 steps ahead, what is the reaction to my action going to be, and then what do I do next?

  28. Beth with the Corgis says

    I wanted to add something else. :) I think it’s important to reward when teaching a command, but I don’t think a dog honestly needs to be consistently rewarded for being asked to back up when he is crowding. Crowding is rude dog behavior. No offense to Willie, because it is common behavior and something my dogs do as well. But personally I don’t ever reward for asking dogs to move out of my personal space, where they should not have been to begin with. I do reward of course to teach the command “back up” initially, but I regularly ask mine to back away from doors, garbage cans, etc and they get a verbal reward if anything. One of my dogs routinely crowds the other, and it’s about the only thing he ever gets truly annoyed with her about, so even other dogs find it unacceptable behavior (though crowders seem perpetually oblivious to their own transgressions).

    So I saw nothing incorrect with Trisha not rewarding the behavior, and of course then being allowed to go forward when appropriate is its own reward. I did notice the two big leaps back, first at the van and then at the sheep, and found that interesting.

  29. Alexandra says

    Hmm, nobody’s mentioned what jumped out at me – that Willie noticeably shied away from the car when Trisha was loading Tootsie *at the moment when Trisha rewarded Tootsie for loading into the crate.* It looked like a jealousy thing to me – that when Willie saw Tootsie being fed, he jumped straight back!

  30. kecks says

    i think he’s calming himself every time he is aked to “back up”, hence the calming singals. i’d say that’s rather normal and a good thing since the signal is often combined with body blocks from you (‘taking space from him’ which he politly accepts) *and* he has to restrain himself at the same time when he does as asked (since he wanted to go the other way and was stopped by the signal). he has beautiful self control in this video!

    what’s up with the closing of the crate at the back of the car? is this in general a scary and/or exciting plac/item/procedure to him?

  31. kecks says

    i am just asking about the car because you often get “bigger” (and faster) movements the more the dog is excited (in a happy or fearful or whatever way – just excited/agitated/emotionally involved he needs to be). willie does the “bigger” back up movement when he is working the sheep (very exciting for him being a herding dog?!) and when he is asked to back up at the back of the car (could be he is jalous of Tootsie, could be he is a little bit scared by the car/a crate being closed, could be he is just excited at the prospect of going on a car ride…).

  32. Elizabeth2 says

    What strikes me is that 18 seconds in, when Trisha scoops Tootsie’s bottom up to help her into the back seat of the station wagon, Willie (who has been alertly maintaining his “get back” distance) steps forward between Trisha’s legs with his head lowered, as if to help nudge Tootsie upward into the desired position. He’s gentle and careful about this, and it almost seems like a herding breed thing to do, to help get the little “sheep” where the person wants her to be. As soon as Tootsie is settled, and before Trisha repeats “get back,” Willie backs up of his own accord, thus honoring the first “get back” cue. It’s like he was aware all along that Trisha wanted him to keep his “get back” distance, but the herding-breed desire to move fuzzy little sheep into the right place gained momentary precedence.

    Later, when Trisha’s putting Tootsie into the crate in the rear of the station wagon with Willie observing, Willie suddenly dodges several steps farther back, and his dodging is immediately followed by the squealing of the hinges as Trisha closes the crate door. Trisha has written about Willie’s sound sensitivity, so maybe he wants a little more distance from a sound he dislikes. If so, then his memorization of Trisha’s usual sequence of crating-gestures means he can cleverly anticipate the aversive bit. Once Tootsie is in, but before closing the door, Trisha says “Okay,” seemingly to Tootsie, like “you’re good, and I’m about to close the door.” Maybe this “okay” often comes right before the irritating sound?

  33. Mireille says

    What made me smile is the moment you were playing with the frisbee’s. He had the intact Frisbee, you asked for a get back and he glanced at the other, partially destryed frisbee. Almost as if he was saying, I will if you throw that one again for me 😉


  34. JJ says

    Aside from the tongue flicks, the biggest thing that stood out for me what Willie going forward to sniff Tootsie as you were putting her into the car – and while your back was turned. I found that to be very interesting.

    The other thing that was interesting to me was the difference between stepping back a step or two, verses the full turn and moving far back when you went through the door in the first “get back” sequence. I am guessing that “get back” is supposed to mean: go back at least a step or two, but you can do more if you want. At least, that is what it looks to me based on the examples. So, it is interesting to see how far Willie takes it when it is his choice to do so.

    Side notes: The black and white of you and Willie is really great. That’s a keeper.

    Also, I had not seen Tootsie from the back before. I had not realized that her markings were kind of like Willies – in terms of big black and white swaths. For some reason, I had thought she had three colors and a lot of brown. Now, Tootsie looks like a little border collie to me. :-)

  35. em says

    One last thought before Trisha weighs in! I hope that my post didn’t come across as though I was suggesting that asking for ‘back up’ or cues like it was wrong. As I said, I use them all the time and they are tremendously valuable to me. I was just making the point that in my particular case, my very sensitive dog doesn’t react well to negative ( ‘don’t do’) instructions. I don’t think that I was harsh or unreasonable to ask them of her-‘back up’ is a perfectly reasonable request that many if not most dogs have no significant problem with. I only re-evaluated because Sandy was showing a LOT of signals indicating stress, and not always complying that well, so I looked for work-arounds.

    For example: On the stairs: The stairs in my house are wide enough for a human to walk side-by-side with one dog, but not two. Both dogs know better than to cross in front or get under our feet, so most of the time, it is perfectly acceptable for Sandy or Otis to climb/descend the stairs at my side. But, when both of them want to go beside me at the same time, or when I’m carrying a laundry basket, I don’t want the dogs (especially Sandy, who has a habit of turning slightly to look up at my face while walking) to be cramming into the stairwell any old how. Before Sandy, I always asked Otis to ‘back up’ and ‘walk behind’, cues that we practice pretty frequently on our hikes. No problemo. It worked great, so I developed a pretty strong habit over the years.

    Once it was two dogs, I’d ask them both for the same (Sandy likewise had plenty of practice outdoors with both cues, where neither seemed to bother her at all). Otis had no problem, but Sandy would tongue flick, duck her head, shift back and forth a bit with her tail low and, often as not, break her position to smoosh up into my space, touching the back of my leg with her nose or edging back into position at my side. My suspicion is that my requests were being understood as, “even though it’s usually ok, I don’t want you to be near me right now. ” Otis has no problem with this message. Sandy did. Not liking either her reaction or her response, I tried changing my request. Instead of asking for a ‘back up’, I went to the spot I wanted her to wait and called her to it. Instead of asking her to walk behind, I asked her to wait or to sit and wait. No flicking, no low tail, no shifting. She’d plop her butt down and sit like a statue, grinning the whole time. (When both dogs are involved I have both wait together- my husband makes fun of me a little, but I am a fairly (ok-ridiculously) careful not to favor one over the other).

    Same thing with putting on my socks. She had a tendency to push up into my space as I bent over to put on socks, eagerly anticipating going out and looking for attention. She licks. I confess (heresy)- it squicks me out. Cheerful requests for a back up yielded stress signals (flicking, low tail, low head, sad or scared eyes) AND she ‘cheated’ probably three times in five, sneaking in for a quick lick at my hands or face when I lowered my eye contact. So, instead of asking for a back, I asked for a sit. Same reaction as on the stairs- instant compliance, no stress signals, holds her position perfectly until released. If I can be forgiven for anthropomorphizing, when I give her a task like ‘sit’ or ‘wait/stay’ or ‘down’, Sandy seems not just comfortable and relaxed, but proud and happy. She really seems to LOVE being given a Very Important Job to do.

    Not all dogs are like this, though. Otis is not. He’d MUCH rather be told to back off but be allowed to do as he wishes otherwise than be expected to hold a sit. In fact, I’ll get shifting, yawning, and tongue flicking if I ask him for too MANY specific tasks. He doesn’t seem to share Sandy’s need for specific direction and reassurance. When I changed up my approach for Sandy’s benefit, it’s not that I thought that there was anything wrong with the way we had been doing things, nor do I think that it is possible or even desirable to eliminate all stress from a dog’s life. It’s more that it didn’t work well with her personality.

    Her basic temperament is low in self-confidence, very dependent on our guidance and approval, and very eager to please. Treating her the same as confident, independent, easygoing Otis was bound to be a problem. By changing things up, I see myself as sacrificing nothing but the effort it takes to remember not to treat her like Otis. My expectations are the same, but I get a better result with less stress for her by working WITH her temperament rather than fighting against it.

    But all of this is specific to my experience with Sandy. Willie’s tongue flicks may indicate that, like Sandy, he is feeling stress over the cue, but it may not. It may indicate something else entirely. Even if he is feeling mildly stressed, that is not in itself a reason to see the request as unreasonable, nor does it tell us why he might be feeling that way. I hope that my anecdote (s) about my own experiences don’t come across as suggesting that there is anything wrong with the way Trisha is relating to Willie.

  36. Amy says

    My guess was Willie backing away from the car when Tootsie was shut into the crate, but I suppose I should go back and watch for the tongue flicks now that I’ve seen the other comments.

  37. Kate says

    I noticed how he “turned and moved away” right after “a door (house or crate) closed.”

    Hard to speculate on why after only 2 cases. Maybe with sheep an opening door means a whole herd coming fast at you – better give them room! Maybe in the house you bump into him if you’re carrying groceries and can’t see. Maybe putting the puppy in the crate in the back of the car is something you do before you play games with Willie. He didn’t move away when you put the puppy in the side of the car, only in the back crate.

    I’m going to guess that the larger move back with the sheep is contextual, i.e., sheep can move suddenly, so maybe a wider berth is in order.

    I admit, sheepishly (!), that I did not notice the lick until reading comments 😉

    Fun exercise – thanks.

  38. Laura says

    Wow, reading all of the comments really helps me, because I couldn’t see as many things in the video as everyone else. Especially the tongue flicks. I completely missed all of them. Anyway, I did notice, guess it was just something I could see in Willie’s body when he was working the sheep. He seemed much more confident than any other time in the video. I noticed he kept his head pointed at the sheep the entire time and yes, as previous commenters pointed out, he seemed to circle back in a wider, quicker movement and I think he was very excited about what he was doing. I also paid close attention to sound, it’s what I do, :) and I noticed how Tricia always kept her commands happy, or nutural, but it left me wondering something. Do dogs respond better to a command like, “wait,” if it’s given without the uptake, at the end of the word, or do they responde better to the same command when given in a tone with out a question uptake at the end? Does it depend on the dog? I know, with Seamus, if I have a question in my voice when giving him a command, he seems to be confused and seems to be unsure if that’s what I really want him to do. If my voice is low or, I don’t know how to best articulate it, flatter, he responds more quickly otherwise. It’s just interesting to me. Oh yeah, and when I ask the question about sound and response, I used the example of “wait” because it just popped into my head. In Willie and Tricia’s context, I actually think you should use an uptake at the end because I believe the dog understands you better as saying, just stay there a second, then do what you like. I use “Wait” in a similar manner. Our dogs are taught it to mean, stay there for just a second or two, but we were taught a release of “ok.” It’s just a temporary stay. Well, that’s all from me. I know I’m not much help, but i loved the video. Especially Willie playing with his toys. Now that’s a happy dogger boy!

  39. Donna B. says

    Em, I can relate to putting your socks on and getting unwanted canine assistance! Even worse is when you are putting on the shoes that means you are about to go for a walk. My husband and I joke that we would love to have lifeguard chairs so we could do this “unassisted” by a group of eager long nosed Irish Wolfhounds! They respond to “Off” pretty well, meaning “Get out of my face and leave me alone while I tie my shoes”, kind onf like Trish’s “Enough” command.

    Anyone else have this issue? “Back up” would also work well in this situation, never thought of that. The wolfhounds tend to back up slowly, like they have to think about the mechanics of it. We sometimes make, “Beep…..beep” sounds, like a large truck is backing up, when they do it. They have to learn how to do it, they rarely do it on their own.

    I bet if I made more of a game of it they would learn how to do it quickly.

  40. Hannah says

    Hi Patricia,

    Could it be superstitious behavior? or maybe just ritualized from when he used to feel nervous about it, but doens’t anymore, and now it’s just muscle memory response triggered by the cue? (does that make any sense?) Int he first clip he looks a little nervous, so i was thinking “yeah prob. displacement” but then in the other clips, it just seems context-dependent, like when you are about to throw the frisbee, he has a completely different demeanor – happy/expectant, but still flicks tongue. maye he thinks “get back” means “back up and flick your tongue”…because if you think about it, he did still get the frisbee! i wonder if you only selectively reinforced the non-tongue flick backs, how long it would take for him to stop flicking. if it’s a displacement behavior maybe will take longer because it’s emotional, vs learned behavior would go away faster? i dunno!…just pondering!

  41. Yevette says

    I would tend to believe that the backup was taught to Willie using body blocks and the lip licking occurred as he was learning the command as a way to say ‘no conflict here’. It looks like he simply thinks it is part of the behavior now. Willy stepped back farther and faster from the crate but it’s hard to say why. My dog is used to my clumsy nature and will give more space just in case I fumble and drop the groceries on her head! It seemed that the ‘wait’ was used consistently at doors, cars etc with a visual release (shoulder turn, pause,hand, or look) while good boy was used for the more active frisbee and sheep (although wait used once with the frisbee). The wait may be your habit and somewhat lazy on Willies part ( or as needed :) . I think that the wider back given the sheep is situational. For example a door swing is three feet, passing in the hallway 1.5, sheep need reaction time=more room. I couldn’t see if he lip licked with the sheep. It does seem to me that the desired behavior working the sheep is different from the other times that ‘backup’ is used. I think I would refine and use a different command while herding making it more important/specific. I am just learning and certainly gain from reading the thoughts. Thanks.

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