We tend to forget that our dogs have feelings and they can get hurt. It’s a different hurt than the human hurt feeling but it is a hurt feeling nevertheless. It can be sulky or they can just pout. Some dogs could care less. Kira is such a dog. As long as she works sheep, you can try to hurt her feeling and it won’t affect her one bit. I have yet to hurt her feelings.
Tess, on the other hand, has been known to have her feelings hurt. If she thinks (and she doesn’t care if you agree with her or not) that you have scolded her unnecessary on the trial field, or haven’t paid attention to her enough before her run (We do the country western dance for her attention), then Tess can sulk on the trial field. Scold her harder to make her go faster will usually result in her turning her head at you, giving you a glare then going e-x-t-r-a slow for good measure.
I have scolded her on her outrun and she gave me a scathing look, then proceeded to do an out-trot, then when I scolded her again, it was an out-walk, much to the amusement of the crowd. I quickly changed my tactics and chirped her on and she bolted up the field.
Tess loves to work and that is her passion. She believe she is the best dog and should be the only dog that works but over the years has conceded to let the other dogs work. However, she is my right hand and certain jobs are hers and hers only. Putting the ducks out to the pasture and in the coop at night is her job. Taking the sheep to and from the farm to the far field and back is another (this doesn’t count if someone is doing that but only applies to me). She is the backup up when I work young dogs in the field, meaning she runs the perimeter and if any sheep try to break, she will tuck it back in so the young dog can continue working. She is also the dog we use when we need a dog to help an unsure dog in the round pen. She is also the lesson dog for students and makes them look good.
During times when flooding occurs and we need a dog to rescue stock, she is the go-to dog. The valley will get flooded, sometimes sheep will be stuck on an island, and if they swim in the wrong direction, they can swim for miles and drown. I point her to the stranded sheep and tell her to bring them. She will swim out, get them off the island and make sure they come back to me. If they try to swim in the wrong direction, she will cast out and bring them back.
She has been my right hand for so long that sometimes we look at each other and she knows what to do. She’s older now and I have been trying to get some of the other dog to fill her shoes.
Additionally, Tess is a chowhound. Food is her friend. She loves food. At trials, she will work the trial crowd at lunch and soon will have part of people’s sandwiches, soup, cheese and cracker, snacks, you name it. She even has been known to con part of the lunch from Judges while they are on break. She is a clever beggar sitting quietly in front of you, her eyes fixated on the plate of food. Her eyes will follow every movement and if the food is especially good, she will lick her lips as you relish your meal. Inevitably, she will be rewarded.
At the yearly June trial at the MacDonald’s, on Saturday night, the potluck is held. Fresh seafood is served as well as an array of tasty potluck dishes. Tess has been my dinner companion for years and lies at my feet while I eat my meal. I give her my leftovers. Soon she will scan the crowd for an easy mark. She has learned to figure out who will and who will not give her a treat. Some of the handlers who I have never would have guessed would treat her, will slip her a piece. People ask if she can clean up their plates and she does very carefully. She has learned over the years to be gentle or no treats.
I am sure it doesn’t help at home that I give her my leftovers and treats but she has done so much for me over the years that she has earned it. But she isn’t really fat as she works hard and plays hard and her dinner is adjusted. Well, most of the time she isn’t fat!!
Each weekend, usually on Sundays, the dogs get bones. It is either a raw bones or a pig ear or cow hoof. Tess is first in line to get hers and looks forward to it. She really loves the raw bones. Her eyes widen with anticipation as you give her the bone. She darts off with her bone, tail wagging high and furiously and eyes gleaming with joy. It’s like Christmas to her!!
No dog goes near her bone, as she will thrash him or her soundly. They all give the Queen the wide berth and rightly so.
One Sunday, I loaded up Tess, Roo and a few young dogs to go the far field. I wanted to use Roo as a backup dog but brought Tess along in case that didn’t work out. I dug out a huge beef bone, about 18 inches long and covered with meat. I would give it to Tess while she was tied up. I had planned to use Roo as back up.
Her eyes gleamed and she grabbed the bone. I tuned Roo loose and had him be back up while I worked several dogs in a row. It was a fine day and I worked them again. They were a few runaways and I sent Roo to fix the errors and keep the perimeter going proper.
I was done for the day and walked over to Tess. She had dropped the bone as soon as I had untied Roo. Her back was to the bone. I called to her and she went to the end of the cable and turned her back to me. I picked up the bone and gave it to her. She took it in her mouth, gave me a look of despair, and dropped it. I picked it up again and gave it to her and she spit it out, went to the other side, turned her back to me, and curled up into a tiny ball. The look of betrayal was evident on her face.
How could I work another dog in her rightful role? How could I think that a bone would cover my dishonorable deed? How could I do this to her, the loyal one; the one who gave me her all? Just, how could I do this to her?
I felt ashamed. My cheek were hot with betrayal.
I petted her and asked her forgiveness. She warmed up ever so slightly. I untied her and gave her the bone. I began to walk up to the gate with the other dogs on lead and her trailing behind.
Her head was down, ears were dejected and her tail hung to the ground. She dropped the bone and I told her to pick it up and she did, reluctantly. One end was in her mouth and the other end dragged in the dirt. Her feet shuffled along and she was the picture of despair. Her feeling were hurt and she sulked. She would have left the bone aside from the fact that I told her to carry it.
She didn’t care about the bone. She was born to be a sheepdog. No bone would deter her from her duties.
I got to the gate and took the bone from her. Her hurt eyes pierced my soul. I pointed to the sheep below and she gazed at them.
“Tess, come bye”
She ran out quickly, went behind the sheep and brought them rather quickly. More so than normal, and I was sure a few heel grips were there. I had her drive them about for a bit until I could see her spirits were good again.
I called her off and as she went past the last ewe, she gave it a fly by nip. She ran up to me, her eyes beaming.
We got home and the dogs piled out of the truck. I called her to me and gave her the bone. She looked at it in disgust and ran to the freezer where the bones were kept. I gave her a new bone and Roo got her old bone.
Tess has gone back with me to the far field and has resumed her duties as backup dog.
I can’t bear to see the hurt in her eyes again. Once was enough.
Dog do have feelings and she let me know it loud and clear that day.