"The look" is considerably less loving that this Golden's gaze. Just don't use the wrong command during the glove retrieve in obedience.
Fri, 07/28/2023 - 10:48pm

Getting “The Look” From Your Dog

You'll know it when you see it — and hope that you never do

Have you ever gotten “the look” from your dog? If not, it’s probably because your dog is doing nothing other than lounging on the couch. Even then, you may not be immune.)

“The look” occurs most often when you and the dog are engaged in some task or activity, and you are the one who messes things up so badly that you fail to win, fail to earn a qualifying score or fail to complete the mission.  

With gun dogs, failure to complete the mission — their human hunting partners missing a bird that the dog has found and pointed or flushed — is usually the impetus for “the look.” For agility dogs, it’s often something like the handler forgetting the course that prompts “the look.” In obedience, “the look” appears after you’ve done something really stupid, like give a double command. In all cases and all activities, it’s the look you get whenever you do something the dog either disapproves of or is disgusted about. What’s more, both you and the dog know why. Some dogs even carry their annoyance a step further and impose punishment for your sins.

The “Queen of Hearts,” aka my old master hunter Brittany, never had her pique relieved by a mere disapproving frown. She was definitely the canine version of the wrathful queen in “Alice in Wonderland” when she was hunting. “Off with their heads” was her attitude toward anything that offended her afield, and the list of things to which she took offense was long indeed. But she reserved a special level of fury when her hunting partners failed to perform to her standards. In Sparky’s world, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust and sloth would have met with indifference, while wrath was a virtue. 


 When it came to hunting, the aptly named Sparky had a short fuse.


What she absolutely could not, would not abide, and what constituted the only real deadly sin in her view, was the failure to make a shot accurate enough to kill a bird that she had found, pointed and held until her hunting partners were in shotgun range — or at least hit it hard enough so she could chase it down and catch it. If she held the bird so well that one of those partners actually had to kick the bird out of its hiding place and then missed the shot, the phrase “in high dudgeon” would not come close to describing Sparky’s outrage. Luckily for her hunting partners, she didn’t have an opposable thumb, so actually grabbing a dagger in anger, the likely origin of “high dudgeon,” was a bridge too far.  

A lady I know who loves doing agility with her Cardigan Welsh Corgis says she has been the recipient of “the look” on more than one occasion from her dogs when she has messed things up in agility.  

“About a year ago, we were about halfway through the course when I totally blanked out on the rest of it,” she remembers. "I mean, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what the next obstacle was. It was like when you walk into a room intending to do something and when you get to the room, you have no idea why you went there. That was me on that agility course. Anyway, I stopped, and when I stopped, so did my dog. I looked at the judge and sort of shrugged. The judge had that ‘Sorry’ look, but then he started laughing and pointed at my dog. So, I looked at my dog. The look on his face was absolutely priceless. I’m not sure what the Welsh word for ‘dimwit’ is, but I’ll bet a month’s salary from the expression on his face that’s what my dog was saying.”


This Cardigan Welsh Corgi would rather leave the ring than suffer the indignity of a botched agility jump.


She adds that she got “the look” from another of her dogs earlier this year: “I’ve ridden jumpers for years, and the way you win a jumping competition is to get yourself and the horse around the course the quickest of any competitors without knocking down any fences, much the same as agility. But I have a very athletic horse, a retired racehorse, and I can cut a lot of angles with him to save time, but he’ll still clear the jumps.

“Since Cardigans are not the fastest dogs on four paws, I try to do that as much as possible with them to improve our speed,” she continues. “Well, I cut the angle just a bit too sharp with my dog, and she took down the last element of the triple bar. When the pole fell, she stopped dead, gave me such a look of disgust like you can’t believe, turned her back and flounced out of the ring, leaving me standing there like a total dolt.”

An obedience competitor who also does hunt tests and hunts with her Golden Retriever says she apparently got the two activities mixed up a couple of years ago, and it cost her and her dog a qualifying score in Utility.  

“While everyone seems to think Goldens are such ‘robots’ in obedience, I wish someone would tell my dogs, because they definitely have minds of their own,” she laments. "As a result, qualifying scores are not always easy to come by, especially at the upper levels of obedience. A couple of years ago, we were having a really good go in Utility — until we got to the directed retrieve, which actually was one of the dog’s favorite exercises. I lined her up on the designated glove and instead of telling her ‘fetch’ — the command I ALWAYS use for a retrieve in obedience — I put my hand down in front of her nose, as I do in the hunt tests or when we’re hunting to give her a line to the bird, dropped my hand and said ‘Sass,’ as I use her name as my release command in the field. The second I did it, I was like ‘Oh, crap!’ 

“Sassy automatically responded to the command, took about two steps away from me, realized it wasn’t right, stopped, turned around, more or less squared up to me and just stared at me with the most ticked-off expression you’ll ever see a dog muster. I thought the judge was going to fall over, she laughed so hard. Sadly, the judge’s laughter and Sassy’s expression just rubbed salt in the wound of another non-qualifying trip in Utility.”

An English Setter belonging to a man I interviewed had a unique way of expressing his displeasure whenever his owner would miss a shot on a bird the dog had pointed. The setter’s owner admits he’s a long way from a champion wingshot, and when he misses a shot, the dog gets so frustrated he stamps his front paws, gets a totally disgusted look on his face and barks at his owner. 


Said English Setter in happier times.


While the setter’s owner says he’s been chewed out more than once in human interactions, he’s never had that experience from a dog until this particular setter came along.  He also says he’s really glad that dogs can’t speak English, because he’s pretty sure whatever the dog is saying is pretty profane.

A lady I know who hunts with her champion Cocker Spaniels also says her dogs get pretty impatient with missed shots. “I love to do field work with my Cockers, but I can tell you that they have very thin tolerance for too many missed shots. When that happens, it’s difficult to describe their facial expression, except there’s no mistaking it, and to call it mere ‘disapproval’ would be a significant understatement. They are seriously put out, and they make that very clear.”


According to one owner, champion Cockers tend to have little tolerance for missed shots.


Another lady I know says their Irish Water Spaniel took serious umbrage when she and her husband failed to shoot after the dog had found a large covey of quail in a very small valley. The dog flushed the covey and then waited for someone to fire the shots to bring down a bird or two.  


This Irish Water Spaniel's unblinking stare is often turned on his handler when she fails to shoot one of the birds he has found and flushed.


“But a covey of that size in that particular valley was so unexpected that we were stunned by the sheer number of birds and couldn’t decide which ones to try for,” his owner explains. "So, no shots and no birds for the dog to retrieve. I can tell you the dog did not take kindly to our failure to provide him with a bird after he’d found the covey. He turned his head and gave us a stare that would have stopped a grizzly dead in its tracks. We had to be very contrite before our IWS was willing to forgive our transgressions.”

My Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have an additional way of letting me know when they’re displeased, which they generally combine with “the look”: If we miss two or three ducks or geese in a row — but particularly if we miss geese, because the dogs apparently view them as easier targets than canvasbacks zipping along at 70 mph — the dogs first glare at us.  Then, they turn their backs, curl up in the bottom of the boat or the blind, and without being able to say a single word, clearly tell us, “Let me know if you ever hit one and I’ll go fetch it for you.”


If too many shots are missed, the author's Chessies will simply check out.


Another lady I know relishes telling a story about her husband and their Boykin Spaniel. They were hunting doves, a bird notoriously difficult to hit. Indeed, it has always been my contention that dove seasons were devised by the ammunition companies to provide a major boost to their bottom line.

With the doves flying like they had rockets attached to their wings, as is the case with most dove hunters, even on the days when the birds aren’t approaching Mach 1, the Boykin’s owner was missing a lot more doves than he hit. He would shoot and miss. All the while, the dog sat patiently waiting for a dove to drop. Nothing happened. Just shots and misses.


This Boykin Spaniel lost her cool on a dove hunt.


Finally, out of total frustration, she walked over to a bucket that contained the few doves she did get to retrieve, picked one out, brought it to her owner and deliberately dropped it, with some considerable emphasis, on the toe of his boot. She apparently felt she needed to remind him what they were supposed to be hunting. 

You don’t have to be doing some performance activity or hunting to merit "the look." A long-time friend of mine got it from Reb, his Labrador Retriever, and shortly thereafter, he got a similar look from his wife. When the dog tangled with a skunk at their lake cabin, Ray quickly determined that he had to rid the dog of as much skunk scent as possible, since Reb was a house dog. Unfortunately, there was no de-skunking compound at the cabin, an oversight that Ray was soon to regret.

The only thing Ray could find that had any possibility was a can of what he thought was tomato juice. This, as most people who have ever had a skunked dog discover — usually too late — is worse than doing nothing, because all you wind up with is a dog that smells like skunk AND tomato juice. But Ray was desperate, so without turning on the lights in the cabin or looking closely at the can, he opened it and started smearing the contents on Reb. Only then did he notice that there were a lot of chunks in the tomato juice. What he had assumed was tomato juice was instead a can of diced tomatoes.


Infamous Reb, in happier times in a skunk- and tomato-free zone.


About the time he realized what he was using was NOT tomato juice, Reb turned his head, and even though he was miserable from the skunking, gave Ray the “Just whatthehell are you doing?” look, followed immediately by a vigorous shake, which sent pieces of tomato at warp speed against the walls of the cabin, as well as against the guy applying the tomatoes.

Before Ray could react and get either himself or the cabin walls cleaned up, his wife arrived, walked into the cabin and on seeing the mess, gave him “the look” — only in this case, it was the look that said, “You’re damned lucky this cabin is so remote it’s impossible have a divorce lawyer on speed dial.” 

Fortunately for Ray, both his marriage and the dog survived the experience. Still, it was a long time before he was eventually allowed to crawl out of his wife’s doghouse or be forgiven by the dog.




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