W Bruce Cameron:
Every once in a while I leave open the kitchen-cabinet door that accesses the trash can, which my dog interprets to mean, “Please help yourself to the buffet!”

When I come home, trash is strewn all over the house, like in the movies when the bad guys tear everything up searching for stolen microfilm – although in the movies they rarely take the time to lick every piece of paper.When I see the mess, I rant and yell and stomp my feet while my dog watches quizzically, unable to fathom what’s gotten into me. This is the pattern at our house, where I am the master, responsible for issuing orders, and my dog is the pet, responsible for ignoring them. I honestly think he doesn’t understand why I would be mad that he made himself lunch. It’s not that he doesn’t care – he’s very concerned for me when I become so agitated. He simply lacks the mental capacity to associate the trash on the floor with my foul mood.

Over time, though, I’ve managed to teach my dog a few tricks. For example, I can get him to sit with this simple command: “Sit, Luke, sit! Sit! Sit! Luke, sit! Sit! Come on, sit! Stop barking. Sit! Sit! You can do it, boy, sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Luke, sit. Sit. OK, look. See? No, let me push your butt down. See? Sit! Good boy! Stop licking me.”

With the single spoken word come I’ve taught Luke to (a) gallop off at high speed and (b) return several hours later smelling of old roadkill.

The word walk, spoken like a question, tells Luke to bark, shake, slobber, jump up and down, run to the door and scratch it, whine, tremble, tear around in tight circles in the house, and chase his tail. As long as I say the word with the raised inflection, he’ll also do this trick for words like balk, talk, wall and Chicago.

I read in a dog manual that the proper way to teach a dog to fetch is to have him sit patiently while you throw the object, and then energetically shout his name and point in the direction he is to go.

The first time I tried this, Luke and I had the following conversation (though his end was communicated entirely through facial expressions).

Me: Luke!

Luke: What?

Me: The ball! Luke! Luke! Get the ball!

Luke: You want me to go get the ball.

Me: Luke! Fetch!

Luke: Seems to me you had the ball, and then you threw it into the woods.

Me: Luke! Get the ball, Luke!

Luke: You’re acting a little crazy, here. I’m going to go urinate on some bushes. I suggest you do the same.

Exasperated, I went to get the ball, brought it back, and tried it again, this time using a whistle. After an hour or so, I got so I could throw the ball and retrieve it without fail. Luke didn’t seem especially impressed, though when I blew the whistle, he reacted with amazement. Every single time.

My favorite command is “give kitty a kiss,” which my daughter somehow managed to train the dog to do in a single afternoon. Whenever I utter these words, Luke’s ears flatten as if he’s being whipped. He shoots a hunted look at the cat, whose eyes dilate.

“Go on, give kitty a kiss!” I urge.

The cat hisses. Luke pleads with me to rescind my command, but I merely grin. Moving as if pulling a loaded dog sled, Luke approaches the cat, who regards him with a “this can’t be happening” expression. His tongue tentatively comes out, and the cat holds perfectly still, unable to believe Luke is seriously planning to touch her with it.

The expression on the cat’s face while it’s being licked is of such pure disgust that I always fall to the floor in helpless laughter. Luke, of course, comes over to give me a kiss as well, which the cat watches with smug satisfaction.

I don’t mind, though. It’s the only trick Luke knows.

Write to Bruce at [email protected]