The delicious art of tricking your dog

You may think that your dog is the most intelligent thing on four legs - but you still have to admit in your heart of hearts that the trusting canine mind is deliciously easy to mess with. Well-loved dogs fall for any ruse that plays to their innermost desires simply because we besotted caretakers feed their bliss again and again.

I once had a black Lab who went to ecstatic pieces at the spoken - even whispered - word "beach." We had to be careful to delete any reference to the land/water interface in ordinary conversation, reserving "beach" for times we actually planned to drive our pumped-up pet to one of Indiana's small interior lakes. (Char knew about real, oceanic beaches, but he also made the most of the tamer shores of home.) Never once did we tease him by dropping the "B" word without the Frisbee and towels ready to go. We just couldn't do it to him.

But it is fun to tease dogs in gentler ways, where there's less at stake, emotionally, for them. I do it by coyly orbiting treats around laser-intense eyes, by "throwing" phantom sticks into long grass with a deceptive sweep of my arm, even by holding long, earnest conversations of blather, just to watch their heads cock left and right trying to catch a word that means something to them - a name, destination, favorite toy, or activity. Instead, I talk literature, plan menus, or weigh the pros and cons of free trade. No dog I've ever loved has objected to such treatment - maybe because after I've had my little fun I indulge them shamelessly. They always win in the end.

Charlie pulled out all the stops the other day, proving once and for all that dogs will buy any line from the con artist who feeds and fondles them. Our three canines lie about the farmyard on a summer's day with ears exquisitely cocked, even in sleep. One slammed screen door and they are up like popping corn, faces grass-patterned, eyes struggling to focus.

"What's up, what's up? We're coming! Where? How? Truck? Walk?" The wheels spin so fast they all but trip taking their first steps.

The last time this happened, Charlie had simply gone in and out to fetch his reading glasses from the picnic table at the back of the house. When he saw the dogs rush to the re-shut door, his eyes took on a sinister gleam. He sprinted to the front of the house and opened and slammed that screen door. All three dogs rushed to the brand-new possibilities this invoked. I saw them jockeying for position on the porch, peering inward.

By then, Charlie had sprinted to the back screen door, pulled it back, and let it fly. All three dogs turned on a dime and tore around the side of the house to the rear entry. I could read their frenzied thoughts: "They're going to the creek! The cabin! Swim! Big walk!" By the time they gathered in a furry, writhing knot on the back porch, Charlie had sprinted through the kitchen and sitting rooms to the front again. Wham! went the door.

The farmhouse has beautiful long windows, reaching almost to the floor, and I could clearly see the dogs coursing past them, dark blurry frames in a B action movie.

"Front door! Going out in truck! Hurry, hurry, maybe go with!"

Charlie was already halfway to the back again, leaping across rooms in two bounds. From the front porch, the dogs heard the improbable slam of the rear screen; and not one of them hesitated, even for a moment of logical reflection. Off they tore, stretching past the windows like greyhounds on a track.

"Lunch time! Picnic table! Cabin! Creek! Food! Big walk! Swim! Hurry!"

I thought Charlie might be tired of all this by the fourth go, but he was just warming up. He and the dogs made no less than 10 round trips, straining human and canine hearts, hinges, door frames, and the credulity of the one witness to the bizarre exercise. I mean, I knew our dogs were gullible and all too ready to believe that their pleasure was our mission in life. Couldn't one of them figure out that someone was pulling their 12 legs? I suppose it would take another kind of animal to catch on, or not to care. Come to think of it, a cat might still be sleeping.

And, after all, our trio finally got their food scraps, big walk, and swim. They even piled in the truck for a drive to the local recycling center. (Great smells!) They always win in the end, even if they unwittingly have to pay a small price along the way, just to humor us. If they know that's what they're doing, they never let on. Which may be their gift to us.

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