When told Duncan can sit with the best of them. He doesn't even need my voice; a closed fist held in front of me is enough to drop him where he stands. He can stay moderately well, unless he sees a pretty girl or Brady (there is no correlation, believe me). He can shake, although he always does so with his right paw. He can give you a high five, and ten, even, if he has change and you ask nicely. Sometimes he'll deign to lay down when asked but only when he knows you've got a treat or when the ground is wet and he knows a soggy belly will require a good rub down when we return home. He's very good at bowing when you bow at him and seems to expect the same of me when he bows at me first thing in the morning. And when asked he's more than happy to tell you he loves you. He's even taken to saying the blessing before meals. He is quite smart and learns very quickly.
The one thing he steadfastly refuses to do is roll over and play dead. I have spent countless hours trying to teach him but he won't budge. He does not like being on his back and playing alive has far more to offer than laying motionless at my feet. And yet I continue to make the attempt. Every so often we spend a few days a week working on it, to disappointing results, before I give up, only to return, optimistic and idiotic, a month or so later.
Last night was one of those nights. After a long game of tug with Bash, his bright blue hammerhead shark, we started all over again. The cats lined up on the back of the couch to watch. Winnie seemed to shake her head in disappointment before turning her back on the whole affair. Olive, too lazy to move, stayed on the couch and blinked her wide eyes at us. Pip tried to get involved, jumped down next to me and immediately threw himself on his side, arched his back and sprawled, reaching his paws and tail out as far as he could and lay motionless. I offered him one of Roo's treats as a reward but that didn't seem satisfactory so he decided to just get (and stay) in the way. Duncan merely sat in front of me and listened to me repeat the command. He'd lay down, but rolling over was not in the cards. Pip did it once or twice more, mewing softly in pride, but still didn't get a treat. After an hour or so I gave up, scritched his ears and settled down on the couch with a book.
This morning on our walk the the air cold around us, the snow refrozen and crunchy and almost brittle underfoot. We'd just passed the triangle of aspens halfway down The Run when a particularly nasty squirrel in a tree started chittering and bellowing at us. Yesterday Duncan had interrupted an important rendezvous among the local rodents and they seemed not to have forgotten it or the way his sudden appearance had forced them to cancel the meeting and scatter in countless different directions. The squirrels here have been known to be somewhat aggressive and when this one came down the tree at Dunc, screeching and grunting at the top of his little lungs, I stepped between them and said very sternly, "Oh why don't you roll over and play dead!" The squirrel jerked his tail at me once or twice, pooped and scampered back up to the nearest branch where he could curse us in safety.
"C'mon, Dunc, let's go," I said and started to march away. I didn't hear him behind me so I turned to look back, expecting him to still be leaning against the side of the tree. Instead he was laying on his side, almost on his back, his two front paws curled up, his eyes fixed on me but not moving.
He got nearly an entire bag of treats for that one.