I think every child when learning to talk eventually hits on a word or phrase that they just like and say over and over and over with glee. For some, it is "spoon!" For me, it was "Dewey!" No, I have no idea why. I was three, for God's sake! Anyway, Dad of course, saw the potential in this immediately, and came up with a question to match the inevitable answer.
It wasn't until I was in junior high that I even knew what a "Republican presidential candidate" was, but I clearly remember in one social studies class having the teacher ask, "Can anyone tell me who was the Republican presidential candidate in 1948?" and shooting my hand up. I got a gold star, because I was the only one who knew.
But I digress. The point is, kids or animals, the best way to get them to do a trick is to find something they already do and just say the command at the appropriate time such that people think they are obeying your command.
Thus it was with my cat, Pouncer.
Pouncer, for some reason, likes to play with the scrunchies in my hair. He has even gone so far as to walk up behind me along the edge of the couch, take hold of one, and actually pull it off and run away. A few months ago, it suddenly occurred to him that if I was bent over petting one of the other cats, he could jump up on my back and walk up to my head where his beloved scrunchie awaited. While rubbing his face on the scrunchie and purring like a lawnmower, he would knead my neck and back with his little kitty paws in the sheer joy of scrunchieness.
At first, this was a bit disconcerting. After all, I didn't want to just stand back up, because I imagined this would result in ... err ... injury. Cats on a surface that starts to turn vertical have, after all, a tendency to dig their claws in like pitons and hold on for dear life. After walking around hunched over for a bit, though, I found that I could get him off my back by tapping on the coffee table in front of him.
This problem solved, I realized I had something pretty impressive I could show off to Charlie. After all, it's widely considered to be difficult to train cats so this would be a definite show of my genius in animal handling. Yes, yes. This was going to be sweet.
I followed Charlie into the room where Pouncer and the cats were and said, "Hey, honey, I taught Pouncer a new trick!"
Pouncer's previous "trick" had been "taught" to him by Charlie, and consisted of merely rising up on his hind legs and grabbing for Charlie's hand if Charlie stopped petting him. In addition, Pouncer never would do his "trick" when I was watching, making me suspect that something was lacking in the whole training environment. Charlie, probably thinking of this, looked at me skeptically.
"Watch," I said, and bent down to pet one of the other cats. "Pouncer!" I said cheerfully, "Back rubs!"
And indeed, Pouncer jumped up on my back and commenced to walking around and kneading.
Charlie's jaw dropped, and he just looked at me for a second.
"That is SO wrong," he said, shaking his head and laughing.
Personally, I think he's just jealous of my elite animal training skills.