We don't have much call in our house for the words "good dog" or for doggie biscuits. Though we love her dearly, Frosty is the canine equivalent of a lemon: the one with the goopy eyes, defiant stare, and resistance to what is curiously referred to among certain dog owners as "potty-training." When I hear the expression "that dog don't hunt," I think that should be the least of our problems.

So, it came as something of a surprise to discover that there are two words that provoke Pavlovian obedience from Frosty, and a dog right by our side: Shabbat Shalom. This phrase (meaning "peaceful Sabbath" in Hebrew) might not mean anything to the average American, but it apparently does to Frosty. This phrase has become our command of choice. (Admittedly, it is a rather dismal, limited choice: Frosty obeys virtually no commands other than "chow time" and "crate.")

How did this happen? We thought it would be nice to have Frosty participate in our Friday night Shabbat ritual: lighting the candles, blessing challah bread and blessing and drinking wine. She usually is held by one of our children as we proceed through the ritual. As is customary after blessing the challah - at least among humans - she is given a small piece of challah and we wish her "Shabbat Shalom."

We lamely try to have her perform some arbitrary stunt before she gets her piece of challah (such as extending her paw, which we have seen other, well-trained or even barely-trained, dogs do). But we all (Frosty included) know that she will get her challah and be wished "Shabbat Shalom" in a loving voice no matter what she does or doesn't do.

Frosty came to enjoy her Shabbat meal so much that she would charge into the legs of the assembled family members even before the first candle was lit. The intensity of her signaling that she couldn't wait for her challah bites led us to realize something profound: we had finally stumbled onto something that Frosty really wanted and might even change her behavior to get.

The next time Frosty refused to come inside before bedtime, after I had shouted "come" for the twentieth time with increasing desperation and decreasing conviction, I called out "Shabbat Shalom," the very words we'd discovered led her berserk with desire. The speed with which she came inside would have made a matador proud. No more than 3 seconds elapsed before she had bounded to my side, glancing hopefully at my empty hands, her nose glistening and quivering with desire, I did what any good Jewish mother would have done, and quickly rewarded her with food… a nice bite of challah, of course. Eureka! A "disciplined," compliant dog might yet be ours.

Night after night, as the more traditional beckoning failed, I resorted to the new magic words. Night after night, she came. In, and into the crate. "Shabbat Shalom" and "crate." The only three words we'd need in our blissful new relationship. I had finally become the Alpha dog to her, as our trainer had implored me to do: her master, rather than her supplicant.

One night, the magic new words failed. I wondered miserably whether they had stopped working or whether she was simply too far away to hear my plea. I decided to proceed singing the full blessing over the bread: "Baruch atah…" sung to the traditional melody. She came! We now had two, count them, two ways of summoning her.

I pondered one evening, as I sang the full blessing to get her to come rest her weary head in her crate, what our neighbors must think as they heard me singing the blessing so loudly outside our back door late at night. Two possibilities emerged, neither of them conducive to their thinking me the sane and stable person I like to think they had observed before. Either they were unfamiliar with the Jewish blessing, in which case they merely thought I was insane, or worse, they were familiar with it, and would not only think me insane but might also think ill of other Jews. Who else, after all, feels compelled to shout their religious blessings out of their back doors daily? Even the muezzin we'd seen in Istanbul restricted their calls to prayer to public venues. I selfishly decided to risk disgrace to my people to get my dog inside.

A curious coda to this story ensued. I told our former Haitian housekeeper, Linda, about Frosty's responding to "Shabbat Shalom" in case she needed to summon Frosty in an emergency. (In my defense, I had in mind getting Frosty out of the way of the approaching UPS truck, and not getting her to taste freshly baked bread.) Linda's primary language is Creole; mine is English; and we conversed mostly in French, which neither of us really speaks. Suffice it to say something got lost in the translation.

A few weeks later Linda told me that we were out of dog food. I asked whether there had been enough food to feed Frosty that night. She looked at me, puzzled, and told me that it was Friday. I returned her puzzled look and asked "So???" She replied "I gave Frosty bread." "Bread?" I asked incredulously, trying to keep an even tone. "What about the canned dog food?" "You said to give her bread on Shabbat," she said. Major miscommunication here. In fairness to Linda, I had said that we give Frosty bread (meaning just a little bread, Dr. Atkins) on Shabbat, and I undoubtedly could have spoken more slowly and made myself clearer.

Later that evening, I wondered what else had gone wrong in my telling Linda about Frosty's new magical command. Might Linda also be singing the blessing to Frosty? Indeed, she had been. According to Linda (though I never witnessed this myself), every Friday, since the day I had told her about how Frosty had learned to respond to her new command, she had been feeding Frosty a bowl full of challah and, with her beautiful Haitian accent, gamely doing her best to sing Frosty the full blessing as she stood by our Shabbat Dog's bowl.

I can't begin to imagine what Frosty made of all this. That she had a lemon as her Alpha dog? Mea culpa.