She arrived Feb. 1, 8 weeks old, silky soft and black as midnight. Her dark, liquid eyes melted our hearts and her frisky antics made us laugh. We have a new puppy — but really, she has us, right between her out-sized puppy paws. Her name is Cushla, from an Irish Gaelic endearment that might be translated "dear heart."

Cushla has a black back, flanks and tail, with tan on her paws, chest and chin. She has two prominent brown smudges for eyebrows and her puppy fur is very soft. Must be designed to make you want to pet her. A lot.

She doesn't weigh more than about 10 pounds, but she's a bundle of energy, exploring everything and following us and our other dogs around to learn all she can about her world. She plays with (i.e., chews) everything she can reach — our clothes, our hands, dog toys, empty plastic soda bottles, rugs, electrical cords — so she has to be closely supervised. Fortunately, she's easily distracted; pointing her in a different direction and giving her a suitable toy is enough to stop her from playing with forbidden things.

I read somewhere that the period between 4 and 14 weeks old is a critical learning period for puppies, and Cushla bears that out. In the space of a few days, she's learned to use the puppy pads we put down on the kitchen floor for her, and always goes to the same spot when she has to pee or poop in the house. She knows that she gets a treat after she goes in the right spot, and if you praise her while she's in the middle of doing her business, she stops right then and goes to sit in front of the treat jar. As part of the potty training process, she has learned to sit for a treat.

On her first full day with us, she got interested in a chew bone that belongs to our adult dogs: Undaunted by the fact that it was as long as her jaw, she tried to get her mouth around the end of it and couldn't quite do it at first. But she scoped it out from different angles, kept trying and eventually not only got it in her mouth, but bore the over-sized thing proudly from the den to the kitchen, which doubles as her playroom. A day or two later, she had learned to pick up the bone around the middle, which fits her mouth much more easily.

At mealtime, she eats like she's famished — she's used to competing for food with five or six littermates — and always checks the floor around the bowl to see if anything's been dropped. She's happy to nap in her crate, but when she's ready to get out, we hear her pitiful cries, "Come rescue me!" I doubt it will be long before she learns that we only open the door when she's quiet.

One of the funniest things to see is when she's trying to get Nicky, our adult Shepherd, to play with her. She bats at his face, his chest, and he, clearly not happy with the attention, just dodges her, or gets up and moves. Then she'll lie down as flat as she can, except for her head, which she holds up and "talks" to him, quite vehemently, as if to say, "Why are you such a grouch? You should play with me! Don't you know puppies need to play!"

We don't intervene as long as it doesn't look like anyone's going to get hurt, and Cushla seems to have a sense of how far she can push the other dogs without provoking them into disciplining her.

Both of the adults are jealous of the puppy right now, but they show it in different ways. Nicky hangs out where she is a lot, because that's where we are, and he wants to make sure we don't forget about him. Maureen said he even played with Cushla a little bit outside the other day. (With plenty of room outside, there's less tension about territory.)

Riley, our Cockapoo, who just turned 10, simply gives her a wide berth, and growls softly if Cushla gets too close. She did once, and in about a second he had her on her back squeaking, "I'm a puppy! Please don't hurt me!" until he backed off.

While the dogs are working out the re-ordering of the pack to incorporate the newcomer, it's unsettling for the older ones, and sometimes confusing for the pup. One time she gets a positive or neutral reception, the next time she gets told off. The adults know she's a baby, and they each, in their way, make allowances for her and teach her. Eventually, they'll all find a way to live together.

It's a lesson to us "higher" animals.