I'm trying to figure out what I did to turn my dogs into such jerks.

Peewee barks at the -- I don't even know what he's barking at, I was going to say "at the slightest thing" but that's not even close to true, an M-1 Abrams tank just rolled by and he responded by snoring a little louder under the bed. But then somehow he can discern the quiet metallic rasp of our downstairs neighbor's toaster popping up and he loses his mind. He barks until he's hoarse, or until Jack gently reassures him that there is no danger to be had from our neighbor's breakfast. Jack does this by rolling up a thick section of the Sunday New York Times in a manner that leaves little room for misinterpretation.

Cookie, on the other hand. Sweetheart in the house, total freaking nightmare on a leash. I bought her one of those Gentle Leader head collars and she absolutely detests it. Oh, for a while it worked its magic, for a month or so it was a relief and a joy to stroll around the neighborhood with a dog who wasn't deranged and yanking me around like my hand was stuck in a 250-volt electrical socket. But those days are gone! Goodbye, days of dog walking fun! Goodbye, fresh air and wholesome exercise, you've been replaced by frantic struggle to assert a certain someone's alpha bitch status.

I'm exaggerating, as far as you know, because that's where all the good verbs and adjectives live. However, some bit of New Age dog whisperer wisdom gleaned on an early morning beach walk with my friend John has stuck with me, and that is that somehow my dogs have decided that this is the way I want them to behave. They are trying to please me with this idiotic behavior, because they have read my body language, run it through their wet little human-to-dog language translators, and decided that Peewee needs to protect me from the threat of wheat toast, and that I'd be free -- to do what, I don't know, read a book? walk on my hands? -- if only I'd let Cookie hold her leash in her mouth and walk herself.

So until I figure out how to psychically harness the magnitude of their love and devotion, or beg the vet for a tranquilizer gun, I console myself with the knowledge that if indeed the end times are nigh, at least bulldogs have a fair amount of meat on them.