Back when we got Ricky the Beagle, he was a tiny, adorable, brown-black-and-white nine-pound bundle of curiosity, playfulness, and determination. Though he's gotten a little bigger (28 pounds) and a little older (he turned nine in May), he's still kept his baby face and a lot of his puppy ways.

To this day, in fact, when I take him for a walk, you can bet good money that at least one person will say to me, "He's so cute. Is he a puppy?"

Lately, though, a couple of encounters have given me reason to reconsider Ricky's puppy status. Our friend Susan a few months ago welcomed home Archie, her new, frisky Golden Retriever pup. Carol and I, with Ricky, of course, went over to meet him on a very sunny, very warm spring day -- and he was the very definition of puppy. A constant blur of perpetual motion. Nipping at whatever he could get his teeth on. All big eyes and big feet. Ricky and Archie greeted each other nose to nose, then did their little dance and sniffed each other's rears -- a very good and proper introduction. Formalities taken care of, Archie dropped into the doggy play pose: down on his chest and elbows, butt high in the air, tail pounding madly. Ricky stood stock-still, eying him warily. Hoping to prod Ricky into action, Archie sprung first to the left, then to the right, then left-right again -- each time assuming the let's-play position. Ricky continued to stare at him, vaguely curious. His stance seemed to say, Isn't it kind of too hot for this?

Then Archie bit Ricky's tail, and Ricky headed for my Jeep. Enough.

Last weekend I was walking Ricky on the beach in Montauk. We passed two tiny little furballs enclosed within their own portable folding steel playpen in the sand. One was a 5-month-old black-and-white female Yorktese (Yorkie/Maltese) named Bandit; the other was a four-month-old brown male Havapoo (Havanese/Poodle) named Montauk -- "Monty" for short. Neither could have weighed much more than a six-pack of Corona, and they were frolicking with each other nonstop -- two little Energizer bunnies yapping, wrestling, rolling all over each other, then starting again.

It was an extremely cute tableau, and I asked if Ricky could join in for a bit. I airlifted my dog over the wire barrier and dropped him in with the two puppies. Right off the bat he peed on their towel, to show them who's boss. Bandit and Montauk hesitated for half a beat, then continued with their wrestling and nipping, now attempting to include the new big guy in the fun. Ricky backed away, but the Twin Terrors were relentless. And then it happened again: Monty bit Ricky's tail -- repeatedly. (Are all puppies into this tail-biting? Is this something new?) As Ricky edged as far from the twosome as space within the playpen allowed, he looked up at me imploringly, with an expression that could only mean, This is not only irritating, but incredibly embarrassing. I'm nine years old, for God's sake! Could you please separate me from these two hyperactive little maniacs, and GET ME OUT OF THIS CAGE!"

A few nights ago, Scott and Eva were over for a mid-week barbecue. They've both known Ricky since we brought him home as a puppy, but haven't see him in awhile. "Ricky looks a little different," Scott said. "Didn't he used to be blacker?"

Ah, yes. The black patches of his coat were blacker some years ago. The browns used to be browner. The whole beautiful tri-color pattern was less blended, more "high-def." At nine, he's not the new kid on the block any more. In fact, first with Archie, and later with Bandit and Monty, I got a glimpse of him in the role of elder statesman.

But let's be clear. He still is -- and always will be -- my puppy.

"The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.