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Dog Ownership 101: Some Advice for the Obamas

There's a new dog in town and a more fitting First Pet would be hard to imagine. Black and white, Bo could help mend racial divisions in this country. Descended from a European breed, he could help repair the USA's tattered reputation among our NATO allies. Easily at home in the ocean or on dry land, Bo is ready for whatever environmental disaster may come our way.

Plus, his kind apparently knows how to fish! The only thing better than a Portuguese water dog would be a Canadian beer dog. ("Bring me a cold Molson, Rex.")

This is not to say that President Obama will find owning a dog as easy as capturing 270 electoral votes. Neither the President nor First Lady owned dogs growing up, so their learning curve is steep. But I'm here to help. Here are a few things that the human residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. should keep in mind over the coming weeks and months:

Your dog will embarrass you. This is inevitable. Dogs are free of most of the societal hangups that we humans experience, especially in the areas of excretion and reproduction. Even if Bo is house-trained, there will be mistakes. He will eat things you would rather he not eat. He will then throw them up and eat them again. Also, be prepared to see Bo's, um, stimulus package at the most inopportune times. I've owned dogs for years and it's still a shock.

This is not to suggest that dogs do not themselves get embarrassed. They do. When they do something stupid they will glance around in the hope that no one saw them. It's just that what embarrasses them and what embarrasses you are two different things.

You will start talking to your dog. Yes, you know it's not a person and yet you won't be able to help yourself. At first you will talk to the dog when there are other people in the room and you are actually talking to them: "Say, Bo, do you want someone to take you for a walk? Do ya? Do ya?" This will be your way of reminding Joe Biden that it's his turn. Eventually, though, even when you're alone with the dog, you will talk to him. This is not helped by the fact that you gave him a human name. If you had wanted to avoid this, you should have named him Fido.

Some people won't like your dog. Do not take this personally. Some people just don't like dogs, period. Some people don't like certain dog breeds. People are pickier when it comes to prospective dogs than when it comes to prospective mates. Just as we may instinctually be attracted to brunettes or men with big muscles, so we gravitate towards long-haired terriers or short-haired hounds.

Bo is a little poodley for my tastes but remember, there's no such thing as an ugly dog. Ignore people who don't like your dog. Be especially wary of people who your dog doesn't like. We've all seen enough horror movies to know that a dog who growls when a certain person comes into the room is on to something. The nation is counting on Bo to unmask sleeper agents or alien monsters in human form.

Your dog will love you. You have just taken possession of the only mammal in Washington who doesn't care that you're president. You are his world, the leader of his pack. (Unless that happens to be Michelle.) This is not to say that your dog won't want anything from you, just that in his case what he wants is a scratch behind the ears or a Liver Snap, not a federal highway project or a ban on late-term abortions.

Someone once said that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. Congratulations on your new friend.

What helpful advice do dog-owning readers have for the Obamas? Please pass it along in the Comments section below.

By John Kelly  |  April 13, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
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My advice is to do the very humane act of having Bo neutered. It will be a great example and will help everyone to avoid the funny, but embarrassing leg-humping. Although, if he did it to Sec'y of State Clinton, she may think of her husband!

Posted by: suitelady_508 | April 13, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

"Someone once said "

Truman, IIRC.

Posted by: wiredog | April 13, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Another breeder made richer. Every time the Obamas get a dog another one dies in a shelter...

Posted by: rernst | April 13, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

My Advice for the New Dog owners:

1. If you don't want Bo on the furniture, beds etc, don't let him there as a puppy and then try to stop him later.

2. Don't make a fuss and get Bo excited when family or friends arrive on the scene.
As he grows up he could take on an aggressive stance in such situations.
I know from first hand experience.

3. Don't feed him people food unless he needs his meds wrapped in cheese.

4. At six months, he is ready to be neutered before he starts marking his territory in the Lincoln bedroom.

5. Give him lots of love and you will get even more in return.

Good Luck1

Posted by: rabnpa | April 13, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

The Obamas did not stand behind their promise to get a "shelter dog". True, and I am a big supporter of high-profile humans doing that. (No, I am not a high-profile human but my little rescue Chihuahua is lookin' at me right now.)
What they have done, however, is to make a large donation to the Humane Society in the DC area. This is NOT being widely reported and should be.

Posted by: sailorlady | April 13, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I read about the donation in the same article that lamented the breeder dog. Still, getting a mutt from a shelter would have sent a powerful message and probably have attracted many followers. No donation can make up for famous folks doing the right thing.

Posted by: rernst | April 13, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Who picks up the poop? The lowest ranking Secret Service agent? Does the dog have a code name?

Posted by: jimward21 | April 13, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Is a Washington Post bag involved in the poop collection, or is there a special bag with the Presidential seal?

Posted by: jimward21 | April 13, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Now that the Obamas have fulfilled their campaign promise to their daughters, I will let them onto a big secret about dog ownership--Sasha and Malia are too young to own a dog. Yes, they will love Bo and try to clean up after him, but dogs are social animals and will gravitate towards whomever they perceive to be dominant. From the looks of initial photographs, the President fits that bill. He is tall confident and has had a dog before, so the dog will respond to him first when there is any doubt.

Posted by: Tamberg | April 13, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate and fully agree with John Kelly on his unbiased advice given free of cost. The message simply is "Prevention is better than cure."

Posted by: ksrcran | April 13, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

My advice (from experience): Now get a cat to play with the dog. Make sure it's a male. They will provide endless hours of hilarious entertanment.

Posted by: rick48 | April 13, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Of course they got a *black* dog. Racists.

Posted by: goku234 | April 13, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I disagree with the comment "don't feed him people food". Don't feed him from the table or share your own food, as this encourages begging. That said, I have fed my dogs meat (with raw bones), rice/sweet potatoes and veggies for years and they are exceptionally healthy and thrilled to no longer be stuck with kibble.
Meanwhile, I'm also hugely disappointed that they didn't select a rescue. That would have been a HUGE message for America.

Posted by: bytemewalker | April 13, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse


Any pet deserves a loving home no matter where it comes from and to force someone to find their companion by limiting their resources really is not in the best interest of the animal.

Posted by: millertek | April 13, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The hundreds of thousands of dogs euthanised every year would probably find LIVING in their best interest...
GOKU--the dog is black and white.

Posted by: bytemewalker | April 13, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

@millertek: Getting a dog from a breeder is merely an incentive to produce more dogs which will eventually wind up in a shelter and be euthanized.

Breeders are the core reason why we have an overpopulation of pets. The president's support for these people is unacceptable.

Posted by: rernst | April 13, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Hey John,

Its 12:33pm. Where is the Where in Washington picture? Wasn't it due up by 11:30am?

Posted by: Robbnitafl | April 13, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Several people have commented on the fact that they didn't get a shelter dog. I am very much an advocate of this, too (all the cats I've ever owned were from shelters or rescues), but I read somewhere that the reason the Obamas were having such a hard time choosing was because one of the kids is allergic to most dogs. Given that, finding one she could tolerate in a shelter might have been next to impossible.

Posted by: tmmm | April 13, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

We have allergies in our family, and so we were limited in our choices of dogs. We successfully adopted a Bichon Frise and later a ShihTzu from the Humane Society Shelter. Both were wonderful pets, and "hypoallergenic". It can be done if one is patient! The Shelter will note your preference, and call you when a suitable dog becomes available.

Posted by: Slinger61 | April 13, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Part of responsible pet ownership is thinking about what sort of dog fits your family. Choosing the right pet initially means fewer dogs that need to find a second or third home.

Responsible breeders are careful about the quality of the dogs they breed. They strive to maintain or improve a breed. They do not flood the market with surplus pets.

The number of animals needing to be rescued reflects both supply and demand. Rather than criticizing the Obama family because they did not get a rescue dog, let's applaud them for researching which dog would meet their needs and then caring for that dog.

Posted by: wheelers | April 13, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Advice to the new puppy owners: "What all Good Dogs Should Know, The Sensible Way to Train". We used this book as a "textbook" in our obedience classes along with the experienced trainers. The sooner the family learns common training principles the better. And the cute illustrations are easy for the kids to understand. Good luck and have fun.

Posted by: Bianca44 | April 13, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Most breeders are responsible and will take a puppy back. Sorry good herding dogs don't grow on trees or dont result from any two dogs mating.

Bo if neutering is in his future should be neutered when his growth plates harden up and not before. Many of my friends in herding do not spay and neuter and they don't have unwanted litters. Do not neuter Bo until he is approx 15mos!

PETA and HSUS are terrorists by definition. PETA executed over a hundred thousand dogs last year.

The dogs owner should decide if and when to spay and neuter not the govt. Say no MSN laws.

A dog should not be bribed with treats to do something. the pup should sit, stay, lie down, come by away etc to please its human not for a food reward.

Humping by a male dog is a sign of dominance not sexuality!

Posted by: sheepherder | April 14, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Bo is already neutered, folks! And since he was a gift from the Kennedys, you can shake your fingers at them instead of the Obamas. My only advice to the Obamas is to walk him themselves, instead of letting some underling do it. These dogs bond strongly to their caretakers, so make sure that is someone in the Obama family. I hope there are many happy years with Bo. A dog is a wonderful thing!

Posted by: bluesette01 | April 14, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

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