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Training Bo, the 'First Dog'

Dog trainer Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz talks about training the Obamas' dog.

What was it like training the First Pooch?

In general, the dog that you see now who is very calm, that’s who you saw [when I was training him].

But he had his moments as a puppy. He popped over a baby gate one day to see Maude, my 17-year-old African gray parrot. He barked a little bit at her. But she liked him right away. He was very gentle.

How was Bo with your other animals?

He had his moments where he would be a crazy puppy, but they were short-lived and there was no damage. He got along well with Brieo, my Ibizan hound; with Saxon, my late Giant Schnauzer, and with all of the visitor dogs.

Were there any housebreaking issues?

None. He was very clear about when he had to go out.

You found out a month later he was potentially headed to the White House?

Vicki [Kennedy] called and wanted the evaluation. I said, 'He’s phenomenal. He comes when he’s called, he sits, he downs, he rolls over, has a really good memory, is very receptive to food, and [is] good with other animals and people.' I said he has his puppy moments. But when he grows up, he will be a very laid-back adult dog and I think he would be great for a family with children.

And then what happened?

She said, “Dawn, let’s just keep this between us ... he’s being considered for the First Family.” Everybody knew the Obamas were looking for a dog.

So you took him to the White House so the President, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha could meet him?

I took him to the private meeting to let them get to know him. I got a little teary-eyed. I knew in my heart -- they didn’t say anything definite right then, because it was a private matter between the family. But just the way he was adored and the way he was behaving, I knew this was it. I cried on the way home because I knew my time was limited with him.

Have you ever come across a dog that was impossible to train?

I’ve run across more people who were difficult to change than I have dogs that were impossible to train. I don’t pay any attention to my dogs when I come home. I change my clothes, empty my treat pockets, get into my doggie clothes, and then gather the leashes and start taking the dogs out. And then the fun begins!

What one tip would you like to give to every new dog owner?

Do your homework and be prepared. When considering a specific breed, visit adult dogs of that breed to see what they’re like. Everyone can fall in love with a puppy. But it’s the adult dog that you’re going to end up living with.

Reviewed on September 20, 2010

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