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Healthy Dogs

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Training Bo, the 'First Dog'

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

You had recently chipped your tooth and had a scheduled dentist appointment. So you took the puppy, who was just under 5 months old, to your former husband’s dental office?

[The puppy] was totally unfazed and not nervous at all. As soon as I opened the kennel door, he popped his head out. He had this beautiful face and these beautiful curls.

He laid down while my tooth was being fixed. I thought the drilling might bother him, but he was just so easy. And I was thinking, 'This is the calm before the storm.'

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.

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