As the nation holds its breath, Barack Obama weighs perhaps his most significant White House appointment — as far as his daughters are concerned, anyway. Word is that the choice is down to a “labradoodle” or a Portugese Water Dog, both breeds that look something like a floor mop with a perm.
UC Davis veterinarian and animal behavior specialist Melissa Bain has some advice for the Obamas — and for any other families considering getting a dog. Proper training and socialization is as important as the breed, she says.
Unfortunately there is no one dog that is perfect for everyone. Labradoodles and
Portugese Water Dogs may be fine, but a lot depends on the actual genetics of the dog, the
behavior of the parents, and the socialization that the dog received during the primary
socialization period between 4 and 16 weeks.
When selecting a dog, the Obamas, and all owners, need to go through a checklist.
What is the purpose of the dog (family pet, working dog)?
What is the family composition (children, elderly) and their schedules that
they have to properly socialize and train?
Do they have physical requirements (small vs. large breed, lower shedding)?
If they decide to get a dog, and they get it from puppyhood, they first have to meet with
the breeder to determine the health and behavior of the line of dogs that they are
selecting from. They also should meet both parents, or at least the mother (if the father
is off of the premises), since the behavior of the puppy is strongly related to the
behavior of the parents. They also need to spend time socializing their puppy before 16
weeks of age to many different stimuli (different people/dogs/sounds/things to walk
If the Obamas select a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, much of the above
applies. However, it is more likely that they will be adopting an older dog if they
obtain it from a shelter. The good thing about this is that the behavior of the dog is
mostly known, or at least will show itself rather quickly after adoption, instead of
waiting months after puppyhood has faded away to see the adult behaviors. However, if a
dog is adopted as an adult, the primary socialization period has ended, and it can be more
difficult to change unwanted behaviors instead of preventing them.
Selection of a compatible breed and a reputable breeder or shelter is important, but just
as important is proper and humane socialization and training.
More information about pet behavior is available on the website of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Small Animal Clinic. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior also has some position statements on puppy training and other behavior issues.