Yesterday we introduced you to Bo Obama, the Portuguese Water Dog now owned by Barack Obama and his family. Today, just in case Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha read Petlvr: The Blog, I’ve got five helpful hints for socializing the First Puppy. Bo has a lot of hard work to do. He will need to learn to greet thousands of strangers politely, accept any new stimulus that comes his way (no pun intended), and do this all while keeping up with his primary job as a companion to Malia, age 10, and Sasha, age 7. That’s going to take some serious socialization! Bo is already six months old, so the most crucial socialization window (8-16 weeks) has passed, but so long as he received plenty of attention during that period, he’ll be able to adjust to his new life easily with just a little help from his family and trainers.
1. Teach Bite Inhibition
This tip is number one for a reason. It’s one of the most important things dogs in a high-stress environment need, whether they’re service dogs, therapy dogs, or the nation’s First Dog. Bite inhibition is easy to teach, and if the First Dog has his tail trod on by a visiting dignitary, the Obama family will be glad their dog inhibited his bite and merely gently mouthed the offender because he received this training as a puppy.
2. Use Progressive Desensitization to Introduce New Stimuli
What will Bo think of his first ride in the presidential helicoper? Not much, if progressive desensitization is used to teach him the helicopter is no big deal long before the first dramatic photo op of Bo dutifully following his young owners toward the chopper. If he’s already learned to handle the noise, smell, and sight of the helicopter, as well as the feeling of a strong wind coming toward him from its spinning propellers, Bo will hop right in the first time he’s asked.
3. Expose Bo to Diverse People
Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the first person Bo meets who uses a wheelchair is a White House guest, and he hides from him or her? Many dogs are frightened at first of the differences between humans. Infants scare some dogs. Walkers and canes scare others, and rolling oxygen tanks can be downright disturbing to some pups. If Bo is carefully and repeatedly exposed to every different type of person he’ll be expected to greet in the future, he’ll behave admirably when the time comes to impress guests.
4. Teach “Sit for Greeting” and “Stand for Petting”
These two behaviors will be the most important in Bo’s public life. Teaching Bo to sit politely to greet a human and to stand still while he is petted will allow him to interact with fans, visitors, and his family without rambunctiousness. Bo was given up by his last family for having too much energy, so this will be especially important for him. Why not just teach him to sit for petting? Standing still will give adults the option to pet his back or sides instead of his head without crouching, and will also discourage children from climbing onto his back, as young kids so often do when playing with a sitting dog.
5. Let the Girls Do It!
It’s all well and good if Bo behaves perfectly for the team of top professional trainers who I’m sure are already hard at work with him, but what about his real owners? Bo was promised on Election Night to Malia and Sasha, not to a stable of trainers and handlers. What could be cuter than Bo performing perfectly for the adorable First Daughters? Nothing, that’s what! Malia and Sasha should learn to train Bo and reinforce behaviors he already knows. It’ll create a closer bond and thousands of cute pictures over the years.