Tips for Training the New First Dog

12/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A historic election is over and our next commander-in-chief faces daunting challenges. Barack Obama must deal with a struggling economy, two wars, health care reform, all complicated by huge budget deficits. And, of course, let's not forget about the four-legged family addition.

I watched the winning candidate speaking in Chicago's Grant Park on election night and truly enjoyed the moment when he paused to praise daughters Sasha and Malia and then added, "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

It was an authentic family friendly telecast for me and millions of other viewers, but in my mind a little voice called out, "Sir! Wait just a second! Do you truly know what you're getting into?"

Adjusting to a puppy is not unlike starting a new administration. It's a complex process that practically cries out for its own transition team. As someone who's survived the experience (more or less), I'd be happy to lead such a group if the Obama team reads this and wants me onboard.

So, Mr. President-elect, while I await that call (if the line is busy just keep trying), here are some key points to keep in mind as you embark on the path of canine companionship.

1) Establish schedules for feeding, playtime, and other activities. It's very important for the dog to learn rules and understand your expectations about good behavior. Get him into a routine and then make him stick to it. If he knows you're happy, that will make him feel happy. Also, you might want to think seriously about using this same technique when dealing with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

2) Let the pup socialize with people. Grab an old shirt from Joe Biden so the little tyke gets accustomed to his scent in the Oval Office, and can track him down quickly if the senate needs to break a tie.

3) Barking is not necessarily bad. If the puppy seems scared or agitated, find out what's causing the anxiety. Barking may be a sign that a family member has fallen down an old abandon well, or that Dick Cheney is still hiding behind the curtains in the Oval Office.

4) Never sign an important treaty with, say, North Korea, and then leave the document on your desk to go chat with reporters in the Rose Garden. When you get back inside, that landmark agreement may be shredded into diplomatic confetti.

No need to be alarmed by any of this, just prepared. Lots of American families have made this transition successfully. Remember not to panic in the middle of the night if a Secret Service guard wakes you out of a sound sleep and says, "Sir, we just caught the puppy chewing on the priceless antique headboard in the Lincoln bedroom."

At such moments, you may grit your own teeth and think, "Was this dog idea a huge mistake? Can we really handle the trials, tribulations, and endless surprises that keep popping up, day after day, for years to come?"

The answer, Mr. President, is three simple words: Yes we can.