05/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sit, Stay, and Don't Chew Up the Lincoln Bedroom: Health Tips for America's New First Dog

Congratulations to the Obama family on getting their new First Dog, Bo! The lucky Portuguese water dog is joining a loving, close-knit family, and the chosen pup will provide gentle companionship for President Obama's two beautiful daughters. Care and attention was taken to choose an appropriate breed for the First Family, but one of the secrets to a long healthy life for a family's furriest counterpart is a great start in a home that is well-prepared.

The Obamas join millions of American families that have taken on the joyful responsibility bringing a pet into the family. A true member of the family, a dog requires much more than food, water and walks for your new addition. It includes providing him with an enriched environment, training, love, respect, patience, and taking the time to treat him as a unique individual. In order to achieve optimum health, well-being and longevity for your pet, follow these basic tenets for a healthy lifestyle:

• Provide excellent natural nutrition--it is the basis of excellent health! Choose a natural dog food that contains the highest quality meats, vegetables and whole grains. For the record, I'm a consultant for Halo, Purely for Pets, which is one option for natural foods. What is important is to avoid highly processed foods or those with artificial flavors, colors and potentially harmful preservatives. Your dog doesn't question what he is eating, so you must! Read the ingredients before you select his food--the first five ingredients listed are the major products in the food--avoid foods that list "by-products," "meals," or "digests" as these are sub-standard sources of protein for your new pooch. Be sure to check with your vet and do your own research to find what food is best for your pet.

• Learn how to give treats the right way. Treats are not complete and balanced like dog food and should make up no more than 10% of daily calorie intake. Provide high quality natural treats that are low in calories and carbohydrates, high in protein and do not contain artificial colors or preservatives. Treats should be given as rewards for good behavior or during training..."over-treating" can lead to finicky appetites, weight gain, and obesity.

• Provide natural supplements to avoid deficiencies and provide immune support!

o Essential oils and fatty acids help keep skin supple and may prevent itchy, flaky skin. They will also promote healthy hair growth.

o Vitamins, antioxidants and trace elements help boost the immune system and help prevent disease and degeneration.

o Maintain cartilage and joint health with glucosamine and chondroitin.

• Avoid obesity--it has been proven that dogs maintaining an ideal body weight live 15% longer and with less disease than overweight dogs. Ask your veterinarian how much your dog should eat each day and keep tabs on his weight.

• Exercise, exercise, exercise! This will help your pet keep a lean body and facilitate weight loss. In people, exercise has been proven to lessen heart disease, reduce anxiety, and lower the risk of certain cancers and diseases. Your dog is likely to benefit from these things, also.

• Find a veterinarian who agrees with a natural approach to caring for your new dog. Inform them you are interested in natural solutions and ingredients to remedy conditions and for health maintenance whenever possible. It is important to have a new dog examined shortly after bringing them home to establish this veterinary relationship and update them on any necessary medical care. If you have a new puppy, they often require vaccinations, de-worming, and other routine "puppy care".

• Learn how to brush your dog's teeth, clip their nails and clean their eyes and ears (link: This basic health maintenance and grooming can be done at home and helps avoid costly visits to the veterinary office.

• Start training immediately...this includes teaching your dog what is acceptable behavior, where to eliminate, what toys are his, etc. Everyone in the house must abide by the rules! It is recommended that you enroll in a local dog obedience training class to learn the basics...this will set you up for teaching and training from home throughout the life of your dog. Remember, a dog that is well-behaved today will not always remain that way. New problems can develop and training needs to be part of every day life.

• Prepare your family and your home for a dog. Some things are critical to your dog's comfort and safety:

o Make a shopping trip--purchase all necessary food, treats, food bowls, bedding, crates, grooming tools, toys, leash, collar, ID tags in order to welcome your new dog into the family.

o Dog-proof your home! Move breakables or "chewables" to higher ground (including your favorite shoes!), move electrical cords, plants, chemicals and any other household hazards out of reach. Any area of the house that is "off-limits" should be identified before the dog comes home.

o Ready the yard! (Or the South Lawn) Make sure there are no holes in the fence or areas where a dog could escape.

o The entire family must be committed to the new dog's care. It must be decided who will feed, walk, groom and pick up after the dog in advance. Although dogs are often chosen "for the kids", the full responsibility of caring for a dog is often too much for children. While certain "dog chores" should be given to the children, an adult (or in this case, secret service agent) must also supervise the daily routine.

• Provide an environment filled with love, patience and respect. (I think The White House will suffice.)

• Make sure sound sleep, clean air and fresh water are on your dog's agenda everyday!

Of course, the Obama family will have a few helping hands in taking care of their new pooch, but the addition of a new puppy or dog to the family will provide a shared experience for all the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Malia and Sasha's parents have already shown their dedication to family and loved ones, and there is no doubt that this will extend to their four-legged friend. By following a few guidelines and having a healthy respect for your adopted pup, any dog owner will be able to have a long and healthy life with their pet.