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Among Obama’s tough choices: What kind of dog?

“You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House,” president-elect Obama told his daughters Malia and Sasha during his victory speech. But will they get a pug, a poodle, or a labradoodle? It’s the kind of decision that gives one paws.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Sure, there’s the economy to worry about. And the energy problem. And wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Iran and Venezuela and North Korea and Cuba. And climate change. And the makeup of the cabinet. No question about it, President-elect Barack Obama has a lot of decisions to make. But as far as his daughters Malia and Sasha are concerned, one decision takes precedence over them all.

What kind of dog will they get?

“I love you both so much,” Obama told 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha during his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. “And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House.”

This is one campaign promise that is going to be kept. But picking a pooch isn’t something to be taken lightly. The new First Dad not only has to get a First Dog that First Daughters Malia and Sasha will like, but also one that will resonate with the public.

You could say it’s the kind of decision that gives one paws.

Reports out of Chicago say that the family was looking into a labradoodle — a cross between a Labrador retriever and a poodle. But word is that Malia would prefer a “goldendoodle,” a blend of poodle and golden retriever. On Thursday, TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira noted that Malia has allergies, and goldendoodles are hypoallergenic.

In Obama’s first news conference since being elected, he addressed the “major issue” that was generating more interest on his website than any other issue.  The president elect confirmed the family needed a hypoallergenic dog, and that preferably, it would be a rescue pup.

"Whether we're going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household," he said.

Getting a crossbreed certainly could be seen as symbolic of Obama’s own heritage. He might just extend a presidential offer to a shelter dog, as he seems to relate to them more than purebreds. “A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me," he said.

The one thing we can be reasonably sure of is that the First Family won’t get a pit bull ... with or without lipstick.

Picking a petPet expert Andrea Arden visited Vieira on the TODAY set Thursday along with NBC’s Jill Rappaport to talk about ground rules families should consider before buying a dog. Arden said the entire family should first sit down to determine each person’s top priorities in a dog, then assign responsibilities for its care.

A dog’s temperament is more important than its breed, she added. For that reason, when getting a dog from a shelter, an adult dog may be preferable to a puppy. “If you go to a shelter and you meet this Pomeranian, for example, you know what that dog’s temperament is like, as opposed to meeting a little puppy where it’s just cute,” she explained.

Temperament, Arden noted, is particularly important when there are small children in the family. “You may want to consider that children can sometimes be a little difficult for animals to live with, because kids are oftentimes more erratic than adults,” she said. “They’re very busy. They have high energy. It’s not that you’re looking for a certain breed, because breed generalizations don’t always run true.”

Arden added that people often spend more time buying a car, which stays in the garage, than a dog, which may share their home for 10 to 15 years.

Big or small?At the risk of upsetting lovers of large dogs, Arden also suggested the Obamas look into a smaller dog, because they are easier to travel with. She also advised working with a trainer — as much to train the humans as the dog. “You want to make sure that you don’t let problems develop,” she explained.

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 04: U.S. President elect Barack Obama stands on stage along with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia (red dress) and Sasha (black dress) during an election night gathering in Grant Park on November 4, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama defeated Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by a wide margin in the election to become the first African-American U.S. President elect. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle / Getty Images North America

But whatever kind of dog the Obamas appoint First Puppy, one thing is certain: It will draw scrutiny. After all, whether paupers or presidents, people are judged by their pets. A Rottweiler says, “Stand back.” An Irish setter says, “Let’s play Frisbee.” A Peke says, “I’m cute and I know it.” A hound says, “Let’s go hunting” (or maybe “Curse you, Red Baron”).

So many considerations: Working dog or toy? Hound or terrier? Poodle or pug? Setter or retriever?

Then there’s the question of where to get the dog. Rescuing a pooch from an animal shelter would send one kind of message. Buying a pedigreed pup would send another altogether.

From doghouse to White House
Pets and presidents have a long history, going all the way back to George Washington, who was enormously fond of his war horse, Nelson. According to, John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator. reports that the youngest president, Theodore Roosevelt, had a menagerie in the White House, including a pony that Teddy rode into the building’s elevator to visit one of his sons when the boy was sick with the measles.

Caroline Kennedy had a pony called Macaroni, and she and her brother John had a passel of additional pets. Other commander-in-chief critters have included goats, donkeys, horses, guinea pigs, birds, cats, lizards and snakes. Thomas Jefferson kept a magpie captured by Lewis and Clark during their expedition of discovery into the Louisiana Purchase.

Pets and presidents just go together. Only three of the 43 presidents, in fact, have not had a pet: Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester Alan Arthur — none of whom has been treated kindly by presidential historians.

None other than Calvin Coolidge — who was not known as “Silent Cal” for his levity — remarked, “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”

President Harry Truman had a more practical reason for having a White House pet: “If you want a friend in Washington,” he famously remarked, “get a dog.”Whichever type dog the Obamas choose, it will replace the two Bush First Dogs (now lame dogs?), Scottish terriers Barney and Miss Beazley.

Other recent presidential pets included Bill Clinton’s Socks the cat and Buddy, his chocolate Lab. George H.W. Bush’s dog was a springer spaniel named Millie. He and first lady Barbara Bush also kept one of Millie’s puppies, Ranger.

Ronald Reagan’s dogs were Lucky, a Bouvier des Flandres, and Rex, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Jimmy Carter had a dog named Grits, who was replaced in First Daughter Amy’s affections by Misty Malarky Ying Yang, a Siamese cat.