How to pick a 'first puppy'

President-elect Barack Obama began his first post-election speech with a big promise. Not just to the nation, but to his two young daughters. He promised them a new dog. So how do you pick a "first puppy?" KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde asked an expert at the West Los Angeles animal shelter.

Kitty Felde: First Lady Michelle Obama said she'd like her daughters to get a White House dog rescued from an animal shelter. Captain Louis Dedeaux is a big believer in "rescue dogs." He's District Manager at the West L.A. animal shelter and has some advice for the first family.

Captain Louis Dedeaux: I think puppies are good when we're talking about a small child because they don't have any idiosyncrasies that we don't know about yet. Any hidden bad behaviors. And it's like a clean canvas. They can paint the picture they want and, properly trained, they can mold them to fit their lifestyle.

And children tend to bond to puppies a lot quicker. You know, everybody likes a baby. Babies are cute. Or a young dog. It doesn't necessarily have to be a little puppy. Anywhere from six – maybe even nine months old would be best.

Now here we have some little husky-mix puppies that we're cleaning up. And they're nice. And what you want to look for is an active puppy. A real lethargic puppy naturally may have a health problem. So you're looking for something lively.

And I always say come pick your own dog. Because you'll bond to – you know, I might like one, you might like the other, so see something you like, sometimes people put 'em down, see which one comes to him.

But you want to look for – like this puppy here has a real nice coat. That's a sign of health. He's bright eyed. That's a sign of health. And then you always pick maybe which physical attributes you like in as far as size and long coat, short coat; if you have allergies, I'd recommend short coats.

Felde: Malia has allergies, so maybe this wouldn't be the best puppy for her.

Dedeaux: Right. And we have some others here with shorter coats. See? I ask people what do you expect in a dog? What are your expectations, I ask people when they're coming to buy a dog.

I say, do you jog? Are you real active? Do you want a dog to lay around? Are you a couch potato type person? Do you want a dog to lay around and be lazy with you? And then you just kind of take it from there.

Felde: Now the White House of course has some very old furniture. Some very fragile furniture. Is there a particular dog that might be more gentle on the White House furnishings than another?

Dedeaux: No luck. That's where training comes in.

Felde: One of the girls decided maybe she'd like something called a what – a golden doodle?

Dedeaux: And there's designer dogs, what we call them now. Basically it's a mix between – that would be between a poodle and a golden retriever. Poodles are good because they don't shed. So if you want a dog that doesn't shed, pick a poodle. Meow, meow.

Felde: My cat was not very happy when she heard there might be a first puppy. She thought there ought to be a first kitten or a first cat. Got any suggestions?

Dedeaux: Well, you know a lot of people do. We have cat people, dog people, and people who just love animals overall. Now if you have allergies, you might have a little bit more tendency to – they might act up more with a cat, so you have to definitely consider that.

And that White House furniture, cats like to claw on furniture. They like their pawing trees and that. So that's another issue you might want to think about. But I mean, cats are great. They're more independent, they take less time.

You don't have to go through as much training, you know. So are they more convenient? Yes. And are they lovable? Yes. They're wonderful pets. But if you're concerned with allergies, you at least, at minimum, want to go with a short-haired cat.

Felde: There are nearly a dozen puppies – and lots of other dogs and cats – at the West L.A. animal shelter. It's located at 11361 West Pico Boulevard.